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This information is provided by Provet for educational purposes only.

You should seek the advice of your veterinarian if your pet is ill as only he or she can correctly advise on the diagnosis and recommend the treatment that is most appropriate for your pet.

Captive birds rely on their owners to provide them with all the food that they need to ensure adequate nutrition and avoid excess or potentially toxic foodstuffs. A failure to do so will result in poor performance or even disease.

In the wild birds literally live in their larder because they are surrounded by the food that they need to meet their requirements. If food in the immediate environment becomes scarce and the larder is bare, such as during winter months, birds move (usually by flight) to find it. In many instances this necessitates a migration of many hundreds of miles every season and sometimes, as in the extreme case of the Arctic Tern which travels between the Arctic circle and Antarctica, many thousands of miles. Some birds can eat a wide variety of foodstuffs, but others have highly specific food requirements.

Once birds are contained in cages or aviaries they can no longer seek out their own food, and they are dependent on the owner putting all the food that they need in to their environment. If the wrong foods are put into the environment hunger may drive them to eat the wrong combination of  foods, or even potentially toxic foods which they would naturally avoid in the wild.

Our knowledge of the nutritional requirements of captive birds is growing all the time, but it is true to say that we still do not know everything, and we are particularly lacking in our knowledge of the nutrition of birds that are difficult to study in the wild, such as exotic species of Parrot. Even though we have been keeping Budgerigars and Canaries for hundreds of years many do not get the proper nutrition that they need because of ignorance.

Also, in captivity birds can develop dietary fads which they show a strong preference for certain types of food eg sunflower seeds...even though they do not provide a complete and balanced ration. As a result nutrition-related diseases are common. Excessive energy intake is also common and obesity is a serious problem in many cage birds..

From a nutritional point of view birds fall into several types :

  • Carnivores - eat food of animal origin
    • Predators - kill live prey eg owls, raptors
    • Carrion - strip meat off the carcasses of dead animals - eg crows, vultures
  • Insectivores -insect eaters - eg swallows, swifts, bee-eaters, woodpeckers
  • Nectar eaters - eg humming birds
  • Seed eaters - eg budgerigars, canaries, parrots
  • Vegetable eaters

Foods commonly fed to captive birds :

Bird Common Foods
Amazon Parrots In the wild : Usually feed in tree tops on berries, blossoms, fruit, nuts and seeds.

In captivity : Parrot seed mix.. Fresh greens, soft fruit, nuts, (large and small eg pine), pulses and vegetables. Need to avoid obesity by limiting seed intake.

Australian Parrots Seed mix - smaller species Canary, Budgerigar or Parakeet mix, larger species Parrot mix. Berries, flower blossoms, buckwheat, fresh greens,  fruit (apples, grapes, orange, pears), hemp, leaf buds, oats, pine nuts, sprouted pulses, wheat. Insects and egg are taken by some parents with young.
Budgerigars In the wild : Mainly eat grass seeds

In captivity : Commercial seed mix . Fresh greens : chickweed, dandelions, groundsel, lettuce, parsley, watercress. Fruit, including apples, blackberries, grapes, oranges, peaches, pears, plums  For further information CLICK HERE

Cockatoos  In the wild : 

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo : seeds, fruit, leaves, nuts, insects, larvae.

In captivity : Parrot seed mix. Fresh greens, root vegetables, soaked pulses, fruit, nuts,  wood to strip, eg fruit tree branches..

Cockatiels In the wild : Cockatiels forage on the ground for grass seeds and in trees for fruit and berries.

In captivity : Commercial seed mix. Apple, lettuce, chickweed.

Conures In the wild : Usually feed in tree tops on Berries, fruit, nuts and seeds.

In captivity :Commercial seed mix - budgie/canary mixes for smaller species, parrot mix for larger species. Apple (sweet), berries, flower blossoms, fruits, green leaves, nuts (Araucaria, pine), oats, rice, wheat (and buck wheat).

Eclectus Parrots Pollen, nectar and fruit. Flower blossoms, berries, leaf buds and some take seed. Breeders often give : figs, soft fruits, nuts (pine), raisins, sultanas, sunflower seeds, sweetcorn, rice (boiled and polished), salad foods, chopped vegetables, and even cooked meat ! 

Fresh "nectar" is made up by breeders *

Fig Parrots Seeds (fig or millet, occasionally sunflower seeds), flower blossom, soft fruit (important), insects or insect larvae (some species) and nectar. 

Fresh "nectar" is made up by breeders *:

Finches Seed mix. Berries, greens, live foods (eg insects, mealworms), millet sprays, sunflower seeds, peanuts, pine nuts.
Grey Parrot (African) In the wild : Feed in trees on berries, fruit, nuts and seeds

In captivity : Parrot seed mix. Sunflower seeds, buckwheat, corn on the cob, fruits, germinated pulses, oats, maize, peanuts, pine nuts, rice, vegetables, wheat.

