Bird Procedures & Nutrition

Measurement of heart rate should be done with a pediatric stethoscope over the thorax. Since the normal heart rate is 200-500 beats per minute, most heart rate determinations will be very unreliable. The really useful information is the presence of a heart murmur or arrhythmia.

Blood samples are most commonly collected from one of two sites, the right jugular vein or the median metatarsal vein. In general, you can safely collect 1ml of blood per 100 grams of body weight in a healthy bird. Laboratories equipped to process avian blood can perform most diagnostic tests on a sample volume of 1-2 ml. It is preferred to collect avian blood in heparinized tubes (green top tubes). Blood may be submitted for complete blood cell count, serum chemistry profile, viral screening and DNA sexing.

Other Common Diagnostic Procedures

  • Radiograph: Many birds are so small that an entire bird can be radiographed on one film. Birds do not hold still long enough, so anesthesia is usually required to obtain films of diagnostic quality.
  • Choana, Crop, Cloaca and Fecal Cultures/Sensitivity: Processed for the identification of disease causing bacterial agents and for testing of antimicrobial sensitivity patterns for these specific organisms.
  • Fecal Flotation: The fundamental procedure for diagnosis of helminth (worms) parasitism is fecal flotation.
  • Fecal Smear: Especially important for viewing trophozoites and cysts of Giardia, and presence of bacterial overgrowth.
  • Abdominocentesis: To diagnose peritonitis, neoplasia and ascites. Be careful not to damage the abdominal organs.
  • Cytological Exam: Ante-and postmortem lesion examination aids in diagnosis of tumors, gout, xanthomatosis, psittacosis bacterial and fungal infections and other disease entities.
  • Blood Smears: Parasites can be demonstrated. Estimates of white blood cell and platelet counts can be made.

What to Feed Birds? – Nutrition

“What to feed birds?” is one of the most debated subjects in bird care. A bird’s eating habits from birth influence its choice of foods. A variety during the first early months will encourage a bird to like a wide variety of foods. Birds placed on a narrow seed diet, as when raised by wholesalers, will usually reject any different or new food offered by a new owner.

The appearance of the food and the personality of the bird also influence food choice. Birds don’t smell, but they are keenly visual. Color of foodstuffs apparently plays a key role in what they will eat. The color of the bird’s feed dish is even important. Consistently using a yellow water dish, then switching to a blue one may cause the bird to decrease its water intake for a few days until it gets used to the new dish.

The personality of the bird plays a role in what they like and don’t like. Some of this may be due to heredity, but certainly experience plays a role, too. In general, birds require 7 types of material in their diet:

    • Fat: Only a small amount of fat is needed since birds manufacture considerable fat from their carbohydrate filled seed diet. But some is needed so that fat-soluble vitamins can be absorbed and essential fatty acids made available. Sunflower seeds and peanuts contain considerable fat.
    • Carbohydrates: Provided in seed diets. See reference books for specific animals as to specific seed diets.
    • Proteins: Critical for optimum growth in caged birds. Plant proteins have lower biological value than does animal protein. The protein content of cereal grains is relatively low. Listed here are essential amino acids that must be present in the bird diet: arginine, lysine, histidine, leucine, isoleucine, valine, methionine, threonine, tryptophan and phenylalanine.
    • Vitamins: Fat soluble A, D and E, the water-soluble vitamins; B Complex Vitamins and Vitamin C are required.
    • Vitamin A: Does not occur in plant, although leaves and stems do provide carotene, which is converted into Vitamin A.
    • Vitamin B1: Thiamin. Cereal seeds are a good source.
    • Vitamin B2: Riboflavin. Synthesized by green plants and also found in cereal seeds.
    • Niacin: Nicotinic acid. Synthesized from tryptophan, which must be in the diet.
    • Vitamin B6: Pyridoxine. Whole grains and green leafy materials are excellent sources.
    • Pantothenic Acid: Green leafy plants are good sources, however, seeds are not. This is a constituent of coenzyme A.
    • Biotin: In green leafy plants, peanuts and eggs. Cereal grains are a poor choice.
    • Choline: Fishmeal and fish oil are good sources. Soybeans are good, but are goitrogenic if uncooked.
    • Folic Acid: Found in green leafy plants and seeds.

Vitamin C: Ascorbic acid. Not required by most species, but may be required by fruit and nectar eating birds.

    • Vitamin D: Specifically Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol). Fish oils and eggs are main source. All-seed diet will be deficient in D3 and Vitamin A.
    • Vitamin E: Present in seed germs. Deficiency may be caused by excessive cod liver oil or unsaturated fatty acids.

Vitamin K and B12: Synthesized by microorganisms in digestive tract. Not required in the diet.

  • Minerals and Trace Elements: For growth, maintenance and egg laying: calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium chloride, manganese, zinc, iron, selenium and iodine. All seed diets are deficient in calcium and iodine. Calcium can be obtained from cuttlebone, ground oyster shells or bone meal. Iodine is in fish oil, or add 2 drops of Lugol’s solution to drinking water per week.
  • Water: Physiologically birds require slightly less water than mammals because they do not sweat and because nitrogenous wastes are eliminated as insoluble uric acid rather than as water-soluble urea. Evaporative cooling through the respiratory tree does place a significant demand on water requirements especially in hot dry environments. All birds should have water available at all times. Food and water bowls should be emptied and cleaned daily.

