Feeding Your Bird a Healthy Diet for a Long Life
As a rescue, we get birds surrendered from various backgrounds. One of the most common things we see is birds that have been on seed only diets for years. Many cockatoos will have had sunflower seed only diets. We have had birds that have come in with gout, many galahs with fatty lumps the size of golf balls, birds with oily or poor feather condition from an oily seed diet, and the majority of birds with liver and kidney damage. The information on diet I am going to share, is based on the health conditions of the birds surrendered that came from seed only diets and the improvements in condition after being converted to healthy diets.
Birds need healthy, fresh food with lots of variety, with chop being the best option. Chop is essentially mostly vegetables, some fruit, grains, nuts, and healthy seeds (like flax, hemp, and chia) all combined into one healthy meal for your bird. Chopping into fine pieces will ensure there is a good mix of everything in each bowl, and it makes it harder to pick out the things they don't like. I use a food processor to rough chop most vegetables. You can make a large batch and freeze it into individual portions that you can set in the fridge the night before to thaw, or you can make a fresh batch each week. I find my fresh batches are good for about 4 days, so I am making fresh batches about twice a week. I also find the birds enjoy the fresh food more than frozen and thawed, but of course, frozen and thawed is better than no chop if your time does not allow for making fresh weekly. One thing for sure, once your bird has been converted to chop, it will be it's favourite food. Here at the rescue, we convert all birds to a chop diet plus a quality pellet, with the exception of birds like Eclectus and lorikeets that have a more specialised diet. All our birds, from canaries all the way to cockatoos, love to eat their chop first before any other food.
A good diet will help reduce your vet visits from diet related illnesses, and will give your bird the chance to live out it's full life.
Converting to a Healthy Diet
All Birds Can Be Converted
The one complaint we hear the most is "my bird is too stubborn and can't be converted!" This is simply not true. It has to be done correctly, but it is actually fairly simple. We convert all birds to healthy diets within a week, including birds that people swore that they had tried to convert for 20 years! The keys are the ingredients you use and your method. Also, if there is a seed bar hanging in your cage or a bowl of plain seed, your bird will always choose the seed first. Dry seed is the equivalent to fast food for humans. It's both tasty and really bad for you. Most people, when given the choice between fries and a salad, will choose the fries. It's the same with our birds. I often hear that seed is what birds should eat because it is what they normally eat in the wild. There is some validity in this, however, the information is not complete. Bird seed we buy from the store is dry seed. It has lots of stored energy so it can sprout and grow in to a plant. This stored energy equates to a high energy meal for birds. Birds in the wild do eat some seed, but the seed they find is fresh live seed that does not have the amount of stored energy dried seed has and it is very nutritious. They also have access to a larger variety of seed than is in store bought mixes. They spend their days searching for food and their diet varies depending on what they can find to eat. It also includes much more than seed depending on the type of bird. If you are going to feed seed, consider sprouting. When a seed sprouts it becomes a different, healthier food.
When converting to a healthy diet, we actually work on converting to pellets first. Once, a bird is converted to pellets, we work on teaching them to eat their chop. One bonus, aside from an all around healthier bird, is birds on a chop and pellet diet will then see seed as a high reward. You can then use a very small amount of seed each day to help with taming or training a very shy bird.
Notes: With some of the large birds like cockatoos and galahs, we can often skip step one and change their diet by simply taking away seed and giving pellet and chop. We skip to step 2 and mix seed in the chop for a week. They often start eating pellet on their own without much encouragement.
Step 1: Converting to Pellets
We have found that type of pellet makes a world of difference in this process. We use Harrison's High Potency. It's a good quality, organic pellet, and it tends to dissolve and stick to the seed best. We mix the Harrison's pellets 50/50 with a budgie seed. Add water to the pellet and seed mix until it just covers the mix. This will create a mushy mix. The birds will dig the seed out of the mix and will taste the pellet. Change the mushy mix daily. After about three days, they will start eating more and more of the pellet in the mush. After one week, you should be able to put dry pellets in the cage with no seed and they will eat the pellets. During this process, never offer plain dry seed in the cage, and always offer a bowl of fresh food like chop. Also, closely monitor that they are eating. They often will pick out just seed the first day or two, but will start picking at the pellet and chop by day three.
Once converted to pellets, it's easy to switch to any quality pellet. Please research your pellets and use high quality pellets.
