by Mike Owen
My main references when looking at food compositions are twofold, “Nutritional Almanac” by Lavon J. Dunne (which is also excellent for discussions about the many nutrients, vitamins and minerals that humans need) and the USDA searchable web site at
http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/cgi-bin/nut_search.pl – compositions on just about any food stuff you could think of.
My understanding of proteins and amino acids comes from a variety of sources, but I will use the Nutritional Almanac here since I have already mentioned it. What it says is very clear and concise, and I can do no better than to quote two paragraphs from it direct:-
“The body requires approximately 22 amino acids in a specific pattern to make human protein. All but 8 of these amino acids can be produced in the adult body. The 8 that cannot be produced are called “essential amino acids” because they must be supplied in the diet. In order for the body to properly synthesize protein, all the essential amino acids must be present simultaneously and in the proper proportions. If just one essential amino acid is low or missing, even temporarily, protein synthesis will fall to a very low level or stop altogether. The result is that all amino acids are reduced in the same proportions as the amino acid that is low or missing.
Foods containing protein may or may not contain all the essential amino acids. When the food contains all the essential amino acids it is termed” complete-protein”. Foods that lack or are extremely low in any one of the essential amino acids are called “incomplete-protein”. Most meats and dairy products are complete-protein foods while most vegetables and fruits are incomplete-protein foods. To obtain a complete-protein meal from incomplete proteins one must combine foods carefully so that those weak in an essential amino acid will be balanced by those adequate in the same amino acid.”
Although the quoted text above refers to human protein needs, but it seems that birds closely mirror human protein requirements, the proportions of essential amino acids needed may vary but the same amino acids are essential.
What this all means is that, for example, if a bird is receiving what should be an an adequate total protein intake of around 12%, but that the Lysine (an essential amino acid) content is only half of what is needed (0.3% instead of0.6%), then the total effective protein intake is half, i.e. only 6% and a protein deficiency may result. Now, as the Nutritional Almanac mentions, meat and dairy products are rich in the essential amino acids when compared to fruit and vegetables, however some vegetable can contain reasonable levels of essential amino acids – principally of value to birds are oil seeds such as sunflower, beans and nuts. However for many birds – especially when breeding -the essential amino acid levels of fruit and vegetables may not be high enough to allow successful breeding.
Amongst the Australian parrots, Rosellas in the wild have been shown to intake up to a third of their food as insects and grubs when feeding babies. It is almost impossible to breed Gang Gang Cockatoos without providing animal protein – dead mice is the usual way this is done. Yellow-tail Black Cockatoos will seek out grubs from the inside of branches of wattle trees, often destroying the branch in the process. Even Galahs will be far more successful breeding when given animal protein – cooked chop bones or T-bones are a favorite in the aviary. Wild Lorikeets are also thought to intake significant insects when breeding.
The necessary protein intake (assuming the various amino acids are balanced) is known for very few parrots. Cockatiels are probably the best studied with the Roudybush work at Davis – from memory an adult non-breeding cockatiel needed about 12% while a baby needed about 20% protein. The issue of wild birds taking animal protein is discussed above.
The above sentence as well as what follows, seems to be in error. Using the USDA web site given above the level for
raw soy beans is 36.4% while soybean sprouts are listed at 13.09%. Broad beans are at 26.12%
Other values for raw vegetables and fruit.
Broccoli & Kale 3.3% at USDA site
Spinach2.86% at USDA site
Watercress2.3% at USDA site
Cauliflower 1.98% at USDA site
Parsley 2.94% at USDA site
Potatoe 2.07% at USDA site – (raw with skins – it has lots of alternative types)
Sweet potatoes 1.65% and yam 1.53% at the USDA site
Brown rice is about 2.5%, most non-oil seeds for birds are around 10 to 14%,
while oil seeds can be up to around 25% – but there is a lot of variation depending on the growing conditions and varieties.
Apple is at .15%
1.2% for a whole lemon and 0.38% for lemon juice.
Protein does also provide calories, about 4 calories per gram of protein, but only if excess to the body’s protein requirements. If the diet contains a variety of foods which consists only of fruit and vegetables then it could easily be protein deficient. A vegetarian diet still needs to have an adequate intake of essential amino acids (extremely low in most fruit and vegetables) or else it will be protein deficient – which means if you don’t like beans or nuts then you are in trouble!
Any discussion about nutrition needs to be based on facts, and one of the most basic fact is the composition of each foodstuff given to our birds. It is therefore important that values such as those that were posted for protein levels of fruit and vegetables are accurate. In the interest of accuracy it is well worth visiting the USDA site referenced at the start of this email and to check the composition of as many of the foodstuffs that you give to your birds.
by Malcolm Green
Just looking at protein percentages is very misleading. The protein energy ratio is the key issue. And captive birds require a much lower energy diet than wild birds simply because they get less excercise. Lower energy equals higher protein.
So the issue then becomes one of protein quality. If you feed only plant protein (seeds, nuts, fruit and vegetables) you will never balance the amino acid profile. So your bird will always have to break down and excrete about 40% of the protein they ingest. It is this material that the kidneys have to cope with. Feeding low protein diets just forces the bird to eat more to get enough protein and hence they eat too much energy and get overweight.
Not healthy either!
Supplying some of the protein as animal protein (make sure it isn’t high in fat like whole egg, cheese, fatty chicken or you are still not helping much) will help. But adding the amino acids lysine and methionine to the diet will achieve close to perfectly balanced protein. The bird eats less, doesn’t get fat and doesn’t stress the kidneys excreting all those toxic nitrogen compounds. As an added bonus they breed better, molt faster and produce excellent quality feathers! It doesn’t need to cost much as amino
acids can be added to any on food vitamin supplement. Unfortunately few manufacturers add the right quantities.
I think we can get far too bogged down with the detail on amino acids etc. To me there are a number of key points:
1. It is great to look at wild bird diets but we should only use them as a guide to feeding our captive birds. Firstly because many wild bird diets are inadequate. Millions of birds must die of malnutrition every year -its called natural population control. Secondly the energy requirements of captive birds are far lower than for wild birds while their protein requirements remain similar. This is because wild birds have to travel far greater distances to find and collect food than their aviary cousins. This leads on to the next point:
2. So captive birds need more protein per unit energy (or less energy per unit protein) than wild birds.
As Mike explained, the amount of useable protein supplied by plants is far less than the total protein content of that food. In fact the bird can utilize just over half the protein it gets from plant sources. Mixing foods with better or worse amino acid profiles together only nudges the food value a little. Adding the limiting amino acids as a supplement can make the protein 100 percent useable. To do this fully you would have to add eight (or eleven) depending who you believe different limiting amino acids. However if you just add Lysine and Methionine you get nearly the full benefit at significantly lower cost.
By turning the “incomplete” protein into a “complete” protein requirements we have changed the protein: energy ratio dramatically. And remember it is this ration that is important not the percentage protein content.
By this method we roughly halve the amount of food the bird has to eat each day in order to satisfy its protein needs. And our customers report seed consumption reductions of these levels in many of their birds. There are lots of benefits:
a) Birds eat less so save you money
b) Birds eat less so are less likely to get overweight. This really is the safest way to control obesity. Again we have demonstrated this time and again especially with overweight show budgies.
c) Because these limiting amino acids are found in huge quantities in plumage, feather quality will improve and molting will be quicker. We routinely shorten the molt of birds of prey by six weeks using this approach. And they are already eating “complete” protein! This emphasizes the special need for Lysine and Methionine for feather formation. Research carried out at the Institute of Animal Nutrition in Hanover suggests that “molting supplements” without amino acids simply don’t work.
Finally don’t bother with water soluble supplements which claim to contain methionine. This amino acid smells horrible in most people’s tap water so only tiny amounts can be supplied this way. Methionine must go on food to be available in adequate quantities.
There are plenty of articles about this subject on our web site for those of you who want to know more.
There are four sulphur containing amino acids. They are: methionine, cystine, cysteine, and taurine. Of those, the essential amino acid for birds…which means it must be supplied in the diet…is methionine. Taurine is essential for cats but not birds). Sulphur is also present in the B vitamins: thiamine and biotin.
Cysteine and Cystine are not essential. They are synthesized in the liver. Cysteine is formed from homocysteine which comes from the essential amio acid methionine. Cysteine can be converted to cystine and taurine. Cystine contains two cysteine molecules.
Sulphur can be obtained from various foods. Legumes (beans) are especially high in sulphur. Other foods from which it can be obtained are: cabbage, garlic, brussels sprouts, broccoli, turnips, nuts, kale, kelp, other seaweeds, and raspberries. Eggs contain sulphur. Animal tissue contains approximately 0.25% sulphur of the total body weight.
