Dot Schwarz explains how giving your Parrot the best nutrition is possible.
Since vets say that so much of their clients present them with Parrots who are ill fed. You have a Parrot or Parrots, and you want them to have the BEST nutrition. With that aim in view you research books, articles, internet sites and face to face observation of wild and captive birds.
What unfortunately happens is that the more information that you gather, the more contradictory views you obtain. Is the any way out of such a dilemma. Possibly yes and possibly no. There are adherents to pellets and extra seeds and extra, mainly fresh foodstuffs, organic, if possible, chop, mash and sprouts used in various combinations. Adherents claim that their view is correct. So how do you choose?
How Parrots in the wild feed themselves
Since Parrots are NOT domesticated how their wild cousins feed themselves should give us insights. They spent the night in their familiar roosting spot or in a nest. Then they emerge just after dawn and go foraging. They may travel several kilometres in groups or bonded pairs. They forage early morning.
After foraging, they will rest possibly elsewhere for the day, preen themselves or each other. Young birds will play. They will forage elsewhere for their evening in late afternoon and then return to their nesting or sleeping place in tree cover.
They will be vocal at both times. This schedule is on a 12-hour time scale.– dawn to dusk No one provides brimming bowls of food available 24/7. No one has ever seen a fat wild Parrot.
And plucked Parrots are rare. Certain species go to another place to forage in the morning and later that day. They fill their crops before heading back to where they will once again, rest for the night. Young birds learn from their parents or flock companions where the best fruiting or flowering trees are.
No one knows for certain everything about wild birds’ diet. Four groups of feeders, dietary specialists, nectarivores, folivores and omnivores. They fill their crops before heading back to where they will once again, rest for the night. Young birds learn from their parents or flock companions where the best fruiting or flowering trees are.
For example, Macaws in the Amazon appear to have an internal map of their area which they learn from parents and will go trees when they are fruiting or just ripening before to avoid predators who want the same food.
Importance of the crop
What an individual species in the wild forages varies widely between species so you need to research your particular species. A universal Parrot food does not exist. What traits Parrot species have in common are their feet, two claws backwards, two forward, called zygodactyl.
This allows them to grip strongly and adds the ability to manoeuvre items delicately when they choose. Crops have evolved as storage organs. Parrots feed to fill the crop and it gradually empties between meals.
Imitation of wild Parrots
For a Parrot’s body to work in a healthy way, the Parrot needs to be fed twice a day. The reason that this feeding schedule works so well is because Parrots are equipped with their crops.
Lories form an exception as the metabolism is so rapid that they need constant access to food.
Importance of the crop
The crop is an enlargement of the digestion tract which makes hard food soft enough for nutrition. It functions as a larder which releases small amounts of softened, lubricated food until by the afternoon it is empty, and the Parrot needs to eat again.
Parrots need a small amount of food entering their stomachs at all times. We can over feed captive Parrots with the resultant crises of obesity, liver failure and other ailments from improper nutrition.
Miscoloured feathers are one sign. If your birds, especially species like Cockatoos or Amazons, have food bowls available 24/7 obesity may result. The sensible conclusion which imitates wild Parrots’ behaviour is to feed twice a day removing bowls after some time.
How long varies between species and individuals. You learn by observation – ten minutes up to a couple of hours. Parrots don’t need lunch. A heresy in some circles.
Foraging in Captivity
In the wild foraging for food is a twice daily activity.
If you want to imitate to you can develop endless foraging activities to stimulate that instinct. Wrap food in a screw of clean paper. Attach these to a foraging tree. A dead clean branch of suitable wood secured with sand, earth or cement in a suitable receptacle.
Thread green leaves, spinach, chard, young nettles, endive, dock or similar through the cage bars. For birds that naturally ground forage you can scatter grains in a sand or gravel tray.
I’ve seen a flock of Cockatiels sharing a large dish on the ground – a social activity. Skewers with veggies on them provide endless foraging activity. Be sure the food is at room temperature and remove before it spoils.
