Did you know that malnutrition and under nutrition is the leading causes of illness, disease and early death in birds? Do you want your birds to be healthy, have beautiful feathers and a wonderful disposition? If these things are important to you, then they need to consume hundreds of nutrients everyday. This means they need to eat foods that are much more nutritious than seeds, pelleted diets, fruit, vegetables and nuts. When I first began caring for birds, in 1998, all the nutritional guidelines encouraged us to feed a wide variety of foods. However, since then I’ve discovered that the foods most people feed their birds are missing vital and essential nutrients.
What are these required nutrients? The vital and essential nutrients that a bird needs to eat every day includes complete protein, enzymes, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, carbohydrates, and fresh water.
Before I explain the importance of these nutrients, let’s discuss the imbalances in foods most commonly fed to parrots and other birds.
In 2002 a research paper, ‘Estimated Nutrient Content of Diets Commonly Fed to Pet Birds’, by L. Hess DVM, G. Mauldin, DVM, MS, and K. Rosenthal, DVM, MS, that was published in the March 30, 2002, issue of “The Veterinary Record” the short comings of the typical avian diet were identified. The variety of foods eaten by the birds in this survey included formulated diets (pellets), seeds and human foods. The results of this study revealed that 80 percent of the birds consumed less protein than recommended for basic maintenance, nearly 58 percent consumed less than recommended amounts of Vitamin A. With vitamin D3, 98.5 percent consumed less than the recommended amounts for maintenance. Nearly 96 percent of the birds consumed calcium levels below those recommended for proper maintenance while nearly 93 percent had phosphorus levels below recommended levels.
Typical Foods = Limited Nutrients
Seeds. Avian veterinarians will agree that feeding a seed based diet is one of the leading causes of malnutrition in birds. Seeds do not provide compete protein, they are an incomplete protein source. Just imagine if you ate rice, and only rice, every day all year long, you’d become malnourished and undernourished just like birds who are fed seeds as their main staple. Seeds are very high in fat and carbohydrates. They do contain significant amounts of vitamin E, but generally lack other vitamins and have very few minerals. They do not contain enzymes or antioxidants.
Pelleted and formulated diets were created to contain more of the essential nutrients that are missing in seeds. But they still fall short of providing all of the hundreds of nutrients our birds need. Formulated diets are usually formulated to provide a source of complete protein from plant sources. They also may contain select minerals, and some added vitamins, usually vitamin A and D3. The main concern to be aware of regarding formulated diets is the nutrients they are missing. Formulated diets are limited to the vitamins that have been added, they completely lack enzymes, have no antioxidants – unless a small amount of vitamin E has been added. Vitamin E is a common food preservative known for its antioxidant properties.
When fresh fruits and vegetables are fed raw these foods do contain some vitamins, minerals, some enzymes and may contain antioxidants. These foods also contain carbohydrates. Any proteins in these foods are incomplete.
Nuts contain fats, including essential fatty aids. However they do not contain balanced amounts of essential fatty acids for each species of parrot.
So if pellets, seeds, fresh fruit, vegetables and nuts do not provide adequate nutrition for the birds under your care, what else should you feed? Before discussing the ideal diet for your birds, let’s have a brief refresher on why certain nutrients are so important and must be include in your bird’s diet every day.
Nutrients Vital for the Avian Body
Proteins – the proteins, from plant sources, that your bird eats must contain the proper balance of all the essential amino acids to make the food a complete protein. Complete proteins are essential to life, they provide the body with the basic nutritional building blocks that form healthy cells and nourish all body functions.
Enzymes are required by all bodily functions. Although raw fruits and vegetable contains some enzymes, our birds do not consume nearly enough of these vital nutrients. Heat, temperatures over 118 degrees, destroy enzymes.
Antioxidants have developed the reputation for healing a wide variety of diseases and ailments. This can occur because antioxidants neutralize and protect the body from free radicals. Free radicals break down and destroy delicate body tissues and cells. Free radicals have been identified as causing disease, illness and even the aging process itself. For disease prevention it is vital to consume a wide variety of antioxidants. There are many categories of antioxidants and thousands of them have been identified. Raw fruits and vegetable contains some enzymes, most birds do not consume nearly enough enzymes in their daily diet. Heat destroys antioxidants.
Vitamins are essential to life. They regulate the metabolism and facilitate numerous biological processes. They are micronutrients because the body needs them in small amounts when comparing them to carbohydrates, proteins, fats and water. Heat destroys vitamins.
Specific vitamins that have been identified as being essential for birds are vitamins A, D3 and E. When discussing vitamin A we must make the distinction between rentinol vitamin A (the fat soluble vitamin) and beta carotene (the vitamin A precursor that can be converted to vitamin A in a healthy liver). Vitamin A (rentinol A) is essential for normal disease resistance. It improves and supports the immune system by increasing the production and differentiation of immune related cells.
Vitamin D3 is important for maintaining the balance of calcium and phosphorus levels in the body. D3 is also known as the sunshine vitamin because is produced in the skin of birds after exposure to ultraviolet light from ether direct sunlight or indoor full spectrum lighting.
Vitamin E is an antioxidant known for being important in preventing cancer, cardiovascular disease and prevents cell damage by preventing the formation of free radicals. This vitamin improves circulation, is needed for tissue repair and promotes normal blood clotting.
Other vitamins required by birds are vitamins B complex, C, K, P (bioflavonoids) and coenzyme Q10.
Minerals, every living cell in a bird’s body depends on minerals for proper functioning and structure. Macro-minerals must be consumed in larger quantities, while trace minerals are required in smaller amounts. The chemical balance of a bird’s body is directly dependent on its balance of minerals. The minerals most commonly discussed in avian nutrition are calcium and phosphorus. Calcium is vital for strong bones, maintains proper blood coagulation, membrane permeability, maintains heart beat regularity and normal functioning of the nervous system. Phosphorus has the widest range of biological functions in the avian body, more than any other element. The ideal calcium to phosphorus ratio for birds is 2 to 1.
Other minerals required by birds include magnesium, manganese, iron, zinc, potassium, iodine, selenium, chlorine and sodium.
The avian body also needs essential fatty acids (EFAs). They are required by every living cell in the body. EFAs cannot be made by the body, balanced amounts must be consumed in the diet. They have many desirable effects on a variety of disease conditions. Heat destroys EFAs.
Carbohydrates – the most commonly available nutrient, supplies the body with the energy it needs to function.
Water, many people provide tap water for their birds. The water you and your birds drink should always be of high quality. Either filtered at home, or purchase a good quality bottled spring water. Do not drink or give your birds distilled or RO (reverse osmosis) filtered water. Distilled and RO water is completely void of all minerals and must be re-mineralized before drinking. I have done extensive research on this topic. The World Health Organization has complied a comprehensive data base, consisting of several hundred pages, that discusses the problematic effects that drinking RO or distilled water has had on various human populations worldwide. These waters can cause a variety of serious, debilitating health conditions in people, birds and other animals. The body’s water supply is responsible for and involved in nearly every bodily process. We and our birds must consume good quality spring or filtered water.
After reading about all these important nutrients you may be thinking about rushing out and buying a multivitamin and mineral supplement – stop. I’m going to teach you how to select foods to ensure you’re feeding a nutrient rich diet to your birds.
The Ideal Avian Diet
You can begin improving the level of health and wellness right away by feeding your birds the most nutrient dense food on the planet – sprouts. Sprouts? You may ask… like alfalfa sprouts? There’s more to feeding sprouts than this. Let me explain.
When parrots and birds joined my family I began looking for a food that was comparable to the home made, organic, holistic foods I fed my own dogs and cats. I was lead to sprouts. Well nourished birds have a natural resistance against disease and illness and handle stress much better than those who are missing key nutrients in their diet.
Vital Nutrients in Sprouts Every Bird Needs
When any seed, nut grain or legume is sprouted the entire chemical composition changes. Soaking triggers germination. At this phase a sprout’s growth has just begun, Germinated seeds, grains and legumes must be allowed to grow for at least two to three days in order for them to reach their peak nutrition.
Properly grown sprouts contain two qualities not present in any other food. First, sprouts are alive. They contain life force energy. Once any other fruit or vegetable has been picked or harvested, the nutrition it contains begins to decay. Sprouts are alive right up until the moment they are eaten. Secondly, because sprouts are alive they are brimming with a rich assortment and volume of nutrients not found in any other single food or combination of foods. The nutritional value in fresh fruits and vegetables is limited when compared with what sprouts offer.