A sulphur deficiency can be mistaken for protein deficiency. Sulphur is used by the body in enzyme reactions, protein and collagen synthesis, the production of keratin (hair, nails, fur, feathers), and other body functions. Some skin and joint problems are a result of sulphur deficiency.
The sulphur containing amino acids can also be found in various foods: Cysteine – yogurt, oats, wheat germ, egg yolks, red peppers, garlic onions, broccoli, brussles sprouts.
Cystine – is composed of two cysteine molecules, so is found in the same foods.
Taurine is not essential because it can be prduced from cysteine with the help of pyridoxine, vitamin B6. It is high in meats and fish proteins.
Methionine is essential. It must be provided in the diet. It is of the most concern because it is the least abundent protein in many foods. It is particularly low in most legumes including soybeans and peanuts. However…nuts, seeds, corn, rice, and other grains are high in methionine. This is what accounts for the theory behind food combining.(beans and rice casseroles)
However, current thinking holds that it isn’t necessary to combine grains and legumes at the same meal, as was once thought. On the other hand, any amino acids that aren’t used up to produce proteins place a load on the kidneys, responsible for eliminating the discarded NH2 group when the amino acid molecule is deaminated. gloria
Even though this is a long post, it is only the tip of the iceberg. You have probably figured out that there is vast disagreement among nutritional experts about protein requirements in human nutrition, let alone poultry nutrition.
As an example, there is one ideology that promotes a strict fruitarian diet for humans. They feel that the amino acid profile in various fruits is ideal and perfect. Any more protein is wasted and actually putrefies in the bowel, producing an ammonia by-product that causes toxic disease in the body.
Despite the ‘faddy’ nature of the site, I found it useful for a couple of reasons: 1. Many parrot species consume a substantial amount of fruit as part of their natural diet. 2. The site gives the amino acid profile of several fruits. 3. It also gives a link to an on-line book located at Perdue University about tropical fruit nutrition. http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/morton/index.html
Evolutionary diet is incredibly important when considering the nutritional requirements of our birds. Birds whose natural diet is primarily seeds will have different nutrient and amino acid requirements than birds whose primary diet was: fruit, other vegetation, insects and grubs, or infant rodents.
Should amino acids be supplemented? If there are insufficient amino acids in the diet to fulfill the requirements, then they will have to be supplemented. Should the supplements be synthetic or should they be supplemented in foods?
The Limiting Amino Acid Contents of Foods
Here is a list of foods and livestock feedstuffs with their amino acid profile. I’m going to list only the three essential amino acids that are usually considered limiting for birds in most foods.
Lysine Methionine Threonine Requirement range
.42 -.85 .42- .62 .37 -.68 for chickens, approx.
- Alfalfa meal 0.8 0.3 0.6
- Barley 0.4 0.17 0.35
- Brewer’s dried grains 0.9 0.45 0.9
- Corn 0.24 0.19 0.35
- Feather Meal 4.25 1.68 2.25
- Fish Soluables 1.46 0.5 0.7
- Fish meal 4.0 1.7 2.25 **In one study, fish meal was found to cause gizzard ulcers in birds**
- Linseed meal(flax) 1.0 .81 1.0 **oil seed meals are what is left after the oil has been extracted.**
- Oat groats 0.5 0.2 0.5
- Peanut meal 1.7 .44 1.1 **peanuts are often contaminated with a mold which produces aflatoxins.**
- Rice 0.3 .17 .31
- Safflower meal 1.3 .69 1.35
- skimmilk dried 2.3 .98 1.75
- Soybean meal 2.8 .65 2.2
- Sunflower meal 1.52 1.35 1.52
- Wheat germ meal 1.6 0.3 0.8
- Whey-delactosed 1.3 0.57 0.89
Green Food Supplements
Lysine Methionine Tryptophan
- Spirulina (based on %) 4.7% 2.3% 5.2%
- WheatGrass (mg/3.5gm – 1 Tsp) 38mg 18mg 42mg
- Mighty Greens (mg/8gm – 1 TBS) 58mg 31mg 61mg
Spirulina compared with other foods. Based on grams/100 grams Lysine Methionine Tryptophan
- Spirulina 3.4 1.89 3.99
- Eggs .89 .43 .59
- Beef 1.76 .43 .86
- Soy 2.58 .48 1.62
- hemp 5.92 3.58 5.20
- From research done in Africa’s Camaroon African Bush Mango seed 4.8 0.8 5.0
- Cashew 4.1 0.9 3.3
Food values found in USDA database http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/cgi-bin/nut_search.pl
based on grams/100 grams Seeds: Lysine Methionine Tryptophan
- Sunflower .937 .494 .928
- Millet .212 .221 .353
- Brazil nut .541 1.01 .46
- Almond .601 .189 .678
- Walnut .424 .236 .596
- Pumpkin/ squash seed 1.833 .551 .903
- Spirulina 3.02 1.14 2.97 dried powder
Whole fresh foods will have a lower concentration of nutrients / 100 grams because the water is included in the weight. Once foods are dried and powdered, the concentration of nutrients increases by weight. Less volume is consumed because water is eliminated.
