Please help me not starve my parrot

A Blue Front Amazon Parrot
Read in 23 minutes

We’ve got some feedback on our statement “50% of captive birds deaths are from malnutrition” and I’m horrified.

 

Dollar’s Mum asked some pointed nutritional questions below and I’m always glad to have this discussion.

 

I think that people who serve their bird’s “chop” are well-intentioned but very misguided. A parrot living on nothing but chop is a malnourished bird.

Birds can’t and were never meant to eat people food.

  • Parrots have a standing heart rate of 200 bpm – humans – 80.
  • Birds can fly – humans, cannot.
  • Humans have a single integumentary system – skin. Parrots have one too but it’s covered in feathers.
  • Humans can run on nothing but McDonald’s for 30 days
  • Parrots cannot (maybe seagulls)

 

 

A parrot’s physiological demand for protein necessary to reproduce ALL it’s feathers on a cyclical basis may be higher than you think.

Looking at a captive bird’s diet with a broad stroke we talk about protein, fat and vitamins.

We are going to focus on protein for the moment:

One of the problems in trying to determine a parrots need for protein is that there’s not a lot of research out there.

What we do know is that birds and parrots eating nothing but seed and or table food will be deficient in lysine and methionine.

If you look on the back of any bag of bird food or any pet food for that matter you’ll see something like:

Crude Protein (min) 11.0%, Crude Fat (min.) 0.5%, Crude Fiber (max.) 0.1%, Moisture (max) 4.0%, Ash (max) 8.0%
Guaranteed analysis per 1 c.c. (per dose 0.55 g). Guarantees are minimum unless otherwise stated.

As you and I get older we may find a need to add fiber into our diet for digestive assistance.

With birds and parrots, if there’s too much fiber they can end up with a fecal protein “loss”.

Lorikeets (lories) are nectar feeding birds and they do well with a low fiber diet which is more readily digestible and can sustain protein levels from 3% to 5%.

Budgies and cockatiels require somewhere around 8% to 13% protein which is lower than larger birds like African grey parrots which need about 10% to 16% protein.

Too much protein on the other hand can result in gout. Oddly cockatiels seem to be tolerant of high percentages of proteins like up to 70% as long as there’s been no genetic predisposition to renal disease or gout.

A jump in dietary protein may overwork a birds kidneys producing hyperuricemia and visceral gout.

So if a vet tells you your bird needs more protein you don’t want to ramp it up immediately. You’ll want to take your time over the period of a few weeks.

 

On to the question

ekl.xxxxxxxxx@yahoo.com replied 

Hi, I read Mitch’s blog stating 50% of captive birds deaths are from malnutrition and I’m horrified.

I know I’m not feeding my bird right and don’t know what to do about it.

He is accustomed to eating people food, and junk people food at that: pizza, pasta, burritos, hamburger helper, cabbage and noodles (mostly the noodles), and he refuses to eat his RoudyBush pellet food.

 

I’ve tried a sample of Harrisons too, once and he wouldn’t touch it. I feel awful, as though I’ve lead him astray from his bird store days of eating pellet food, and he won’t even eat seed. The most nutritious thing he’ll eat is pistachios and cashews.

 

I’ve heard they will go hungry rather than eat something they don’t like, and he’s now narrowed down his food groups so much that I can’t get him to eat veggies anymore–cooked or raw.

 

I chop up fresh kale and add it to everything he eats just to make sure he doesn’t get a Vit A deficiency again.

 

I’ve even thought of finding him a new home so that someone new could try to get him to eat pellet food again, because I know I’m doing him such an injustice, and he refuses to eat what he doesn’t want.

 

He’ll just get upset, throw fits, and squawk until I feed him something he will eat. Do you recommend I stop feeding him people food so that he gets hungry enough to eat his pellet food?

 

I leave him out all of the time I’m home and could imagine him getting angry enough that he’d bite me if I did that.

 

Another thing is he’s narrowed down what he likes as toys to just square blocks of wood, straws, and cardboard only.

