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NUTRITION, CHOP AND TOXIC FOODS

NUTRITION

General knowledge of bird nutrition is constantly evolving due to continual research being done in order to meet the needs of the different species of birds. Birds need a proper, balanced diet as much as any other animal. Different species of birds require different things. For example, lories require a special nectar diet, an eclectus requires a diet low in fat and high in beta carotene, and should not be fed artificial colors.

A good diet is important to your birds overall health. While many bird owners feel that they are feeding a proper diet, it’s not until their bird gets sick that they find out the diet wasn’t meeting the bird’s basic nutritional needs.

In the wild, most parrots eat a variety of seeds, nuts, fruits and berries and vegetables or vegetation. Therefore, feeding a bird nothing but a seed diet fails to meet even the basic nutritional needs of any bird. I will be discussing what I feed my macaws in this blog. If you have questions about the proper diet for your bird, call your avian vet or visit our store and we will be happy to answer any questions you may have.

Although there are many great pelleted diets available today, I believe that they should only be a part of your bird’s diet. They are not a natural food source for your bird and birds tend to be inquisitive creatures who get bored easily. Therefore, I like to feed my birds a mixture of several different foods. At first I questioned myself…was I over-thinking all of this…over-doing it…or maybe just losing it in general? But after discussing it with other bird owners, I was relieved to find out that many other bird owners did the same thing. Whew! I’m not alone!

OK – let’s just put it out there – my macaws’ “day” food (yes, I said day food) includes the following: Harrison’s High Potency Pellets, Zupreem Natural Large Diet, Abba Macaw Blend, Higgin’s Safflower Gold for Large Hookbills, Goldenfeast Tropical Pudding I and Lafeber’s Nutri-berries. I feed Harrison’s High Potency because I have a few macaws who are special needs babies…Harrison’s has other great blends available too. This mixture gives my birds several of the staples that they would be eating in the wild – minus the vegetables. My birds get their vegetables in their second or evening meal. You are probably thinking that a mixture like the one above is expensive – not really – everything lasts longer therefore, the cost evens out.

Believe it or not, my birds’ second or evening meal doesn’t include bird food at all. I feed them chop in the evening. There are many recipes out there for chop and I don’t think any two people make it the same. It’s important to find out what is safe and what’s not safe to put in the chop…but after that…go crazy…experiment…see what your birds like and don’t like and go from there. If made with the right ingredients, chop is super healthy for your bird. I would never feed it as a complete diet because I feel that birds should also be fed what is “natural” to them…which includes a seed mixture.

Chop is something you make ahead and freeze in individual servings. I microwave my chop until it’s just slightly warm…never feed it to your bird hot! My chop consists of the following (well most weeks): brown rice, quinoa, steel cut oats, ground pine nuts, organic grated coconut, kidney and navy beans (always soak and cook beans before offering them to your bird), kale, jalapeño peppers, sweet potatoes, chia seeds, flax seeds, and a good frozen vegetable mix (without salt). It’s called chop because the fresh vegetables are ground before adding them to the mixture. I tend to partially cook and cube the sweet potatoes though. I add a few fresh fruits on top of the chop too. My birds favor bananas…so that’s what they usually get.

There are many good seed mixtures and pellets available today. With a little time, patience and research you will find what works best for both you and your bird.

Please remember, it’s important to feed fresh food and water. If you give you bird a well-balanced diet, you will find that your bird will be healthier and happier because of it.

CHOP, BIRDIE BREAD AND GRAIN BAKES

Chop is a mixture of grains, fruits, vegetables, seeds - or really whatever you feel like adding - or whatever your birds will eat. A good chop recipe will include things like brown rice, quinoa, steel cut oats, dark leafy vegetables along with other assorted safe vegetables. It can also include ground pine nuts, chia and/or flax seeds, ground unsweetened coconut – the list goes on. Chop gets its name because it’s finely chopped in a food processor. Depending upon the size of your bird, you may want to chop everything - or for the larger birds – chop the leafy greens, nuts, peppers while leaving the other vegetables whole. While you can certainly add fruits to chop recipes, they don’t freeze as well as vegetables. So, offering the fresh fruits on top of the chop may be your preference.

This leads to the question – Are fresh fruits and vegetables healthier than frozen fruits and vegetables? While we would all love to feed our birds the best “fresh” ingredients available, frozen fruits and vegetables actually have a few advantages over their fresh counterparts. Frozen fruits and vegetables are usually available when the fresh are “out of season”, frozen fruits and vegetables have a longer shelf life and believe it or not – frozen may even be healthier than the “fresh” fruits and vegetables offered in the produce department. Frozen fruits and vegetables are flash frozen when picked or shortly thereafter - while fresh fruits and vegetables have spent days being shipped and even longer sitting on the grocers’ shelves. The longer they sit, the more they lose in nutritional value. If buying frozen vegetables check the labels. Be sure to buy those without the additives.

Sample chop recipe:
12 cups cooked brown rice
4 cups cooked quinoa
1.5 canisters steel cut oats (uncooked)
1 cup ground pine nuts
1 cup chia seeds
1 cup flax seeds
2.5 cups ground unsweetened coconut
3 cups soaked and cooked kidney beans – it’s important that the kidney beans are cooked before feeding them to your bird
4 cups chopped kale
4 zucchini – chopped
6 sweet potatoes – slightly cooked and chopped
8 jalapeño peppers – chopped
Frozen peas
Frozen corn
Frozen green beans
Mix all together and freeze in individual servings. When ready to feed, heat in the microwave warm – never hot.

