Margaret A. Wissman, DVM
Posted: January 10, 2013, 12:00 p.m. PST
By Gina Cioli/BowTie Studio/Courtesy Amy Baggs
A pet bird might not want to try new foods when they are first offered.
Including nutritious foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, is important to the health of your bird but changing a bird's diet to include these things has proven to be a problem for some bird owners. Changing what your bird eats to include healthier foods can be difficult once a pet bird has developed a preference for certain foods.
Some birds may suddenly stop eating certain foods, and this can be a sign of a medical condition.
Often birds are treated to many of their favorite foods, such as seeds or other no-so-nutritious treats, and they lose their appetite for the healthier foods.
In some cases, medical conditions may be responsible for a bird becoming fussier and only picking out some food items. This can be due to beak or tongue injuries, fractures to facial bones, infection in the oropharynx or systemic illness.
Contact your avian veterinarian and consult with them about changing your bird’s diet. An accurate scale is an important piece of equipment to have for monitoring your bird’s diet daily, especially when the bird is reluctant to change her eating habits. For a healthy bird, it is adequate to weigh her once a week, first thing in the morning.
Start altering the diet to a healthier regimen by minimizing the amount of treats or seeds that you include in your bird’s daily foods. Instead of offering the less healthy foods throughout the day, try only offering them in the evenings, replacing other meals with healthier foods, including pellets and fresh vegetables.
Never attempt dietary changes in a bird until she has had a complete check-up and appropriate lab tests and gets a clean bill of health.
Birds are prey animals and may take longer to trust the new foods being offered. Persistence is key when trying to provide a healthier diet for your bird. Weigh your bird daily and provide about 10 to 15 percent of the bird’s body weight in food each day.
To get your bird to eat the healthy foods, make a demonstration by showing your bird you eat them, but make it realistic, not just an unbelievable show. Pet food is human grade, so even biting into a pellet is OK. When initially trying to get your bird to eat healthy it is sometimes helpful to offer vegetables or pellets one at a time, like as a treat. Other people find it helpful to coerce their bird into wanting a particular food by pretending they can’t have it by acting like you won’t share to pique the bird’s interest in the item. You can try chopping vegetables into different sized pieces to see what size most appeals to your bird. You can also skewer veggies onto specially made holders that hang in the cage, and the bird would need to rip off pieces to get it off the skewer, meaning that the bird will need to taste it to remove the pieces.
Another way to encourage birds to eat healthy foods is by sprouting seeds. By sprouting, the fat is removed from the seed in the process of sprouting, and this also changes the texture of the seeds. As the sprouts grow, they look more and more like a vegetable, making it more likely that the bird will begin tasting other vegetables. There are companies that sell seed-sprouting kits, or if your seed is fresh, you can sprout them at home.
You can also share mealtime with your bird, offering her healthy bits (sans salt or butter) from your plate or from a small dish you have prepared ahead of time.
Disclaimer: BirdChannel.com’s Bird Health Index is intended for educational purposes only. It is not meant to replace the expertise and experience of a professional veterinarian. Do not use the information presented here to make decisions about your bird’s health if you suspect your pet is sick. If your pet is showing signs of illness or you notice changes in your bird’s behavior, take your pet to the nearest veterinarian or an emergency pet clinic as soon as possible.