Healthy Parrot: Diet, Nutrition, Toxic Foods
Parrot diets should consist of a combination of a high-quality pellet and whole, fresh foods. Contrary to popular belief, most parrots should not be fed seed mixes. Small bird species, such as budgie parakeets or cockatiels, can have a mixture of high-quality seed and pellet because of their high metabolism and energy expenditure. Seed is not appropriate for larger species, such as Amazons, greys, macaws and cockatoos, because they do not provide enough healthy nutrients. Plus, unhealthy seed mixes often contribute to excessive weight gain and liver disease.
Pellets for parrots
The current recommendation by board-certified avian veterinarians who study avian nutrition is that pellets should make up 50-70% of a parrot’s diet. The best pellets to feed your parrots are those that do not contain additives, such as sugar or dyes, since these ingredients may have a cumulative effect in the body and can cause diseases over the long term, possibly even shortening birds’ life span. Recommended pellet brands include (but are not necessarily limited to) Lafeber, Harrison’s, Roudybush, Zupreem Naturals, Hagen, TOPS (Totally Organic Pellets) and Caitec Oven Fresh Bites.
Fresh foods for birds
The remaining 30-50% of a parrot’s diet should be composed of fresh foods, including these:
- Raw or steamed vegetables (preferably organic, when available)
- Cooked whole grains and/or pseudo-grains, such as rice (brown, wild or forbidden), oats, barley, quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth and teff
- Soaked and cooked or sprouted legumes
- Raw, soaked or sprouted nuts and seeds
- Limited amounts of raw fruit
Fruits, seeds and nuts should comprise no more than 10-20% of their diet combined. Many people envision parrots in the wild eating a diet of nothing but fruits and nuts, but researchers are discovering that, for most parrot species, that is somewhat of a misconception. In addition, wild birds expend a lot more energy than captive birds, so they need the extra sugars and fats found in nuts and fruits. Plus, the fruits that they eat in the wild contain much less sugar and much more fiber than the fruits cultivated for human consumption. Offer fruits, seeds and nuts only as a treat, and focus mostly on fresh berries and raw, unsalted nuts. Avoid giving peanuts, as these can be dangerous. Other nuts, such as almonds, pecans and walnuts, can be used. Always check the food for mold or rot before giving it to a parrot.
Parrot diet preparation
An easy, less time-consuming and cost-effective way to provide a wide variety of fresh foods to your bird daily is to make something called “chop.” Chop is exactly what it sounds like: You cook a big batch of grains and legumes, finely chop up a variety of vegetables, and mix it all together in a large container. You then spoon 3-4 individual daily servings into sandwich bags or other containers, and put them in the freezer. Depending on how much you make and how many birds you have, one batch of chop can last anywhere from one week to several months. Chop can be customized to the individual bird’s preferences, but you can also try sparking curiosity by mixing in new ingredients. More info on how to make chop can be found in the resources section below.
Converting your parrot to a healthy diet
Many parrots have never learned how to eat a healthy diet, but they can be taught to do so. If your parrot will not eat the foods recommended above, see the resources section below for an article about how to convert your parrot to a healthier, more varied diet.
Toxic foods and foods to avoid giving parrots
Toxic foods that should never be fed to your bird include:
- Cassava (tapioca)
- Dairy products
- Onion, garlic, scallions
- Chocolate or cocoa
- Fruit seeds and pits
- Uncooked beans
- Food intended for humans
Foods that should also be avoided include any foods that are high in salt, fat and sugars, and/or contain dyes or preservatives.
Resources on parrot nutrition
- Parrot nutrition and healthy recipes: “The Parrot’s Pantry” Facebook group
- Fact-based discussion on pet nutrition: “Nutrition for Pets” Facebook group
- Chop recipes and instructions: Parrot Nation