Diet & Nutrition

Creating the Best Diet for your Parrot

60-75% of the diet should be made up of a pellets. If you're feeding Eclectus, avoid the colored pellets.   25-40% of the diet needs to be primarily fresh veggies and greens with small amounts of berries/other fruits. (fruit is higher in sugar and lower in nutrients than veggies are).  The veggies can be fresh or frozen but avoid canned as they can have higher levels of sodium.  If buying frozen mixes becareful to avoid ingredients like onions and mushrooms.  Fruit should always have the seeds/pits removed before feeding to your bird.  

Whole grains to serve include- spelt, oat groats, barley, flax seed, millet, hemp etc
Veggies- dark leafy greens , broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, beans, sweet potatoes, peppers, winter squashes and other colorful rich veggies.

Granivores: budgies/cockatiels should be at 50% pellets and 50% whole grains, leafy veggies, minimal fruit.

Macaws:  require a higher fat content (but not a lot higher), can have about 10% of diet being nuts

Eclectus: have unusually long digestive tracts and require large amounts of fiber.  Their diet should be 80% vegetables and leafy greens like kale (not spinach) to remain healthy.  They are far more likely than other parrots to suffer from nutritional deficiencies, since many people ignore their special dietary needs.  Avoid any colored pellets as they can effect the color of their feathers. 

At Best Friends Parrot Garden, they serve  "chop" three days a week.  Many people feed fresh food daily, however you can feed these items however it works for your schedule just as long as your birds are getting them.  You can feed different veggies and fruit at different times of the year depending on what is available and cost effective.  They can be fresh, cooked or baked into a birdie bread.   You can buy 'soak & cook' mixes that require you to soak them overnight then cook for 30 minutes the next morning.  You can make up your own mixes depending on what your birds like.  You're only limited by your imagination, what your birds like and of course the list of safe foods.

Table food that is not high in salt, sugar or fat can be shared in moderation.  Leftover veggies for dinner?  Maybe your birds would like it for breakfast!  

Whatever fresh foods you decide to feed, your birds should have pellets available all day long.  Having birds on pellets as the majority of their diet is the best thing we can do for their health!

When training with food motivated birds, it would be good to motivate with things that are healthy, but seeds are okay for foraging exercises and training purposes as long as not in excess and not with the birds that have a heart/weight problem.

Not sure what kind of pellets to feed?  Here's a few ideas:
Pellets can be purchased at most major pet supply stores; smaller independent bird supply stores or ordered on on-line at: or or and others...

Small birds (budgies, cockatiels, small conures):  Roudybush Mini or crumbles Daily Maintenance

Medium birds (African Greys, small cockatoos, larger conures):  Roudybush Medium Daily  Maintenance

Amazons or over-weight birds: Harrisons Daily Maintenance Coarse

Large birds (Cockatoos, Macaws): Roudybush  Large Daily Maintenance Formula

Another excellent pellet diet is Caitec Oven Fresh Bites which you can sometimes find at independent bird supply stores or online and at .  Their Baked Birdie Munchies Bird Treats are always a hit too!
Resources & More Reading: 20 Things You Must Know About Nutrition
                                                       Foods Toxic to Pet Birds

SPECIAL THANKS to  Best Friends Animal Society, Kanab Utah 
for Sharing their Resource materials with us!

The Chop Revolution

Parrot Food

"A way to feed your birds without losing your mind"
By Patricia Sund

In the day-to-day, "Chop" is easy, fast, convenient and consistently good for your guys. It is as good as what you put into it.The trick is to take the initial time to make a big batch of it, bag it, freeze it and you're off the hook for as long as it lasts. It's easier if you have a few people to get together with and make it; it's more fun and there are extra sets of hands to snap open the baggies while you're filling them. This way, you share the work, the expense and the "Chop!" Here are some suggested ingredients you can use, but this is in no way etched in stone; buy what's fresh, in season and available. Add a cooked brown or wild rice, some cooked whole wheat pasta, some cooked quinoa and you're off! It's quite versatile: You can put it in bird bread or mix it in with scrambled eggs for them. Crush up one of the egg shells and add it to the mix; it's great calcium! You can spice it with herbs, add milk thistle seed, put pureed squash over it, or cook it in rice pancakes for them. The options are endless with "Chop!" Try toppings such as sprouts, red pepper flakes, bee pollen or a nutritional supplement.

