A Guide To Feeding Your Bird
Getting the right nutrition is a key part of keeping our birds feeling chirpy
Birds, while not as common as pets as their furry counterparts, are still a regular feature in the UK pet population. Character-filled, cheerful and often incredibly beautiful, birds can bring a lot of joy into a household. Some birds can even help pay their way, with many households regularly enjoying eggs from their ducks and hens.
Getting the right nutrition is a key part of keeping our birds feeling chirpy. There are many species of captive bird in the UK, all with their own individual needs. We have outlined the basic dietary requirements of some of the most common pet birds below. Your local avian vet will also be able to give you advice on the best feeding for your bird if they aren’t listed, as well as taking into account individual variation in the nutritional needs of the species covered.
For more advice on feeding your bird, or to make an appointment, please find your nearest avian Companion Care.
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More about feeding your bird
Budgies, finches, cockatiels and canaries. In the wild budgies, finches, cockatiels and canaries feed on a variety of grass seeds, leaves, fruit, insects, flower buds and bark. Although this is difficult to fully replicate for our pet small birds, making sure that their diet mimics their natural one, including the need to hunt and work for food, is important for their physical and mental wellbeing. As budgie, finch, cockatiel and canary knowledge has changed over the years, so has their recommended diet.
Historically they were often just offered seeds, which resulted in a reduced lifespan. Small birds who feast on seeds are referred to now as ‘seed junkies’ and, if allowed, will eat only seeds and ignore any other offered foodstuffs. Although unhealthy, these seed-eating birds really do love seeds, so managing their seed consumption is important. To prevent your budgie or cockatiel from becoming a ‘seed junkie’ themselves, seeds should be offered as a maximum of 20% of the daily diet. For finches and canaries, this can be higher, up to 50% if you are using a good commercial mix. When feeding seeds, make sure all the seeds are nearly gone by the end of the day. While fatty, giving a range of seed types is good for nutrition, and you want your bird to eat a variety. Being offered too many seeds gives budgies, finches, cockatiels and canaries the opportunity to be selective, which can affect their nutritional profile. Use seed mixes which are species specific to make sure your bird(s) get the correct nutrition. As well as seeds, another excellent option for feeding is pelleted food. The advantage of this is that all the pellets are the same, preventing your bird from picking just the tastiest and fattiest parts and leaving the less tasty pieces.
Pelleted food is also often supplemented with essential vitamins and minerals to make sure your bird is getting everything they need. Seed-lovers may find pelleted food not to their taste, but persevering to make sure that they are eating mainly pellets is much better for their long-term health. Finches and canaries do not need pellets if they are getting a good seed mix, but they can be used in a mixed diet and can help supply essential minerals and vitamins. Fruits, vegetables and greens are a great way to supplement your budgie, canary, cockatiel or finches diet, and provide variety and interest. Ideally, these would make up at least a quarter of your bird’s diet and should be washed and ideally organic. Fruit should be a treat, as it is very sugary, and vegetables should make up the bulk. Variety is key, and if your bird is only eating one offering, remove this the next day to promote eating of other fruit and vegetable types.
Chickens are often birds who are ‘in work’, even if they are just laying a few eggs. This means that their nutritional needs are different from many other pet or backyard birds. Think of all the protein and calcium needed to make an egg! When free-range, chickens will naturally forage for greenery and insects. This is great mental stimulation for them, and lets them pick and choose some favoured foods.
The majority of their diet, however, should be made up of pellets, which are formulated for your chickens life stage and level of work – layer pellets for example are specifically formulated for chickens who are producing eggs. These formulated feeds are usually offered freely, and chickens will eat as much as they need. Making sure there is a large enough bowl or trough for all chickens to be able to feed will help reduce incidences of infighting. Mixed corn can also be a useful, if fatty, supplement to your hens’ diet. Often used as a ‘scratch food’ – scattered around the bottom of the run to give chickens something to forage for – mixed corn is tasty and can help keep your chickens warm and active over colder months.
Ample greens should also be provided for your hens. Weeds and offcuts from vegetable such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and other greens are all very chicken-friendly and, as these are often left over from your own kitchen, are often an inexpensive addition. Grits are also an important item to include in a poultry diet. This is used instead of teeth to grind down food, and sits in a special pouch in the chicken digestive system. Free-range birds will often get enough insoluble grit from foraging, but providing a source can make sure they have enough. Soluble grit, such as oyster shell, is often also recommended as this is a great way for your chickens to top up their ever-important calcium.
In most cases the basis of an African grey parrot’s diet is a species-specific pelleted food. Ideally this would avoid additives, such as food colouring or flavouring. These diets are specifically tailored to the needs of African grey parrots, and as such contain all the necessary vitamins and minerals they need to stay healthy. They can be made more interesting to the parrot by flavouring with a few drops of a favourite dilute organic fruit juice. African greys are very intelligent birds, however, and need more than purely nutrition from their food. Food is a great way to provide your parrot with stimulation, and making your parrot work for food and treats is an important part of parrot keeping and training. Supplementing pellets with a mix of nuts, seeds, fruit and vegetables helps your parrot get the variety they need.
Vegetables should be given in a higher quantity than fruit, due to the high sugar content of fruit, but both add value to a parrot’s diet. Colour is a good indicator; oranges and dark greens often indicate high nutrient value for your parrot, and where fruit is concerned the more exotic the better! Green leafy vegetables have high calcium levels, which are important for your parrot.
Orange fruit and veg, such as squash, carrots, peppers and sweet potatoes are great for vitamin A – something parrots may lack. Your local avian vet can do blood samples to assess your parrot’s blood levels of calcium if you have any concerns, or annually to check that your parrot’s nutrition is working well for them.
You may find that the first time you offer your African grey something new they turn their nose up. Don’t be disheartened! It can take several attempts before a parrot will try something new, so keep offering it. Just like children, sometimes seeing you eat something will encourage parrots to try a new food, so this is always worth a go for fruits and vegetables.
Although a large variety of fruit and veg are parrot-safe, there are some to avoid. These include:
- Fruit seeds
- Raw onions and garlic
- Anything containing high salt or sugar levels (most human food!)
- Excess numbers of sunflower seeds and nuts
Using puzzle feeders, toys, or simple hiding food in cardboard boxes or similar can provide your parrot with hours of entertainment. There are many ways to build entertainment into mealtimes and it’s always good to get creative!
A UV light should be used to help aid nutrition and well being as this is important in good skin and immunological health.
Finally, African greys should always have access to clean, fresh water.
Each species of bird has a beak uniquely adapted to its diet. If the environment and feeding are correct, your bird’s beak should keep itself in good condition without you having to do anything. However, if there is a problems with your bird, for example illness, the incorrect diet or a lack of toys, the beak may overgrow.
An overgrown beak is a problem for your bird, as they will find it much more difficult to eat. Not being able to eat properly will only exacerbate the problem, meaning some birds develop chronic beak issues. Your local avian vet will be able to help you, by trimming or burring your bird’s beak into a better shape. This is not something to attempt at home, and should always be done by a professional.