Over the past few years, commercially prepared pelleted diets have become readily available. Examples include diets produced by KAYTEE exact®, LAFEBER’S®, ZuPreem® and HARRISON’S BIRD DIET®.

Birds require a nutritionally balanced diet for a long and healthy life. Our dogs and cats are fed a dry or canned diet specifically formulated for their nutritional requirements. The poultry industry feeds a pelleted diet designed for the growth and production of poultry, turkeys and waterfowl. In response to the needs of a growing ratite industry (ostrich, emu) a pelleted diet has been produced to provide for the needs of these unique birds. Information gained through research in these industries, the parrot avicultural community, universities and years of observation of parrots in their natural environment has been combined and used to formulate nutritionally complete, pelleted diets to feed our pet birds.

It is critical to the health and longevity of pet birds to provide a nutritionally complete diet. Psittacines (parrots) require an extensive list of essential vitamins, amino acids and minerals, many of which are lacking in a diet of primarily seed. In the wild environment, an all seed diet is considered a “survival” diet usually eaten by birds when other foods are not available. These diets are high in fat and therefore provide calories and energy to survive difficult times. Sunflower and safflower seeds contain 47%-60% fat and are grossly deficient in many essential nutrients. Because of their high energy content, if given the choice, captive birds will often eat these high fat foods to the exclusion of all other foods. On cursory examination, these birds appear healthy, but in reality are obese and suffering from malnutrition. Diseases typically seen in birds on all seed diets include: vitamin A deficiency, increased incidence of respiratory tract and kidney disease, flaky skin, poor feather condition, feather picking, hardening of the arteries, fatty liver syndrome and associated liver failure and protein malnutrition.

Birds may SURVIVE on an all seed diet (like a prisoner on bread and water) but they WILL NOT THRIVE.

Birds can eat any wholesome food that humans eat, including meats, pasta, rice, eggs, bread, cereals, fruits and vegetables. If seeds are fed, they should compose no more than 20% of the total diet with the remaining 80% being foods selected from all four food groups (meat, dairy, fruits, vegetables). It is important that all foods be washed to remove dirt and toxic substances. Allowing fresh foods to spoil in the cage can expose your bird to dangerous molds and bacteria. Moldy peanuts are a source of potent mycotoxins. These are toxic substances produced by certain molds that grow on peanuts stored in moist environments. If feeding peanuts, purchase only peanuts packaged for human consumption and store them in airtight containers.

Although feeding a wide range of foods sounds good, it is difficult to ensure that the bird will eat everything that is offered and in the appropriate amounts. Commercially pelleted diets contain all the essential vitamins, amino acids and minerals in the proper amount and balance. Since every bite is the same, you are assured that your bird is getting the perfect nutrition available. The initial cost of pelleted diets may be more than seed diets, but when waste from seed hulls, picky eating habits and spillage are considered, pelleted diets are the better deal. In addition, with pellets, no other supplements are necessary. The real economy and benefit to the pelleted diet is in the resulting health of your valued pet.

Converting a Bird from a Seed Diet to a Pelleted Diet

The animal health care team plays an important role when advising a client to institute a diet change for their pet bird. It is important that they realize that this is a decision that can affect the long-term health and life span of their valued pet; possibly more than any single pet care decision they may make. Many birds are very set in their ways and require months of gradual change before they will fully accept the new diet. This requires patience and perseverance on the part of the owner and the veterinary team.

First, the owner should be encouraged to consult with the staff veterinarian prior to instituting any dietary change. At Safari, we recommend a comprehensive physical examination for the bird to determine overall condition and to obtain a baseline body weight. A complete blood cell count and serum biochemistry panel should be recommended to evaluate the pet for any evidence of disease not obvious on physical examination. If the bird is found to be healthy, then it is safe to proceed with the conversion process. We recommend weekly rechecks to monitor body weight until the bird is completely converted to pellets and is maintaining a steady body weight. Any evidence of disease should be addressed prior to starting the conversion process.

There are several ways to convert a bird to a new diet. Some birds are very cooperative and immediately accept the new diet when it is offered in place of seeds. Unfortunately, with most birds, it is not that simple. These pets require close monitoring, patience and persistence. Remember that this is for the rest of the bird’s life. Gradual change allows the bird to overcome their natural suspicions through a process of observation, mental adjustment and testing. We recommend the following approach:

Conversion Steps

  1. Measure the amount of the seed the bird eats in one day, then reduce that amount by 1/4. Add 10 pellets and provide usual fruit, vegetables and water free choice. Do this for 7 days. If during this time the bird begins to eat the pellets, great! If not, go to the next step.
  2. Reduce original amount of seeds to 1/2 and do everything else the same. If during this time the bird fails to consume all the seeds, but is still not eating the pellets, then too much seed is being offered.
  3. Next step; reduce amount of seeds to 1/4 of original amount. At this point the bird should have begun eating the pellets, if not, the client should not give up. A consultation with the veterinarian is recommended. A different brand or form of pellet may be recommended.

The old saying, “he will eat when he gets hungry enough” doesn’t apply to birds. Never advise that the owner simply starve the bird into accepting a new diet. This rarely works and may result in the bird actually starving to death before accepting a new diet!