Nutritional Content of Some Suggested Items used in "Chop"

Quinoa: Quinoa is high in protein and includes all the nine essential amino acids supplements. It is a popular choice for vegans, as it helps them take in the adequate amount of proteins, sometimes a tricky thing if you're a vegan. It is gluten-free and a wonderful source of phosphorous, magnesium, zinc, copper and manganese. It contains vitamin 86, niacin and thiamine. It has lysine for building proteins in the body, and contains riboflavin (vitamin 82),an extremely important vitamin for producing energy.

Watercress: A wonderful source of vitamins Bl and 86,vitamin E, beta-carotene and vitamin A equivalents, iron and calcium. Watercress is loaded with beta-carotene and vitamin A equivalents: important antioxidants that are also needed for healthy skin and eyes. It contains more than four times the amount of other so-called "wonder foods."

Amaranth: Amaranth contain large amounts of protein and essential amino acids, such as lysine. This grain grows quickly and their large seed heads can weigh up to 1kilogram, containing a half-million seeds. Amaranthus species can have a 30% higher protein value than cereals such as rice, wheat flour, oats, and rye. It's high in iron, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus and calcium. It's low in gluten and sodium. Amaranth has the highest lysine content of all the grains. Quinoa comes in a close second.

Spelt: Spelt contains 15-21% protein; much higher than wheat. It's also higher in complex carbohydrates, iron, potassium and the B Vitamins than wheat. Spelt is also rich in protein. These proteins contain all of the eight essential amino acids needed by the human body. These amino acids are called "essential" because the body cannot manufacture them. You need to get them from food. Spelt is high in the "bioavailability" department; The nutrients it contains are easily and quickly accessible to the body. It's easily and rapidly broken down and used without much effort.

Peppers: Red peppers have very high levels of vitamin C; yellow and green peppers have nearly as much. The red varieties are also rich in beta carotene that converts to vitamin A. Vitamin A is important for healthy skin, boosts the immune system,and aids in night blindness. They have high antioxidant properties.

Kale: Kale is known as a "Superfood." It is an amazing source of an easily absorbed calcium, which is one of the many factors that may help prevent osteoporosis. It also provides fairly decent amounts of vitamin C, folic acid, vitamin B6, manganese, and potassium.

Dandelion Greens: Dandelions are nature's richest green vegetable source of beta-carotene, from which Vitamin A is created, and the third richest source of Vitamin A of all foods. African Greys need high amounts of Vitamin A, so dandelion greens are right up their alley as a standard food for them. Dandelion greens are also rich in micronutrients such as copper,cobalt, zinc, boron, and molybdenum, as well as Vitamin D.

Wheat Grass Powder: Wheat grass is very rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, sodium, sulfur, zinc, and protein. And it's loaded with vitamins, minerals,enzymes, amino acids, phytonutrients and carotenoids.

Sweet Potato or Yams: Bursting with Vitamin A, something parrots seem to need a ton of, they are a "superfood." Sweet potatoes have orange-hued carotenoid pigments. In Africa, India and in the Caribbean, they have been shown to be a very effective vehicle for providing children with the necessary amounts of their daily Vitamin A. They were shown in some studies to be a better source of bioavailable beta-carotene than green leafy vegetables. They are available in many countries on a year-round basis. They provide parrots with a key antioxidant like beta-carotene and are a stellar antioxidant food! They are one of the most nutri­tious vegetables around. These guys are also a very good source of vitamin C and manganese as well as a good source of copper, dietary fiber, vitamin BG, potassium and iron.

Turnips: Turnips are low in saturated fat and cholesterol,high in Dietary Fiber, Vitamin C, manganese, Vitamin BG, folate, calcium, potassium and copper. Root vegetables are excellent sources of minerals.

Daikon Radish: A mainstay of traditional Japanese cuisines, Daikon radishes grow in the earth and absorb minerals and nutrients. It has 180% of our nutritional needs of Vitamin A, it's stuffed with Vitamin K and packs a pretty good smack of calcium. It contains a nice array of minerals and well, it just tastes really good. Snappy and flavorful,it has a nice crunchy texture my birds seem to love.

Broccoli Rabe: Broccoli Rabe is low in saturated fat and a good source of pantothenic acid. It's rich in dietary fiber, protein, vitamins A, C, E (Alpha Tocopherol), and K, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, Vitamin BG, folate, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus,potassium, zinc and manganese.

Wild Rice: Wild rice is actually an aquatic grass. It contains more Niacin (also known as vitamin B-3) than brown rice and it's an excellent source of other B vitamins, such as calcium and potassium. It is a good source of fiber and it's high in carbohydrates; great for boosting your bird's energy.

