Most bird owners believe that a well prepared seed mixture is a diet sufficient to keep their feathered friend strong and healthy. Unfortunately this notion couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Most experts in avian medicine believe that malnutrition is probably the common cause of disease in pet birds. These birds that suffer from malnutrition have developed the condition as a result of being maintained on an almost exclusive diet of seeds. According to Greg Harrison DVM author of Clinical Avian Medicine and Surgery, chronic generalized malnutrition seems to be a primary factor in many of the diseases seen in pet birds. He notes that the effects of malnutrition become particularly evident during periods of high nutritional demand such as breeding and molting, or exposure to disease. In short malnutrition predisposes birds to many other diseases that they would have easily avoided had their diets been more complete.
A number of clinical signs may indicate malnutrition in birds. Rough looking feather, blue or green feathers that have faded to black or yellow, an incomplete molt, wing and tail feathers that are easily broken, and stress bars on the feathers are all signs of possible malnutrition.
Further evidence that a bird is not receiving an adequate diet is dry, flaky skin; long , rough nails; a rough looking beak; dull, thick skin on the bird’s legs; smooth skin on the bottom of the bird’s feet; an extremely slimy or dry appearance on the roof of the bird’s mouth, and calluses on the edges of the bird’s tongue. If your bird has any of these signs, contact your avian veterinarian for an evaluation of your bird and his or her diet.
When most people here the term “malnutrition” they think of an animal or person that is underweight or emaciated. Frequently, however, malnourished birds are obese. Diets that are high in fat create overweight birds that are deficient in a number of the essential nutrients. These fat malnourished birds are at a much greater risk for developing fatty tumors on their breasts. Seed diets high in sunflower seeds, saflower seeds, and peanuts are very high in fat and very low in other nutrients. These fatty seeds are for birds like candy is for humans — they taste good, can be addicting, but contain very little in the way of beneficial nutrients.
Avian nutrition experts believe birds need about 14 vitamins and specific amino acids and minerals to maintain good health. Vitamins and minerals most often missing from a seed diet are Vitamin A and D3, calcium, and Iodine. Upper respiratory disease is probably the most common type of bird disease. This high frequency of upper respiratory problems is probably related in part to the fact that most seed eating birds are deficient in Vitamin A.
As a rule of thumb birds should get no more than 20% of their diet from seeds. The rest should be evenly divided amongst the other 3 food groups. Good wholesome table craps are excellent sources of food. Remember, if it is junk food for you its junk food for your bird. Birds that have been on an exclusively seed diet may stubbornly refuse to switch over to human food. Keep putting table scraps in the bird’s cage even if the bird ignores them. Eventually the food will become familiar and the bird will hopefully begin to eat it. Pelleted foods sold in most pet stores claim to be well balanced and serve as an excellent source of nutrition so long as you can convince the bird to eat them. Dr. Harrison has developed a unique food that is termed an “extruded” diet and in my opinion is the most complete commercial bird food on the market.
So like people, birds need a balanced diet from the 4 basic food groups. However, also like people, birds tend to eat what they like and only what they like. With patience you will eventually be able to teach your little friend to eat food that is healthier and more complete and more likely to give the bird a longer happier life.