Linus hates nuts. I know…what self-respecting bird doesn’t eat nuts? He and I have discussed this at length and he doesn’t care. No nuts. End of conversation.
Some people have the opposite problem with their birds – they can’t get enough nuts and will complain, loudly, when they don’t get their daily quota. This can be a problem if you are the kind of owner that gives in to your bird’s demands -or the kind of owner that uses nuts to quiet vocalizations, as a distraction from mischief or as bribery.
Given the number of occurrences of questionable behavior that the average bird presents daily, these owners might soon have very chubby birds. Nuts are very high in saturated fats – the kind of fat that results in obesity, high cholesterol and heart disease.
So, by now you are probably asking yourself why I am concerned that I have a parrot that doesn’t care for nuts. My problem is that they also have some really great qualities that I don’t want missing from his diet.
While nuts all have a somewhat different nutritional profile, many of them are very high in the B vitamins and are an excellent source of minerals, plant protein and dietary fiber. They taste great and have huge value in the parrot diet, but most definitely can be unhealthy when over-served.
Macaws have a higher need for fat in their diet – the amount of fat required varies among the different macaw species. Since the Womachs use nuts to train their birds, that is the only time they get them. This is a good program – the nuts fulfill a dietary need and serve a purpose for training and when distributed in this way, are not overfed.
However, the Womachs have a lot of birds and the training focus is not only on the macaws. There may be a period of a few months where they are not being trained and, therefore, need to have substitution for the nuts.
Obviously, we feed our birds the Birdtricks diet year round. Since I prepare the diet for Dave and Jamie’s large flock, it is my job to see to the individual needs of each of their species. Their diet is slightly modified from the one in Natural Feeding System Cookbooks (see below) to suit the specific needs of their flock. A 4-5 gallon batch only lasts their flock about a month so I have frequent opportunity to make necessary changes.
When the birds are not being trained I know that they are not getting nuts, I add flaxseed to the diet. If they are on a free-fight excursion somewhere and expending a lot of calories, I take that into consideration, too, and add flaxseed to their diet then.
Flaxseed is one of nature’s tiniest miracles. It is packed with plant protein, fiber, B vitamins, minerals, and is an amazing source of omega 3 fatty acids, but it also contains mostly healthy polyunsaturated fats and is lower in saturated fats than most nuts.
It amazes me that so much goodness can fit inside that tiny package. But because it is so small and has a hard shell, it needs to be ground to be effective, otherwise it is passed through the digestive system whole and unutilized. I have an electric coffee grinder that I use only for grinding seeds or spices – never for coffee or anything else detrimental to my birds.
So for Linus, the nut hater, I add ground flaxseed to his diet about three times a week by sprinkling a pinch over his food in the morning so I know that he is getting what he needs in his diet despite being one of the few birds who turns his beak up at nuts.
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.