What should I feed my parrot?

Intelligent and affectionate, parrots are cherished pets in many households across the U.S. Just like cats, dogs and humans, these colorful birds have specific and complex dietary needs that extend far beyond a diet of only seeds. Dr. Peter Helmer, a board-certified avian veterinarian who heads the avian and exotics department of our BluePearl Florida hospitals, explains avian nutrition.

Contrary to common belief, bird seed is not a healthy or balanced diet for your parrot. Bird seed is essentially “fast food” in the world of avian food, as it is low in nutrition, fattening and often imbalanced. A diet that consists primarily of bird seed can lead to obesity and other medical complications in your parrot.

In the wild, birds rarely have access to an abundance of seeds, so their diets have adapted to include a variety of foods, and therefore, a diversity of nutritional components. Many pet food companies have developed formulated diets, which offer complete and balanced nutrition similar to a parrot’s diet in the wild. These nutritious pellets promote a longer, healthier life for parrots.

Parrot eating a red cherry

Fresh fruits and vegetables are part of a balanced diet for parrots.

Formulated diets come in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors and flavors. It is a myth that birds (and most animals) will self-select the foods they eat based on dietary needs. Like children, birds will choose a food based on taste and color. It is a good idea to start out buying several different brands of nutritious, formulated pellets and letting your bird choose which food he or she likes.

Formulated diet pellets should comprise about three-fourths of our parrot’s diet. One-fourth of the diet should consist of healthy “people” food, such as fresh veggies, fruits and complex carbs. Whenever you are eating a healthy meal, share some of your food with bird for added nutrition and a pleasant change of flavors. Birds can eat basically any fresh ingredient except for avocado, chocolate or large quantities of garlic or onion.

While nutrition deficiencies are uncommon in birds that are fed a complete, balanced diet, it is also important to be aware of the signs that your bird’s diet may be lacking certain nutritional elements. If you notice your parrot’s feathers become dull in color, he might have a vitamin A deficiency. When a female parrot produces many eggs with soft shells, she likely has a calcium deficiency. Signs of malnutrition include overgrown beaks, which can often be very painful.

The beak is an important tool that is used for much more than just eating. A parrot’s beak grows from the inside out and outwards from the base of the face. A parrot cares for his beak by rubbing it against a flat surface. For beak health, it is important to supply your bird with a good “rubbing perch” to ensure he can groom his beak freely. Feeding your bird a nutritious diet will also help to keep the beak strong and maintained.

The bottom line? Parrots who only eat bird seed are subject to health complications such as obesity. We encourage parrot owners to feed their birds complete and balanced formulated pellets.

“A formulated diet is the best choice for your parrot,” says Dr. Helmer, “If you are unsure about how to introduce a formulated diet to your bird, talk to your veterinarian.”