The Nutritional Content of Pet Bird Diets

Key Points

  • Traditionally, seeds have been the staple diet of companion birds. Seed diets are deficient in many nutrients, including vitamin A, vitamin D3, several B vitamins, and several minerals including calcium. Most seed diets are also high in fat.
  • Evaluation of diets fed to pet birds showed that the optimal diet is high in a complete and balanced formulated product, with little human food and a limited amount of seed.
  • Diets high in human food are low in protein, energy, vitamins, and minerals.
  • Birds that consume less than 50% of their diet as formulated products are at risk of becoming deficient in several nutrients, including vitamin A, vitamin D3, and calcium.
  • Data strongly supports the routine use of good quality supplements for pet birds consuming primarily seeds and human food.


Little is known about the nutritional requirements of companion bird species. Dietary recommendations for pet birds are extrapolated from domestic poultry nutritional requirements; however these parameters are generally calculated to minimize cost while maximizing meat and egg production. There are also anatomical and physiological between gallinaceous birds and pet birds, which undoubtedly affect nutritional needs. Anecdotal reports suggest that the use of formulated diets in avian nutrition reduce the prevalence of nutritionally based disease.



A published study (Hess L, Mauldin G, Rosenthal K. Estimated nutrient content of diets commonly fed to pet birds. Vet Rec 150:399-404, 2002) directly compared the ability of seed-based diets and commercial diets to meet the current recommended nutritional requirements of pet psittacine and passerine birds. The owners of 135 pet birds were surveyed by questionnaire to determine their birds’ food consumption during one week. Birds were divided into six food groups, according to the amounts of seeds, human food, and formulated products fed.

Group 1 1-25% formulated diet
Group 2 25-50% formulated diet
Group 3 50-75% formulated diet
Group 4 75-100% formulated diet
Group 5 100% seed
Group 6 Seeds and human food only

Formulated products and seed were analyzed for their nutrient content by two independent laboratories. The nutrient content of human foods was obtained from a standard nutrition reference, and each bird’s nutrient intake was estimated. The dietary content of individual nutrients was then compared with the estimated maintenance requirements for pet birds.

  • Seventy-eight of the birds (57.8%) consumed less vitamin A than recommended for maintenance. (The diet of birds in Group 5 contained significantly lower levels of vitamin A than birds in all other groups).
  • One hundred and thirty-three of birds (98.5%) consumed less vitamin D3 than recommended for maintenance.
  • Only 29 birds (21.4%) consumed less vitamin E than recommended for maintenance.
  • One hundred and twenty-nine of birds (95.6%) consumed diets containing less calcium than recommended for maintenance; 125 (92.6%) consumed diets with less phosphorus than recommended for maintenance.
  • Eighty percent (80%) consumed less crude protein than recommended for maintenance. Although the total protein content of seeds may appear to be almost sufficient, they are generally deficient in several amino acids, including tryptophan, methionine, arginine, and lysine. Only birds in Group 3 consumed sufficient crude protein levels.
  • Diets containing 25-50% formulated diet (Group 2) contained significantly higher levels of vitamin A than diets containing large amounts of human food (Group 1 and 6).
  • Diets high in human food were low in protein, energy, vitamins, and minerals. Feeding a large proportion of human food apparently reduces the intake of dietary protein and available vitamins and minerals.
  • Seventy-seven percent (77%) of birds consumed at least 1.5 to 2 times of the maintenance dietary fat requirement (Groups 2,3,4). Eighty percent consumed three times maintenance fat requirements (Groups 1 and 5)




Bavelaar FJ, Beynen AC. Assessment of commercial feeds for parrots. Tijdschr Diergeneeskd 128(23):726-734, 2003.

Hess L, Mauldin G, Rosenthal K. Estimated nutrient content of diets commonly fed to pet birds. Vet Rec 150(13):399-404, 2002.

Kamphues J, Meyer H. Basic data for factorial derivation of energy and nutrient requirements of growing canaries. J Nutr 121: S207-S208, 1991.

Kamphues J, Wolf P, Bayer G, Wentker M. The comparison, acceptance and digestibility of important individual foods of cage birds (canaries, Agapornidae, and African grey parrots). Proceedings of the XVIII World Congress of WSAVA; 1993. p. 115-122.

Macwhirter P. Malnutrition. In: Ritchie BW, Harrison GJ, Harrison LR (eds). Avian Medicine: Principles and Applications. Lake Worth, FL: Wingers Publishing; 1994:842-861.

National Research Council. Nutrient Requirements of Poultry, 9th ed. Washington, DC: National Academy Press; 1994.

Nott HMR, Taylor EJ. The energy requirements of pet birds. Proceedings of the Annual Conference of the Association of Avian Veterinarians; 1993. pp 233-239.

Pennington JAT. Bowes and Church’s Food Values of Portions Commonly Used, 16th ed. Philadelphia, PA: J. B. Lippincott; 1994.

Roudybush TE. Nutrition. In: Altman RB, Clubb SL, Dorrestein GM, Quesenberry K (eds). Avian Medicine and Surgery. Philadelphia, PA: WB Saunders; 1997:27-44.

Ullrey DE, Allen ME, Baer DJ. Formulated diets versus seed mixtures for psittacines. J Nutr 121, S193-S205, 1991.

Werquin GJ, De Cock KJ, Ghysels PG. Comparison of the nutrient analysis and caloric density of 30 commercial seed mixtures (in toto and dehulled) with 27 commercial diets for parrots. J Anim Physiol Anim Nutr (Berl). 89(3-6):215-221, 2005.

Westfahl C, Wolf P, Kamphues J. Estimation of protein requirement for maintenance in adult parrots (Amazona spp.) by determining inevitable N losses in excreta. J Anim Physiol Anim Nutr (Berl). 92(3):384-389, 2008.

Wolf P, Häbich AC, Bürkle M, Kamphues J. Basic data on food intake, nutrient digestibility and energy requirements of lorikeets. J Anim Physiol Anim Nutr (Berl). 91(5-6):282-288, 2007.