Avian Nutrition

Proper and adequate avian nutrition combined with good husbandry is probably the single most important factor in insuring that your pet bird lives a long and healthy life. The good husbandry aspect is very straightforward; supply your companion with a roomy, clean environment with full spectrum lighting, plenty of toys, quality time with you, regular veterinary care and most important of all plenty of mental and physical stimulation. The proper and adequate nutrition aspect is more complicated and complex.

A sound nutritional program for all psittascine species, (with the possible exception of the hyacinth macaw who lives almost exclusively on nuts in the wild), should include fresh clean water, washed vegetables and fruit, grains, legumes, sprouts, beans, nuts, pellets, people food, and limited amounts of seed. The basic nutritional parrot’s diet is similar to a human’s macrobiotic or health food diet. However, all species are not the same and some have special dietary requirements.


Fresh water should be given at least twice daily. I recommend that you boil all water to be given to your birds. Fill a clean freshly washed gallon container with boiled water and place in the refrigerator for future use. This is the simplest way to provide safe drinking and bathing water for your birds. A container will probably last almost a week. Many people always ask, “Can I give my bird bottled or spring water?” I always say “no”! Spring water comes from a stream and is untreated, there is no guarantee that it doesn’t contain some harmful bacteria. I realize that this thought is uncomfortable to some people, but there is a good possibility of this happening. Why take the chance?

If you have to use tap water on occasion, always let the tap run for 2 – 3 minutes first. Certain bacteria, such as psuedamonas live in most water pipes. This bacteria does not routinely effect humans, but can be very harmful and sometimes deadly to birds. Running the water helps to flush out the bacteria and gives your bird a better chance of receiving clean uncontaminated tap water. Your pet’s water should be clean and free of additives! Do not add vitamins or supplements to the water unless instructed to do so by an avian veterinarian. Put any additives on your bird’s soft food or feed it to them from a dropper or warmed and added to a small amount of juice or oatmeal and fed from a small non-wax paper cup.


Vegetables add bulk and roughage to your pet’s diet. They need plenty of roughage to chew on. All vegetables should be washed with mild soap and scrubbed with a vegetable brush. The following vegetables are safe and nutritious. It is just a basic list and a good, safe place to start.

  1. Broccoli – whole vegetable
  2. Lettuce – romaine, chickory, boston, aruula, etc. Any but iceberg, which has little or no nutritional value.
  3. Sweet potato – Raw or slightly microwaved (45-60 seconds per sweet potato). It tastes sweeter that way, but is still crunchy and appetizing.
  4. Cauliflower – whole vegetable chopped up
  5. White potatoes – whole spud, chopped up. Remove all eyes, as they are poisonous.
  6. Squash – zucchini, acorn, spaghetti, butternut, yellow, pumpkin, etc. Any portion of the squash is good, especially the seeds. They are high in silenium and other healthy minerals.
  7. Melon – watermelon (pits are okay), canteloupe (rind is toxic), canary melon, sabra melon, honeydew – the flesh is good, remove seeds and rind.
  8. Tomato – the tomato only, leaves and stem are toxic
  9. Carrots – whole plant is great!
  10. Beets– The whole plant served raw is supernutritious.
  11. Corn – On the cob, cut into 1 inch sections, no more than 2 sections per bird daily. Corn can cause problems with proper calcium metabolism, so although it is usually relished by all birds, it must be limited.
  12. Turnips– The turnip itself and the greens. The greens are rich in vitamin A
  13. Kale– Rich in Vitamin A, E, K
  14. Watercress– Rich in vitamin A, C, E
  15. Collard Greens – Rich in vitamin A, C, Potassium, Calcium
  16. Dandelion – Rich in vitamin A. If you collect your own, make sure they are untreated chemically.
  17. Chicory -Vitamin A
  18. Mustard Greens
  19. Cabbage – Cut horizontally to avoid long stringy pieces.
  20. Kohrabi
  21. Brussell Sprouts – Sprouts on the stalk can be hung in the cage as a perch or food toy.
  22. Swiss Chard
  23. Peas
  24. Beans– Beans will be covered in the following section in detail.
  25. Celery– peeled and cut up in samll horizontal pieces, so there are no long stringy hard to digest pieces to obstruct digestion.