 

All of the expensive toys I’ve gotten him go to waste because he’ll only play with those types of toys I make for him.

 

It’s like he’s just as picky with his toys as he is with his food, and since he’s out of his cage, he can roam and chew up the cardboard I leave around for him and the cat boxes that are left out.

 

I wonder if I let him stay in the cage, as I’ve done before, for all day/evening if he’ll eventually work at one of his other toys, but he doesn’t. He just waits until he can be let out again.

 

What have I done to this bird? Would he be as picky with someone else as he is with me?

 

How am I going to change him from these destructive behaviors? I don’t want to ruin his adult life by treating him poorly as a younger, age 10, birdie. I feel awful.

 

I will gladly accept any feed back you may be able to offer. Your intellect is far reaching in these matters.

 

Thank you so much for everything you share with us. It’s much appreciated, though I don’t see how to comment on your blogs any more to thank you. Sincerely, Dollar’s Mum

 

Glad to meet you Dollar’s Mum

 

Please let me know of the birds sex (if known), species and age so I can drill down further.

 

Editor’s note: Why do I need this information?

  • A blue and gold macaw eats a lot more and has a higher need for protein than a budgie
  • A female bird whose in egg laying mode needs more protein for egg production.
  • We are finding that senior birds have slightly different needs than younger birds like the elimination of soy in their diet.

 

To begin, yes you are not feeding your bird correctly and yet a parrot not eating pellets of any sort is not uncommon at all.

 

“The 50% of bird deaths from nutrition” is a two-parter.  It has to do with not only an improper diet but literally starving the bird.

 

Many new captive bird keepers will see a dish of seeds (from the day before) or a blend that looks to be barely eaten. They figure “there’s plenty left” and try to extend the food for two to three days or more.

 

We have four budgies. You can take a dish of small bird seed at the end of the day and blow on it. You’ll see the hulls waft into the air leaving the remaining whole seeds in the dish.

 

But that’s not a good indicator. This is why we dump our bird food dishes every morning and then top them off at night regardless of how they look. That way we know that the birds getting enough of the right food.

 

As for the people food, for now I would stop offering it to Dollar because it’s clearly filling the bird’s crop, making it much easier to decide not to eat seed or pellets of any sort.

 

Think of it as you and I choosing between pizza and unsweetened Cheerios with no milk.

 

Chopping up kale is all well and good. We certainly don’t want any bird to have a vitamin A deficiency but before we get into how to make your bird eat healthy foods I want to redirect your focus on protein and not vitamins.

 

Vitamins are important. They assist in a myriad of physiological functions.

 

Vitamin D3 helps your parrot synthesize calcium as an example.

 

A small bird like a budgie has 3000 to 4000 feathers.

A larger bird like an umbrella cockatoo could have 8000 feathers or more.

 

Many birds molt once and sometimes twice a year. African greys will molt for 18 months

 

Female birds can get hormonal and broody. The brain (signaled by the pineal gland) may trigger the production of eggs, increasing caloric needs.

 

I start with the feathers because that’s what we look at on birds – the feathers!.

 

Feathers are made from amino acids. Amino acids are made from protein.

 

There is not a lot of protein in “pizza, pasta, burritos, hamburger helper, cabbage and noodles”.

Editors note: Here’s a list of healthy human food you can feed your bird with protein content listed.

  • Edamame – Protein: 18 g per 1-cup serving (cooked)
  • Lentils – Protein: 9 g per ½-cup serving
  • Black Beans – Protein: 7.6 g per ½-cup serving (cooked)
  • Lima Beans – Protein: 7.3 g per ½-cup serving (cooked)
  • Peanuts or Peanut Butter – Protein: 7 g per ¼-cup serving (or 2 Tbsp peanut butter)
  • Wild Rice – Protein: 6.5 g per 1-cup serving (cooked)
  • Almonds – Protein: 6 g per ¼-cup serving
  • Chia Seeds – Protein: 6 g per 2 Tbsp
  • Steel-Cut Oatmeal – Protein: 5 g in ¼-cup serving (dry)
  • Cashews – Protein: 5 g per ¼-cup serving
  • Pumpkin Seeds – Protein: 5 g per ¼-cup serving
  • Potatoes – Protein: 4 g in 1 medium white potato
  • Spinach – Protein: 3 g per ½-cup serving (cooked)
  • Corn – Protein: 2.5 g per ½-cup serving
  • Broccoli – Protein: 2 g per ½-cup serving (cooked)
  • Kale – Protein: 2.9 gt per 1 cup chopped

