It’s a very common mistake made by bird owners: Feeding a diet of nothing but, or mostly, seed. Here’s the scoop.
Q: What should I feed my new baby parrot? Her veterinarian recommends a pelleted food, but I heard seeds were better.
A: The idea that birds need only seeds for a complete and balanced diet is one of those myths that keeps hanging on. Seeds are high in fat and don’t provide the nutrition that birds need. Feeding only seeds is like giving your kids a diet of hamburgers, hot dogs, and mac and cheese every day. Birds who eat only seeds are prone to obesity and other health conditions caused by poor diet.
Pellets are a mixture of grains, seeds, fruits and vegetables, and provide appropriate levels of vitamins and minerals. Different types of pellets are made for different species and sizes of birds. But not even pellets offer a complete meal for every bird. Many species have unique nutritional requirements.
Adding fresh foods such as vegetables, fruits, pasta and various types of protein — including lean poultry or cooked eggs — is important for giving your bird a well-rounded diet. Birds enjoy fun foods that they have to work at: think corn on the cob, a slice of watermelon, the core of a bell pepper, sprouts, or a nut in the shell. Your bird-savvy veterinarian can advise you about the proper percentage of pellets and fresh foods for your bird’s species, but in general, pellets should make up about 80 percent of your bird’s diet.
When are seeds OK? I’m not saying you can never give seeds to your bird; in very small amounts, they are a great reward when you are teaching her something new, or when she has just done something you like. Just remember that they should be a special treat, not a large percentage of her intake.
There’s more – including how to help pets who are scared by people wearing face masks – in Pet Connection, the weekly nationally syndicated pet feature I co-write with Kim Campbell Thornton and my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker.