top of page


What Should I Feed My Parrot?

There are a lot of parrot diets recommended by well-meaning bird care websites, online forums about aviculture, parrot books and magazines, and other parrot owners.  Many of these diets are not nutritionally balanced and will cause malnutrition and other serious health disorder. The effects are often subtle at first and may take a long time to become apparent even to a well-informed bird owner.

How Do I Tell If My Parrot Has A Problem?

Some of the common physical signs of malnutrition include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • dull feathers that are brittle and break when they are bent

  • feathers that are abnormally colored

  • dry flakey skin

  • overgrown beak and nails

  • cracks and flakes on the beak

  • swelling above or in front of the eye

  • sneezing

  • dry crusted material around the nostrils

  • droppings that have dark black to bright green feces and that are often soft and unformed

  • droppings that have excess urine as indicated by a large wet spot on the paper around the feces

  • an underweight or overweight bird

  • thin-shelled eggs, infertile eggs, high mortality of eggs and chicks

  • chronic health problems--as soon as the parrot recovers from one episode of an infection, another one develops

​If you see any of these signs in your parrot, it is time for a health consultation with a veterinarian.

Malnutrition also affects brain chemistry which may result in abnormal behavior.  These abnormal behaviors include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • scratching

  • feather destruction (feather plucking or feather picking)

  • self-mutilation where the parrot actually chews into the skin and muscle

  • irritability

  • hyperactivity

  • lethargy

  • sleepiness

  • restlessness

  • shifting from foot to foot as if it has an ache that it cannot relieve

  • aggression

  • screaming

  • skittishness

Many times the only thing noticed is that a parrot “just doesn’t act like she used to”.  If you are noticing any of these behaviors, or notice a change in your parrot’s behaviors, it is time to have your parrot examined by a veterinarian.

While all of these signs and behavioral problems may develop due to other diseases as well as other lapses in husbandry and socialization, the diet always has to be considered as playing a role in the abnormal behavior.  Fortunately, it is amazing how quickly a parrot’s behavior will improve when it gets on a nutritionally balanced diet.  The physical signs take longer to resolve and it may take months for abnormal feathers to be replaced by a good healthy molt.  While many ill parrots may recover once they are eating a well-balanced diet, some birds sustain lifelong after-effects from their conditions and some may end up dying.  Troublesome behaviors are particularly hard to extinguish if they have been allowed to persist for months; even though the medical cause of the feather-picking is long gone, the compulsive behavior continues.

What's Wrong With My Diet?

One home-made diet on a website uses a large amount of beans, seeds, and nuts, small amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables, and no vitamin or mineral supplements.  The website touts the diet as being high in protein due to the beans, rich in vitamins from the fresh produce, and full of energy from the raw nuts.  While beans are “high protein”, they are deficient in particular amino acids essential for normal muscle, skin, and organ development (particular the brain and nervous system), and nothing in this diet provides those missing nutrients.  Seeds and nuts are notoriously deficient in vitamin A and the small amount of fruits and vegetables included do nothing to overcome this imbalance.  Further analysis reveals deficiencies of calcium, trace minerals, and certain kinds of fatty acids.  The diet claims that nothing more need be fed--no vitamin or mineral supplements and no other ingredients--in order to have a healthy bird!  Frankly, I am incredulous that someone would make this claim about such an imbalanced diet and thereby endanger the health of other birds.  There are so many bad diets on the market that simply set up devoted bird owners for heartache.

It takes a lot of work to design a nutritious healthful diet.  It can’t be done by reading the nutrient analysis cards over produce bins at supermarkets and adding a little bit of this and a lot of that.  It takes a lot of work to analyze a diet.  The example I mentioned above took about three hours to analyze using a computer (and would have taken days in the era before computers).  I cannot take the time to go into this sort of detail analyzing every home-made diet I am told is being fed to my patients.  Instead, I look for key things that may be missing, provided in excess, or otherwise imbalanced, and then carefully assess the parrot to see if any of the things I notice match up to a nutritional problem.

Rarely does a home-made diet pass this scrutiny.  A home-made diet needs a long track record, preferably proof that a diet sustained growth, reproduction, and longevity over several generations, before I am comfortable with it.

The best way to obtain a healthy parrot is to feed a diet that has been reviewed by a nutritionist to ensure that it contains a proper balance of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.  (It also must pass the taste test for the most nutritionally complete diet in world does no good if your parrot won’t eat it!).  Most of us are not in a position to have a nutritionist at our beck and call and so we default to a commerical diet that has been designed and tested by professional nutritionists.

A nutritionally complete pellet diet is the best option for many pet parrots but not all pellets are equal.  Some pellets are heat processed, some do not use certified organic ingredients, and some may have excessively high levels of certain nutrients, such as iron, and so on.  It is quite possible to be feeding only an allegedly “complete” pellet and still see signs of nutritional deficiency.  It is also possible to run into issues with the artificial dyes and flavorings used in some commercial diets.  Many pellets put in colors and flavorings that do nothing for the parrots but are appealing to the human buyers!

At Arizona Exotic Animal Hospital, we strongly recommend Harrison’s Bird Diets for many of our parrot patients.  There are other good formulated diets out there but these are products we have used in our own pets and patients for many years.  We recognize that many of our clients have done the research and are willing to do the work to formulate healthful home-made diets.  However, for the clients who want to spend time with their birds instead of shopping and working in the kitchen preparing complex meals, Harrison’s Bird Diets are an excellent choice.

Are There Any Risks With Switching To A Pelleted Diet?

Many smaller parrots, such as parakeets, cockatiels, and love birds, may need some seed mix along with a pellet diet in order to do well.  While many of these small parrots will do well on pellets, others develop issues such as weight loss, regurgitation, and a shift in their gastrointestinal flora.  Since there is no way to predict which birds will develop these issues, it is a good idea to make diet changes under the supervision of a veterinarian.

But I Know A Parrot That Lives On Nothing But Seeds...

We recognize that there are birds that seem to live long lives on bad diets.  For example, we know of a blue-fronted Amazon that lived on nothing but sunflower seeds and peanuts for over 20 years.  This is similar to the guy who lives into his 90s despite a lifetime of eating junk food--some parrots just have a little better tolerance for bad diets than others.  The owners of this Amazon thought their bird was in good shape but a physical exam revealed fatty tumors, vitamin A deficiency, obesity, and gout.  We think the single most important thing you can do to give your bird a healthful life is to start with a good nutritionally balanced organic diet.

Copyright 2008
Kevin Wright and Jay Johnson
Arizona Exotic Animal Hospital, LLC
744 N Center Street
Mesa, AZ 85203



bottom of page