Remember a half cup of beans may weigh as much as your bird

I simply ask whatever you do please provide a well rounded parrot nutritional supplement like Prime from HARI (Hagen) to ensure your parrot’s optimal health.

Sprinkling Prime on wet fruits and veggies is a reliable delivery system.

There’s the right amount of protein in RoudyBush pellet bird food. But when you’re full of pizza why would you eat a bowl of dry unsweetened Cheerio’s?

 

Editor’s note: of the many pellet conversion techniques out there, one of the best is Zupreem fruit flavored pellets. “This is due to the added sugar for ‘palatability’” Many African Greys don’t like the banana shape – you’ve been warned.

 

Pellets not only don’t taste all that good, they don’t “tickle the tongue” Pellet shapes don’t offer a lot of stimulation. Parrots rely on the texture of food I think more so than the flavor because they only have 350 taste buds compared to a human’s 9000.

 

We want to make eating fun for your bird. I’ve said time and time again “it’s not the food, it’s the delivery system”.

 

Let’s start with this video which shows our daily routine for feeding five birds in two cages note that I even cover the Senegal’s food dish with a piece of romaine lettuce forcing her to work just to get to her every day food.

 

I do mention that I take her conventional Higgins mix which is seed, fruits and some pellets then add some additional Harrison’s extra fine pellets which I see her eat.

The Higgins safflower gold that she is eating contains Higgins intune pellets and I do see her on occasion holding one of the pellets in her zygodactyl foot so I know that she is getting the benefit of the pellets but not being cheated on all the other flavors and textures that a parrot deserves.

 

I don’t think I mentioned in this video but I put almonds, chunks of walnuts and nutri-berries between the business cards so there’s always a fun treat rewarding her for all of her hard work.

 

 

This video “The Problem Isn’t the New Bird Food, It’s the Delivery System” speaks volumes about the “getting a bird to eat healthy” issue.

 

 

Keeping Dollar in the cage will fix nothing. He will not understand the message you think you are trying to send.

 

In conclusion: please stop serving people food except perhaps for a small dish of mixed vegetables for breakfast. You’ll have to find out if Dollar likes them warm or cold, birds do have preferences.

 

Then pick a blend like Higgins Safflower Gold or Hagen Tropimix. Both are well-rounded bird foods with seeds nuts fruits and pellets which is much more interesting than just plain Cheerios.

 

Hope that helps – please let us know how it goes with this transition

 

best

 

Mitchr

 

Ek Little replied 

 

Hi Mitch,

Thank you so much for all of the info you gave me about Dollar’s eating habits!

 

Please, I ask that you consider the following information and add to what you’ve all ready forwarded.

 

Dollar’s a 10 yr old BF (blue front) Amazon male who I’ve had for nearly four years. I adopted him and he refuses to be called anything but his given name, Dollar, as he says it all the time. He’s fully flighted as well.

 

I recently gave him a special parrot seed mix that he won’t even touch. I also feed him fruit flavored pellets by Zupreem, which he’ll nibble on here & there. Your analogy of pizza verses unsweetened cherrios makes a lot of sense.

 

I’m alarmed by your mention of feathers, and the protein needed to produce them. He almost chronically molts anymore. I think Amazons molt twice per year–do you know?

 

Is winter and summer? Or are they like the African Greys?] I keep track of his molting by saving his feathers (all but the down) and have become concerned by how many feathers he’s losing.

 

He’s full of pinfeathers lately. It’s awful for him. Do you think there’s any connection with his eating or could that be his lighting?

