Eating Bird Food: Mash it up!

I recently spent the day at another parrot enthusiast’s home, learning tips and tricks for the most nutritionally complete captive bird diet. Thank you Candie of Creature Connections for a fun and very informative day!

There are many misconceptions today about proper diet and nutrition for captive parrots. When the bird boom started thirty years ago, very little was known about what we should be feeding our birds. Many parrots have lived for years now on all-seed diets marketed by major pet brand names and pet stores. In the wild however, parrots are not living off of seeds, just like we are not living off of cereal (hopefully!). Pellets and a nutritious, varied fresh diet is the key to providing your bird everything [s]he needs to live a long, healthy life.


Varied dark, leafy greens and other veggies are key to a fresh diet!

Feeding your birds healthy fresh foods does not need to be time consuming on a daily basis, either. Once a month, I take half a day to cook mash for my birds, then freeze it in snack sized baggies and defrost as needed. This takes about four hours, and makes enough food to feed my flock until the next mash-up (I have five birds). The mash I make is based off of the guidelines found on Feeding Feathers Yahoo group. This online group is an invaluable resource in learning about dietary needs, including the ratios you need to feed in order to provide a healthy balance of fatty acids omega 3 and 6.

“And how am I supposed to get my finicky bird to eat their fruits and veggies?” you may be asking right about now. There are many different “methods” to converting your parrot to a healthier diet of pellets, veggies, grains/legumes, and fruit. Some of these methods include slowly introducing new foods mixed in with the old, eating with your bird to model the behavior or having other, more curious birds in your home taste test and lead by example.

Bird Mash

Making mash for a varied, healthy parrot diet.

Personally, I have had a lot of luck converting my adopted birds by introducing new foods slowly, mixed in with the old, and by modeling the behavior (eating with them and making a big deal out of it). Since most birds are going to live at least 30-80 years, I think we owe it to our feathered kids to get them eating healthy! And with all those years ahead, we have plenty of time to work on the switch to healthier foods.


The Urban Parrot – how to manage intrinsic behaviors in your home

Parrots are wild animals; I know many people do not think of them this way as they sit in our living rooms and pet stores. However, they have not been bred over centuries like dogs and cats. The intrinsic behaviors their wild counterparts have are the same behaviors your pet bird acts on in your home.

And act they do – whether it be chewing your furniture or clothing, screaming, flying, climbing and more. Many parrots are re-homed as a result, with no effort put into correcting the problem. However, these natural behaviors are to be expected with parrot ownership. The trick is getting creative about how you can better manage these behaviors at home!


Foraging for Nutriberries with hanging buffet ball

In the wild, parrots fly miles every day in search of food. At home, we serve them food in a cup. Nothing interesting or engaging about that, is there? Humans at least get to forage at the grocery store, but birds have no choice in the matter.

When we take away choices from our pets, they will often behave in ways we wish they would not. When we give different options, however, our animals will be more engaged and productive in the activities we have provided them. Getting creative in how you serve your birds food is a great way to motivate them to engage in foraging activities just as they would in the wild.

“…motivation is generally influenced by many factors that can be intrinsic (e.g., genetic or physiological) or extrinsic (i.e., in the animal’s environment).” [Amdam & Hovland]


Figuring out what you can change about your bird’s environment at home can help motivate them to engage in desirable activities, replacing the undesirable (ie: your bird can not scream incessantly if [s]he is busy searching for food).

There are many foraging toys on the market to help switch up how you serve your bird’s food. Some of my favorites include stuffing pellets inside cholla wood, seeds or nutriberries inside paper bags or boxes,  and even serving food inside wiffle balls or similar products at the pet store.


Foraging for Nutriberries with pine wood foraging toy

In addition to changing the way you serve your bird’s food, make sure they have plenty of opportunities to chew appropriate objects as well.  You can find plenty of wood bird toys at your local pet shop. My bird’s favorites are cholla wood, and bottlebrush perches they can peel the bark off of. If your bird likes to preen more than chew, you can buy toys made of sisal rope, palm leaf, or cotton. The options are endless; it is just a matter of figuring out what your bird prefers!

With such enrichment activities to mimic our bird’s natural behaviors, we can manage the excessive screaming or inappropriate chewing that can take place in our households. Giving these tips a try, and rotating the toys available to your birds to mix things up can make a world of difference in their behavior.


Encourage appropriate shredding and chewing with boxes or paper bags you can hide your bird’s food in

If you need more ideas to get started, check out

Foraging Toys

Behavior Works – Enrichment

Foraging for Parrots