Feeding the Flock, Chapter Two – The HOW

Our goal sounds simple: to provide proper nutrition for captive parrots. We’ve already covered why we don’t view manufactured pellets as an option. But how else can we provide “complete nutrition”?

Before we can answer this question, we must have a solid understanding of what defines “complete nutrition” as it applies to parrots. Do the pellet manufacturers have some magical formula that is perfect for every parrot, across a broad range of over 350 species? Of course not. Do they offer a pellet type specific to each species? Of course not. So where do we go for information on what makes a “complete” diet? To nature, of course.

Parrots in the wild eat different things depending on their location, species and season. Can we provide a diet that corresponds with what they eat in the wild? It would be very difficult, because few species have been observed in the wild for enough data to be collected to give us a complete picture of every item they might have been consuming.

Common sense leads us to examine the physiological needs of parrots and feed a wide variety of fresh and seasonal foods in order to provide the broadest spectrum of nutrients. A “variety” means not just more than one vegetable, but different types of foods. This includes sprouted foods and micro-greens.


Micro-greens are bigger than sprouts and have leaves.

Fresh foods

An attractive food bowl is appealing to parrots.

The term “taste the rainbow” may be a catchy marketing slogan for an unhealthy, artificially colored candy, but the term “EAT the rainbow” is a recipe for health. Why? Because many of the substances we call nutrients give the foods their colors, as well.

The natural compounds that color foods in hues of deep blue, dark red, purple or even black are anthocyanins, pigments that are antioxidants that, along with other nutrients, offer a wide range of health benefits. Anthocyanins and anthocyanin-rich extracts in cell culture and in animals have been proven to have anticarcinogenic (anti-cancer) activity, as well as benefitting vision, the cardiovascular system and the brain.

Fresh blackberries

Blackberries, with their deep hues of dark purples and reds, are rich in anthocyanins.

Beta carotenes are bright yellow, orange and red pigments that offer multiple health benefits. They support vision, growth and development, and immune system function. Some foods that are rich in beta carotenes include carrots, papaya, and the red oil palm fruits.  There are approximately 40 carotenoids that are Vitamin A precursors, meaning through normal biological processes the are converted by the body into retinol – aka Vitamin A. Deficiencies of vitamin A seem to be a bit common in parrots, so it’s important to make sure your parrot is getting enough of this essential nutrient.

“White” vegetables such as cauliflower, turnips, kohlrabi, parsnips and corn, are often overlooked in the search for the dietary rainbow, however they all bring their own nutritional punch to the table. Cauliflower contains vitamin C, vitamin K, folate, pantothenic acid, vitamin B6, and choline in significant amounts. Corn contains pantothenic acid, phosphorus, and vitamins B3 and B6. Corn also provides two carotenoids: lutein and zeaxanthin.

Dark green vegetables such as spinach. kale and parsley are high in Vitamins A, C, E and K. Broccoli, bok choy and mustard greens are high in B vitamins as well. Dark leafy green vegetables also contain carotenoids, iron, magnesium, potassium and calcium.

So you can see how providing a wide spectrum of variety in your parrot’s diet will provide the nutrients they need. It’s very important to realize this is a huge commitment in both time and expense. If you cannot afford either, then spend the time to research formulated diets. Don’t believe most of the spin put out by the companies that make them. Read ingredient labels. Look up all words that you aren’t able to identify. Know what you are putting in your bird’s body.

Avoid any food that contains menadione. As mentioned in a previous article, this is a synthetic analog of Vitamin K, and is proven to be cytotoxic (cell-killing) to liver cells. It’s banned in human food, so we don’t feed anything that contains this chemical here.

We also avoid artificial food colorants. While side effects are a topic of debate, we feel it’s best to avoid them as they aren’t beneficial in any way other than altering the appearance of the food. There are plenty of healthy ways to do that. Natural foods come with their own colors, as described above.

Avoid foods with processed sugars. Sugar itself isn’t the devil when it’s at naturally occurring levels. But if a food has lots of added sugar to make it more appealing, chances are it’s not healthy to begin with. This is true of human food but also our companions’ diets as well.


Feeding the Flock, Chapter One – the WHY

The bar has long hung very low in feeding companion animals. The “animal feed industry” has commonly been the profitable place to dump waste from human food processing. Ingredients like “wheat middlings” (the waste after milling wheat) and “beet pulp” (left over from processing sugar from sugar beets) find their way into companion parrot diets, not because they are beneficial to the health of your bird, but because they are a cheap way to add “fill” to a product that can produce a bigger profit margin. They pander to the consumer who wants an “easy” method of feeding their companions. But, to quote experienced parrot expert EB Cravens, “Please do not think that the convenience of throwing a cat-food like product into the same dish every day is doing your bird any real favours.” We can do better. It’s not easy, but it’s worth the investment in time and money because it will allow birds to thrive, not just exist on a “complete” (aka complete with added toxins and waste fillers) pelleted diet.


Does this really LOOK like food?

Pet food manufacturers spend lots of money convincing consumers that their diets are formulated with the best interest of companion animals in mind. But simply reading the ingredient list will tell you all you need to know. When you see a food that is made from “animal feed-grade” ingredients, you can bet your companion’s nutrition is not the top priority. “Feed” grade “foods” are not legal to sell for human consumption. Let that sink in for a moment. Not FIT for human consumption? There’s something that makes it unfit for us to eat. What? However, we are asked to believe that it’s HEALTHY to feed our animal companions. What’s healthy about it? The process of adding a handful of “nutrients” produced in a factory does not make a food “healthy” or “complete”. And it’s still NOT FIT for HUMAN consumption. Why would you believe it would make a healthy choice for any other being?