grams per 100 grams Lysine Methionine Tryptophan
- kelp .082 .025 .055
- Endive .063 .014 .050
- Pumpkin .054 .011 .029I
Establishing Protein Requirements of Parrots Now we have most of the pieces, so we can begin to put them together. This is what we need to know:
1. The bird’s total protein requirement
2. The ratio of amino acids required to balance the protein.
3. The amino acid and protein content of feedstuff/feeds/food.
First, we’ll establish the bird’s protein requirement. Let’s cheat a little. If you check the nutritional analysis on bags of pellets, you will find that the nutritionists who formulated different brands do not agree with each other. One bag says 12% protein, another says 16%, another is up to 21%.
Part of the reason is there are different formulations based on life-cycle needs. Birds have a higher requirement for protein when they are growing and raising young. They also need more protein when they are molting, healing from injuries, or producing white cells to fight off disease organisms.
Another reason for this variation in protein percentages is different species have different protein requirements. Nutritionists attempt to formulate a pellet that will ‘blanket’ the bell-curve. Birds falling toward the edges or outside of this ‘blanket’ will eventually show signs of protein excess or insufficiency. Some sooner than others. Species who show clear and rapid health problems from the formulation will have a different feed formulated just for them. An example is the mynah pellet. Of course, in this case, protein isn’t the only consideration.
The simple truth is exact protein requirements for each parrot species has not yet been established to everyone’s satisfaction. Roudybush may have established requirements for cockatiels, though I’m not aware if he published the long term effects of sustained ‘optimum’ protein levels over a period of years. If and when he does, he might also need to provide consideration of the color mutations.
So, we have a range for protein requirements based on manufactured feeds: Parrots- 12-21%; Chickens- 14-18%; Turkeys- 18-20%; Pigeon maintenance about 11%.
We also have a range of the percentage of amino acids that should make up the protein. Lysine and methionine are two of the most limiting essential amino acids, so we’ll concentrate on those.
Lysine for chickens needs to be 0.45-0.85% Lysine for turkeys is about 1.00% Methionine for chickens is 0.20-0.30% Methionine for turkeys is about 0.42%
Both chickens and turkeys fall within the 12-21% range for parrots. Turkeys have a higher protein requirement, and the limiting amino acid requirement also is on the higher side.
From the above figures, notice that as the protein requirement goes up, so does the limiting amino acid requirement go up, and vice versa.
Parrot maintenance requirements are probably on the low end of the percentages, so I’d ballpark that an adult non-breeding parrot has approximate daily protein requirements of about 12-14% and lysine needs to be about 0.5% (one half of one percent) and methionine needs to be about 0.20% (two/tenths of one percent).
Working with percentages is nice because you base it on the total food ration. If a bird consumes one gram of food per day, the protein requirements would be 12% of one gram. If the bird consumes one kilogram per day, the protein requirements would be 12% of one kilogram. (dry basis weight)
Based on this information, we could begin to formulate a feed ration for our birds. Formulating a feed ration begins by establishing the protein requirements of the animal, finding a cheap protein feedstuff (usually corn or wheat) and then balancing it (improving the amino acid profile) by adding a feedstuff that will supply the amino acids that are low in the cheap protein source. Usually soy or another legume is added to balance the lysine. Then feather or fish meal is added to balance out the methionine.
Part IV In Part III, we talked about the specific amino acid requirements of parrots, which was estimated from what is known of poultry requirements.
I worked from two different tables and reported two different results. From the book ‘Nutrient Requirements of Poultry, Ninth Revised Edition, 1994, the range of requirement for: Methionine plus Cystine is .42-.62%, Lysine is .42-.85%,
Let’s go with this percentage, as the other is based on manufactured feed analysis.
