Last Updated on by Mitch Rezman

Today’s science lesson: because birds are small and have a high need for the energy they can digest food rapidly. This is one reason young birds mature quickly and migrating birds are able to store fat which enables long flights. There are some species of birds that are known to increase their weight by 40% in 10 days.

Birds may break up their food or crush it with their bill, they don’t chew it. Parrots, birds of prey, and finches have short, thick, fleshy tongues that allow them to manipulate their food. Where humans swallow with our soft palates, birds have to tilt their heads back to get the food from inside their mouth (buccal cavity) to the first part of their throat (Oesophagus). The esophagus continues to draw the bird’s food down into its body – where it stands at the Crop.

Parrots use the crop to store food eaten in a hurry so they don’t get caught by predators. From the crop food goes into the stomach where it finally begins to get digested. The stomach has two sections one of which produces the necessary digestive juices and enzymes which soak the food which is then passed to the gizzard. The gizzard has a lot of muscles that grind up the food – what we do with our teeth.

Digested food now moves to the first part of the small intestine which is divided into two parts and where most of the digestion and absorption of the food now occur in the parrot’s gut. A bird’s pancreas is actually better developed than a mammal’s pancreas. This is probably to compensate for a lack of some saliva and chewing. It produces proteins, digesting enzymes, carbohydrates, and fat which are delivered into the small intestine.

The food then moves into the large intestine which is really small compared to mammals and doesn’t really have a lot to do with digestion and birds. The food journey ends at the cloaca (which also serves as a reproductive organ) where waste materials are collected and expelled.

Soft billed birds like Finches and Canaries swallow their seeds whole. Parrots are able to remove the hulls from the seeds with their beaks. Now that we know about the gizzard, we should note that the soft billed birds could use a little help grinding down these whole seeds. This is why we introduce small amounts of grit they can swallow which will help grind up the seeds while in the gizzard.

African Grey Parrot Playing with Red Solo Cup – Video
(Toby Kieth song of the same name in the background)

Nothing to do with food – just really funny


That said, a seed diet is okay, just be mindful that you need to supplement with some vitamins, minerals and amino acids. You can do this by supplementing with fresh fruits and vegetables. Halved walnuts for larger birds and cracked walnuts and slivered almonds for smaller birds are good source of omega-3 fatty acids. You can also simply add a commercial supplement like Prime.

And then there are all the brands. We just added our 15th brand of bird food to the website. Why do we carry so many brands? We offer everything we can base upon what you, our customer asks for. Which brand is better, that’s up to you and your bird(s). To further complicate the issue, there are brands within brands Hagen offers Living World seed mixes, Tropimix hull-less which is a blend of seeds fruits and nuts and other nutritious items, and Tropican pellets. Higgins offers seven lines of food including Mayan Harvest, a natural gourmet blend of seeds fruits and legumes and exotic spices, Higgins Vita Seed an economy seed mixture and Worldly Cuisines cooked bird food.

Volkman is a very popular and very clean bird seed coming in a variety of species-specific blends. They even offer a special Eclectus seed mix (which can also be eaten by other species) which is not vitamin fortified in accordance with the most recent avian nutritional research. Volkman has no chemical preservatives or artificial flavors and is a very clean, dust-free seed line.  Dr. Harvey’s bird food is an all-natural blend containing only human-grade ingredients too.

Birds in the wild are scavengers, they have to be in order to survive. Mark Hagen says it well “Wild animals and birds are shown by their parents the right combination of sometimes very limited types of foods to meet their requirements for flight, growth, reproduction, and living! These wild food items have been selected through thousands of years of evolution. In captivity, they are under different conditions and eating different foods and we expect them to select the best combination immediately.

But it is not necessarily better to feed what birds eat in the wild to those in captivity. Many plants in the wild contain secondary plant compounds or are very low in many essential nutrients. Some Breeders have a romantic notion that captive diets that are complicated, labor-intensive, using expensive ingredients are the most nutritious. Yet it is possible to feed easy to prepare, cost-efficient diets which do not compromise proper levels of essential nutrients”.

Wild Sulfur Crested Cockatoos Foraging – Video

This is one of the reasons that pellets were developed. Pellets combine all the “good stuff ” into one relatively neat package. We know parrots can be picky so a dish of food where everything looks the same offers less visual temptation to remove the contents. Zupreem makes pellets with colors and without. If your bird likes colorful food Zupreem Fruit Blend or Pretty Bird Daily Select offers colorful pellets that many birds find attractive.

LaFeber’s Nutriberries although considered a bird treat offer a comprehensive nutritionally balanced diet for your bird consisting lots of human-grade ingredients like pineapple, papaya, carrots, and raisins all rolled up in neat balls. The ball design provides your bird with a variety of beak and tongue sensations while enabling foraging activities.

Harrison’s offers USDA certified organic bird food pellets. TOPS Parrot Food offers very pure pellets and seeds. Goldenfeast bird food has no dyes or preservatives. There can be benefits to these organic bird foods but just like in the grocery stores you’ll find the cost of organic bird foods higher. Scenic bird food although not as well-known as the others have been around for more than 25 years and are popular in zoos and animal-themed parks as a daily diet. Their pellets are shaped to improve feeding techniques, ease of manipulation, and low waste. Roudybush offers pellets in several sizes and uses different fruits like dried peaches, apricots, plums, bell peppers and carrots in their California Blend as an example.

 Written by Mitch Rezman
Approved by Catherine Tobsing

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