Diet Concepts

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switching diets | nutrition vs therapy | food as kababs or toys | how hot is too hot

Switching Birds to a Healthy Diet

I know how hard it can be to work on expanding a bird’s diet! When I got Gandy he had been eating just seeds. I worked him up into a great, rounded diet filled with fresh fruits, berries and vegetables and a variety of seeds, plus some other occasional goodies. He will try almost anything now! When I got him he had e-coli and also a throat infection. Antibiotics did *not* clear him up — but switching to a healthy diet did! He tests out perfectly at the vet now. My Rosie (G2) was a rescue bird that hadn’t eaten anything but those black oil sunflower seeds for 16 years in her previous home. Her uric acid count was so high the vet thought we might be losing her to kidney failure. Her little legs and feet looked almost dried out and arthritic when I got her. She is now eating a wide variety of foods, too, and her uric acid count is normal. Her little legs and feet look like a healthy Cockatoo.

Both of these birds are in perfect weight (I fly them in the house and also clicker train them for exercise). Both are covered with gorgeous feathers. Both are beautiful – shining with good health. Rosie’s former owner came back to see her after I’d had her for about 1.5 years and was *floored* at how good she looked and how affectionate she was with me (she was terrified of everyone — including me — when I got her). He left with a huge grin on his face, feeling good about letting me have her. But was all this easy? Heck no!

I tried LOTS of things. I put favorite seeds in unsweetened (homemade) applesauce or organic baby foods. I stuck seeds into soft fruits and soft veggies so they had to get a taste of the new foods in order to get their favorites. I also kept fixing lots of foods they dropped or tossed out.

I clicked and treated them for experimenting with foods, too — that really helped. First, you need to do some foundational clicker training. Once they understood the game, they would get a click and a wee, favorite food treat for trying a new food — even if they spit it out the first few times. Just that they tried got them a click, a treat, and a drama reward from me. Pretty soon they were trying more and more new foods. They’ve both taken thousands of teensy food treats from my hands, too, and I also feed them from spoons (we do training). Try this — if Kichi tries any new food, immediately give her a little head scratch or neck rub. We have to reward desirable behaviors!

Besides, they’ll start liking foods they associate with good things. I put up swings over my kitchen sinks and set both birds on them every morning while I fixed their breakfast. I still do this on weekends. But *never* when the stove top is being used. I slice up fruits and veggies (raw) while they watch, then make a big fuss over eating them myself in front of the hungry birds. There I’d be with peach juice dribbling down my chin into the sink going, “Mmmmmmm! This is sooooo good!” This was good for my diet, too! (My breakfasts always start with raw, fresh apple, pineapple, papaya, berries, celery, carrots, tomatoes, parsley, etc. <G>) When they show interest, I’ll offer them a bite from a part without my mouth germs on it. I’d even hold one end in my lips and let them nibble from the clean end. Sometimes I do “child psychology” with them and play, “I’ve got it and it’s SOOO yummy and you can’t have any!” Kind of a modified game of “keep away”. I wouldn’t let them have any until they were begging.

My Cockatoo is still fussy compared to the ‘zon (duh, Melinda), but her diet is pretty broad now. Her #1 favorite is papaya seeds. #2 is papaya meat Vitamin A). #3 is oat groats (which we use for training treats). #4 is probably corn and a new one for her lately is cantaloupe seeds. But she eats other fruits, veggies, sprouted grain bread, seeds, occasional tuna or egg — all sorts of things. The vast majority of her diet is fresh, and raw, just as it would be in the wild. She seems to like crisp fruits best, while my Amazon prefers mushier fruits. (We don’t feed pellets in this house!!) She can have all the pale grey sunnies she wants nowadays (I did limit them for awhile), and you know what? She’ll go for the fresh foods first! She’s very slow to eat her sunnies compared to what she used to be. Now I’m not slamming sunnies — they’re a great food and both my birds have them available all the time — the pale greys (never the black oily type). It’s just that they’re no good as an ONLY food. Nothing is. Try warm oatmeal, too. Cockatoos seem to love that Oh, and Rosie’s blood tests are A-#1 now, too! It took me about 3 months to achieve that.

Look up the Lexicon of Parrots on the web and go see what they recommend your particular breeds of birds eat. I have also polled my list members on what they use for training treats for their birds. For Cockatoos they said: papaya (with seeds), pine nuts, oat groats, almonds, pumpkin seeds, nuts, sunflower seeds, cantaloupe (with seeds), safflower seeds, apple, sesame seeds, sterilized hemp seeds, soy cheddar cheese, sprouted sunflower seeds, sprouted grain bread, cooked oatmeal, grapes, raisins, pecans, walnuts, sweet potato, mango, mashed potatoes, peanut butter, sprouted seeds

Now remember, that those are TREAT foods — so that doesn’t mean that a diet of tons of nuts is good either — we want to keep fat down — but you probably know that. (and when we feed treats they are TEENSY) You might also try *clean* (no chemical spray) dandelion greens, parsley, carrot tops and celery tops. In the summer try edible flowers, too. Grow organic stuff in your yard, pick it fresh and serve right away.

Do you know why it’s so hard for us to change a bird’s diet? Because in the wild, there are toxic plants. So their parents teach baby birds what to eat and they basically never stray from that diet for their whole lives. That’s nature’s way of keeping them from being poisoned. Unfortunately for us, lots of baby birds are started out on lousy diets, so we get a much harder job when the bird is older. So patience is the byword!

I guess my best tip is don’t expect miracles. Don’t offer a food once or twice and then give up. Instead, eat it in front of them and offer it 300 times! Fix yourself a plate of very healthy raw foods and let your bird sit on the arm of your stuffed chair and eat from your plate. Makes them feel special! (Might build bad habits, though — so otherwise keep them in their cages while you eat.) Remember that birds eat different things in different seasons, too, so just because they don’t like it now in winter doesn’t mean they won’t like it next spring.

