The Seed and Nut Diet
Every pet bird from largest down to smallest can follow this basic diet, with a few modifications based on each particular species’ needs. Some are granivores, others are frugivores, and some are even omnivores. Finches and canaries eat more seed, while macaws and cockatoo enjoy whole nuts. And medium sized birds can have a little of both. But the diet should not consist of seed-only nor nuts-only, because it is so unhealthy.
Every time I’ve said this, someone in the raises their hand and says, “but my cockatiel has eaten seed only, and he’s 20 years old,” or something like that. OK, so if you eat pizza all day every single day for all your life, maybe you live a long time but are you healthy, vibrant, feeling your best? That’s the point.
And yes, we all fed Walmart seed and nothing else back in the 70s and 80s. We didn’t know any different! Thank goodness we have more research-based information now, so that we aren’t making those mistakes, and so that all our birds live to a ripe old age, rather than that being an anomaly.
So now we know that birds that eat only seeds as a diet, a complete diet, are often vitamin deficient. Birds that eat fatty seeds, like sunflower seed often are overweight and have liver damage called fatty liver disease. They’re also deficient in calcium, which makes their bones become brittle. They may become egg bound.
So, what can you do to help your parrot become healthy?
Healthy Diet Snapshot
- A good diet for any size bird consists of:
- Fresh vegetables, like broccoli, spinach, and kale (there’s a comprehensive list here)
- Fresh fruit
- Pellet food, maybe (see the Pellet Controversy here)
- Protein foods
- Grains like rice, oats, quinoa, wheat, and even pasta
- A little seed and/ or nuts
Larger parrots only need around 10% of their diet to consist of seed. Finches, cockatiels and canaries can have more, perhaps up to 25%.
Objections to the Healthy Diet
I see it all the time. “But my bird won’t eat (insert healthy food here).”
Well it is true that they might simply refuse to eat anything at all, if they don’t like what you have fed them. But usually there is a way to cause them to revisit it, and even enjoy it.
If your bird is reluctant to try the new diet, try sprinkling some seed over it. There are many more ways to convince him to eat healthy foods; I’ve listed a few of them here.
It’s just like feeding a child; if you want him to be healthy you find a way to make him eat healthy foods.
Why I Prefer a Healthy Bird Diet
Cooking and preparing foods for my birds is a lot of work. And there’s a monetary cost to consider. But there are so many health benefits. For example, the average lifespan of a pet parakeet is 10 years, whereas the lifespan of wild parakeets can be as much as 25 years.  Also, experts say that as much as 90% of bird illnesses are related to diet. Seed, whether dry or enriched, is deficient in vitamins and minerals, and many seeds are just too fatty. By choosing to supply my birds with fresh, healthy foods I’m helping them fight off disease. I’m enabling them to have healthy skin and feathers, have more energy and less stress, and keep their hormones under control. I consider good nutrition critical when considering the well-being of my aviary.
For more information see: The Pellet Controversy: Feeding Finches
Vegetables you can Safely Feed to Finches