Converting a bird to a new healthy diet requires patience, persistence, and creativity.
Just because your bird won’t eat that today (that being sweet potato, or perhaps some crispy leafy greens, or just some quality pellets), it doesn’t mean he or she won’t be eating some tomorrow, or next week, or next month.
From little things, big things grow; and once you find the methods of healthy feeding that work best for your parrot(s) you’ll never again look back at the unhealthy and dangerous seed diet that your bird may have come to you addicted to.
Keep in mind that a bird who has had a prior poor diet is likely to have health complications which will continue to need monitoring and ongoing avian veterninary care – even many years after transitioning to a healthy diet (and ideally plenty of flight exercise too!).
A mistake is not a failure. It’s something we learn from. And learning every single day is what we should be doing when caring for our precious parrots. After 20 years of parrot care, each day still brings something new to the table!
These are some of the pitfalls to be aware of when you’re in the process of moving your parrot(s) on to a new diet that’s going to positively transform their health and well being for the long term:
Feeding Too Much
Too much of a good thing can be very bad. And that goes for healthy food as well. Parrots in captivity, no matter how much they might fly around, will never be burning calories like wild parrots do. This means the quantity of healthy food being provided is just as important as the quality!
One of the most common mistakes people make is overfeeding their birds. Many people believe that providing their bird with more food is a sign of love, but this is not the case. Pellets, seeds, and nuts are high in calories and fat, and a bird only needs approximately 1 tablespoon of food per 100 grams of body weight per day, depending on their species and calorie expenditure. When a bird is presented with a new food alongside their favorite foods, they are not motivated to try the new food. It is important to remember that birds need a balanced and varied diet to maintain their health.
Moving Too Quickly
Another mistake people make is abruptly stopping the old food and only offering the new food as a total replacement.
You’ll want to combine the old food (which is most often seed) with the new healthy diet and gradually reduce the bird seed with each meal AND offer only the healthy foods during the day as treats and enrichment.
You’ve probably seen daunting photos of people’s amazing parrot recipes containing 10 or 20 ingredients – soaked, steamed, chopped.
You think it’s all too much. But you do not have to go to those lengths, in fact in the early stages I prefer to limit it to half a dozen ingredients or so (certainly do more if you want to) using simple powerhouse foods like red quinoa as a base to add vegetables and greens to.
Many bird people give up too soon when trying to introduce a new food. It will almost always take time for a bird to develop a new taste for healthier foods.
Persistence is key, and incorporating small amounts of the new food into the diet gradually over time is the way to go.
Offering new food in a bowl is not very exciting for a bird. In the wild, a bird’s food would be hanging from branches, hidden inside pods, dug up from the ground and never just sitting there in a bowl. Providing a variety of food foraging opportunities using things like safe stainless steel hanging skewers and hanging baffles full of fruit and vegeatable pieces make for a stimulating eating experience!
How To Succeed
It’s All About Portion
The simplest and most direct method is to let the bird try the new food. Sprinkling a small amount of their favorite food on top of the new food can motivate them to try it.
Parrots are observational learners, and they learn to forage and eat in the wild by watching their parents and other flock members. Eating the new food in front of the bird can encourage them to try it too.
Mix It Up!
Mixing the new food with their favorite food can be effective. For example, blending fresh produce into a pesto consistency and mixing it with pellets can gradually convert a pellet-obsessed parrot to eat fruits and veggies. Conversely, grinding up pellets into powder and sprinkling it over produce can gradually convert a bird who loves their fruits and veggies to eat pellets.
If your bird has a taste for simple carbohydrates (which should be completely avoided) like pasta, substitute it with an alternative like lentil pasta – it looks the same and your bird will likely go for it straight away. This is a great way to get them interested in the entire meal if they can pick out a familiar or favorite food before exploring the rest.