Why Your Bird Should Be Eating Pellets
In the wild, birds have evolved to eat a large variety of natural foods that vary according to the season and availability - a diet that we cannot easily replicate in captivity. However, with some planning, it is possible to provide a healthy, varied, and balanced diet for your pet bird that is not much more difficult than a fast food seed diet!
Diets high in seed result in an increased risk of disease, obesity, multi-vitamin and mineral deficiencies, and ultimately a shortened lifespan. All seed diets are high in fat and carbohydrates, and lack a number of vitamins, minerals, and amino acids.Although seed can certainly be part of a healthy diet, providing unlimited amounts of seed and unlimited amounts of fresh food and pellets simply doesn’t work.
Just like a child being offered a big bowl of salad and a big bowl of candy, they’ll never, ever touch the salad, and keep going back to the candy.That’s where pellets come in! Pellets are made to fulfill the vitamin, mineral, and amino acid requirements for birds, while also providing proper amounts of carbohydrates and fats. Pellets, vegetables, and fruit can be fed in unlimited quantities.
What Are the Benefits of a Pelleted Diet?
In a pelleted diet, birds are unable to preferentially select certain foods such as a favourite type of seed. They are easy to feed, provide a 'nutritionally complete' diet for a range of species, and are also more economical to feed in the long term. Pellets also provide a buffer against normal variations in nutritional content of fruit and vegetables.
While pelleted diets have clear advantages, it's not as simple as placing a bowl of pellets in the cage and expecting your bird to start eating them, especially if they have been on a predominantly seed-based diet for a number of years. It's like feeding a child chicken nuggets for a year, then placing a bowl of vegetables in front of them and expecting them to happily eat it - it ain’t going to happen overnight!
It's also important to note that birds are active foragers and in the wild they would spend a large proportion of their day foraging for food. We completely alter this natural behaviour when we place a bowl full of food in front of them, leaving a large proportion of their day free to get into mischief. This can lead to many of the behavioural problems we see in captive birds today. To replicate the behavioural needs of birds, we also need to ensure that they can perform normal feeding behaviours by providing food in foraging toys.
Safely Transitioning Birds Onto a Pelleted Diet
Similar to diet changes in humans, it's important not to suddenly convert over to a pelleted diet as this can have serious health implications. Below is a step-by-step approach to ensure this conversion is done safely. If you have any questions or concerns, always seek advice from your avian veterinarian or contact one of our in-house veterinarians. To find your closest avian veterinarian, check out the Association Of Avian Veterinarians Australasian Committee website.
Transitioning a seed-addicted bird to a healthy diet is one of the most frustrating exercises in bird-keeping, and it will definitely test your patience. Birds are stubborn, and unfortunately they don’t realize that all that seed is bad for their health. They only know that it tastes good, and they will throw tantrums, toss the healthy food out of the cage, and make it very clear that they want no part of this nonsense.
Persevere! It can take up to a year to transition a parrot onto a healthy diet. Slow and steady is the way to go.
Steps for Transitioning Birds Onto a Healthy Diet
- Veterinary Examination: Before converting from a seed to a pelleted diet, have your bird examined by an avian veterinarian to ensure they are otherwise healthy. Dietary changes are not recommended in any sick or underweight bird, as the physiologic stress of changing may be too much for them. Your vet may recommend blood and faecal testing to ensure that all is well.
- Calculate the amount of seed your bird currently eats per day: To do this, ensure you have access to digital scales that weigh in 1 gram increments. Place a measured amount of seed in the food dish each morning. The next morning, measure the remaining seed and the difference is the daily seed consumption in grams. Repeat for 3 - 4 days and calculate the average seed consumption per day for your bird.
- Introduce the pellets: Mix them into the seed to ensure that your bird contacts them and maybe even tastes a couple to see what they are. At this stage, it doesn’t matter if they’re eating them or not, the important thing is that they’re exposed to the pellets.
- Introduce fresh fruit and vegetables: You can mix chopped up or small pieces into the seed and pellet mix, as well as placing them all around the cage in areas where your bird spends most of their time.
- Gradually remove the amount of seed provided - once your bird has started to eat the pellets and fresh food, usually in 2-4 weeks, you can slowly reduce the amount of seed provided by 5-10% per day. It's important to closely monitor your bird's weight and droppings during the process. Seed should be reduced until there is no more than a teaspoon a day for small birds, a tablespoon a day for medium-sized birds, and two tablespoons for large birds.
You can also try:
- Pretend to eat the pellets yourself before offering to your bird
- Moisten the pellets into a paste and add seed into the mix to get them to eat some pellets as they try to get the seed out
- For budgies and cockatiels, place a 'hall of mirrors' just above the pellet dish and place pellets on the mirrored shelf. This may 'trick' them into believing another bird is eating the pellets
- Provide lots of praise when you observe your bird eating the pellets
Other great ways of reducing seed include:
- Feeding seed only in foraging toys and ensuring that pellets and fresh food are easily available
- Feeding seed only during dinner and having pellets and fresh food available all the time
- Feeding seed only as training treats or during interaction time and having pellets and fresh food available all the time
What About Lorikeets or Lories?
For our nectar-favouring feathered friends, a similar concept applies. If you are feeding a dry powdered formula, crush or mix the pellet (like Vetafarm Lorikeet Nectar Pellets) in with the powder, gradually changing the ratios of powder to pellet, as your bird adjusts.
On the other hand if you are feeding a wet based formula, look at grinding the pellet into a powder as well and mixing into the wet food, on top of providing it whole, in a separate bowl. Sprinkle the pellets over fruits and vegetables you have on offer as well to encourage them to consume it! If you are going to use a dry powdered formula, stick with high quality formulas like Vetafarm Forest Fusion and avoid cheaper formulas that are basically sugar water.
Watch This Space!
Throughout the conversion process, it's important to keep a close eye on your bird to make sure they are tolerating the new diet well.
To do this, monitor at least one of the following:
- Body weight: weigh your bird first thing every morning before feeding using digital scales and keep a daily record of this weight
- Droppings: normal droppings should have volume and bulk with a small amount of urine. When birds are not eating well their droppings will be small and dark with increased urine and urates
- Total food intake: Weigh the food before and after they have eaten to see how much has been eaten throughout the day
When To Stop and Seek Veterinary Assistance
If you notice any of the following: your bird appears to be fluffed up or looks unwell, their droppings become dark and small, their weight drops by more than 2% in a single day, or their weight drops by more than 5%, it's important to stop the conversion process immediately and speak with your avian veterinarian. Your veterinarian will warn you if your bird is expected to lose weight, and provide you with a timeframe in which that should occur. Sudden weight loss is always a concern.
How To Know That You've Won
When your bird happily eats pellets and fresh food once it's served, that’s when you know your bird is on the right track! Birds will always prefer seed because of the higher fat content, and so we don’t expect seed to disappear from their favourite foods. The goal is to make it clear that seed is a “sometimes” food, and pellets, vegetables, and fruit are “anytime” foods!
What Does a Proper Diet Look Like for My Bird?
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