Although wild birds eat a lot of fruit, human grown fruit is not considered ideal food for companion birds except in small quantities because commercially grown fruit contains too much sugar. Providing chances to forage brings our birds’ daily life closer to his wild cousins.
Birds kept caged overlong with feed bowls not removed have a more static observable behaviour. Birds with more physical space like a bird room, a wired in patio or aviary, given plenty of opportunities to use their intelligence to discover delicious hidden morsels will appear livelier.
Offer whole foods, such as a whole baby beet with top, baby carrot with green tops, green garlic with tops. Fill a bowl up with toys and drizzle seed over the top so that the seeds hide in the bowl.
You may have to teach a companion bird how to forage, piercing holes in your packets. However the speed at which they discover the ruse will astonish you. Ideas are endless, be creative and most importantly have fun!
Assuming you decide to go down the foraging, two meals a day route. What are the foods you will use? And here lies the difficulty–recommendations contradict one another. Normal vet advice is 50 to 70% pellets., 20% vegetables and a lesser number of nuts and seeds mainly used for training purposes.
However, look harder and longer and you will learn that pellets are unnatural and fresh food and mash or chop should supplant them.
Once you study what a particular species eats in the wild, great differences appear. Of international renown, Rosemary Low, one of UK’s foremost avian experts has explained how she feeds her collection of Pyrrhura Conures.
She says, ‘They are so inquisitive, active and fearless. They can be recommended for breeders who do not want to keep birds in enclosed buildings but enjoy seeing them in outdoor flights. They are noisy only when alarmed, perhaps by the presence of a cat or hawk. As companion birds, they are suitable only where they can fly daily in a room — because they love to fly and need to use up some of that boundless energy.’
She complains that Pyrrhura Conures eat hard foods such as pellets and seed because they would starve if they did not. However, they do greatly enjoy spray millet, also hemp seed. She says, ‘If a wide variety of fresh foods is offered, they eat very little seed and they would not touch pellets.
Conures are extremely adventurous where food is concerned and will eat almost anything suitable that is fresh and was growing until a few minutes or hours previously.’
Rosemary extols the use of sprouted seeds because they are many times healthier than dry seeds. Sprouting seeds is a practice easily mastered with some application and you can add some of the sprouts to your own salads and soups.
Rosemary counters the complaint that seed diets suffer from Vitamin A deficiency. Her Conures will readily gobble easily obtainable foods with a high beta-carotene content. Birds convert beta-carotene to Vitamin A as they need it.
Rosemary recommends hawthorn branches or apple tree branches. I have found in my flock of mixed Parrots and Parakeets both these items are relished. I have learned to freeze hawthorn berries, and rosehips, blackberries and other spring/summer items found in my garden. If you forage widely to add fresh foods to the diet, be sure that no insecticides have been used. This especially applies if you forage away from home in parks or open spaces.
Rosemary gives encouraging advice. ‘With a little time and effort you can, except during the winter, feed your Conures and other birds with many items that cost nothing or very little. Furthermore, they will be favoured over shop-bought produce.’
Most Parrots enjoy flowers. Blooms like roses, nasturtiums, hibiscus and marigolds give flowers until the autumn. The birds love them; you enjoy them as cut flowers.
Learning from Rosemary and the excellent advice given by the curators at Paradise Park growing for your birds is both easy and fun. I grow wheat grass, oats, alfalfa, and other seeds. My soft fruits have failed. I have never managed to stop garden birds getting through the netting and killing themselves if not rescued quickly enough.
Very few food items suit ALL birds. Some individuals don’t flourish pellets. One item makes an exception -pomegranates. Costly in the dark months but such a joy to watch every bird dig in.
Mash and chop
These are prepared items developed over the last few decades when a diet of sunflower seeds of pellets formed the main diet. Chop and mash are basically similar. Chop is basically fresh items chopped up either a few for a 4/5 days kept in the fridge a week or made in large batches and frozen. I notice that birds do not relish cold food and I will slightly warm defrosted food.