Hill Mynah bird  
Kakarikis Parrot seed mix. Mainly sunflower seeds, but also safflower, pumpkin seeds. Soaked seeds for young birds. Fresh greens including grass. Fruits including apples, grapes, pears, red currents, strawberries.
Loris and Lorikeets (Brush-tongued Parrots) In the wild: they use their tongues to gather pollen and nectar.

In captivity : Pollen and nectar. Flower blossom, berries and some take seed. Some take fruit.

 Fresh "nectar" is made up by breeders *

Love Birds In the wild : Eat seeds and berries.

In captivity : Canary seed mix. Apple (sweet), berries (hawthorn), carrot, flower blossoms, fresh greens, soft fruit, maize, leaf buds, small nuts (pine), rice, sunflower seeds, vegetables, wheat. Some breeders feed egg and milk with a cereal porridge to parent birds with young.

Macaws In the wild : Feed in trees on berries, fruit, nuts and seeds, and other plant material.

In captivity : Parrot seed mix. Sunflower seeds, buckwheat, corn on the cob, soft fruits, germinated pulses, oats, maize, peanuts, nuts (large and small eg pine), rice, vegetables, wheat. Larger Macaws will eat meat. Do not allow Macaws to be highly selective and only eat their favourite foods, otherwise nutritional imbalances may occur.

Pionus Parrots Parrot seed mix.. Fresh greens, soft fruit, nuts, pulses and vegetables. Need to avoid obesity by limiting seed intake.
Ring-necked Parrots In the wild : Berries, flowers, fruit, nectar and seeds.

In captivity :Parakeet seed mix (hemp, oats, safflower, wheat). Some species eat nectar. In addition, apple (sweet), beetroot, berries, carrot, buckwheat, canary seed, fresh greens, soft fruits, millet, small nuts (pine), sunflower seeds, tomatoes.

Fresh "nectar" is made up by breeders*

* Home-made "nectar" ....suggested recipes :

Recipe 1 A mix of protein  (1 teaspoon of infant vegetable powder, 1 teaspoon  infant cereal powder) carbohydrate (sugar), sometimes liquidised soft fruit, vitamin supplement  and 1 pint of water.

Recipe 2 Based on Mellins food ( a mixture of the sugars maltose and dextrose  with thiamine mononitrate ferric glycerol, phosphate, and potassium bicarbonate), honey, evaporated milk, vitamins and mineral supplement and animal protein.

Some authors recommend that birds get at least 6 different foodstuffs in their ration to prevent nutritional deficiencies. Once feeding patterns are established it can be very difficult to get a bird to accept a new food, and sometimes they can be frightened by the introduction of new foods. 

Nutritional supplements are commonly sprinkled onto the food , often including vitamins A, D3 and B12 and minerals - especially calcium, and moistening the food with orange juice or 

Below is a Table showing the daily nutritional recommendations for prepared avian food as recommended in The Exotic Bird Nutrition Expert Panel Report, Nutrition and Management Committee of the Association of Avian Veterinarians 1996.

Nutrient Psittacine Birds Passerine Birds
Energy (kcal/kg)  3200-4200 3500-4500
Protein (%) 12 14

Amino acids

  • Arginine
  • Lysine
  • Methionine
  • Methionine & Cystine
  • Threonine

% content

  • 0.65

  • 0.65

  • 0.30

  • 0.50

  • 0.40

% content

  • 0.75

  • 0.75

  • 0.35

  • 0.58

  • 0.46


Fats (oils)    
Linoleic acid (essential fatty acid) (%) 1 1
Vitamin A (IU/kg) 8000 8000
Vitamin D3 (IU/kg) 500-2000 1000-2500
Vitamin E (ppm) 50 50
Vitamin K (ppm) 1 1
Biotin (ppm) 0.25 0.25
Choline (ppm) 1500 1500
Folic acid (ppm) 1.5 1.5
Niacin (ppm) 50 50
Pantothenic acid (ppm) 20 20
Pyridoxine (ppm) 6 6
Riboflavin (ppm) 6 6
Thiamin (ppm) 4 4
Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) (ppm) 0.01 0.01
Calcium (%) 0.3-1.2 0.5-1.2
Chlorine (%) 0.12 0.12
Copper  ppm) 8 8
Iodine (ppm) 0.4 0.4
Iron (ppm) 80 80
Magnesium (ppm) 65 65
Manganese (ppm) 65 65
Phosphorus (%) 0.3 0.5
Potassium (%) 0.4 0.4
Selenium (ppm) 0.1 0.1
Sodium (%) 0.12 0.12
Zinc (ppm) 50 50


Updated October 2013