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by Sally Blanchard

I am convinced that just about every parrot can be converted to a healthier diet if his or her caregivers perseveres. I have known parrots that have been on bad diets for over 30-40 years and their caregivers have converted them to fresh foods. It may have taken a few months, but they kept introducing new foods until their parrots ate them. Instead of giving up after trying a new food a few times, people need to find a way that their parrot will eat healthy fresh foods. I don’t understand how people can keep their parrots on substandard seed or even pellet only diets and excuse it by declaring, "My bird won’t eat that." after they try a new food once or twice.

The following are techniques that work:

» Take the time to go to the Companion Parrot Online Website to read the article, "A Healthy Parrot Diet" in the article section. It will give you a good idea what foods are healthy for your parrot and the balance these foods should have in a nutritious diet.

» Cooking for your parrot can actually be fun ... maybe not everyday but at least a few times a week. The rest of the week you can give them veggies and fruits as part of their fresh diet. You can certainly use cooking mixes for parrots. When I serve a cooking mix, I always add sweet potato or carrot baby food after it cools down. This guarantees vitamin A in the diet since cooking can destroy this vitamin.

» The major reason most people don’t succeed in changing their birds’ diets is their lack of patience. They give up way too soon. Don’t expect miracles within a few days or even weeks. The most effective caregiver knows he needs to make a lifetime change in the parrot’s diet. Instead of thinking, "I want my bird to eat this right now or else," think more realistically — "In a year my parrot will be eating healthier foods and every step I take to improve his diet from now until then will insure that this becomes true."

» A seed-only, or predominantly seed, diet is nutritional abuse. Feeding only seed is a "death" diet no matter what anyone says in their seed mix advertising or packaging. Parrot owners should not rely on the nutrition provided by seed as the base of their bird’s diet. A quality seed mix can be a small part of a healthy, varied diet but should never be considered the main source of nutrition. Converting parrots from a predominantly seed diet to nutritious fresh foods and mashes combined with a quality manufactured extruded or pelleted parrot diet is essential to a parrot’s health.

» I believe a diet of fresh foods with some pellets is far healthier than feeding a total manufactured parrot diet. After years of researching nutrition and dealing with hundreds of parrot caregivers, I believe that maufactured diets should not be more than 25% of the diet. If fed intelligently, fresh foods are a far superior diet to pellets.   

» Before starting any conversion process with a parrot, have his health checked by his avian vet. Have the veterinarian weigh him and ask what should be a healthy weight range for a parrot his size. Going by a species weight chart may not accurately reflect your parrot’s ideal size. Keep track of his weight on a regular basis as you work to change his diet. Either weigh him on a scale or, less effectively, check his weight daily by feeling his keel bone and the amount of flesh around it.

» Don’t ever cold turkey a parrot — instead, change the diet slowly by gradually replacing the less healthy foods with more healthy foods. Make changes gradually, especially if a parrot has been on a seriously deficient, seed-only diet. Depriving a nutritionally compromised bird can stress him and make him ill. Years ago, representatives of a pelleted diet told everyone that if their parrot didn’t eat their food immediately that the people were doing something wrong. They insisted that if you fed nothing else for a few days, any parrot would eat it. Unfortunately some people believed this and their parrots became ill and even died ... this was the situation mostly with small parrot-family birds.

» Make sure your parrot is getting enough to eat during the conversion process. There is a "Catch 22" — a parrot who is suffering from malnutrition will have health problems that may be aggravated by changing his diet too quickly, but if you don’t change his diet, he will continue to have health problems. For example, a parrot with liver problems related to malnutrition will most likely become sicker if he does not get enough to eat. The key is to gradually replace the unhealthy foods with healthier foods without compromising a parrot’s need for nourishment.

» Companion parrots seem to reflect our food likes and dislikes. If you make an excited fuss about it every time you give your parrot a piece of pizza, he will probably love pizza. (What companion parrot won’t eat pizza?) On the other hand, if you frown and make an "ugh" sound every time you try to get him to eat broccoli, it is doubtful that he will eat it no matter how often he is exposed to this nutritious vegetable. I always smile when I give my parrots a new food and they are often quite adventurous in trying them.

» Parrots should NOT be in control of what they eat. The idea that they will automatically eat what is good for them is a myth. While there is truth to the belief that wild parrots seasonally eat what is available and therefore eat the proper diet, companion parrots have to be exposed to healthy foods on a regular basis for them to select what they need. Because parrots can’t whip up a nutritious meal for themselves, they need us to make intelligent dietary choices for them. We also must be vigilant that the nutritious foods we buy and prepare for our parrots actually get into their digestive system.

» Starchy and sweet vegetables and fruits such as corn, grapes, and apples are not the healthiest foods, but real seed junkies may learn to eat them more readily as atransition to broccoli, sweet potatoes, winter squash, carrots, collard greens, and healthier foods.

» Parrots have incredible color perception and can see in the ultraviolet range. They are attracted to the color, shape, and texture of foods, so you need to provide a variety of healthy foods until you find a way he will eat them. For example, carrots can be fed raw, cooked, by themselves or in mashes, whole, diced, sliced, in strips, mashed, grated, pureed, juiced, and so on. (Because they like foods with color, this doesn’t mean to feed them colored pellets!!)

» Have fun — make food into toys. Lace greens in the cage bars. Make birdie bread, mashes and/or wrap foods in other foods — my parrots like a little nonfat cheese squished in with their pellets. Put veggies and fruits on kabobs. Put mashes in whole grain tortillas. Wrap greens around other foods that your parrots love like little dolmas (stuffed grape leaves). Place large leaves of sopping wet greens (collards, turnip, mustard, or kale) on the top of the cage. Many birds enjoy leaf bathing and may eat the greens at the same time.

» When introducing manufactured diet, mix 2-3 quality pellet brands (stick with the most natural ones without food coloring) together in a bowl to give the parrot something to reject. Food rejection seems to be important to parrots. Because so many manufactured diets are full of chemicals, I only recommend three. These are (in order of preference) Totally Organics, Goldenfeast Golden-obles, and Harrisons.

» Plan on wasting food! Parrots are messy eaters and will usually waste a lot of food, especially when you are trying to get them to eat new foods. I don’t ever feel guilty since my dogs have always eaten the leftover glop and veggies either when it falls to the floor or when they happily lick the bowls.

» Parrots are social eaters. My parrots will eat almost anything. When I bird sat a lot of parrots, I found that most parrots on a rigid seed or pellet only diet would be more likely to eat new foods if they saw other parrots eating them.

» Parrots are influenced by our food likes and dislikes. Sample nutritious foods as you feed them to your parrot. Smile and act like you genuinely love the food even if you don’t. If he is bonded to you, he will usually eat what you eat or what someone feeds you in front of him.

» Let him eat healthy food with you. Some parrots are more likely to eat new foods if they are fed away from the cage in a social eating situation. A T-stand by the table with a food cup works great.

» The model/rival concept can work quite well. This involves the least favored person feeding a nutritionally sound bite of food to the parrot's favorite person in front of the parrot. In the beginning the favored person eats the food with expressions of pleasure such as "Yum - this is really good!" After doing this a few times, the parrots should start to show interest and the favored person only eats part of the tidbit and offers the rest to the parrot. Eventually the parrot will eat just about anything that the least favored person feeds to the most favored person after that person shares the food with their bird.

» Pay attention to your parrot’s preference and habits. Feed the most nutritious foods when he is the hungriest. Some parrots eat best in the morning; others eat best in the early evening. Most are likely to try new foods when you are eating with them.

» Be creative. It may take weeks or even months! If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try, try and try again!y


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