Updated: Jul 7, 2021
Our knowledge of bird nutrition is constantly evolving. This is due both to heightened awareness of the importance of nutrition and to increased research into birds different needs. As with all other animals, birds need a proper balance of carbohydrates, proteins, fat, vitamins, minerals and water. Different species of birds often require different foods.
Should I be concerned about what my macaw eats?
Nutrition is commonly neglected with pet birds. You should discuss your macaw's nutrition with your veterinarian. Too often owners assume they are feeding a proper diet to their macaw when in fact they are not! This is a common reason for many health problems. It is important to continually strive to improve your bird's diet. This involves constantly educating yourself as well as a certain degree of common sense. It is insufficient to feed a macaw just to maintain life; instead, your goal should be to help it thrive and flourish. Your bird's health depends on how well it is fed.
What does my macaw naturally eat?
Macaws eat a variety of seeds, nuts, fruits, berries and vegetation such as leaf buds in the wild. A higher level of fat seems to be specifically important for certain macaws such as the Hyacinth Macaw. Discussed these special needs with you veterinarian.
What should I feed my macaw?
A well-balanced and varied diet must be maintained at all times.
Wild macaws would eat a great variety of seed types in the wild as different plants come into season. Commercial all seed diets tend to be high in fat and provide a deficient or imbalanced source of many nutrients if fed as the only source of food, which could lead to ill health and potentially shorten the life of your macaw. Often, your bird will pick through a large bowl of commercial seed mix and selectively eat 1 or 2 "favorite" types of seeds. Peanuts and sunflower seeds are often chosen preferentially, and these are particularly high in fats as well as being deficient in calcium, vitamin A and other nutrients. This leads to malnutrition.
"Seeds are highly palatable, preferentially sought after but nutritionally they are like giving candy to a child."
Seeds are highly palatable, preferentially sought after but nutritionally they are like giving candy to a child every day. Seeds should only be a small part of a balanced diet but should never be the entire diet. In addition, only a couple of nuts should be offered daily.
Gradually offer fewer seeds and your bird will start eating other foods.
Pellets have been developed to meet all your bird's nutritional needs. Different formulations are available for different life stages and for the management of certain diseases. Hand raised babies are the easiest to start on a pelleted diet. Pellets are the ideal diet; therefore you are encouraged to slowly wean seed eating birds onto a pelleted diet. Pellets should ideally represent approximately 75-80% of the bird's diet. There are many good brands of pelleted foods in the market place. Pellets come in different flavours, colours and shapes.
How do I convert my bird to a pelleted diet?
"Converting seed eating birds (seed-a-holics) onto a formulated diet is not always easy."
Converting seed eating birds (seed-a-holics) onto a formulated diet is not always easy. Initially, pellets are not likely even identified as food. Slowly wean the bird off seeds over a period of 4-8 weeks while having pellets constantly available in a separate dish. Some people mix the pellets in a reduced amount of seed to aid its acceptance in the cage, but you should be aware that the bird will not accidentally eat a pellet. It may take days, weeks or months to modify a bird's diet. NEVER withdraw seeds entirely without first being certain the bird is eating the pellets plus some fruits and vegetables. Birds are stubborn, but can be trained. This can be a stressful time for you and your macaw.
Consult your veterinarian if encountering any problems with this transition or with the health of the bird.
Remember, you train the bird; do not let it train you.
Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits, vegetables and greens should account for approximately 20 - 25% of the daily diet. Pale vegetables, with a high water composition (i.e. Iceberg or Head lettuce, celery) offer very little nutritional value. Avocado is reported to be potentially toxic.
Fruits and vegetables must be washed thoroughly to remove chemicals. Cut them into manageable pieces depending on the size of the bird. It is not necessary to take the skin off. Offer fruits and vegetables in a separate dish. If your bird appears to develop a particular fancy for one food item, reduce its volume or stop feeding it temporarily to promote the eating of other foods.
Treat your bird like a small child; offer a small piece of a variety of food items daily and never stop trying.
A well balanced diet must be maintained at all times.
Fresh clean water must be available at all times. Depending on the quality of your tap water, you might consider the use of bottled water. Dishes must be cleaned thoroughly every day with soap and water.
What about people food?
As a general rule, any wholesome, nutritious food that you and your family eat your bird can eat. Follow the general guidelines discussed above and use your common sense. Some birds even enjoy a small amount of lean cooked meat, fish, egg or cheese occasionally. Dairy products should be consumed in moderation. It is common sense that junk food, chocolate, products containing caffeine and alcoholic beverages be avoided.
Will my bird have any different needs throughout its life?
Birds that are extremely young, stressed, injured, laying eggs or raising young may have certain special requirements. There are specially formulated pelleted foods available for birds with specific nutritional requirements. Consult your veterinarian regarding these situations.
Does my bird need extra vitamins, minerals or amino acids?
Your veterinarian can help you assess your bird's diet and its particular needs. One opinion suggests that a bird eating 75 - 80% of its diet in the form of pelleted food may not need supplements. Specific vitamins or minerals may be more important at various times during a bird's life (e.g., egg laying requires calcium supplementation). Calcium supplements are available if your macaw is determined to be deficient.
"Placing these powders on seeds or dried foods is of little value since it will ultimately end up on the bottom of the food dish."
Powdered supplements are often regarded as more stable. Mix these products in water or preferably apply directly onto moist food. Placing these powders on seeds or dried foods is of little value since it will ultimately end up on the bottom of the food dish and not in the bird.
Does my bird need gravel or grit?
Controversy exists over the need for gravel. It was believed that grit was necessary for the mechanical breakdown of food in the gizzard as an aid to digestion. However, we now know that birds do fine without grit. Some birds will in fact have problems if grit is over eaten.
What pointers should I remember about feeding my macaw or Amazon?
Always monitor the amount of food eaten every day by each bird.
Offer fresh water every day.
Offer a variety of fresh foods every day.
Offer fresh fruits and vegetables every day
Clean all food and water dishes daily.
No to a food item one day does not mean no forever - KEEP TRYING!
Some suggested food items include:
apple (not the seed)
cherries (not the pit)
apricots (not the pit)
Chinese vegetables (bok choy)
peppers (red/green & hot)
nectarines (not the pit)
peaches (not the pit)