Mash is basically a selection of healthy grains that are cooked and usually frozen in individual portions.
A mash recipe from the sanctuary Exotic Bird Rescue in Oregon USA
The caregivers are relaxed. They cook the grains and pulses to readiness and then serve adding fresh vegetables.
They advise that variety is the key factor or success. I have followed their advice and found that the mash suited both Parakeets and Parrots and even Macaws. Making mash is simple. Just cook foods to relative readiness, mix together, and serve!
Having a good variety of ingredients is more important than following the recipe Ingredients can always be substituted or exchanged.
Raw vegetables choose whatever is available. Organic is always preferred. Try growing your own or obtain supplies from a reputable source.
Bell peppers of all colours
Cooked on stove
Coconut flakes oil
Red pepper flakes
Pellets they won’t eat normally (we add it a bit at a time to soak up any liquid that might have slipped in).
How to Assemble
Cut larger items into a size your birds likes through a food processor or slice by hand.
I use small and large items; other recipes will stipulate pea-sized pieces. Freeze the mash in suitable sized containers for the number of birds being fed.
My method of using mash
I prefer mash to pellets so each bird gets a portion of mash relative to its size. – maybe half to 70% of daily diet On top of that the additions vary. Cut up fresh vegetables, hemp. Thistle, a handful of sprouts, perilla, flax seeds. Chia seeds.
A limited amount of fruit like mango, blueberries. Sliced apple is favoured by all my birds.
The controversy whether eggs are suitable rages quietly in articles and online. Exotic Birds feed scrambled eggs once a week. I often share my dinner of omelette and sweet potato with a couple of avian companions. None of us have excellent table manners.
Those of us who cook for their charges
Some of us – when birds fill the space the kids occupied – find themselves cooking for them, I enjoy making. birdy bread. The birdy bread that I make for my flock owes much to Rose Essex, a long-time conscientious Parrot owner.
Firms like Harrisons make bird bread packets. But honestly my flock, now the children have gone, deserve the freshest of ingredients. Cooking from scratch for Parrots is either a boring chore or a delightful way to show how much you care. Rose Essex comments that “Every bird I ever met loves it. Seed or pellet only eaters. All of them eat it right away.’
Healthy, made from scratch birdie bread
4 cups flours, you can use spelt, brown rice, almond, buckwheat, oat, chickpea flours etc.
3 cups mashed fruits/veggies (frozen or fresh) including organic baby food.
1 cup small or ground pellets if you want or have.
3 mashed bananas
1 32 oz can of Organic pumpkin or cooked pumpkin, sweet potato.
2 T almond butter or coconut oil.
1 cup quinoa
1/4 cup hemp hearts
For the nutty bread.
1 cup raw, shelled sunflower seeds
1/2cup raw pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup almond slivers
3 beaten eggs with ground shells or 1/2 cup flax seeds soaked
1 Tpoon baking soda
Put all dry ingredients together and stir
Put all moist ingredients together and stir
Add moist ingredients to dry and mix well.
Add extra moist ingredients almond milk or any healthy liquid to mix to make it easy to spoon up. A little moist is better than too dry.
Grease or use baking paper(easier to clean )3 muffin tins and extra bread pans. 3/4 fill each Bake at 180 f for 15 mins for muffins and 25 for bread pans. Test with a dry knife to centre to check if done. It will come out clean if done.
Almost all of these ingredients can be substituted accordingato what you have. Experiment and use what you know your birds like. Please don’t add sugar or salt though.
Rose adds vitamins which I don’t.
Cook moderate heat for 25 mins.
Another excellent way to decide on what nutritional guides to follow is to visit breeders and sanctuaries and owners whose charges are bright-eyed and active. How are they fed.
Good luck in finding the best nutrition for your companions. Since our junk food is SO bad for them, you may find your own diet will improve.