Of all of the things you thoughtfully do for your parrot, your first consideration must be for its diet. I can’t stress this enough. Without well balanced nutrition, a parrot’s general health will gradually decline, vitamin deficiencies will leave it susceptible to illness and disease and its life span will be decreased.
An unhealthy parrot is temperamental and may not want to be a part of family activities. If your parrot doesn’t feel well and energized, no amount of love, enrichment or interaction will do him much good. A sickly parrot simply cannot enjoy a good life. These are the priorities:
A birds water bowl should be changed everyday at least once. Parrots shake off a lot of dander and powder and their high activity levels tend to blow it everywhere including their drinking water. Many parrots are food dunkers and like to soak their seed, pellets and veggies in their water bowl to make them more palatable. Parrot soup. This rather disgusting practice makes for some really messy water, which sits around harboring bacteria as the day goes on. Keep an eye on the water and replenish as necessary.
The cleanliness of the water bowl is as important as the water itself. No matter how many times you put fresh water into a contaminated bowl, the water itself will become contaminated. Wash the bowl with hot, soapy water each time you change it making sure to clean inside rims, ridges and corners for any residue, or worse, slime.
Ideally, bottled water is the best choice, but in many cities tap water is fine. If humans can drink it, our parrots can tolerate it as well. I don’t recommend distilled water, unless you have a bird that has that requirement, such as the toucan. One the one hand, distilled water is a great cleanser and detoxifier, if used short term. On the other, the process of distillation removes natural minerals from the water, but it will absorb minerals from the body as it passes through. If used over a long period of time it can deplete the body. Best to stick with plain old water, unless your vet recommends otherwise.
Fresh fruits and veggies:
A variety of fresh foods, served everyday, is an essential part of your parrot’s diet. There is nothing else in his diet that will guarantee a balance of the essential nutrients like a variety of vegetables. Fruits are wonderful too, but some are very high in sugar and lesser in nutritional value. For instance, grapes are yummy and most parrots love them because they are sweet, but they don’t benefit the diet in any great way with comparison to some other foods.
I give a green vegetable (green beans, broccoli etc.), dark leafy greens (kale, turnip greens etc.) and an orange vegetable (carrots, sweet potato etc.) everyday. If they elect to eat one of these, I am happy. In addition, I throw in one or two of any number of vegetable or fruits that are available seasonally.Corn and peas are another big hit with the birds, but they are also higher in sugar and lower in nutritional value, so offer them less frequently.
Do your best in this area and don’t skimp. There might be a lot of waste in the beginning, but when they start eating good foods regularly, the payoff is huge. Be creative in your attempts to getting them on the road to health. Think of fun and clever ways to present them with new foods to try.
Try your hand at sprouting. Not only are sprouts THE most nutritious fresh food you can offer because it is a living plant and at it’s peak nutritional value, but some birds that are stuck on seeds have actually made a conversion to veggies using sprouts as incentive. It’s easy, and really kind of fun too!
Since not all parrots have an appetite for the things that are best for them, I consider pellets to be my backup plan for good nutrition. Just like anything on this list, pellets alone cannot sustain all of a parrot’s dietary needs. If you have a bird that is finicky with veggies, or has previously been on an all-seed diet, pellets should be offered as a staple and always available. They will make up for the deficiencies in your parrots poor dietary choices.
Some parrots enjoy their pellets so much that they will opt to eat them instead of fresh foods. In these cases especially, a limited number of pellets, hidden in foraging toys throughout the cage, is a good plan. This way, they aren’t just there for the taking, and they can benefit in other ways from the enriching activity of foraging.
When selecting a brand of pellet, always opt for the best ingredients, which is usually a brand like Feed Your Flock. If your parrot refuses these, try another until you land on one he likes. Some of the colored pellets, which are not the best choice because of the dyes and sugars added, might be a starting place. Just be sure to try to get him onto something healthier once he has accepted the idea of a pelleted diet. I would rather see a parrot eating a lesser quality pellet than none at all.
Pasta, cooked grains and legumes:
Enriched, whole wheat or veggie pasta, brown rice, cooked barley, millet or quinoa are great examples of nutritious foods that most any parrot will enjoy. When cooked and served warm it’s a wonderful winter treat. My favorite thing about these foods is that it is so easy to slip in an untried veggie. Since I know that they are going to go for the warm brown rice, I mash up a little squash, or add a little chopped spinach into the rice of those birds who might be reluctant to try it otherwise.
I frequently buy a 16 bean soup mix for my birds from the supermarket. I soak the beans over night. In the morning, I rinse them well, cook and serve them warm. The rest, and there’s quite a bit, goes into the freezer for later use. There’s a lot of variety in these mixes and the birds love it.
I don’t offer any of these foods everyday, mainly because they are preferred and interfere with the consumption of other foods offered. But as a food group, it has an important place in the overall diet of my birds.
Quality seed mix:
Seed should not be a staple in the diet of all birds. In fact, I believe that most of the larger birds should only receive it as a treat and if your parrot has been weaned from an all seed diet, I would not offer it at all. Most of the small birds, those whose natural diets include seed, should have seed in their captive diets.
There are many to choose from, and they are all adapted to the species of your bird. Many are fortified with vitamins and minerals. The problem with commercial seed is that it is without any regulation, meaning that just about anything can go into it without consequences to the manufacturer. Further, a lot of it has been sitting in a warehouse for a year or so before shipping to the stores. The seed is considerably compromised nutritionally by the time you get it home. I recommend you make you own seed mix from human grade grains you can get in the bulk section at Whole Foods. A good way to test to see if your current mix is fresh is to try sprouting some on a damp paper towel. If they sprout, they’re fresh.
Healthy parrot snacks:
I include snacks in this list, not because they are essential to the diet, but because they are part of a parrot’s diet, and part of what makes life good. Please notice that I have used the term “parrot snacks”, meaning snacks that are intended for parrots. There are so many on the market today to choose from that there really isn’t any reason to resort to human goodies. Most of the snack foods humans indulge in are not good for them, which might be exactly the reason that they are so good. Parrots are equally as guilty of this misguided logic and will snarf down a bag of chips and leave the squash to rot.
Birdie breads are a great way to sneak nutrition into a food disguised as a snack. Make wise choices for your parrot and offer treats in small quantities and only once the important foods have been eaten. And no, french fried potatoes do not qualify as a daily serving of vegetables.
Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.