What should I feed my bird?

IMG_3210Do you have a pet bird? Chances are if you don’t, you know someone who does. Birds are becoming increasingly popular pets, but often there is no guidance for how to feed your new companion.

Many of these species, particularly the parrots, macaws and cockatoos have a potential lifespan of decades, making proper diet and care vitally important to long term health.

Seed diets, for example, are a popular choice amongst pet bird owners; after all, that’s what birds eat in the wild, right? Nope- not the type in those mixes at the store!

Why Not Seeds?

In fact, seed diets are one of the leading causes of obesity, liver disease, heart disease, gout, poor feather quality and many other problems. Why?

Seeds are very high in fats, and can be deficient in some important vitamins and minerals, which, over months to years, can affect nearly every aspect of your bird’s health.

Think of it like eating fast food every meal, every day for your entire life. Yes, it tastes good and you are full at the end of your meal, but it can put you at risk of serious long-term health issues, especially if you (or in this case, your bird) lives a long time. That’s more time for the saturated fat to clog your African Gray’s arteries and them to have a heart attack. It happens.

What Should I Feed?

If seeds are so bad, what should you feed your bird? In my experience as a veterinarian, birds on a high-quality pellet diet tend to be much healthier, especially in middle to old age. You really are what you eat, after all, and pellets have been specifically formulated to meet your bird’s nutritional requirements.

Personally, I tend to steer people away from the brightly colored fruity pellets as well; yes, they are colorful and fun, but they also contain unnecessary dyes and flavoring. I generally recommend Harrisons pellets as a brand with research to back up their pellet formulations and good quality control.


If you want to introduce some variety and color to your bird’s life, offer fresh fruits and vegetables, pasta, toast, or anything healthy that you’re eating. Some even love hot peppers. If it’s good for you, chances are it’s good for them- in moderation. Just avoid avocados, onions and chocolate, which can be toxic to birds.

Seeds are reserved for training treats, generally only given a few per week or hidden as a special treat in a foraging toy.

Converting Seeds to Pellets

Okay, so your bird has eaten seeds for years, but you want to switch him over to pellets. Great! This can take some patience, but in most cases can be done.

Some birds take right to the pellets and never look back, others need more time. Below are some tips to try to convert them over successfully:

  1. Remove their current seed mix diet from the cage for 1 hour morning and evening and substitute pellets. If not eating pellets within the hour, put the seeds back into the cage with the pellets and try again later.
  2. Mimic eating pellets with your bird, then offer one to him. It may not register as “food” to your bird until he sees you “eat” it- they are flock animals and learn by observation.
  3. If this is still not working, try sprinkling a few drops of apple juice over the pellets to “sweeten the deal”
  4. If all else fails, consult your veterinarian and/or try adding Bird Bread to your bird’s diet. It has the same nutrition as a pellet, but a different consistency that some birds will accept.


Eating can and should be a fun experience for your bird. Yes, it’s easier to feed them peanuts and sunflower seeds- they love the treat after all, but in the long run, you will almost certainly be seeing dangerous, debilitating and entirely preventable diseases in your bird, which may not be reversible once diagnosed.

An ounce of prevention in this case is more than worth the heartache of trying to cure years of malnutrition.

For more information on recommended diets or converting your bird from seed to pellets, please consult your veterinarian.