Swiss Chard: One of the most nutritious vegetables around, chard ranks second only to spinach following an analysis of the total nutrient-richness of the world's healthiest vegetables. It's packed with vitamins K, A, C, E, as well as being high in minerals such as magnesium, manganese and potassium.

Ginger: Ginger contains very potent anti-inflammatory compounds called gingerols. These substances somewhat explain why so many people with osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis experience a decrease in their pain levels and an increase in their mobility when they use ginger regularly in their cooking. Ginger is an ideal supplement for older birds prone to arthritis and joint pain.

Patricia Sund is a Columnist for "BIRD TALK" Annual and Bird and has a popular blog called "Parrot Nation,"where she writes about life, birds and her adventures in the world of Aviculture including volunteering as a keeper at the Cincinnati Zoo. She has written for "The Bird Channel,"Phoenix Landing's "Phoenix Beakin"', 'The Alamo Exhibition Bird Club,"the AFA "Watch Bird,"and the Rocky Mountain Society of Aviculture.
She has completed Dr. Susan Friedman's online course: "LLP: Living & Learning with Parrots,"and both Beginning and Advanced Levels of the "Natural Encounters "Companion Parrot Training Seminars.When asked why she has parrots in her life, she always responds the same way: "I've been a Flight Attendant for almost 24 years; I guess I'm just used to serving food, repeating myselt cleaning up crap and getting hollered at."

Best Friends Garden Chop Recipe

Best Friend's Parrot Garden Chop

NOTE: the chop concept is the brainchild of Patricia Sund:www.parrotnation. com This is just the Best Friends Parrot Garden's version!

Chop is not a is a concept. The whole premise is that if we make food in a large batch and then freeze it in single day serving size we can afford to give our birds a much better diet. And because the produce is finely chopped in a food processor, birds are not able to pick out and eat their favorite things. If they eat a piece of corn, there is broccoli or sweet potato stuck to it. Even picky eaters get a much better diet. Chop can be made of any bird safe vegetable. We tend to buy what is seasonal, fresh and affordable. The list below is just an example of some of the things you can add to your chop.

It may take your birds several weeks to begin eating chop. Birds are hard-wired to only eat things their parents show them are safe. That keeps them from poisoning themselves in the wild. And just like small children, sometimes it takes several attempts before a food becomes familiar and they will actually try it. Be patient.

Eventually your bird will sample and love chop! We had a Goffin's Cockatoo that wouldn't try chop for a full year. Now she cleans her bowl every day!

Best Friends Garden Chop Recipe

The Dirty Dozen and Clean 15

Because of parrots' unique anatomy and digestive system, they are extremely sensitive to the chemicals used in farming. When feeding you bird fresh vegetables and fruits, you want to make sure you aren't exposing him to high levels of contaminates .

Some fruits and vegetables absorb more chemicals than others. These are known as the Dirty Dozen and you should avoid serving them, unless you are able to purchase them in the organically grown produce section of the store:

domestic blueberries
sweet bell peppers
kale and collard greens
imported grapes

Produce that is less likely to have pesticide or fertilizer residue is known as the Clean 15, and it is safe to feed this to your birds straight from the grocery store. However, some of the 15 items are not bird safe, so only those that are ok to feed your bird are listed below.

sweet corn
sweet peas
kiwi fruit
sweet potatoes 

Food Toxicosis in Parrots

Birds digest foods very quickly. The term "digest" means to convert food into absorbable substances. Birds, however, take much longer to "metabolize" those substances. "To metabolize" refers to the process that breaks down food and nutrients to produce energy. Metabolism promotes growth, sustains life, and enables all other bodily functions to take place. It transforms energy within cells and releases energy from nutrients creates other substances , such as proteins. There are foods that are safe for humans, but not for parrots both because of the differences in digestion, metabolism, and the structure of the digestive system itself.

Chocolate, caffeinated tea and coffee contain 3 main substances that are problematic. Theobromine and theophylline, which are myocardial stimulants as well as a vasodilators, are mostly metabolized in the liver and at a rate which is much slower in birds than in humans.

Caffeine itself is also toxic to birds. The result of ingestion can lead to regurgitation, diarrhea, seizures , heart arrhythmias and possible death.

Avocados contain a chemical called "persin" which can cause myocardial necrosis - this is essentially the death of the heart muscle cells. An amount as small as 1 gram can cause negative effects to a budgie, and as little as 9 grams can cause death within a day or two.  (9 grams = .317 oz)

Raw, dry bean mixes can also be extremely harmful because uncooked beans contain a poison called hemagglutinin which is very toxic to birds.