Step 2: Converting to Chop
Once you have converted to pellets, you can start focus on improving their love for chop. This step is easy, and they may have already started eating the chop during your pellet conversion. Now that you can offer dry pellets, offer chop and stir in a small amount of seed. We don't want to regress to only eating seed, so only add a small amount to encourage them to dig through the chop. With a good quality chop, your birds will convert quickly. Some keys to making your chop tasty is to add cooked grains, cooked quinoa, a small amount of grated nut, and healthy seed like flax, hemp, and chia plus the live seed from your capsicums, peppers, pumpkin, and melons. (Don't use apple seed. They contain small amounts of cyanide, not harmful if they eat one or two, but you don't want to purposefully add it to the diet.) After one week of stirring the seed into the chop, your bird should eat chop without seed by choice.
Feeding Your Birds Healthy Food For a Long, Happy Life
Basic Chop Recipe
Cooked Diced Sweet Potato (boiled)
Cooked Split Pea Lentil and Barley
Silverbeet and Kale
Apple or Pear
Frozen Peas and Corn (thawed)
Diced or Shredded Beetroot
TBSP of Flax and Chia Seeds
Finely Chopped Walnut (small amount)
Spice It Up
Cooked or Raw diced pumpkin
Rocket and Choy Sum
Thyme and Rosemary (fresh)
Yellow and Red Capsicum
Touch of Cayenne Pepper
TBSP of Flax Seed
Organic Rolled Oats
Budgie and Cockatiel Delight
Cooked Diced Sweet Potato
Chopped Broccoli and Cauliflower
Chopped Kale and Silverbeet
Red Capsicum and Chilli
Fennel and fronds
Flax and Chia Seed
Rosemary and Thyme
Cooked Quinoa and Lentils
(plus raw pumpkin seed)
Corn, Chilli, and Green Beans
Silverbeet and Choy Sum
Okra and Cucumber
Cantaloupe with seeds
Flax and Chia seed
Cooked Quinoa and Lentils
Cooked Diced Sweet Potato
Silverbeet and Bok Choy
Grapes (small amount) or Diced Watermelon or Melon or Berries
Peas and Corn (small amount)
Rosemary or Corriander
1-2 chopped almond
Special Treat Chop
Cooked Quinoa, Sweet Potato, Yellow Split Peas, Red Split Lentils, Chickpea, And Barley
Kale and Rocket
Zucchini and Carrot
Beetroot and Turnip
Grated Tumeric and Ginger
Green Bean and Sugar Snap Peas
Blueberry or Blackberry
Mango or Passionfruit
Healthy Seed Mix
Roots and Shoots
Cooked Sweet Potato
Diced Beetroot and Turnip
Silverbeet and Kale
Grated Ginger Root or Tumeric
Chia and Flax (small amount)
Sprouts (Can sprout your own seeds and beans. Sprouting methods below)
Soak chick peas, adzuki beans, mung bean, and lentil for 12 hours in a glass container with twice the amount of water than bean. After soaking for 12 hours, rinse thoroughly 3-5 times a day. Don't leave in the sun (I keep on countertop out of sun.) I use a colander to rinse thoroughly, then place beans back into the container. The glass storage baking dishes are excellent for sprouts. Sprouts are ready in 3-5 days when tails emerge. Sprouts should smell nice. If any sour smell is present, throw them out.
Healthy Seeds for Chop
(sprinkle 1-3 tbsp of the mix into a large chop)
Organic Coconut Shreds (never use dessicated coconut)
Easy Steps to Making Your Own Chop Recipes
Always add more vegetables than fruit. A good key is 75-80% vegetable.
Cooked quinoa gets even the pickiest eaters to try chop.
Include a variety of vegetables in vibrant colours.
Add a small amount of healthy grains like cooked millet, barley, freekah
Spice up your chop with bird safe fresh herbs and spices
Stir in a small amount of healthy seeds like chia and flax (check out the healthy seed mix above)
Include fresh seeds from pumpkin, chilli, capsicums, melons, pomegranate, and passion fruit
Be sure to add root vegetables too (beetroot is a hit with all of our birds)
Dried beans should always be either rehydrated and fully cooked or sprouted
Never use canned fruit or vegetables. Fresh or frozen is best.
Use raw unsalted nuts and seeds
Foods to avoid: avocado (kills), garlic, onion, tomato stems and leaves, mushrooms, fruit pits and apple seeds, rhubarb, salted nuts or salted seeds
Little to no nutritional value: iceburg lettuce and white potato