Is Human Food Killing Your Bird?

Is Human Food Killing Your Bird?

Last Updated on by Mitch Rezman

One of last week’s posts was entitled Comparative Human and Bird Digestive & Respiratory Systems – it was a bit heady and I think the point was lost on many readers. The message was that avian and human digestive and respiratory systems are very different.

We need to ask ourselves the motivation to feed our birds human food in quantities that I’ve never seen. A post in a Facebook bird group really tripped my wire.

BTW – Now that the majority of my energy is no longer necessary in rebuilding the Windy City Parrot website I’m returning to social media. Aside from selling thousands of pounds of bird food monthly, I’m also now a companion to a flock of five birds.

Expect me to be disruptive – in a good way – because I’m certain some of the trends in pet bird care are going in the wrong direction however well-intentioned.

infographic anatomical comparison parrot vs human

I don’t remember the group – it doesn’t matter but a lot of chit-chat regarding chops and veggies and fruit. What stopped me in my tracks was a picture of a packet of smoothie mix.

I always recall this quote from Mark Hagen when I picture whirling dervishes in the kitchen producing plates of “chops” twice the size of the bird.

“Some Breeders have a romantic notion that captive diets which 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.”

“I’m going to make smoothies for my green cheek conure” that’s when in my mind’s eye I pictured Chicago PD forensics picking shards of brain matter off the ceiling of our apartment –  after my head exploded.

I post in groups on Facebook, it’s quick and with precision but I’d like to expand on my response to the making of smoothies for a green cheek conure.

This is the nutrition facts label from a random smoothie mix I found on the Internet

nutritional fact sheet strawberry smoothie

Zero protein45 freakin’ grams of white refined sugar

Please ponder this – it’s the equivalent of giving a toddler a Hershey’s chocolate syrup squeeze bottle for lunch. Then if you do the math a 4 fluid ounce serving of smoothie weighs about 30 g –  just under 50% of the body weight of a green cheek conure. What was the nutritional goal other than possibly creating a diabetic bird?


Roudybush, Inc. manufactures specialized bird foods. This manufacturing is a result of the research by an avian nutritionist, Tom Roudybush. During his 16 years of nutritional research in the Department of Avian Sciences at the University of California, Davis, Tom studied a variety of birds, including 10 years of research on the nutritional requirements of companion birds. 


In the 1970s, Dr. Greg Harrison moved his family and veterinary practice to a rural farm in South Florida so they could pursue a dream of raising their own food and breeding pet birds. This experience initiated them into a “natural” world, where preventive medicine became the protocol. Dr. Harrison became a recognized leader in avian health.


Mark Hagen is the Research Director at The Hagen Avicultural Research Institute (HARI). He has a Masters of Agriculture from the University of Guelph and specialized in Psittacine Aviculture. In his Bachelor of Science, Mark concentrated on nutrition and zoology and attended a semester at the University of California,

Davis taking courses in cage bird medicine, nutrition and avian science. It has been more than ten years that he has been studying companion birds; writing his first paper on parrot breeding in 1983 and establishing HARI in 1985.

But – Ms. Facebook maker of bird smoothies – somehow 3 college degreed, avian nutrition scientists/agricultural engineers with a combined hundred years of experience with bird food production has little value -.

Because you have the ability to use Google.

Let’s talk about bird food, shall we?

I mentioned these three bird food brands purposefully to illustrate some fundamental differences between what’s in the bag with many words & numbers, in small print on the back of these bags.

The top retorts that I get when talking about bird food with the customer not on the Internet but in person “My birds a picky eater” “My bird won’t eat anything but (fill in the blank)” “My bird won’t touch pellets” “I’ve tried everything“.

So here’s where we begin to get granular. Roudybush and Harrisons are brilliant bird foods. Harrison’s recently rolled out their entire line with the non-GMO a label. We’ll use them as an example.

