Nutrition of Psittacines (Parrot Family) Client Information Series™
Th is information is designed as a means of communication between veterinarians and clients who are concerned about their pet bird’s nutritional needs. Diet, nutrient requirements, and feeding are discussed. If you have any questions, be sure to ask your veterinarian to answer them for you.
Birds are divided into 27 orders, varying from high-fl ying Falconiformes, such as the bald eagle, to the Struthioniformes, such as the ostrich, that do not fl y at all. Most pet birds are found among the Psittaciformes (psittacines: parrotsfamily), Passeriformes (perching birds), Columbiformes (pigeon family), and Galliformes (chicken-like birds).
Over 9,000 living bird species have been identifi ed, and their natural diets are as diverse as their habitats. Th ose kept as pets are commonly considered seed eaters, but studies of these birds in the wild have revealed that their natural foods are very diff erent from the commercial seed mixtures so frequently off ered.
Who Are the Psittacines?
Th e order Psittaciformes (psittacines) includes 268 species of parrots (parrots, macaws, conures, rosellas, parrotlets,
parakeets, lovebirds, budgerigars), 55 species of lories (lories, lorikeets), and 19 species of cockatoos (cockatoos, cockatiels). Th ey are widespread in tropical and south temperate areas of the world, with major populations in central and South America and in Australia. Most have a relatively stout, hooked bill.
Natural foods of parrots and cockatoos include a wide range of plant matter (fruits, buds, shoots, seeds, corns) and invertebrates. Commercial seed mixtures sold for psittacinces commonly contain buckwheat, canary grass seed, corn grain, hemp seed, millet seed, oat groats (dehulled oats), peanuts (with or without shell), pepper pods and
seed, pumpkin/squash seed, rape seed, saffl ower seed, sunfl ower seed, and/or wheat.
Some bird owners also feed various nuts. While many of these seeds are relished, they are distinctly diff erent in content from foods found in
the natural habitat. Nearly all of them are low in calcium. Pumpkin, saffl ower and sunfl ower seeds, and peanuts and the other nuts are very high in fat.
Th is diff erence in composition from natural foods aff ects nutrient consumption and can be very important. Caged psittacines off ered cultivated seeds as their principal food have not coevolved with their food supply, and seed choices of captive birds are often inappropriate.
Th e consequence may be poor muscle development, obesity,
impaired reproduction, and specifi c signs of nutrient defi ciency, such as deformed and broken bones. Additionally, nutrient content in a seed mixture as sold may be very diff erent from what is consumed. Hulls or
shells constitute 18% to 69% of various seeds, and most seeds are easily husked by psittacinces and the hulls or shells discarded. Since the composition of whole seeds is signifi cantly diff erent from that of husked seeds, nutritional labeling of seed mixtures is very misleading. Husked seeds are generally lower in fi ber and calcium,
somewhat higher in protein, and much higher in phosphorus and fat.
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