It is usually a bad idea to offer seed blends intended for wild birds to your pet birds. Wild birds visit feeders for a supplement to their regular diet.
They can forage for other foods that give them complete nutrition.
Pet birds depend on the food you give them. Most pet birds cannot get all the nutrients they need if the only food they get is products intended for feeding wild birds.
In this article, we will tell you about the times you can supplement your pet bird’s diet with wild bird food.
But first, we want to make sure you understand why no pet bird should be given a diet that is strictly wild bird food.
Why Pet Birds Should Not Get All Their Nutrition from Wild Bird Food
Just how big a deal is it not to feed pet birds the same food you feed the birds that visit your background.
Veterinarians estimate that 80 to 90 percent of diseases in pet birds are caused by improper nutrition.
There are specific health conditions in pet birds that result from giving them the same food you would give backyard birds.
- Pet birds that mostly eat seeds often develop right-sided congestive heart failure, fatty liver, and hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis).
- A steady diet of seeds that have not been stored properly exposes pet birds to aflatoxin. Of course, moldy seeds expose wild birds to aflatoxin, too, but for them, it is a smaller part of the diet. Aflatoxins can cause fatal liver disease.
- Vitamin and mineral supplements can’t take the place of real plant foods. The usual way to give these supplements to birds is to mix them in their drinking water. When all the water a bird gets has minerals and vitamins in it, the bird can become dehydrated.
- Birds do not necessarily eat the healthy fruits and vegetables and nutritional pellets their owners offer them. They tend to go for tasty seeds, the same as wild birds. Giving pet birds the seeds that wild birds like only makes the problem worse.
There are also conditions that occur in certain species of birds given wild bird food more often than others.
Obesity is a major problem in Amazon parrots, Quaker parrots, galahs. and macaws that are given too many wild bird seeds.
The wild birds that feast on the seeds you leave in the feeder in your yard spend most of their day flying far and wide, foraging for food.
Your pet bird spends its day sitting in its cage. It does not burn a lot of calories.
Obese birds will have fat on their necks, thighs, and abdomens. They may not be able to flex their wings or bend their legs.
The cloaca (that releases waste and, in females, eggs) may not close completely. Obese birds may have breathing issues and problems with their joints.
Vitamin A Deficiency (Hypovitaminosis A)
A steady diet of seeds, or even a diet that is half pellets and half seeds, does not give pet birds all the vitamin A they need.
Birds that suffer vitamin A deficiency may display sneezing, wheezing, nostrils blocked with dried mucus, mucus around the eyes, gagging, diarrhea, weight loss, bad breath, bobbing tail, and/or depression.
But vitamin A deficiency in pet birds may manifest itself in several other less common, often baffling conditions.
- Pododermatitis. In this vitamin A deficiency disease, birds have trouble walking or clinging to their perch. They may cling to the side of their cage with their beaks because their feet hurt so much.
- Feather picking. Vitamin A-deficient birds don’t have strong immune systems. They are plagued by mites and bacterial infections that cause itching and inflammation around their feathers.
- Polydipsia. Some birds on an all-seed diet just can’t stop drinking water. They can’t stop urinating, either.
- Conjunctivitis. Birds that don’t get enough vitamin A can develop bloodshot, mucus-filled eyes.
One way to make sure your bird never becomes deficient in vitamin A, even if they love seeds and pellets, is to sprinkle their feed with spirulina.
It will provide them with all the vitamin A and B vitamins they need.
When symptoms are severe, an avian veterinarian can give your pet bird a vitamin A shot.
Any bird can suffer from calcium, Phosphorus, and Vitamin D3 vitamin A deficiency, but the problem is especially common in budgies.
In people, iodine deficiency can cause goiter – an unusual swelling of the thyroid gland. The same condition can occur in pet birds that are fed too many seeds.
Birds that have goiters may make a clicking sound when they breathe. They wheeze, almost as if they have asthma.
Or they may develop stridor, a harsh or grating sound when they breathe, especially when they are flying.