Yet for our own convenience, we often resort to feeding our companions in this manner. It’s easy-not to mention less expensive-to leave the food preparation to a manufacturer. But is it really healthy?

…be aware – it’s not cheap, nor is it easy. You can’t defrost a spoonful of frozen “mixed vegetables” (typically corn, peas, green beans and diced carrots) and call that a “complete” diet for a parrot.

Sun conure and cockatiel

Healthy food means healthy birds!

There are few studies on the long-term effects of parrot “kibbles” that were not done by agents of their producers. However, common sense and basic physiology tell us a constant diet of dried highly processed foods are contrary to the types of foods eaten in the wild.

Studies in dogs and cats have shown kibbled diets contribute to issues like dry skin, diabetes, and obesity. Here’s a good article on manufactured dry dog and cat foods, written by top veterinarian Dr. Karen Becker. Though this article is focused on dog and cat foods, some of the same drawbacks apply to manufactured foods for many companion species.

Another issue with manufactured foods is what they are doing to them to replace the natural nutrition-if there was much in the original ingredients to begin with-that is inevitably destroyed during processing. As discussed in the article by Dr. Becker, many of these artificially added “nutrients” are sourced from China. Not because they are healthy or superior in nutrition, but because they are cheaper.

One ingredient that is all too common in manufactured animal feed is the toxic menadione. Here is a well-written and referenced article on menadione. While it references menadione in dog food, you will find it in MANY other companion animal diets. After reading this information, ask yourself if this liver toxin belongs in your companion’s food bowl.

Years ago, we fed our cats a commercial kibbled food. After buying a new bag, the cats – all six of them – began to vomit violently. We were instructed by our veterinarian to prepare a bland diet of boiled chicken and rice. The cats all recovered after a couple days, and I contacted the manufacturer, who was apologetic and immediately sent a coupon for a free bag. The woman I spoke with told me that the machine that dispensed the “supplements” had malfunctioned and in “a few bags” added too much of the supplements. Many of these “nutrients” are toxic at above the recommended amounts, thus the voilent vomiting as the cats’ bodies tried to purge the toxins. Please note, there was no recall instituted on this product.

This brings us to a very important point: MANUFACTURED “food” can be subject to MANUFACTURING errors. I see this problem in human food – a recall instituted because some extra ingredient ended up in a product that wasn’t on the label, or a product was packaged in the wrong packaging where the ingredients were completely inaccurate. Think about the term “manufactured food” for a moment, and what that means. It doesn’t sound particularly appetizing, does it? Do you really want to trust your companion’s health to products that are produced by machines and made from ingredients that are “not fit for human consumption”?

Let’s take a closer look at “not fit for human consumption” means. Here is an excellent article on the difference between “feed” (for animals) and “food” (for humans) —


While this article primarily relates to manufacture of dog and cat foods, the takeaway for families with birds is this: if you are buying your “feed” at a pet store, the regulations regarding it’s manufacturing and packaging DO NOT MEET HUMAN FOOD STANDARDS. In the aforementioned link to Susan Thixton’s article, she details some of the guidelines that allow “diversion” of foods UNFIT for humans to “pet food” or “animal feed”. Here’s a portion of those “guidelines” that shows just what kinds of “allowances” can be made that would NEVER be tolerated in human food:

” …“CPG Sec. 675.200 Diversion of Adulterated Food to Acceptable Animal Feed Use” states “The *Center* will consider the requests for diversion of food considered adulterated for human use in all situations where the diverted food will be acceptable for its intended animal food use. Such situations may include:
a. Pesticide contamination in excess of the permitted tolerance or action level.
b. Pesticide contamination where the pesticide involved is unapproved for use on a food or feed commodity.
c. Contamination by industrial chemicals.
d. Contamination by natural toxicants.
e. Contamination by filth.
f. Microbiological contamination.
g. Over tolerance or unpermitted drug residues.

The word “diversion” in this sense means THE WASTE (unallowable, contaminated foods) from HUMAN FOOD processing is sent to and used by (DIVERSION) the animal “feed” industry. So things like “pesticide contamination in excess of permitted (for human food) tolerance” or “contamination” by chemicals, toxins, FILTH, MICROBIOLOGICAL (germs!) and DRUG RESIDUES ARE ALLOWED in “pet foods” aka “animal feed” grade food ingredients. This is exactly how the extreme levels of Aspergillus spores ended up in the “pet” food seed mix that we gave Marden, that brought about his untimely death. And this is why “animal feed” grade foods are NOT allowed in our facility, and why I am such a fanatic about what we feed to the birds.

These lower “standards” govern what goes into ANY “animal feed” grade foods – be it a can of wet cat food, any of the dry kibbled/pelleted foods, or even seed and grain mixes. One such contaminant is the mycotoxin produced by Aspergillus spp(fungus) called “aflatoxin”. Aflatoxin levels permitted in HUMAN food are held to 20ppb (parts per billion) as opposed to the 300ppb that is allowed in “animal feed” corn for feed lot cattle, or cottonseed meal for cattle, swine or poultry. That means levels that are FIFTEEN TIMES higher are allowed in animal feed versus human food.

Information on the action level for aflatoxin contamination is located here:

Fresh produce

Real food ROCKS!

This is why we don’t feed pellets or any commercial animal-feed-grade foods here. We feel there are natural food sources that offer superior nutrition as well as better food safety. But be aware – it’s not cheap, nor is it easy. You can’t defrost a spoonful of frozen “mixed vegetables” (typically corn, peas, green beans and diced carrots) and call that a “complete” diet for a parrot. For more information on how to give your parrot a healthy, nutritious diet, please check out “Chapter Two, The How.”