Bird Nutrition

Bird Nutrition, Macaws
Proper Nutrition with Social Interaction Make for Happy Macaws

Many types of birds make very good pets and can be enjoyable companions for adults and children. One key factor in keeping your pet bird healthy and happy is proper nutrition. It’s important to know the particular nutritional requirements for the species of bird you keep. Often, pet birds don’t have access to the foods they would eat in the wild, so you must feed them different foods that provides the same nutritional value as would their natural diets.

More Than Just Chicken Feed

Birds can be classified by the primary components of their diets. Many birds include seeds in their diets, but others eat plant and/or animal foods. Seed alone is not a complete diet, but it’s a place to start. You’ll find that different species have definite seed preferences, sometimes based on their beak anatomy. A good place to begin is with the psittacines — parrots, parakeets, macaws, cockatoos and other popular pet birds. Here are their favorite foods:

  • Plant-eating parrots and macaws eat seeds, fruits, nuts, berries, roots and bark
  • Some species, including cockatiels and budgies, eat mostly grains and seeds
  • Several popular species of macaws like to dine on flowers and fruits, with the occasional seed or nut as a change of pace
  • The sulfur-crested cockatoo has a wide diet, including insects
  • Lories and lorikeets are parrots with specialized beakers that allow them to feed on blossom nectar, pollen, some seeds, insects and soft fruits

Feeding Seed-Eaters

Your seed-eating bird needs fewer calories than does its wild relatives, so it’s important not to overfeed them. The birdseed you buy at the store may be different from seeds found in a wild bird’s diet, having less protein and nutritional value. Another factor to be aware of is that your bird might pick out only the seeds it likes from a seed mixture, which further limits its overall nutrition. The best solution is a formulated diet that your veterinarian can recommend or sell. Formulated diets contain a variety of foodstuffs, including:

  • Grains
  • Seeds
  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Protein sources
  • Vitamins and mineral

The mixture may be baked, crumbled, nuggetized or pelletized. This prevents your smart bird from picking out favorite pieces. Special blends are available for particular breeds or groups of breeds. For example, macaws require more calories and thus do best on foods that contain a higher percentage of fat. Cockatoos are the opposite, and do best on higher-protein, lower-fat foods.

Fresh Foods

Rainbow Lorikeet
A Well-Nourished Rainbow Lorikeet

Normally, formulated foods should make up between 65 and 80 percent of a bird’s diet. Vegetables, seeds and fruits should make up the balance. There are dozens of fresh fruits and vegetables appropriate to your breed of bird. They include greens, cooked potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, brassicas, corn, cucumbers and just about any fruit. Your veterinarian can recommend the exact diet components that will best support your particular bird’s nutritional needs. Always wash fresh food before serving, discarding pits and apple seeds. Remove uneaten food daily to prevent spoilage. Try to vary the fresh offerings to see what your bird likes best. You can find inventive ways to serve fresh food, like weaving it through the cage bars or hanging it from the cage top. Some large species prefer corn on the cob to a dish of corn kernels. Inventive ways of serving foods adds interest to your bird’s day and may provide mental and physical stimulation.

If you keep lorikeets or other species that do not eat seeds, get the appropriate formula and supplement with prepared nectars, pollen, certain flowers and fruits — your vet will tell you how much of each ingredient to feed your bird. Your bird should not be given supplements unless prescribed by your veterinarian, because you might induce an overdose of certain vitamins.

Only serve enough food for one day, so you can monitor your bird’s intake. Always have water available and wash dishes or bottle tips daily in hot soapy water. Remove any uneaten food within 24 hours. Many birds like to eat just after sunrise and again around 5 to 6 pm.


Don’t feed your bird junk food, chocolate, alcohol, caffeine, avocado, persimmons, fruit pits, onions, salt, apple seeds or mushrooms. Avoid grit, or only provide it very sparingly. If you notice a decrease in droppings, contact your vet — your bird may not be feeding properly and might be ill. Your vet will work out a schedule for routine examinations of your bird.