The germination and sprout growing process transforms whole foods into a superfood. Sprouting causes the formation of vitamins and an increase in all vitamins present. Because of this they are a rich source of beta carotene (the vitamin A precursor), C,E and the B complex.
During the sprout growing process any minerals that are present become chelated, making them easier for the body to assimilate and use.
Sprouts also contain an overwhelming abundance of antioxidants. Important antioxidants found in sprouts include vitamins beta carotene, C and E, flavonoids and superoxide dismutase (SOD). Bean and legume sprouts contains anthocyanins, a powerful flavonoid. More than 4,000 flavonoids have been identified in nature.
When sproutable foods are germinated and allowed to grow they become an abundant source of enzymes. By nature enzymes are catalysts – substances that induce hundreds of thousands of biochemical processes in the body. In fact, enzymes make every single biochemical process in the body possible. The brain, nervous system, vascular system, cell regeneration, growth, immunity, the digestive system, and al the vital organs – the liver, kidneys, heart and lungs all depend on enzymes to function. Although all raw foods contain enzymes the amounts present in sprouts can be 10 to 100 times greater than the amounts that are present in raw fresh fruits and vegetables.
Like enzymes, proteins are also essential to life. Proteins form the structural basis of the chromosomes. Each DNA strand contains the genetic code that is the formula for making that cell’s unique protein chain. Proteins are the primary building blocks that make up every cell in the body. In order for proteins to be able to build healthy muscles, blood, skin, feathers, nails and vital internal organs they must be complete proteins – they must contain all the essential amino acids in the proper amounts.
So where can you find a fresh supply of sprouts that provides a balance of all the essential nutrients your bird needs? The best source of fresh sprouts for your birds is to grow them yourself. And if you’re new to sprouting it’s important to learn how to grow them in a manner that is right for your climate and the unique conditions in your kitchen.
The Benefits of Feeding Sprouts
Some of the health improvements being documented from feeding a sprouting blend that has been formulated to contain complete protein include the complete reversal of avian cataracts, the prevention of arthritis and arteriosclerosis and indications that the immune system of these birds is significantly supported so that bacterial and candida infections have been eliminated.
Sprouting Blend Essentials
Since birds joined my family I’ve come to understand that there are certain qualities to look for in a sprouting blend if you want to nourish good health and wellness in your parrots and other birds.
1. The blend must have been formulated to provide complete protein.
2. The blend must have a compatible germination rate, so that it can grow and reach optimal nutrition levels.
3. For optimal nutrition, the blend must be allowed to grow for 2 to 3 days. If you’ve seen the claims that ‘Soaked is More Nutritious”, please know this statement is false.
4. The blend should be a USDA Certified Organic sprouting Blend. Research continues to link pesticides in our food and water to illness and disease.
5. Look for a blend formulated by a person who is knowledgeable in avian nutrition.
Now that you know what to look for in a good, quality sprouting blend you should be able to start feeding your birds this super food right away.
Putting it All Together
After you’ve found a sprouting blend that meets the criteria outlined here, and learned to sprout then you can begin creating health producing meals for your parrots and other birds. I suggest that the complete protein, properly grown, sprouting blend make up 50 to 80 percent of your birds diet. This will vary depending upon the type of diet your bird has been on, and their overall condition. Their overall condition should be determined by your avian vet.
After you have a freshly grown batch of sprouts then you can add some fresh fruit, raw or steamed vegetables, and a few nuts, appropriate for your species of bird. I suggest that parrots be weaned off of seed because of their poor nutrient content. I also suggest that you avoid feeding your parrots pasta, breads, and some of the other cooked foods available for birds. These items contain very little nutrition, mostly carbohydrates. I do suggest that a good organic pellet can make up a portion of a parrot’s diet.
As far as portion sizes, if you feed 50 percent sprouts, then the remaining 50 percent can be a combination of fresh fruit, vegetable, nuts and pellets. In the beginning it’s a good idea to measure the amounts of food you serve so that you gain a realistic view of how much of each food to feed. For example, if you feed 1/4 cup of sprouts then you can combine other healthy foods to measure 1/4 cup, and then you have a highly nutritious and well balanced meal for the birds under your care.
In Health & Healing for Parrots and All Birds.