 

As far as lighting: I use the avilamp, but shut it off after 12 hours (8AM – 8PM), even though the kitchen light stays on until around 11PM. I

 

It doesn’t do much good as he’s on my lap much of the day/evening away from his cage while I work on the computer, and he doesn’t go inside his cage unless we’re gone.

 

I am surprised that you suggest cutting out people food entirely; I’m afraid to make him go cold turkey, being he’ll get angry and bite, while dive bombing our heads.

 

Are you suggesting he’ll get hungry enough to eat the mix if that’s all that’s available to him?

 

I won’t be able to eat around him with him outside of his cage, as he’ll just try eating off of our plates.

 

I’m serious, I’m afraid of his reaction to no people food. What if I feed him pellets during the day and people food only at night, removing it after he’s done eating dinner, leaving him pellet food only to snack on when he gets his midnight munchies?

 

I’m literally a wreck over this. Oh, and Dollar likes his veggies warmed, that is, if he’ll eat them. Again, he’s so picky…I knew about the taste buds thing, but figured that’s why he likes highly flavorful foods.

 

Maybe the texture is an ingredient I’ve not considered. Tho he doesn’t like cold and wet, that I know.

 

The foods you mentioned you feed Peaches aren’t quite what this sized bird eats, so which would you recommend that are?

 

Tropimix sounds promising. I’ll have to see if there are smaller bags of them to try. I know you carry just about everything.

 

Well, thank you again for all your help. I hope to hear back from you now that you know his species, age and lifestyle.

 

I’m particularly interested in your take on his molting, as well as what interesting pellet style food might be of interest for him to eat, for his species and size, too.

 

Sincerely,

Elizabeth, Dollar’s Mum

 

P.S. I love your videos, and learned a lot from them–thank you!!


Mitch replies

Kudos on keeping Dollar flighted. Generally speaking Amazons don’t molt a lot but when they do it can be a short period of time like weeks or an elongated period  of time as in months.

 

African grays have a more unique molting situation where they can go on for 18 to 24 months.

 

As for the amount of feathers he is losing I wouldn’t be concerned the bird probably has 5000 to 8000 feathers on his body.

 

Editor’s note: birds always molt symmetrically – loose a feather on the left wing the next feather to go is on the right wing.

 

I like that you using the avian lamp and the 12 hour light cycle.

 

I’m concerned about the kitchen light stays on for an additional three hours. That may be sending the wrong signals to Dollar.

 

Are you covering his cage?

 

The thing with molting and our inability to predict molting for our pet birds is because of the erratic North American light cycles. Birds decide when to molt based upon their circadian rhythms.

 

Their circadian rhythms are controlled by something called the pineal gland. The information the pineal gland receives is the quality and cycle of light i’ts perceiving.

 

Melatonin cells in the gland vibrate like little metronomes that actually keep time more accurate than a Rolex.

 

Without true equatorial 12 hours on 12 hours off of sunlight there will be confusion in the birds mind.

 

The other issue is especially in the winter you gonna want to make sure the Dollar gets bathed on a regular basis.

Amazons like Hyacinth macaws are one of the few parrot species that lack a uropygial gland producing a preening goo that most birds apply to their feathers throughout the day to keep them moist.

 

Lacking this particular avian system, Dollar really needs to get wet a couple of times a week

 

“I am surprised that you suggest cutting out people food entirely; I’m afraid to make him go cold turkey, being he’ll get angry and bite, while dive bombing our heads”.

 

Your bird weighs around 400 grams. What you’re saying is you have no control over an animal that ways a little less than a pound.

 

I would strongly advocate that you begin clicker training with Dollar at this time his age has no relevance to his ability to receive a positive benefit from this type of training.

 

 

Because he is eating with you doesn’t necessarily mean that he has to eat what you eat.

 

Finding alternative foods is not just a matter of trying this pellet or that. Watching this video you see that we use five or more types of bird food and one mix for our Senegal.

 

 

For human foods we been working with Peaches on having vegetables for breakfast.

 

First we tried nuking frozen mixed vegetables which we used to do with our ringneck. That allows the vegetables to sit in the cage for a longer period of time in a semi-frozen state.