Just one drop of Lugol’s iodine in a cup (250 ml) of water every time you replenish your bird’s supply is enough to correct iodine deficiency in about a month. Be sure not to add too much.
Iodine deficiency is a common problem in budgies.
Calcium, Phosphorus, and Vitamin D3 Imbalance
Calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin D3 are all essential for healthy bones.
When pet birds get too much of one of these nutrients and not enough of another, bone development cannot occur.
Osteoporosis due to nutritional deficiency is common in budgies, parrotlets, and parrots. The effects of calcium and vitamin D3 deficiency are especially devastating in young African Gray parrots.
Why is this problem especially common in parrots of all sizes?
Birds in the Parrot Family love sunflower seeds, but sunflower seeds are high in fat and deficient in calcium.
Birds of all kinds that get too many safflower seeds also develop bone problems.
Safflower seeds contain even less calcium and more fat than sunflower seeds, and are also deficient in essential amino acids.
Female birds of all kinds that do not get enough calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin D3 lay eggs with weak shells, or may not lay at all.
All birds, but especially African Gray parrots, need regular exposure to sunlight or sunlamps so their bodies can make vitamin D.
Ideally, you should move your bird’s cage outdoors so they can play in the sun when the air temperatures are neither too cold nor too hot.
If your bird has osteoporosis, it may need splints on its legs. You may also need to rearrange its cage so it cannot hurt itself when it is climbing.
Iron Overload Disease
Many birds love fruit. It is a great source of vitamin C. It also provides necessary vitamin A.
Giving your pet bird too much fruit, however, can result in iron overload disease.
Vitamin C increases the absorption of iron.
Excessive iron damages the liver, spleen, and heart. Birds with iron overload disease may develop ascites, the accumulation of fluid over the liver.
Ascites may make breathing difficult and flight impossible. Birds with iron overload disease may also have trouble breathing.
Iron overload disease is most common in mynahs, toucans, and birds of paradise.
They love citrus fruit, but you should not give it to them more than once or twice a month.
Don’t worry about these birds becoming deficient in vitamin C. All but a very few birds, such as ptarmigans and grouse, can make their own vitamin C.
10 Important Rules for Feeding Pet Birds
The most important thing to know about feeding your pet bird is to give them wild bird seed sparingly, or not at all.
There are ten more rules that will help keep your bird safe.
- The largest part of your pet bird’s diet, at least 50 percent, up to 80 percent, should be pellets. Brands like Harrison’s, Kaytee (Exact), and Zupreem contain all the nutrients your bird needs. Then you can add vegetables, fruit, and a few nuts and seeds for variety.
- When you are introducing your bird to a new food, offer it the first thing in morning, as soon as they wake up. Birds are hungriest when they first wake up.
- It’s OK to give your bird vitamins, but it is best to sprinkle them on any fresh produce you are feeding your bird. Putting vitamins in drinking water encourages the growth of E. coli and Salmonella bacteria. Birds will eat around vitamin pellets you sprinkle on their seeds.
- Sharing a tablespoon of the food you eat is a way to introduce variety into your pet bird’s diet. Don’t give them fried foods or sweets.
- The best way to give your bird minerals is in the form of cuttlebone, ground-up eggshells, oyster shells, or mineral blocks. Don’t give them ground up Tums for calcium. It can be flavored with Xylitol, which is toxic for pet birds.
- Remove any uneaten food from your bird’s cage two or three hours after you serve it, so it will not spoil.
- All fruits with seeds are potentially toxic to your bird. The seeds of stone fruits (peaches, plums, and apricots) and apples contain cyanide.
- Birds have poor senses of smell and taste. They enjoy the texture of their food.
- Never try to starve your bird into trying new food. They can starve to death in as little as 48 hours!
- If your bird is used to eating mostly wild bird seed, they may need some time to get used to a healthier diet. Offer them a mixture of wild bird food and more appropriate foods, slowly decreasing the amount of wild bird seed and slowly increasing the amount of appropriate food. Don’t give up if they are fussy about their food.
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