A little housekeeping with regards to Harrison’s. They have two basic lines – High Potency and Adult Lifetime. If your bird has not been on Harrison’s formula is recommended that they start with the High Potency and continue on for approximately six months then migrating to the Adult Lifetime – FYI

Let’s say you make the switch to Harrison’s High Potency Fine organic bird food and you come back to our site to reorder because your cockatiel likes it so much – but YIKES we’re out of stock.

Rather than allowing those juicy rewards points to languish and shopping somewhere else until we get it back in – you can buy the “Coarse” size. Once it’s delivered you can put the pellets into a cheesecloth and smash it with a rolling pin. Kinda like making graham cracker piecrust. 

My point? It’s the same ingredients in a different size. The assumption made is that a Sun Conure’s metabolism is the same to an African Grey’s metabolism.

If you look at the Hagen Tropican pellet line The cockatiel size granules formulation is different than the lifetime parrot granules which is different than the parrot high-performance sticks meaning you’re able to dial your bird’s food in based upon their size and metabolism rather than accepting a one size fits all nutritional solution.

As we’ve often said there are no pellet trees in the rain forest. When I look at a bowl of bird pellets from any of the manufacturers I wonder if the birds are looking at that when they see it for the first time and think “that looks like a bowl of pebbles”.

I watch my birds eat – it’s important for me to understand the motivation for eating the ingredients that they do. I’m convinced that texture has as much if not more to do than actual flavor.

Feathered factoid: Humans have 9000 taste buds birds have 350.

The trend in bird food manufacturing is moving towards hybrid bird foods. As an example, we’ll use Hagen Tropimix. The Tropimix line breaks down to Cockatiel size which would also include love birds and small conures. Then we have the Small Parrot formula and the Large Parrot formula allowing you to better size the food for nutritional and species-specific needs rather than the just size of a bird’s beak.

When I say “hybrid”, Hagen Tropimix mix is 100% Edible and does not contain any messy hulls or shells; eliminating waste and the risk of pathogens.

It helps transition Parrots hooked on just certain seeds like sunflower to a varied diet which includes more legumes and formulated pellets like Tropican granules and sticks.

All ingredients are 100% edible and can be served dry or moistened. By adding an equal amount of hot water, the softened Tropican morsels that contain premium sources of protein and high nutrient levels coat your bird’s favorite seeds. The palatable nutty flavor will entice your bird, making him accustomed to the flavor.

Most notable in both the Tropican and Tropimix lines is the scent of orange that wafts into your olfactory senses when you crack open a bag.

Interestingly, we had run out of Peaches (our senegal) Higgins Safflower Gold and had some Hagen Tropimix left from the National Caged Bird Show last weekend. We filled her cage dish and dishes on two of her stands. Without blinking an eye Tropimix became her new diet.

Written by Mitch Rezman
Approved by Catherine Tobsing

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This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. For me the thing that surprises me is people feeding lots of pasta to parrots. I think its alot of starch and not much else. I have a 20 year old Timneh though that insists on eating meat at dinner, he really loves it. I don’t think its bad for him he is in very good condition he can fly well and his feathers are shiny and smooth.

  2. The ingredients in Tropican pellets – less healthy than raw veggies, sprouted grains and legumes and some fresh fruit?
    Corn, soybean meal, wheat, dehulled peanuts, dehulled sunflower seeds,
    brown rice, canola oil (preserved with mixed tocopherols), calcium
    carbonate, lecithin, oat groats, dried tomato, flaxseed, L-lysine,
    alfalfa nutrient concentrate, choline chloride, DL-methionine,
    beta-carotene, biotin, vitamin E supplement, niacin, calcium
    L-ascorbyl-2-monophosphate (source of vitamin C), zinc oxide, manganous
    oxide, d-calcium pantothenate, vitamin B12 supplement, rosemary extract,
    copper sulfate, pyridoxine hydrochloride, thiamine mononitrate,
    inositol, folic acid, vitamin A supplement, calcium iodate, sodium
    selenite, vitamin D3 supplement.

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