Why are these amino acids needed?
Lysine is: needed for the promotion of bone growth and formation of collagen. aids the absorption of calcium from the digestive tract aids in the prevention and treatment of herpes simplex infections
Methionine is: involved in the synthesis of choline needed for liver function needed for normal musculature prevents skin and nail problems prevents excess fat buildup in the liver and the body reduces release of histamine (allergy symptoms) can lower elevated serum copper level works as an antioxident
What are the symptoms of deficiency?
Lysine deficiency causes: feather depigmentation in chickens, turkeys, and quail reduced growth and immunity increased urinary calcium
Methionine deficiency causes: fatty liver disease long and deformed beaks notched feathers and stress bars
If you read/printed out the previous posts, you know that all the essential amino acids are best found from animal sources: meat, fish, milk, cheese, and eggs. However, according to Dr. Elson Haas, in ‘Staying Healthy With Nutrition’, good amounts of lysine can be found in legumes (pinto beans, navy beans, peas, etc). Methionine is found in nuts and seeds. Tryptophan, is low in grains and legumes but higher in flesh foods, eggs, dairy, and some nuts and seeds.
I’d like to go briefly off on a tangent about tryptophan for the sake of those who have birds and other pets that are a bit on the ‘hyper’ side.
From ‘Staying Healthy With Nutrition’: “Tryptophan is the precursor for serotonin, which influences moods and sleep. Serotonin levels are directly related to tryptophan intake. Tryptophan is also the precursor of vitamin B3. A deficiency of tryptophan combined with inadequate dietary niacin, can cause the symptoms of pellagra (dermatitis, diarrhea, dementia, and death. Low tryptophan levels aare found in those with dementia and may have subtle psychological effects. Tryptophan is an antidepressant, can lower blood fat levels, and is a pain reliever.”
Now we know the importance of these amino acids. Do we need to supplement? The answer depends on whether or not adequate amounts are provided in the daily ration of food.
1. If you feed pellets only, you probably don’t need to worry about whether or not adequate amounts of essential amino acids are being consumed. Feed manufacturers have already balanced the amino acid profile to insure that the protein is complete. It is possible, however, that too much protein is being consumed, depending on the species of bird and the analysis of the feed. It is also possible that too many or not enough of certain amino acids are supplemented for the species of bird being fed. Pellets target the known needs of the average bird. Those birds who fall outside of ‘average’ get either too much or too little on a daily basis. Gradually deteriorating health will result.
The danger of a pellet only diet is that the same feed components are being fed in the same ratio day after day after day. This increases the chances of food allergy onset. In addition, pellets only provide for known nutrient requirements. They cannot provide for unknown nutrient requirements.
In this diet, you should not supplement unless you know your species has a higher requirement for a nutrient than is provided in the formula. If your species has a lower requirement, you should probably dilute the excess with foods known to be lacking in the nutrient that is problematical for your species. For example, if it is protein, feed low protein foods.
2. If you feed seeds only, most birds will show signs of malnutrition sooner or later. Those species of birds that have evolved on a mainly seed diet most likely have adapted to lower lysine requirements. Other nutrients not found in seeds are obtained in the birds’ native environment. Greens, for such birds, are important not only for adding phytonutrients, but also for providing vitamins, minerals, and some amino acids lacking or low in the seeds. Such birds would also have the opportunity to lunch on bugs found among the grasses.
Other birds, whose major natural diet consists of fruit, bark, buds, leaves, flowers, and also seeds and nuts, will show signs of malnutrition on an all-seed diet much sooner than birds whose normal diet consists mainly of seeds. Amazons with fatty liver disease, overgrown beaks, and scaly feet are classic examples of the methionine and Vitamin A deficient bird. Macaws with barred and blackened feathers show signs of Vitamin A, methionine and lysine deficiency. Such birds are not supplied with sufficient nuts, but rather are living on a parrot mix that contains mostly sunflower, safflower, and peanuts.
In this diet, you should definitely supplement the missing amino acids, vitamins, and minerals.
3. If you feed strictly people food, and you rotate foods so your bird consumes a healthy variety, you may not have to supplement. It depends what you feed your bird. I know a man who feeds his bird mashed potatoes and gravy on a daily basis. The bird loves this food to the exclusion of anything else. This bird is consuming a diet more limited than even a seed diet, and it shows in the barred and blackened feathers. Although the man also feeds carrots and other vegetables, the bird does not eat them. Why? Because it fills up on mashed potatoes and gravy. The man refuses to deprive the bird of the food it loves, and so he is killing it.
