CONVERTING YOUR BIRD TO PELLETS
A seed only diet is not a nutritionally complete diet for our companion birds. Some of the problems frequently seen due to poor nutrition include fatty liver disease, chronic sinus infections and poor feather coloration. There are many different pelleted diets made specifically for birds that are nutritionally complete. It is comparatively easy to switch most birds to this type of diet if you are determined to do it.**
MORNING: Give your bird 90 minutes of his or her normal seed diet. After 90 minutes take the seed out of the cage and put in pellets. During the day you can give the bird whatever fruits, vegetables or other “safe” people food your bird likes. Leave the pellets in the cage all day.
EVENING: Give your bird another 90 minutes of seed before bed time. By the end of the third day, your bird will probably be eating at least a few pellets. You can continue this schedule for longer if you wish, but don’t give in and allow him to have seed for months!
ONCE EATING SOME PELLETS: At this point, only give one seed meal per day, either in the morning or the evening, for 90 minutes. Leave pellets in the cage in a separate dish all the time, and feel free to offer fruits and vegetables at any time. When you are certain that your bird is eating pellets regularly, we suggest only allowing the bird to eat seed every other day or three times per week. We suggest at most 1/8 cup seed for a Parakeet, Cockatiel or other small bird, 1/4 cup for Conure and Quaker sized birds, 1/2 cup for Amazon and African Grey sized birds, and 1 cup for Macaws.
While pellets are a good base diet for your bird, a pellets only diet is not recommended either. A good ratio is 60-70% pellets, and 30-40% seed, fruits, veggies, nuts, etc. After your bird has been eating pellets consistently, it is usually best to offer veggies and fruits on a daily basis or at least three times a week as a treat. A good way to do this is the three dish method. One dish for water, one for pellets and a third dish for treats, which could be either seed or fruits and veggies.
**Cockatiels and parakeets are the exception to this rule. These types of birds have been known to starve to death while trying to switch to pellets, as they simply will not recognize the pellets as a food source. You will have to be much more patient with these species. Don’t try switching cockatiels or parakeets to pellets unless you have discussed this with your veterinarian first.
ARE PELLETS BETTER THAN SEED?
There is no single answer as to what is the best diet to feed a pet bird. Over the last 28 years, I have seen more and more birds on pelleted diets and fewer birds having nutrition problems. Birds on a seed only diet may be prone to obesity, high cholesterol, infections due to a weakened immune system caused by vitamin A deficiency, or bones that break more easily from inadequate vitamin D and calcium. Most people agree that a formulated diet for dogs is healthier than feeding them table scraps, and so it makes sense that a formulated diet could be created for pet birds that would give them a better balance of nutrients than would come from seeds alone. In the wild, many birds eat almost no seeds; instead, they eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, sprouts, and even insects.
In my own flock of 45 parrots, only 10 or so were on pelleted diets when I obtained them. All of them now eat pellets, along with fruits, vegetables, nuts, and some seed. The pellets comprise about 60 to 80% of their daily diet. I have converted birds as old as 25 years of age off of their seed diet. I do not recommend trying to change the diet of a sick bird without consulting your veterinarian first.
If you have a bird that doesn't seem interested in fruits or vegetables, try offering the same food repeatedly. Make it fun for them by hanging the food with a clothespin or with a fruit hanger found in some pet stores. Try cutting it into different sizes and shapes. Let the bird see you eating some, but be sure not to offer the bird any that has your germs on it, since the bacteria that humans carry is much different from what birds normally have. Pet birds can eat almost anything we eat, except for chocolate, avocados, caffeine, or alcohol. Some birds, like cockatiels and parakeets, may not like the wetter foods, so try dark green leafy veggies like spinach or broccoli, or dry breakfast cereals.