Alcohol has disastrous effects on the cardiovascular system and the liver of birds. A small amount ingested by a bird could cause depression, lack of coordination and regurgitation.

Tomatoes , potatoes and other members of the nightshade family have fruit that is fine, however, the stems, vines, and leaves are highly toxic. (Other nightshades are: sweet and hot peppers,eggplant, tomatillos , tamarios, pepinos, pimentos, paprika, cayenne)

Onions, garlic and scallions have a property which can cause the rupture of red blood cells resulting in anemia, but in addition onions can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and a host of other digestive problems. According to "", it makes no difference if the onions and garlic are cooked, dehydrated, etc.

The seeds and pits of apples, cherries, peaches, apricots, and pears contain trace amounts of cyanide within their seeds. While the fruit is fine, there may also be pesticides present on the fruit's skin.

Mushrooms are a type of fungus, and have been known to cause digestive upset in com­ panion birds. Caps and stems of some varieties can induce liver failure.

A diet of seed is not considered to be acceptable because seeds are high in fat and relatively low in nutrients like calcium and vitamin A. In the wild, birds gather seed as a part of their diet, but in addition they eat vegetation, fruit, berries, insects, even bark from trees. They also fly long distances and spend a majority of their day foraging, which burns a lot of energy. Also seed is often produced for the oil industry, and is sometimes genetically engi­neered to contain even more fat than normal.

If you thinking about feeding your bird something you're not sure about, do some research, ask someone who would know like your avian vet or even research it online.  It's better to just feed them something you know is safe, than to let them try something that isn't.

Fat found in human foods, sometimes in large amounts, can also be very harmful to birds. Chips, crackers, cookies, bread, fried foods, soups, buttered vegetables and other prepared foods are examples of these. The types of fats added to foods are also an issue. Saturated fats can lead to high cholesterol, obesity, and fatty liver disease just as it can in humans.

Salt can be a big problem when hidden in typical snack foods. It is used to preserve many foods to extend shelf life, but it is mostly found in snacks that are traditionally salty, like chips, pretzels, etc. A very small amount of salt goes a long way when consumed by a parrot with such a small body. Signs of a mild salt toxicity will result in polydipsia, or increased water con­ sumption and subsequent polyuria, or increased fluid (urine) in the droppings. Because excess salt is excreted via the kidneys, a bird with mild to moderate kidney dysfunction may consume toxic doses of salt readily. Deprivation of water alone may lead to salt toxicity because the kid­ neys would not be proficiently bathed by fluids that would normally remove the sodium and chloride.

Example of how much salt is found in packaged chip: Nutritional label -1 single serves pkg. Fritos

30 chips I package = 1 adult

1Average adult = 150 pounds

1 Average parrot = 1 pound

2400 mg sodium I day = adult maximum

(American Heart Assoc.)

2400 mg -:- 150 lb = 16mg I lb = parrot max 170 mg -:- 30 chips = 5.5 mg sodium each chip

3 chips x 5.5 mg sodium = 16.5 mg sodium

3 chips = 100% of an entire day's sodium

Pesticides are a major cause of food contamination. Most vegetables, fruits, and produce that we buy in the grocery store have been sprayed with pesticides at some point in their growing cycle. Even organically grown foods may be unscrupulously sprayed by vendors. The best way to prevent toxicosis by pesticides is to thoroughly and completely wash and scrub fresh foods before giving them to your bird. Cases of pesticide poisoning are very difficult to diag­nose.

Another, more common cause of contaminated food is bacteria. We know bacteria are found everywhere, but certain conditions increase the probability of bacteria. Foods containing high amounts of water or foods soaked in water should be fed very carefully to birds because they contain a tremendous amount of bacteria that can overwhelm a bird's immune system, in fact water and high water content foods are the number one cause of high bacterial exposure in pet birds.

The other cause of contaminated food is mycotoxin-tainted food. Mycotoxins are chemicals produced by certain varieties of molds and fungi which are not visible when the toxins are in­ gested, so these toxicities are difficult to spot, but food can be tested for the presence of my­cotoxins.The most common mycotoxins affect poor quality peanuts and peanut butter, breads, meats, cheese, and grains. If a food smells moldy or if mold is seen, the food should be dis­carded. Toxins cause clinical signs that include anorexia, depression, sores in the mouth, toxic liver changes, kidney failure, and rapid death.

MORE about toxic foods.