Converting Your Bird to a Healthier Diet
Birds are very much attached to their wild, natural instincts. These evolutionary features offer protection from predators and preventable accidents and illness that may preclude a bird from breeding and passing on their genetic material. One of these instincts prominent in birds is their caution and this takes the shape of an unwillingness to ingest strange items they do not recognize as a food source. This is a natural adaptation that prevents a bird from readily eating something that may be poisonous.
Of course, this often leads to stress when we want our birds to eat a healthy food or switch to a healthier diet. For this reason introducing new food items or diet conversions must be done gradually and with the least amount of stress on the bird, as birds will naturally adapt slowly to new foods, Budgies, cockatiels and amazons can be very stubborn and it may take months for them to even nibble on a new food and a diet modification plan may take up to six months for some birds so patience is required!
Diet is the single largest factor that will determine your bird's health and longevity so these additions or changes are important. When you understand that birds do not know what is best for them you will see that they need your guidance and effort! For a diet conversion we recommend purchasing a scale with a perch attached. It is important to keep track of your bird's weight to make sure he is not loosing too much during this process. It is always good to keep track of your bird's weight anyway since birds hide illness so well, weight loss can be an early sign of disease. Here are some diet modification tips:
Adapt to a feeding schedule
In the wild, birds typically eat soon after the sun rises and then again in the evening before they roost for the night. Following a schedule and developing a routine will actually reduce your bird's stress. When a bowl full of food is left in the cage, birds will typically pick out their favorite foods and the rest will be left behind or wind up on the cage floor. When birds are free-fed like that they will also get overly accustomed to their favorite foods. I am sure you have heard the term "seed junkie" a term used to label birds that have become "addicted" to seed. In effect, they have just become very accustomed to the seed diet; they like it and are naturally suspicious of any new foods offered. By following a twice-daily feeding schedule you more naturally follow a bird's food gathering in the wild and encourage your bird to try new foods by stimulating their foraging instinct.
Try the following routine. Since most people may not be home during the day, feed dry foods in the morning and wet foods in the evening since wet foods should be removed after two or three hours to prevent your bird from eating spoiled food. So, in the morning feed your bird a small amount of his favorite food that can be finished in ten or fifteen minutes along with some of his less favorite foods like pellets (we recommend Totally Organics Pellets because they are cold-processed and do not contain any chemical additives or synthetic vitamins). The morning feeding should be removed by midday or only enough should be fed so the dish is emptied by that time. This allows a bird to become hungry for his evening meal and plays a role in healthy digestion. By feeding small portions of favorite foods in this way you prevent your bird from selecting only his favorite foods and encourage natural foraging behavior that results in trying new things. In the evening, when people are normally home and preparing meals anyway, is the perfect time to mix up an assortment of healthy vegetables, fruits, grains and protein sources.
Lead by example
Birds watch what others do and will often follow their peers or want what someone else has. This must be nature's way of saying "well, if he is eating that it must be okay". So, to teach your bird to try new foods you can use another bird that is receptive to new foods to act as a mentor bird or do it yourself! Place the mentor bird where your bird can easily see him eating these new foods or pretend to eat (you may really have to eat) some of the pellets or new foods yourself. Really play it up by making yummy sounds and gushing over this wonderful new treat. A bird will normally be interested in what you or the mentor bird are doing, want what you have or feel more secure because you haven't dropped over dead (remember those natural instincts) and will want to give this interesting new food a try! You and your significant other can also feed each other this new food making yummy sounds and getting your bird really interested and wanting to be part of the action!
Mix with something tasty
Find a soft food your bird really likes. Birdie bread is good as is mashed potatoes or a favorite vegetable medley. Mix the new food you would like your bird to try in this soft food in a very small amount. When your bird is comfortably eating this food with the new addition gradually increase the amount of the new food until it entirely replaces the soft food! Always use the same bowl, in the same place and maybe even at the same time every day so your bird is comfortable in his routine and associates the dish with his delicious soft food so the transition is smooth! Very often your bird will now readily try any new foods placed in that dish or simply go through the transitioning again with a new item, it will probably be quicker the next time.
A twist on this method is to place a large amount of what your bird really likes in something else to encourage him to try new things. For example, place seed (what your bird really likes) into some birdie bread (make small muffins because you will have to throw away some as you adjust the seed amount) and crumble it in a bowl or on a paper towel on a table or the bottom of the cage. Your bird will need to pick through the birdie bread to get to the seed! This forces your bird to come into contact with a new food and become familiar with it. When you notice your bird beginning to try some of the birdie bread begin to reduce the amount of seed you place in the bread until there is only bread crumbled in the bowl or on the paper towel. Your bird is now eating a new food! Now try to sprinkle chopped up veggies and other healthy goodies in with the crumbled birdie bread. Your bird should more readily try these new foods! This is very important because soft foods can be used as a means to get vitamins and medications into your bird.
One more thing, birds love warm foods, so using warm foods may make this diet modification even more effective! Crazy Corn, Momma's Birdie Bread and Good Stuff Birdie Bread are all healthy choices you can use for this diet modification method.
What to shoot for
People will differ on what is the correct percentage of different foods. However, a good guideline to follow is 50% cooked whole grains, legumes, vegetables and fruit, 30% lightly processed, natural pellets like Totally Organics and 20% quality seed mix and nuts. These ratios can vary slightly with different species of birds, for instance canaries, finches and cockatiels can do well with higher amounts of seeds.