By Malcolm Green, The Birdcare
I recently attended the International Symposium on
Pet Bird Nutrition that was held at the Centre for Animal Nutrition at the
Hanover Veterinary School in Germany.
The most startling statistic presented to the
symposium came from respected American avian vet G J Harrison. He pointed out
that, according to official statistics, 99% of one year old American human
children are suffering from some form of malnutrition. As he said "If we can't
feed our children properly what chance do we have of feeding our birds
properly". In his opinion 90% of the avian cases that he sees in his clinic have
poor nutrition as the basis of their illness. If we fed our birds better they
would live longer, happier lives. And they will breed better as well!
Another American, Laurie Hess of the Animal Medical
Centre in New York, presented some research data that helps to quantify the
extent of the bird nutrition problem.
There isn't enough space to present all of Laurie's
data but she studied 135 pet birds that were eating, either all seed diets, seed
and fruit diets or seed, fruit and pellet diets. Very few were eating a diet
with 75% or more pellets and, since there are few bird vitamin and mineral
supplements on the market in America, those birds not eating diets with that
minimum amount of pellet were all deficient in one part of their nutritional
requirements or another. In the whole study less than 2% of the birds were being
fed adequately. Laurie Hess used recommended daily nutrient requirements as
determined by Ritchie, Harrison and Harrison in 1994 as her definition of an
The following figures give some indication of the
major areas where these birds were suffering.
67% had insufficient vitamin A in their diets.
97% of the birds studied had insufficient
vitamin D3 in their diets.
98% of birds were getting less than the
recommended calcium levels in their diets.
51% had less than the recommended phosphorus
levels in their diets.
But worse still 83% had a calcium:phosphorus ratio
that was way out of balance. The only birds with an appropriate
calcium:phosphorus ratio were being fed at least 75% pellets in their diets.
This highlights that, without some form of calcium
supplementation, seed and seed and fruit and seed and table scrap type diets
cannot provide the correct balance between these two important minerals.
One key feature of the whole symposium was that
there was never any question amongst the delegates as to whether birds' diets
should be supplemented. There was however sometimes quite heated debate about
the method of supplementation. The North American expanded pellet manufacturers
were well represented at the symposium. They argued that their method of feeding
birds was the only way forward. The scientists from the Hanover Centre for
Animal Nutrition voiced the opinion that seed based diets could be properly
supplemented and so pellets were not the only way to guarantee good nutrition.
Having discussed this disagreement with a number of
North American vets it became quite clear that, whilst Europe has a number of
manufacturers producing vitamin and mineral supplements specifically for cage
and aviary birds, this is not the case in North America. However, in the years
since this symposium, European supplements have become much more easily
available in the USA so American bird keepers now have a viable alternative to
So what are the options for you and your bird?
Pet (non-breeding) bird feeding is very simple. The
basic diet, whether seed, fruit or nectar, should be supplemented with a
suitable vitamin/mineral supplement. The selection of supplement depends on what
other foods the bird is eating. Birds eating fruits and vegetables should have
Daily Essentials3 sprinkled over the moist foods every day. This product is
highly palatable. If the bird does not eat much moist food then the daily
drinking water should have
Daily Essentials1 added to it. Birds that eat diets composed mostly of
sunflower seed and/or table scraps should have Fussy Feeder Essentials in their
Obesity can be a problem in pet birds as they get
far too little exercise. Ensure that they get seed mixtures low in oily seeds
and nuts (most parrot mixes contain far too much sunflower seed). If the bird is
still overweight feed less seed and more protein in the form of pulses to the
diet of parrots. Many birds won't eat pulses so for them use
Feather-Up on fruit or human foods or Fussy Feeder Essentials in their
As an optional extra
Potent Brew or
BioPlus can be given two or three times a week, preferably by adding them to
fruit. Alternatively they can be added to the drinking water at the rate of 5mls
per litre (1/2 ml per 100mls).
All birds should get a calcium supplement once or
twice a week.
CalciBoost will provide enough for pet Greys if fed twice a week either in
the drinking water or added to fruits. Remember – if the birds are eating fruits
that is the way to give them their supplements. Fruit eating birds don't drink
enough to supplement via the drinkers!
Drinking water should have
Saniclens added at the rate of seven drops per pint unless
Potent Brew or
BioPlus are in the water in which case change the water daily. Please note
Saniclens can be mixed with
Daily Essentials 3, Fussy Feeder Essentials and
Copyright (c) 2000-2004, The
Birdcare Company. Used with permission.