Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Nutrition for the Birds

Pet Column for the week of May 11, 1998

Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
By Theresa A. Fuess, Ph.D.
Information Specialist

"It is a common misconception that birds can live on seeds alone," says Dr. Thomas J.Burke, a former professor of small animal medicine at the University of Illinois Veterinary Medicine Teaching Hospital in Urbana. "An exclusive diet of seeds is deficient of many vitamins,
minerals, and amino acids necessary for the health of your bird and may lead to malnutrition, increased susceptibility to disease, and premature death."

It is true that most pet birds like seeds and, if provided an unlimited supply, they happily "pig out" on them. Wild birds rarely enjoy this opportunity, and they supplement their diets with worms, maggots, insects, fruit, and other available delicacies.

A balanced diet for pet birds, like that for people, contains a large variety of foods. Offer each kind to your pet bird in small quantities to ensure that one preferred food is not overconsumed. Fruits, vegetables, cereals, and bread, as well as beans, eggs, and meat that
have been cooked and cooled, each in moderate quantities, make up a well-balanced diet. Precise mixtures vary with the species of bird being fed. As a general rule, just about anything good for you is also good for your bird. The important exceptions are avocado and chocolate, which are both very toxic to birds.

If preparing meals for your bird doesn't fit your schedule or personal style, there are several commercial pelleted complete bird diets available. These diets can be supplemented with treats from any of the above recommended foods. If your bird is currently on a seed diet,
the transition to a pelleted diet should be made gradually. Birds have a strong preference for their usual diet and may refuse to eat unfamiliar pellets. A diet of three parts seeds to one part pellets can be offered for one week, half seeds and half pellets the second week, one part seeds to three parts pellets the third week, and pellets thereafter. If at any step your bird refuses this diet, back up the to previous week's ratio of seed to pellets and then resume the transition the next week. If your bird refuses pellets for more than two months, your veterinarian may be able to offer more sophisticated methods.

Just as important as a healthy diet is the availability of clean fresh water. Water is essential for the function of all important biological systems. Clean water will be free of bacterial, viral, and algal growths that can compromise your bird's health.

Food and water dishes should be washed daily and securely anchored in the cage out of the more frequent paths of droppings.

Any sudden decrease in appetite or change in dropping color or consistency could be the first sign of illness and should be checked out by your veterinarian.

For more information on bird health, contact your local veterinarian.