Holistic Health Care
For Your Pet Bird

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The Birds



Bird Nutrition - A Voice of Reason
(by Darhon Rees-Rohrbacher; DMus, RN, MSN)

Allow me to introduce the “voice of reason” into the topic of bird nutrition. Pet bird owners make themselves neurotic, worrying about whether this-or-that is safe to feed to their precious birds. Rather than fretting over it, simply ask yourself this question:  Is this food item safe to feed a one-year-old human child? If it is not safe for a baby, it is surely not safe to feed a pet bird!

There are many “human” foods that are quite safe to feed your pet bird – because they are also safe for an infant. Other foods are fine to give as an occasional treat – but not as an every day item.

The healthiest foods for most pet birds have the following general characteristics:

  • No preservatives
  • No artificial color or sweeteners
  • No genetically modified foodstuffs
  • Low in both salt and saturated fat
  • No alcohol or caffeine ingredients
  • Vegetarian-based

Think about what our pet birds would eat in the wild: seeds, fruits, nuts and grains. These are the staples of their diet. They do not have vitamin-fortified pellets in the wild – but yet, most manage to be well-nourished.

You likely already have a lot of foods in your pantry or refrigerator that are perfectly safe for pet bird consumption. Some suggested items are:

  • Multi-grain bread
  • Fruit jam or preserves
  • Cooked pasta or rice
  • Unsalted cooked potatoes
  • Plain breakfast cereals, such as Shredded Wheat®, Special K®, Grape Nuts®, Cheerios® and Corn Flakes®.
  • Plain oyster crackers
  • Fruit juice or juice drinks
  • Fresh or dried fruits (but no avocados)
  • Organic blue corn plain tortilla chips
  • Commercial baby food from a jar – especially fruits and vegetables
  • Dry roasted, unsalted nuts
  • Scrambled or hard-boiled eggs (no raw eggs)
  • Yogurt with active cultures
  • Small bits of well-aged cheese
  • Lactose-free milk
  • Commercial peanut butter
  • Baby carrots
  • Sliced green or red peppers

Many times, it is a matter of adjusting the quantity to suit the size of the bird. You would not feed an 8 lb infant a pint of yogurt...so why would you dare feed an 8 oz pet bird half of it? A macaw can probably handle a tablespoonful or two, but a cockatiel should only be offered a half teaspoon.

Lactose: Birds are naturally lactose intolerant. For that reason, they should only be fed low-lactose items such as well-aged cheese, cottage cheese and yogurt.

Yogurt: Speaking of yogurt, I am a firm believer in the pro-biotic value of eating yogurt and always give some to my birds about once weekly. (I personally eat yogurt almost daily.) Birds especially love the yogurts with natural fruit in them. Just make sure you are using regular yogurt and not “light” yogurt that contains aspartame.

Veggies: Many birds who do not like to eat vegetables will eat “baby food” pureed vegetables from a spoon. This is one option by which you can get veggies into your finicky eater bird. Some birds will not eat raw carrots, but will eat them cooked – or vice versa.

Peanut butter: I do not recommend giving birds “natural” peanut butter that is made fresh from ground raw nuts, as there is always the chance of toxins. Commercial peanut butters are pasteurized. Several of the major brands, such as Skippy®, make natural, low-salt and low-fat varieties of pasteurized peanut butter that are healthy and safe to feed to pet birds. Birds will eat it right from a teaspoon, or enjoy it smeared on a cracker or toast. A peanut butter treat can be created by stringing up a pine cone that has peanut butter smeared into the grooves – it is a challenge for the bird to retrieve the peanut butter and great fun!

Meat: Most pet bird species are not natural carnivores. However, some of the larger birds such as macaws and cockatoos actually enjoy a little meat now and then. Give them a small bit of a low-salt, low-fat meat as an occasional treat, such as chicken or turkey.

Eggs: Larger birds love to hold half a hard-boiled egg in their foot. Slice the cooked egg in half, shell included. A large bird will hold the egg shell like a “cup” and eat the egg parts right out of it. Other birds will insist that you remove the shell prior to feeding them the egg. Smaller birds, such as cockatiels, may enjoy eating some scrambled eggs from their food dish. Never give raw eggs to your bird!

Pellets: Pelleted diets are comprised primarily of corn with added vitamins and minerals. I do not believe that they can provide total nutrition for our birds – because birds do not eat only corn in the wild. Supplementing a pelleted diet with suitable items from your pantry will provide a more balanced diet and a happier bird.

