Feeding Birds Well Involves a Little More Than Opening a Box of Seed
Not many years ago, the easy answer to feeding birds was bird seed. “Easy” but not good. Seeds are not unhealthy as part of a diet, but as the whole diet they’re unbalanced and lacking in several important vitamins and nutrients. It’d be as if you ate nothing but bread. Bread isn’t bad for you, but as a complete diet it doesn’t fit the bill!
The pet food industry attempted to solve the bird seed problems by creating “all-in-one” pelleted foods for pet birds, like kibble for cats and dogs. Pellets can be better than seeds, but as a complete diet they fail to live up to their labeling. Some brands are better than others: “all-natural” is the way to go, to avoid artificial coloring and preservatives that may be dangerous. Even the best pellets can’t provide complete nutrition for any bird, however.
Thinking Outside the Box
The best foods don’t come from a box or shiny package at the pet store, but might be found in your refrigerator. Fresh fruits and vegetables are full of nutrients that just aren’t in dry seeds or processed pellets. Fresh is best, but frozen will do. The best fruits and veggies are the ones with the deepest colored flesh: think berries instead of grapes, peppers instead of cucumbers, collards instead of iceberg lettuce, and other “colorful” produce.
Sprouting is for the Birds
Dry seeds like the sort you find in boxes at the pet store are dormant, packed full of fat and carbs in preparation for the growing sprout. Once sprouted, fat is converted to nutrients and amino acids… and the seed becomes much healthier to eat. Sprouting takes a little know-how but is quite simple. Begin with any clean, fresh seed or grain. Rinse in a colander until clean, cover with water, and soak for 8-18 hours. Drain in a colander, rinse, and let sit. Rinse again 2-4 times daily for 1-4 days, or until sprouts are just beginning to peek from the seeds. Or you can feed them right away, after the initial soaking, as germinated seed.
A Little of Everything
There is no one “best” food to feed birds. In the wild, they’d eat a little of everything, this and that, whatever happens to be in season. In our homes, they do best on diets full of variety. Fresh is best, and the more fresh foods in the diet, the better. Dry foods such as seeds and pellets are great as snack foods, available all day, without risk of spoiling. If you don’t mind sharing, most birds love to eat meals with their owners. Just avoid junk foods such as salty or fatty foods, and red meat. Whole wheat noodles, rice and breads are more nutritional than processed “white” versions.
Birds can’t digest lactose, a sugar found in milk, and eating more than a very little dairy might give them an upset stomach. Yogurt and most cheeses have very little lactose, however, and can be fed more often.
Foods to Avoid
Avocados can be deathly toxic to birds. Chocolate is toxic to many animals; I’ve never known a bird to be affected, but better safe than sorry. Alcohol, obviously, isn’t good for anybody, and birds can be especially sensitive. “Junk” foods that are heavy on fat, salt or calories but low in vitamins and nutrients should be avoided.
But… My Bird Won’t Eat It!
Birds are notoriously picky eaters, and can be very stubborn. The trick is to be more stubborn than they are! Birds eat what they know. When new foods are introduced, they often refuse them on general principle, not because they don’t “like” them but because they won’t even try them. If you keep offering a food, day after day, eventually it’ll become familiar… and your bird may finally try it. Other tricks include offering foods in different ways: cooked or raw, whole or sliced or shredded, in the food dish or from your hand. If a bird is starting out as a true “seed junkie” or has never eaten fresh foods before, be prepared to spend some time and effort… it’ll be worth it, because it will mean a better, longer life for your pet.