A Healthy Parrot
Fresh Food Diet
By Sally Blanchard
Drawing by Jeff Riebe
I am a big fan of fresh food and real food diets. I do not and will never recommend pellets with one exception listed below in a parrot's diet. Other pelleted diets have a base of essentially non-nutritive corn, soy or some other grain with added chemical nutrients. Menadione is in most as a CHEAP source of vitamin K activity and not an actual source of real vitamin K which is essential for blood health and many other bodily functions. Menadione is banned in human foods and pet foods in several countries in Europe because it is considered a carcinogen. I will not feed or recommend anything with this questionable chemical in it. At this time the only pelleted diet that I feed my parrots is TOPS Parrot Food because it has NO corn, soy, wheat, peanuts, or chemical additives. It relies on real food powders to provide necessary nutrition. The manufacturer also highly recommends feeding healthy fresh foods.
It is my opinion that reliance on pelleted diets as a total diet or even a major part of the diet is beginning to cause serious health problems for our beloved companion parrots. This is absolutely true for pellets that have artificial food coloring, which can be a serious allergen, create liver and kidney problems and actually prevent the absorption of some essential nutrition needed by the parrot for their health. I believe that pelleted diets can cause serious health problems in the long-term health of parrots.
In the wild, the vast majority of parrots are Opportunistic Omnivores, which means that they eat just about anything edible that they come across while they forage for food. Their digestive system did not evolve to eat dry pellets. They need a balance of fresh foods for their nutritional and psychological health! Feeding a balance of foods from the foods listed in this article will provide all of the nutrients that they need to live a long healthy life.
Here are the food groups and percentages. Some foods fit more than than one category and the percentages are approximate but close:
VITAMIN A VEGGIES - About 30% of the Total Diet
- High vitamin A vegetables are one of the most important foods you can get your parrot to eat. It is also one of the essential vitamins that is missing from most diets. It is completely missing from seed and is unstable in pellets. Although there are fruits that are higher in vitamin A than others, fruits are not generally as good a source as vegetables for this essential nutrient. Vitamin A is essential for skin and feather condition, eyesight, and helps the body fight infection by keeping the mucous membranes healthy.
- A general rule of thumb is ‘the darker the flesh (not the skin) of the vegetable or fruit, the higher the carotene content.’ It is carotene that converts into vitamin A when metabolized by the digestive system. Veggies can be fed raw but some may be more digestible if they are steamed or baked. However, overcooking can destroy vitamin content.
- The following are good sources of vitamin A.
- Sweet potatoes, garnet or jewel yams (not white Japanese yams), carrots, butternut squash, Hubbard squash, acorn squash, hot peppers, red peppers, pumpkin.
GREEN VEGETABLES & GREENS HIGH IN VITAMIN A
- Kale, mustard greens, turnip greens, broccoli, green peppers, dandelion greens, bok choy, collard greens, water cress, hot peppers are preferred. Spinach, chard, beet greens, parsley, chicory, purslane should be limited due to their higher oxalic acid content.
Sprouted seed is also very healthy and high in nutrients including vitamin A.
- FRUIT WITH DECENT WITH DECENT VITAMIN A
Peaches, nectarines, apricots, Japanese persimmon, cantaloupe, raw plantain, mango, papaya, sour red cherry.
- Vitamin A is also available from eggs, meat, and many kinds of cheeses in the form of retinol but these should be considered in the other categories.
OTHER VEGGIES & FRUITS - About 15 to 20%
Although these veggies and fruits aren't high in vitamin A, they have other great nutritional and psychological value.
- Corn on the cob (organic non GMO), peas in the pod, fresh bean sprouts, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, artichokes, zucchini, green beans, okra, asparagus, beets, tomato, potato, apples, grapes, banana, guava, berries, pomegranates, tangerines, oranges, figs, blueberries, plums, kiwi fruit, cranberries, prickly pear, pineapple, etc.
QUALITY PROTEINS - No More than 20%
- Proteins are made up of amino acids which are the building blocks of life. Many protein sources are of poor nutritional value because they have an incomplete balance of important amino acids. Some incomplete sources of protein may be combined with others to form more complete proteins - for example cooked brown rice and beans.
- The Quinoa seed is one of the healthiest proteins you can feed. It is now available in most stores with a healthy food section. I cook it (some parrots like it cooked like cereal - it can also be sprouted). As a seed it contains the full complement of necessary amino acids making it a complete protein. It is actually a highly nutritious seed and now it is available in flakes that can easily be added to moist and/or cooked foods.
- Other examples include: Nonfat plain yogurt (has no lactose), nonfat or lowfat low-salt cheese in moderation (has no lactose), almond cheese and very hard boiled eggs. Well-cooked white meat chicken, white fish, water-packed tuna, and turkey. (I don't recommend beef because it is high in iron and hamburger can contain pathogens that can make a parrot very sick). Not only are yogurt and Swiss cheese high in calcium and protein without lactose (which makes them healthy for parrots), they are also high in vitamin B12 which is not available in vegetables. Combinations of various grains, brown rice, corn, nuts and/or various cooked beans can be a complete protein if mixed properly. Never feed raw beans as they are toxic. Commercially produced meal worms or insect larvae can also be a protein source for some birds, particularly softbills, but should be limited for parrots because of their fat content. My Amazons loved them when I could find them but only as a treat. Of course, many wild parrots naturally eat grubs and larvae in the wild.
- A BIG NO NO Feeding monkey chow, dog food, or cat food are dangerous for parrots since they have been manufactured for mammals - not birds. The protein/fat ratios are not formulated properly for parrots. Most mammal food contains a higher percentage of some minerals, particularly iron, which can cause serious health problems in parrots in excess. Veterinarians are seeing more parrots with iron storage disease. The only cure is to gradually remove and replace all of the parrot's blood. The gut flora of mammals is different than parrots. Consequently, there does not need to be a greater control of gram negative bacteria in mammal food as there is in parrot foods.
WHOLE GRAINS - About 10 to 15%
Whole grain sprouted bread or toast, unsweetened cereals, cooked whole grain pastas, whole grain ‘energy bars’ without sugar, cooked brown rice, low fat granola, wheat germ, cooked wild rice, oat bran, cooked amaranth, cooked quinoa (a seed that has great protein), triticale, plus as a treat health food type whole grain unsalted chips, unsalted pretzels, and unsalted crackers without sugar that aren’t highly processed.
CARBOHYDRATES AND FATS - About 10%
Other fruits, pasta, grains, bread, corn, beans, potatoes, peas, yogurt, white cheese, nuts, seeds. The last three items can provide your parrot with a small amount of fat needed in the diet.