Birdie Bread

Just like chop, there are many birdie bread recipes available across the internet. Some which start with a packaged cornbread mix and some which start with making the cornbread from scratch. While we would all prefer to feed our birds the homemade version of just about everything, some schedules don’t allow for it. Either is fine – the bread is not meant to be a total diet for your bird. A good rule of thumb – if you are going to be feeding birdie bread as more than an occasional snack, you may want to make the homemade version without the additives. You can add any combination of vegetables, fruits or chopped nuts to the bread. I find it’s a great way to get my birds to eat a few carrots…by chopping them fine in the food processor before adding them. Play around, see what works for both you and your bird.
Sample birdie bread recipe starting from a cornbread mix:

1 package corn bread mix
2 eggs
½ cup blueberries
1 grated carrot
¼ cup flax seeds
½ cup mixed vegetables
Mix ingredients together per package instructions, adding the ingredients above or any combination of fruits and vegetables that you have one hand or would like to try with you bird. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 35 minutes. Remove from the oven when the top is a light golden brown.

Sample birdie bread recipe starting from scratch:

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup yellow corn meal
2 tsp baking power
3/4 tsp salt
½ tsp baking soda
1 Tbs sugar
2 eggs
3 Tbs oil (your preference)
1 cup buttermilk
Grease an 8″ pan. Mix the ingredients above until blended. Add your choice of fruits, veggies, peppers, seeds, etc. Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Cut into individual servings and freeze until ready to use.

Grain Bakes

Grain bakes are relatively easy to make. They are made from grains, fruits and vegetables – all of which you toss in a greased (I use coconut oil) casserole dish, cover with water, cover and bake at 325-350 degrees until all of the water is absorbed. You can use anything from brown rice, quinoa, steel cut oats, grated coconut, flax seeds, chia seeds, vegetables and fruits.
Sample Grain Bake recipe:
5 granny smith apples cored and diced
1 small butternut squash peeled and diced
1 cup blueberries
1 container steel cut oats
Quinoa, whole wheat pasta, flax seeds, chia seeds, orzo – your choice of amounts
Mix everything in a greased casserole dish, cover all with water, cover and bake at 350 degrees until all of the water is absorbed
Let cool and cut into individual servings until ready to use.

There are many great recipes for chop, birdie bread and muffins and grain bakes across the internet.

TOXIC FOODS

The list below is a partial list of foods that seem to be the most prevalent when it comes to poisoning by food among our pets. When in doubt, either call your vet to confirm or do an internet search prior to feeding your bird or parrot something questionable.

Chocolate
Theobromine and caffeine, which are both classified as methylxanthines, can cause hyperactivity, increased heart rate, tremors, possibly seizures, and potentially death in pets if it is ingested at a toxic dose. As a general rule, the darker and more bitter the chocolate, the more potentially toxic it is to your pet.

Avocado
All parts of the avocado plant contain persin, a fungicidal toxin that has been reported to be a cardiac toxin to birds. Small birds like canaries and budgies are considered to be more susceptible; however, clinical signs have been observed in other bird species. Clinical signs like respiratory distress usually develop 12 hours after ingestion and death can occur within one to two days.

Onion & Garlic
Onion and garlic toxicity is well recognized in dogs and cats. Those in concentrated forms, such as garlic powder or onion soup mix, are more potent than the raw vegetable form. Fatal toxicity has been described in geese fed large amounts of green onions, as well as a conure fed large amounts of garlic.

Comfrey
This green leaf herb is popular with some canary breeders, but studies in human medicine have shown it can cause liver damage.

Fruit Pits & Apple Seeds
While diced apple is ok for pet birds, the apple seeds contain cyanide and should always be removed prior to feeding apple to your bird. Pits from cherries, plums, apricots and peaches also contain cyanide so never allow your bird to chew on them.

High-Fat, High-Sodium, High-Sugar Foods
Although not technically toxic, table foods laden with high concentrations of fat, salt and sugar can cause serious health problems in birds. Instead of offering your bird a bit of pasta with sauce, let it enjoy a noodle before you add the sauce, salt or butter.

Sugar-Free Candy
Sugar-free candy might offer a better alternative to regular sweets for people, but it often contains the sugar alternative, xylitol, which has been associated with severe hypoglycemia and liver damage in dogs.

Other Foods to Avoid
Moldy peanuts and/or peanut products (as well as corn and other cereal grains) can be contaminated by a toxin-producing fungus.

Certain Plants
Birds can eat green tomatoes, potatoes, peppers and eggplant; however these plants are all members of the nightshade family. This means that the fruits are safe to eat, but the plants themselves are toxic. By the same token, the leaves of the rhubarb plant contain oxalate crystals, which can cause kidney problems.

Grit
Parrots do not need grit and some birds, such as parakeets (budgies) cockatiels and lovebirds, might overeat grit when not feeling well, which can potentially lead to intestinal blockage. Grit can help doves/pigeons and other species that consume seeds whole digest their food, but since parrots crack the seeds hulls before consuming them, they generally do not need this added supplement.

Swiss cheese
Dairy Although not technically toxic, studies show that birds cannot digest lactose, which is found in milk and other dairy products. As the amount of dairy in the diet increases, birds can develop diarrhea. Not all dairy products contain lactose and/or have very little lactose in them, such as some cheeses and yogurts — still these foods should be fed as an occasional treat and in small amounts.

Mushrooms
Mushrooms are occasionally included on toxic-food lists. There are a few toxic mushroom varieties, however mushrooms that can be eaten by people are also considered safe for pets. Do not offer false morel (Gyromitra) mushrooms to your bird — or eat them yourself for that matter. Cooking can render these mushrooms less toxic, but it does not completely eliminate the potential danger of death.

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