The idea that birds should eat all-seed diets likely has its roots in two facts:
- Many birds are uniquely adapted to eat seeds and nuts, able to effortlessly crack even the hardest shells and extract the tender insides.
- Birds love seeds.
If birds love seeds and are engineered to eat them, doesn’t it follow that the bulk of a pet bird’s diet should be seeds? Absolutely not.
The nutritional needs of our birds’ counterparts in the wild may well be quite different from those of our pet birds, living in luxury in our homes. Also, the nutritional makeup of what they eat in the wild may be quite different from what we feed them in our homes. They’re living very different lives!
All-seed diets make most pet birds sick over time, because seeds deny them the nutrients they need for longer-term survival, add nutritional components that are excessive and unhealthy, and ultimately weaken them to the point where other diseases find it easy to take hold. The fact that pet birds can survive at all on such diets is a testament to the toughness of birds.
An all-seed diet contributes both directly (through malnutrition) and indirectly (by weakening the bird, making it easier for infectious disease to take hold) to a serious reduction in the possible life span of any pet bird – by half or more in many cases.
But birds know what’s good for themselves, right? After all, parrots are very intelligent. Well, so are you, but we bet that fact hasn’t stopped you from enjoying tasty treats that you know aren’t good for you. For birds, seeds are the equivalent of a greasy burger: junk food. And it’s that high-fat component that tends to get them in trouble. Too many pet birds (and people) are junk-food junkies.
Pelleted foods are a solid basis for a bird’s diet, but even pellets, wonderful as they are, probably need to be supplemented with vegetables, fruits, and other such “people food” as bread and pasta. Giving different foods in addition to pellets is a way to replicate the way most psittacines eat in the wild, consuming a wide variety of foods that vary seasonally.
This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.
Excerpted from Birds For Dummies, 2nd ed., by Brian L. Speer, DVM, Kim Campbell Thornton and Gina Spadafori, Wiley, 2021.