 

Sunshine our ringneck loved frozen corn and squealed when he got brain freeze. Peaches not so much.

 

So I went the other way and warmed them up until they were what we would consider warm enough to eat and she like that a lot more.

 

But with birds it is hard sometimes to see exactly what they want to eat so throughout the week we would have different vegetables as side dishes serving them to Peaches.

 

After a couple weeks we decided that she would like a blend with green beans, carrots and peas served warm.

 

Something that you have found out with Dollar.

 

Tropimix is available in a large parrot size and I would certainly start with that but in the meantime also start putting foods together for different combinations.

 

I’ve often said that with birds it’s not the food it’s the delivery system. Your human plates are interesting and there’s all sorts of things going on plus he’s with you being part of the dinner conversation.

 

 

A bowl of food is boring and he’s isolated in his cage, take a look at this video and see that Peaches really enjoys “working for her food” not simply being served.

 

IMPORTANT NOTE: I don’t know if you’ve been getting comments on your blog, but there’s definitely no comment section on the blogs I’m reading. There used to be, and I enjoyed it much.

 

But now there’s only “Next Blog,” or “Previous Blog” (with the respective titles).

 

I’m using a computer, and there’s no spinning wheel, either. Nothing else is coming up. I thought it was me, but now that you describe what I should be seeing, I am here to tell you I’m not seeing that at all.

 

In fact, I literally thought you decided not to allow comments at all anymore. You might want to check it out.

 

 

Regarding the comment section on our blog, it’s a platform called Disqus that connects to our WordPress blog via something called a plug-in.

 

Word press automatically updated recently in the comments went away and we are working with the developer of the plug-in to help us get the comments repopulating.

 

Thank you for your patience.

best

mitchr

follow up from Dollars mum

Dear Mitch,
I all ready read it and watched the videos, some twice. I also saw what you wrote about a 400g bird dictating to me what’s happening.

I get it. I ordered 4lbs of the Tropimix food, and the $29.00 version of vitamin supplement you recommend today. I accidentally requested the smaller container of vitamin which is out of stock before I knew of the bigger size.

Thank you so very much for all your help! I will keep you posted; and if I can, will comment on the post so that others can see how your suggestions are working out.

Dollar doesn’t go into his cage at night to sleep, thus I don’t cover him. He keeps our schedule and naps a lot.

I suppose I ought to put him in the cage for sleep too…such a bad parent. I do the foraging idea with his snacks, and will do so with his food when I get it in.

The examples of protein content are awesome, and really put things into perspective.

I will gradually add more protein as you said, so as not to cause him any problems.

Fortunately I haven’t been giving him much fiber that I know of. I will look into clicker training and have some material I ordered years ago from birdtricks.com and a clicker.

I never did it because he needs to be hungry for treats in order to want to work for food, but maybe with the mix as his diet, I’ll save some cashews for his treat. He’s a great fan of peanut butter:)

Well, you just gave me so much food for thought, and I’m happy to see you posted it for others to learn from. I think that this is great!

Thank you so very much, and I wish you and yours all the best. I am a great fan of Peaches by the way.

I’m so glad you have enriched her life to the degree you have–it just warms my heart to know her story.

Take care, and I’ll keep you abreast of Dollar’s progress.

Sincerely,
Elizabeth

EK Little

Einstein once remarked that “significant problems cannot be solved at the same level of thinking that created them. Only by rising to a higher level of thought can an ultimate solution to problems be found.” Reach for a higher plane of perception to better your life and in doing so, become an example by which others grow. In that way YOU ENLIGHTEN THE WORLD.

 

Author:

He's handled a 1000 birds of numerous species when they would visit their monthly birdie brunch in the old Portage Park (Chicago, IL) facility. The one with the parrot playground. Mitch has written and published more than 1100 articles on captive bird care. He's met with the majority of  CEO's and business owners for most brands in the pet bird space and does so on a regular basis. He also constantly interacts with avian veterinarians and influencers globally.