Seeds: The word “seed” has become almost evil in the world of avian nutrition, even though it is a natural bird food in the wild. Some birds need the fats provided by seeds that are not present in a pelleted diet. When I custom mixed fruit-flavored Zupreem® pellets and  about 15-20% safflower seed together, my cockatiel and conure became much happier and healthier. On pellets alone, they seemed to be “hungry” all of the time and kept looking for other items in their food dishes. However, I do not feed them sunflower seeds – for they would eat nothing else, if I did that!

Portion control: I have noticed that not all birds seem to have a good “barometer” of when they are satiated. They will continue to eat a treat food long after their crops are full. (I watched my severe macaw eat 12 almonds in succession one time.) This is not unlike small children who will eat candy until they are physically ill from it. As bird parents, we may need to monitor both portion size and frequency of intake to protect the well-being of our pet birds.

Be creative! With a little imagination, a search of your pantry and freezer may reveal a number of foods items that would be safe to feed your pet birds and yet provide them with well-balanced nutrition.

Naturopathic First Aid Remedies

For Your Pet Bird

Birds, like toddlers, can become ill very quickly without warning. Unless it is a true medical emergency that requires immediate vet care, many health conditions can be treated with naturopathic, holistic or homeopathic measures. At the very least, many symptoms can be controlled in order to make the bird more comfortable until conventional medical care is obtained.

Every household should have a bottle of "Rescue Remedy" in their bird care kit. This is a Bach flower remedy mixture that should be given immediately after any kind of trauma to the bird - physical, mental or emotional. In addition, standard homeopathic remedies at the 6X potency may be dissolved into a bird's drinking water to treat the same kinds of problems experienced by infants and toddlers.

Below is a list of common symptoms experienced by birds and some recommended safe, natural remedies:

  • Problem: Feather Plucking?; Remedy: Aloe Vera Spray (edible type)
  • Problem: Skin Itching?; Remedy: Witch Hazel Mist sprayed on skin
  • Problem: Sickly Bird?; Remedy: Echinacea Liquid - 5 drops in drinking water
  • Problem: Diarrhea?; Remedy: Natural Yogurt
  • Problem: Motion Sickness/Nausea?; Remedy: Ginger Herbal Tea - allow to cool, serve full strength
  • Problem: Restlessness?; Remedy: Lavender Oil - rub on outside of cage bars near perch
  • Problem: Agitation/Screaming?; Remedy: Kava-Kava Oil - rub on outside of cage bars near perch
  • Problem: Chest Congestion?; Remedy: Slippery Elm Tea - allow to cool, serve full strength
  • Problem: Irritated Eyes?;Remedy: Eyebright Tea Eyewash - pour over forehead, allow to run into eyes
  • Problem: Urinary Infection?; Remedy: Apple Cider Vinegar - mix  50/50 with fruit juice
  • Problem: Constipation?; Remedy: Mineral Oil ¼ tsp - mix with fruit juice (adjust for size of bird)
  • Problem: Skin Wounds?; Remedy: Natural Vit E Capsule - break open, apply to wound
  • Problem: Parasites?; Remedy: Garlic Juice  - serve straight or mix with food
  • Problem: Sinus Congestion?; Remedy: Cayenne Pepper - add scant pinch to drinking water
  • Problem: Allergies?; Remedy: Bee Pollen Granules - mix with pellets/seeds
  • Problem: Overheated bird? ; Remedy: Spray with cool tap water,  turn fan on low nearby.
  • Problem: Chilled bird?; Remedy: Place bird about 18 inches away from a regular incandescent lamp. If the bird has hypothermia, then an infrared lamp should be used - but place it about 4 feet away from the bird to avoid overheating.

Hospital Cages

Pet bird households should always have a spare bird cage that can be used as a "sick room" in the event that a bird needs to be quarantined. It may be a smaller cage (such as a travel cage) - just large enough to accommodate the largest bird in the household. If the bird has an infectious illness, such as an upper respiratory infection or influenza, he should be moved into a different room until the illness has passed rather than risk spreading it to the rest of the flock.

In addition to the cage, it is worth the money to purchase an infrared lamp on a stand. Often, a sick bird will respond quickly to the addition of a little heat - sort of like using an incubator for a preemie baby.