Don’t Be A Bird Brain! What To Feed Your Pet Bird

(BIRDS/PET CARE) Feeding a pet bird isn’t as easy as it may seem. Keep your pet healthy, safe, and happy by following these tips on caring for your bird’s dietary needs. — Global Animal

Humane Society of the United States

Feeding your pet bird requires much more than buying a simple bag of bird seed. Birds are complex creatures that require special diets to help keep them happy and healthy.

Different birds require different food

The birds discussed here can be divided into two categories: hard-bills (seed eaters) and hookbills. Seed eaters include canaries and finches, while hookbills include parakeets, cockatiels, and lovebirds. Hookbill is also a general term for all parrots, whether small or large species. (The HSUS does not recommend most parrots as pets.)

Finches and canaries in their native environments eat the ripening seeds of various grasses and flowering plants. They will also, on occasion, consume insects or other tiny creatures. Commercial seed mixes for these birds are widely available at pet supply stores. In addition to seed mixes, these birds require leafy greens like romaine, kale, dandelions, or chicory, as well as slices of apples or oranges. Be aware that finches and canaries have a very high metabolism, and can starve to death in 24-48 hours without food. Food must be available constantly, and changed every day.

Do not mistake discarded seed hulls—the outer part of a seed—for seed that isn’t eaten. Look closely and be sure that whole seed is constantly present.

The smaller hookbills (parakeets, lovebirds, and cockatiels) are also seed eaters. They additionally consume bark, leaves, and fruits and berries. For these species, there are appropriate commercial seed mixes, which generally include some larger seeds such as sunflower and safflower. You should offer these birds fruits and vegetables daily as well as seed mix. Their beaks allow them to do a very efficient job on a wide range of fresh items. A shelled, unsalted peanut is also a good addition two or three times per week.

Keep it clean

A bird’s food and water bowls must be cleaned every single day. As birds eat, they leave seed hulls in their feed dish. What appears to you to be a full cup of seed may be all hulls; this is one reason that food and water must be changed and replenished each day. This means that all old food or water must be discarded, the bowls must be scrubbed thoroughly and dried, and new, fresh food and water must be provided. It is essential that a bird’s food and water sources remain as clean as possible.

Pelleted diets are also available for all of these bird species; this food provides a nutritionally balanced diet in a uniform pellet. Both pellet and seed diets have their devoted fans. Regardless of what your bird eats, though, make sure it is fresh, stored appropriately, and of good quality. In general, bird food carried by grocery stores is NOT good quality, and we recommend that you seek better diets at pet stores.  Both seed and pelleted diets always need supplementation with fresh fruit and vegetables.

Calcium and Grit

Mineral supplementation is needed for most birds, especially egg-laying females. These minerals are available in the form of cuttlebone (from the cuttlefish) or mineral blocks. While some bird specialists recommend not using cuttlebone because of possible contaminants, some avian vets see no problem with their use. Also, for those bird owners who are concerned about using animal products, a mineral block will be a better option.

The ideal situation would be for birds to receive and ingest a perfectly balanced diet of fruits and vegetables every day, but some birds refuse to eat certain foods and therefore would not get enough calcium unless a mineral block or cuttlebone is provided. The cuttlebone or mineral block also keeps the beak conditioned as the bird chews small pieces off.

Doves need to have grit provided, as their gizzard is aided by ingestion of the tiny granules which help grind their food. Grit should be provided in a small cup near a perch, or sprinkled on the floor of the cage and changed every other day.

What not to feed

Do not offer chocolate, onions, apple seeds, or avocado to any birds; these foods can cause illness or death.

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