SPROUTS- Beans & Seeds

Sprouted beans and seeds are, in my opinion, the single most nutritious food that you can feed to your birds. Fruits and vegetables are very nutritious, but once they are cut open, they start losing nutritional value. A sprout on the other hand, only becomes more nutritious as it continues to grow and is finally eaten. Sprouts are full of nutritious enzymes that convert the stored energy in the bean or seed into a positive nutritional cornucopia. Fatty sun and safflower seeds, when soaked and sprouted, become a wonderful and integral part of a balanced diet. Dry sunflower and or safflower seeds can be fed in small amounts, but the traditional seed mixture diet is deadly! A diet rich in seeds can cause malnutrition and all its accompanying bad side effects and disease.

Sprouting Instructions

Take part of a package of dried beans. Put a small amount of beans in a collander or strainer and place the strainer in a small bowl. Cover the beans with about 2 inches of warm water. Let stand for about two minutes, then rinse. Repeat two or three times, until the water in the bowl is clear when you lift the strainer out. Rinse and refill. Let the beans soak in the water overnight or for about 8 hours. Change the water after about 4 hours and repeat the process. After 8 hours drain the beans. Put down paper towels and lay the beans out on them. Dry the beans thoroughly!!! Refrigerate continuously, while soaking and until mixing with rice to be given to the birds!!! The beans must not be allowed to get slimey. They must be totally dry or the bird will get sick.!!! The beans will be cold and firm, but not slimey or moldy. After 5 days, discard any soaked beans and make another batch. Most of the beans will have started to sprout by this time. Mix with some rice and corn (fresh from the cob or canned – fresh stays better), warm and serve.

Sprouted lima beans and navy beans are poisonous – do not use lima beans!!! The following beans are good to use: pinto, black, lentils, pigeon, barley, whole green peas not split, mung, kidney, garbanzo or chick peas. Natural rice, wheat, rye, barley, sunflower and safflower seeds are also nutritional sources for sprouts.


Fresh fruits, thoroughly washed and rinsed in order to remove dirt and any chemical pesticide residues should make up a large portion of a bird basic diet. The following are recommended but do not use the pits – many are poisonous: apples, oranges, cherries, pears, nectarines, plums, peaches, whole cranberries, papaya, mango, persimmons, apricots, leechees (seeds OK), pomegranites (the seeds are the best part), bananas, grapes – seeded or seedless, berries – black, blue, raspberries, mulberries, currants are all great. Commercially grown strawberries have the highest level of stored pesticide residues of any fruit or vegetables, so should be avoided. Homegrown or organic strawberries are fine. This is just a basic list, many other fruits can be fed.


Nuts are nutritious and are relished by most parrots, but must be fed appropriately according to the fat content requirement for a particular species. There is one generalization that holds true for all parrots. Peanuts should never be fed to any parrot! Although dearly loved by almost all parrots and people alike, they carry aspergillus spores, which causes aspergillosis and should not be included in any psittascine diet! Aspergillosis is a very serious and sometimes fatal avian disease, why expose your bird to it every time you feed it a not very nutritious treat? Peanuts also carry cancer causing aflatoxins. African greys are especially susceptible to aspergillosis, but it has been reported to occur in all psittascines.

Macaws and many other New World parrots require a diet high in fat. Nuts are an important and integral part of their diet. Hyacinth macaws live almost exclusively on palm, brasil and macademia nuts. A captive diet rich in these nuts is great for them, but the same diet would kill a rosebrested cockatoo or a budgie. Most cockatoos, cockatiels and budgerigars do not adequately metabolize fat from their bodies. They are prone to developing lipomas or so-called fatty tumors around their internal organs when fed a diet high in fats. A seed diet, mixed with nuts is anathema to them. Their nut intake should be very limited if at all. The following nuts are healthy, again in moderation and according to fat the metabolism capabilities of specific species: almonds, cashews, brasil, walnuts, pecans, almonds, macademia, and pistachios (undyed and unsalted).