In this diet, if the bird *consumes* (there is often a big difference between what is fed and what is consumed) a wide variety of foods, including meat, eggs, vegetables, and fruit, then I seriously doubt that there would be any requirement for supplementation. However, consider that soils are depleted, and food loses nutrient value when it is cooked, stored, frozen, and if there is much time from harvest to table. Just as humans should partake of some supplementation, so should birds, to compensate for nutrient loss.
4. Combinations of the above diets are also a possibility. Diluting one diet with another diet, if done intelligently, can result in the inclusion of nutrients missing from one diet and supplied by the other.
Things to consider: Pellets are mostly grains, so feeding other grain foods is not going to do much to improve pellets. Therefore foods like pasta, rice, corn, oatmeal, etc are not an intelligent improvement of pellets. In fact, you will just dilute the nutrients and put nothing worthwhile back.
On the other hand, if you add greens, fruits, and vegetables to a pellet diet, you will improve the diet because you are adding foods and nutrients that pellets lack.
5. The best diet for any bird is the diet that provided the necessary nutrients on which its ancestors survived, evolved, and flourished. Since most birds originated in countries other than they are now living, available foods are not the same. We can, however, provide reasonable approximations with a little research. Find out what the bird’s ancestors ate. Dig a little deeper than information available from cursory observation or examination of one season’s crop contents. Try to approximate the natural diet as best you can.
Barring a nutritional analysis of exotic foods, feed a wide variety of available foods. Keep in mind a balance of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.
Should you supplement this diet? In order to cover the bases, you probably should use a nutritional supplement. Should you supplement every day with the same supplement? Probably not, because you would be committing the same error made by feeding pellets every day.
begin math tutorial *****************************************
For those of us who have grown up without metrics, here are a few metric conversion values for weight:
1 gram = 1000 milligrams or 1/1000 kilogram 1 kilogram = 10000 grams or 2.205 pounds 1 ounce = 28.5 grams or 1/16 pound 1 pound = 453.6 grams or 16 ounces
Here is an example of how to convert: My jar of spirulina says it contains 3.4 ounces. How many grams is that? In this case, you would multiply the ounces times grams per ounce to find out the grams. 3.4 x 28.5 = 96.9 grams
Another example: My jar of spirulina says it contains 56 grams of spirulina. How many ounces is that? In this case, you would divide the number of grams by grams per ounce in order to find out the ounces. 56 divided by 28.5 = 1.96 ounces
Percentages: 25 parts – of 100 is 25%; of 1000 is 2.5%; of 10,000 is .25% (move the decimal over one place to the left for each zero.) Here is the calculation: 25 divided by 1000 = .025 times 100 to make it a percent = 2.5%
My jar of spirulina contains 3 grams per 100 grams of lysine. What percentage is that? 3 grams/100 grams = 3 divided by 100 = .03 multiply by 100 to get percent = 3.0%
Figs contain 0.3 mg of lysine per gram. What percentage is that? 0.3 milligrams/one gram (mg/g)= 0.3 divided by 1000 (because there are 1000 milligrams per gram) = .0003 x 100 (to get percent) = .03%
end math tutorial ******************************************
There is a table on the HolisticBird website that gives the nutritional analysis of seed, but doesn’t break the protein down into amino acids. If anyone would like the job of researching those seeds for amino acids and donating the research to the HolisticBird website, it would be much appreciated by all. I’d be more than happy to post it to the site. Other foods researched would be equally welcome. (BROAD HINT).
Meanwhile, I have already posted the lysine, methionine, and threonine values of several foods in previous parts of this article.
Here’s another list of foods, all from the USDA database, so we can work with comparable values. (I’m not sure where the fruit site obtained the values I posted before unless they were working off of dry weight. Those values were much higher than the USDA’s values, which are based on raw unprocessed food, unless otherwise noted.)
We are mainly concentrating on the limiting amino acids: lysine, methionine, and threonine, but for curiosity sake, I’ve also included some other values. Although some foods look poor in the protein department, it is important to remember that they are valuable for their vitamin and mineral content, which is not listed here. I’ve rounded most of the numbers.