Plan on this being a total and permanent change for you — it’s not something we try and give up on, but something we’ll do from here on out. It took me a few months to really make dynamic change, but hey, I did it. You can too!  Melinda Johnson

food: nutrition vs therapy

Here is another idea:

1. Some herbs, vitamins and foods can be considered nutritional, maintenance, or therapeutic depending on two things: dosage and frequency.

An example is dandelion, which is a nutritious food. If dandelion is given in concentrated form, it is considered a kidney tonic and diuretic. Now, in addition to being food, it has become medicinal. Another example is vitamin D. In certain concentrations it is a nutrient. Above those concentrations it can become medicinal/therapeutic. Increase dosage and frequency and it becomes toxic.

2. Pellets could almost be considered therapeutic food because they provide a sustained array of nutrition.

I’ve purchased unhealthy birds that have been on an all seed diet. After these birds have been placed on a regimen of pellets the turn-around in health has been miraculous. I think this is what has sold the veterinary community and many other people on the value of pellets as food.

Dr. Ian Billinghurst mentions this phenomenon in his book: ‘Give Your Dog a Bone’. He discusses how putting a dog, ailing from poor nutrition, on a different formulated diet will cause a visible improvement in health. He also says, however, that the new diet has its own problems that will become evident the longer the dog is on that diet alone.

This is also true with pellets. Continuing to use pellets as the main diet after the need for therapeutic levels of nutrients is past will create other health problems. Many people have seen this happen and that is why people are turning away from pellets.

The point is that pellets have a use and a place, so do seeds, so do herbs, and so do other parts of a healthy diet.

3. In the case of the birds you are concerned about, I would consider putting them on a straight pellet diet for about 6 weeks to help them recover from a nutrient-poor diet. This recommendation depends on species. I would not recommend this for a cockatiel. I’d also add extra fat to the pellets for certain species of macaws.

After the six weeks, I would cut back on the pellets and start feeding new fruits and vegetables, that the birds might have been reluctant to try before. By now they will be thoroughly tired of the pellets and ready to try anything new. My suggestion would be to make fruits and vegetables about 50% at this point and pellets the other 50%. After about 4 weeks and wide exposure to new fruits and vegetables, I’d cut back on the pellets some more and replace them with a quality cockatiel seed mix. Now we are looking at 50% fruits and vegetables (the nutrient dense ones) 25% pellets, and 25% seed. I think you know the vegetables to recommend.

I would be pretty comfortable maintaining the birds on that for several more weeks and at that time re-evaluating the situation. Eventually, if the owner has become well trained and the variety of fruits and vegetables is ideal, then the birds would be safe getting just seed mix, fruits and veggies. I would also supplement with a good herb mix (wheat grass, spirulina, nettle, dandelion, garlic, barley grass, etc) on the soft food a couple of times a week for trace minerals and some additional vitamins. gloria


Cockatiels are notorious for wanting to eat seeds only, but I still SWEAR by using the Birdie Kabobs and Bird Food Clips to introduce seed-eating birds to fresh foods.

Many birds who simply will not eat fresh foods from a bowl WILL eat fresh foods that are hanging on the kabob at the top of the cage, and will eat the fresh foods that are clipped to different areas of the cage. Try it.

The Kabob can hold a round of corn, round of zucchini, slice of apple, round of carrot, and a grape, for example.  Then, you can clip 2 to 3 different kinds of greens (mustard, chard, endive, kale) to the sides of the cage (rinse with water, and make sure there are water droplets on the greens). You can also clip apple slice, broccoli, round of corn, round of zucchini or yellow squash, piece of melon, etc. to the cage. Watch the Tiel to see if Tiel prefers the Kabob or the clipped foods. Mary Sara

My tiel was weaned to seed only. It took a while but I did manage to get her to try most vegetables and now she devours them. She doesn’t like zucchini or cucumbers (she seems to dislike anything mushy or wet) but loves just about all the others. She will not eat fruit though.

What I did was to make toys out of veggies. For example, I cut thin slices of carrot into different shapes and stuck them on a plain toothpick with the end bent so she couldn’t get poked. I also made carrot rounds and used them as wheels on a toothpick axle which she pushed around and eventually tasted. I stuck a long stalk of broccoli on the top of her cage like a little tree and that intrigued her enough to try it. Use your imagination. I’m not very creative and I was able to come up with veggie “toys” that piqued her interest so I’m sure others will have no difficulty expanding on this idea.

It all takes time and patience. I have a Quaker whom I adopted when she was four. She had been on a all-seed diet. I’ve had her a little over a year and she is just now trying things that I’ve been offering since she came here. Birds can be very suspicious of new things. Nancy

Food: How hot is too hot?

I think that probably everyone on the list can remember a circumstance where we thought that something was not too hot, only to find a scald or blister on the roof of our mouths. Outside temperature can often be acceptable until the center temperature is found.

Unless someone can prove otherwise, I see no reasonable or acceptable reason to provide any food product which exceeds the body temperature of the bird. Remember that temperatures in excess of 105-107 degrees Fahrenheit have the potential to scald a crop, irrespective of how thick walled it is. It is still living, cellular tissue. To give everyone an idea how long it takes to produce a scald, consider this:

150 F – 1 second 145 F – 2 seconds 140 F – 5 seconds 125 F – 1 1/2 minutes

How to judge? Most waterheaters operate at 120-130 F. Too hot to drink yes? But about the same temperature as cooked food on the plate after 5 minutes. If it is just slightly warm to touch, it is safe. Any mom’s out there remember the wrist trick for formula? Use it. Just a matter of common sense. Patrick Thrush