It has been 25 years since Nutri-Berries became part of the spectrum of foods for companion parrots. When they were first rolled out the door, they were considered a bridge diet for all of the seed-eating parrots. The idea was to have birds move from eating unbalanced seed-only diets to a balanced pellet, with all of the nutrients that a parrot needed. And it was felt that we should feed birds pellets. However, the companion parrots of that generation did not know or understand that a pellet was something to eat. All they had was people food with a seed blend and sometimes monkey biscuits. So Dr. Lafeber had the idea to provide a balanced diet that looked like seed to the parrot — giving them all the nutrients they needed! It was in essence a trick — it looked like seed in a round shape but really was balanced like a pellet. However, there are those who do not understand or know how Nutri-Berries came about.
I have often heard people say, “Nutri-Berries are treats and are just seed balls!” Well, that is just not true. While companion bird owners and/or some veterinarians believe that pellets are the only approach to providing balanced nutrition, Nutri-berries can provide that balance as well. A research study done in 2009 by Drs. Klasing (avian nutritionist at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine) and Hawkins (board-certified avian veterinarian at UC Davis) using cockatiels as their model showed that Nutri-Berries provide a nutritionally balanced food. That particular species of bird was selected because they had a colony of cockatiels available.
So let’s set the stage: Nutri-Berries are made up of seeds and grains along with minerals and vitamins so that they are balanced nutritionally as a pellet. What happens is that various grains and seeds along with other components like peppers and dried veggies are mixed with specific amounts of vitamins and minerals based on their nutritional content so that the final content is balanced just like a pellet. Once this mix of non-GMO seeds, grains and a fine pellet of vitamins and minerals is of uniform composition, it is then shaped into a ball. The size of the ball varies based on the size of the bird’s species and its foot.
So now to the study at UC Davis with their cockatiels! The experimental design was to include three groups: the first group received pellets that were nutritionally balanced and composed of a mixture of seeds, vitamins and minerals that were identical to those found in Nutri-Berries. The second group of cockatiels received a pelleted diet that they had been using for the birds for more than a year with great success. The third group were cockatiels that received Nutri-Berries exclusively. Each group was maintained on their respective diet for six months. Parameters were compared from the beginning to the end of the study. These included body weight, hematology, clinical chemistry values, immunological status, physical examination including body condition score, water intake, and feeding behavior.
The results of the study showed that all of the cockatiels gained weight during the study period, and there was no difference in the final body weight due to the diet. Cockatiels that ate Nutri-Berries did not have changes in body weight that differed from the body weights of the birds that ate either of the pelleted diets. The CBC or hematology values did not differ between groups along with the chemistry profile values. There were no differences in the antibody responses or cell-mediated responses between the diet groups. On the physical examination, there were no differences in the parameters of heart rate, respiratory rate, choanal score or body condition score. There were some changes from normal in some of the birds but that was attributed to the health problems before the start of the study and were not associated with a specific diet fed. The cockatiels that received the pelleted diets drank significantly more water than those consuming Nutri-Berries.
The most interesting part of the study involved changes in behavior. Cockatiels that ate Nutri-Berries spent considerably more time consuming Nutri-Berries than those birds that consumed pellets. The use of the whole seeds and grains offered more foraging enrichment for these birds, which are considered granivores. The addition of whole foods enhanced foraging for this species, and it is presumed that this will occur in other species as well. When we want to stimulate the brains of our birds, one way is through foraging enrichment, and using Nutri-Berrries is one technique for that. The other interesting factor was that there was a reduction in the amount of water consumed with feeding Nutri-Berries. It was suggested that birds that have less to do during the day may drink more water. Additionally, those that consume pellets due to the grinding of the product may need more water in their GI tracts to process the pellets.
While we used to consider Nutri-Berries 25 years ago as a bridging food from plain seeds to pellets, we now know that Nutri-Berries are nutritionally balanced and can be fed as the sole diet over time. While we want to give our parrots veggies, other good foods and some fruit, we can rest assured from this study that we can use Nutri-Berries for our feathered friend’s main course.