This table is based on percent
protein fat carb lysine methionionine threonine canary: 13 3
corn: 8 4 .2 .2 .3 oats: 12 4 .5 .2 .4 pumpkin/squash seed 1.8 .5 .9 rice: 8 2 .09 .05 .09 wheat: 12 2 .4 .17 .28 sunflower: 15 28 28 .9 .5 .9 millet: 10 4 6 .2 .2 .3 quinoa: 13 5.8 69 .7 .3 .5 brazil nut: .5 1.0 .46 almond 21 50 19 .6 .2 .7
apple .15 .3 15 .009 .003 .005 banana 1.0 .4 23 .04 .01 .03 beets 1.6 .17 9.5 .05 .01 .04 blueberry .6 .14 14 .01 .01 .01 beans, green 1.8 .12 7.1 .08 .02 .07 beans, pinto 8.2 .5 25 .56 .12 .34 brussles sprouts 3 .5 8.9 .15 .03 .12 broccoli 3 .3 5.2 .14 .03 .09
cabbage 1.4 .27 5.4 .06 .01 .04 cashew 15 46 32 .8 .2 .6 carrot 1 .2 10 .04 .001 .03 date, dry 1.9 .4 73 .06 .02 .05 fig, raw .75 .3 19 .03 .001 .02 garlic, per clove .19 .01 .99 .008 .002 .005 jalapeno 1.3 .6 5.9 .06 .01 .04
GREENS: arugula 2.5 .6 3.6 beet 1.8 .06 3.9 .05 .01 .05 dandelion 2.7 .7 9.2 endive .06 .014 .050 kale 3 .7 10 .19 .03 .14 mustard 2.7 .2 4.9 .12 .02 .07 spinach 2.8 .3 3.5 .17 .05 .12 turnip 1.5 .3 5.7 .09 .03 .08
olive, ripe .8 10 6 .03 .01 .02 peas 5.4 .4 14 .3 .08 .2 papaya .6 .14 10 .02 .002 .01 pomegranate .9 .3 17 pumpkin 1 .1 6.5 .05 .01 .02
raspberry .9 .5 11 spirulina dry 57 7 23 3.0 1.2 2.9 strawberry .6 .3 7 .02 .00 .01 squash, acorn .8 .1 10 .02 .01 .02 sweet potato cooked 1.7 .11 24 .08 .04 .08 turnip .9 .1 6.2 .03 .01 .02 wheatgrass powder 1.08 .51 1.2 *Mighty Greens* brand .72 .38 .76
From previous parts of this article, we have established that the protein requirement range for parrots is around 12%. The amino acid values we are using are: Lysine – 0.65%, Methionine – 0.25%, Tryptophan- 0.1%, Arginine – 0.55%, Threonine – .37% These are range averages. You will have to adjust this figure for the species and age of bird you are caring for.
Since we are providing a diet as close to natural as possible, and since the natural diet of most birds is based on seed, let’s start there. When you calculate for your own bird, you can start with any food that most closely approximates the natural food upon which the bird evolved. For Thick Bills, it’s pine nuts; for greys, it’s palm fruit; for cockatiels and budgies, it’s grass seeds; for lories, it’s flowers, pollen, and nectar; for many parrots it’s seeds, nuts, fruits, buds, and berries in the locale.
The seeds that birds dine on in nature are often not available to us. For example, Jardine’s favor *podycarpus* seeds. I’ve kept tropical houseplants, including podycarpus, but they never grew well enough to develop seed and even if they did, there wouldn’t be enough to maintain my birds. Since we don’t import tropical seed, we have to use what is available to us.
