One of the hardest things to explain to people about parrot nutrition is that it is possible to have too much of a good thing. Too many nutrients can be as unhealthy as too few.
I read a comment on Facebook from someone explaining that he doubles the recommended amount of vitamins for his bird every day. His pellet of choice is Harrison’s High Potency Bird Food. He went on to explain that the extra vitamins were assurance that his bird would be healthy and it is commonly thought that Harrison’s High Potency pellets are the super-duper, ultra, mega version of their other pellet formulas and so must preferable. It isn’t hard to understand how he arrived at the idea that all the extras would make his bird “extra” healthy.
Unfortunately, nutrition doesn’t work that away. A word to always keep mind when you are considering your parrot’s diet (or your own) is “balance”. It is the not too little and not too much compromise that makes a diet just right.
There are three mistakes that conscientious parrot owners frequently make with the very best of intentions for their bird:
1) Too Many Supplements! I am not a big fan of commercial supplements for birds. Not only is their quality dubious and unregulated, they are not necessary in many cases (unless your vet recommends them for a specific health issue). If your bird is eating properly, he is getting what he need through his regular diet.
Also, many pellet brands and commercial seed mixes are already fortified. The fortification of seed is applied topically and is attached to the hull of the seed, the part which parrots discard. However, the separation takes place in the mouth and at least some of the supplement is received. So there is often some supplementation there already.
All parrot owners should familiarize themselves with the term hypervitaminosis. It is a neurological disorder that is the result of vitamin excess. It presents itself with odd, uncontrolled leg jerking, referred to as toe-tapping and/or wing flipping. When the diet is corrected, the physical behaviors stop.
2) Giving Hand Feeding Formula To Adult Birds! The two reasons that people will continue (or re-start) using hand feeding formula to their grown birds is typically for “comfort” or because they see the formula as being supplemental to their diet. After all, if it is good enough to cover the needs of a growing baby bird it must be the most complete diet there is, right? Nope!
Hand feeding formula is adapted to the unique needs of a baby bird. A baby bird requires extra protein and a diet higher in fat to support the kind of growth they have before they fledge. That same diet is bad for an adult bird (unless there is a medical condition that calls for it). Otherwise, over time it will be very hard on the liver. Some species of parrot do not do well with lots of protein in the diet and NO species does well with lots of fat.
As to the comforting aspect of hand feeding, an adult that has not been traumatized should need no comforting. A grown bird should behave like a grown bird, and that would not include continued hand feeding. It isn’t emotionally healthy and causes your bird to be overly reliant on you and will often cause your bird to turn down the foods that are good for them.
3) Using Harrison’s High Potency Pellets! Before the good people at Harrison’s start rolling up their sleeves, let me add that Harrison’s make a great pellet. It is the brand I recommend to people outside of the US who don’t have availability to our Feed Your Flock pellets.
However, their High Potency formula is exactly as it claims: “high potency”, and is not intended for everyday use by the average, healthy parrot. An avian vet contacted me and asked if I would address this. He told me that he has dealt with several cases of hypervitaminosis that were reversed after taking the birds off the Harrison’s High Potency formula. Using this pellet over a period of time can also have adverse effects on the liver.
If you are using this pellet and do not have an ill bird or a breeding bird that needs the extra support of High Potency, please switch to Harrison’s Adult Lifetime formula.
Let your bird’s nutrients come from his impeccable diet of fresh foods and appropriate pellets. Avoid adding too much fortification or products that are amped up nutritionally. These are not good choices for YOUR bird in the long run.
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.