Many good quality commercially formulated pelleted and extruded foods are on the market today. Contrary to many advertising claims, due to the differences in species nutritional requirements, no one pelleted food can satisfy the nutritional needs of all species. Be aware of the nutritional requirements of your particular species and read the labels. Macaws need pellets high in fat, cockatoos need pellets low in fat, African greys need pellets that are high in calcium. See which pellets your bird likes. Not all birds will eat every pellet. You might have to try a few, but pellets should be an integral part of your birds diet.

The following are some commonly found brands of pellets that might be right for your pet: Pretty Bird, Exact, Harrison’s, Mazuri, Ziegler’s, Scenic, Zupreem and Squoz. Some of these companies, such as Pretty Bird, make pellets that are specifically formulated for different species.


Most tablefood is okay for birds, but the following is poisonous! Never feed: avocado, caffein, choclate, rhubarb, sprouted lima, fava and navy beans. Cooked rice and pasta (both raw and cooked) have a place in your bird’s diet. They can eat eggs, dairy products, including yogurt, ice cream & cheese, as well as meat (fat removed), poultry, pasta ,whole grain breads, vegetables and fruits.


A very nutritious and easy to make bird bread recipe is as follows: Buy a box of Jiffy Corn Meal Mix. Follow the directions on the box for corn meal bread, but add the following: 3 extra eggs (shell and all), 1 well cooked, mashed or pureed sweet potato, zuchini or any other fresh veggie at hand, pieces of fruit, raisons, and some applesauce. Seed and nuts are optional according to the species of bird. After the bread is cooled, slice and serve part. Refrigerate or freeze the rest for later use.


Food toys are great for picky eaters. By food toys I mean food presented in such a way that a finicky eater will be tempted to play with and then nibble on it and eventually learn to eat it. Here are some examples:

Take a carrot or a beet , preferably with the top (greens) still on and make a hole about พ of an inch from the thick end. Put a short piece of sisal through it . Take a carrot peeler and peel down the side of the carrot without removing the peels. Do this all around the carrot or beet and you will have a carrot mop that your bird will hopefully play with and sample.

Take a thick woody carrot preferably with the greens still attached, and place it high up in the cage. Notch or wedge the end without the greens between the bars until it is secure, or secure with screw and washers and if it’s the highest perch in the cage, your bird is sure to investigate it. Eventually, they usually rub their beaks on their new perch and then bite and chew on it. Chances are once they start chewing on it, they will learn to eat carrots.

Brussell sprouts on the stalk hung in the cage usually winds up as a half eaten swing. In the case of very timid birds, try hanging a fruit or veggie outside of the cage almost out of the parrot’s reach. What parrot do you know that won’t reach for something it thinks that you don’t want it to have? Be inventive! Make eating nutritiously fun for both of you.


Until very recently, parrots and their nutritional requirements were lumped together as a group by most experts. Some very well respected avian experts still feel that one or another specific formulated pelleted diet can satisfy the nutritional requirements of all psittacines. This is just not true! Parrot diets in the wild vary as wildly as do their size, coloration and personalities. We should try to take the environment that a particular psittascine species evolved in into consideration when when formulating a diet for each and every individual parrot.

As an experienced breeder of many different species of birds, I have observed firsthand that certain babies failed to thrive and develop normally if the handfeeding formula is not tailored to their needs. Stunted hatchlings are the result of improper handfeeding formula and technique. Baby hawkheaded parrots need a diet that has a minimum of 12% fat. They will not gain weight and grow if the formula they are fed is too low in fat. Many aviculturists are unaware of this and have lost and continue to lose hawkhead chicks. Cockatoo babies need to be on a low fat diet. Cockatoo chicks need to have a low , no more than eight percent fat diet. When cockatoo babies are fed a high fat diet, they develop fatty kidney and liver disease. They are unable to properly metabolize the fat and store it in their organs. Both these situations can be tragic and even fatal if not corrected. Both are totally avoidable by using a little bit of common sense.

By extrapolation, we must modify the diets of our adult birds to be species specific. Your parrot, like a small child, can’t tell you what they need. Buyer beware! Do your homework! Do your own due diligence and provide your parrot with the proper nutrition and they will reward you with many years of loving devotion. A varied diet will make a long lived healthy happy companion.

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