First we have to decide how much food we are going to make. I’m going to make a kilogram of feed. (about two pounds.) It needs to contain approximately 12% protein, .6% lysine, .2% methionine, and .4% threonine. I’d also like it to contain about 6% fat. I’m not going to complicate things by calculating for the calcium/phosphorous ratio or any of the other things taken into account when formulating a feed ration. This exercise is just to establish whether we can reasonably provide the essential amino acids from a natural diet without using a supplement
Formulate the dry feed:
Just at random, I’m going to start with prot fat lys meth threo 200 grams of millet 10 4 .2 .2 .3 200 grams of canary 13 3 50 grams sunflower 15 28 .9 .5 .9 25 grams almonds 21 50 .6 .2 .7 —- —- —- —- —– —- 475 grams together, millet and canary average 12 3.5 .2 .2 .3 sunflower and almonds calculated proportionately (sunflower value x 2 plus almond value divided by 3) 17 35.3 .8 .4 .8
Now calculate the millet/canary proportions against the sunflower/almond proportions (use 5.3 because millet and canary combined are 5.3 times the amount of sunflower and almonds combined…400/75=5.3
example: 5.3 x 12 plus 17 divided by 6.3 = 12.79, which is the value for protein in our recipe. the rest of the values using this calculation are: prot fat lys meth threo 12.79 8.5 .29 .23 .37
Our recipe of millet, canary, sunflower, and almonds is a tad high in protein and fat. It is a quite a bit low in lysine. We need to balance with something higher in lysine, so let’s look at the food table for something with a high lysine value. Quinoa is high in lysine and low in fat. Let’s cook up some quinoa. We could use seeds as the dry portion of our diet and add quinoa as part of the soft food. Since we are cooking, let’s add some beans. We’ll use prot fat lys meth threo 100 grams of quinoa 13 6 .7 .3 .5 100 grams of beans 8 .5 .6 .1 .3 —- —- — — — average 10.5 3.25 .65 .2 .4
Now we can calculate these figures proportionately in with the last values we obtained for the recipe. We use 2.4 because 475 grams of the first four components is 2.4 times the 200 grams of the last two. 12.1 6.9 .39 .22 .37
Protein and fat have come down a bit, lysine has gone up and methionine and threonine are about the same.
We want to feed vegetables and fruit yet. So far we have used up 675 grams of our 1000 gram goal. Fruit and vegetables are high in water content, so using them will add a lot of weight making the nutrient values appear to take a dive. Since most of the weight is water, however, the nutrient values will increase by whatever nutrients are contained in the food.
Water weight for carrots is 87%, for broccoli is 90%, for blueberries is 84% for strawberries is 91%. If we multiply the raw value by 10, we will get the approximate dry value. Here are some values comparing spirulina wet and dry that I took from the USDA database: water protein fat lysine methionine threonine
wet 91 5.9 .39 .31 .11 .30 powder 4.6 57.0 7.7 3.0 1.1 2.97
Let’s add carrots, beet greens, and apples to the recipe. 1 small apple = 135 gm, 1 medium carrot = 100 gm, 1 handful of greens = 65 gm. Total is 300 gm fruit & veg.
prot fat carb lysine methio threo carrots 1 .2 10 .04 .001 .03 beet greens 1.8 .06 3.9 .05 .01 .05 apples .15 .3 15 .009 .003 .005 —– —– —– ——- —— —— 2.95 0.56 28.9 .099 .014 .085
Now we have 975-1225 grams worth of a feed ration: 475 grams of seed….approximately 4 measuring cups 200 grams dry quinoa and beans…approximately 1.5 measuring cups (when cooked, the quinoa/bean mixture will double in volume to 3 measuring cups and increase in water weight by 250 grams) 300 grams fruits and veggies: 1 apple, 1 carrot, 1 handful of greens.
I didn’t do the calculations for the wet-based food because I hate doing math and I’m not any good at it anyway. I just wanted to give you a taste of how these calculations are done. Feed manufacturers would have it a lot easier because their formula is done on all dry basis feeds. Also, they only have to do the calculations once. If we were do do this for our birds every day, as we vary the diet, we would spend all our time doing math and looking up nutrient values for whatever we are feeding.
We do not need to be so specific. Birds don’t calculate the nutrient content of the foods they forage and we don’t do it when preparing foods for our families.
Getting a ballpark idea of the amino acids contained in different foods should be enough to give a sense of which foods should balance other foods.
Methionine and lysine are the hardest amino acids to obtain in adequate levels from most foods. Judging from the tables, those levels can be easily supplemented with natural food concentrates, like spirulina and wheatgrass powders. Brazil nuts are high in methionine. They should be included in the diets of macaws, especially. Adding brazil nuts to the diets of other birds should not be a problem as long as the fat levels are compensated for by other foods.
The exercise above gives you an idea of how to balance one food against another to obtain the approximate ideal levels of nutrients. You don’t have to do it with math, though.
If you don’t feel comfortable supplementing with natural foods like wheat grass and spirulina, then by all means purchase synthetic amino acids. The disadvantage of synthetics is that all you are getting is the amino acids. When you use natural supplements, you also get a whole host of other nutrients that are needed to round out your bird’s diet. You may not know what all of these nutrients are, but they are present anyway, working for you and your bird.