As new food facts surface and more formulated diets become available for our birds, nutrition remains the most debated subject in birdkeeping and aviculture.
Some still question the use of an all-pellet diet, and the need for a greater consumption of water for birds who are on a diet consisting of all dry foods (nuts, seeds, pellets, etc.)
As Aviculturists, we talk to many veterin-arians and breeders about diet. Most are in agreement with one thing: the individual bird’s needs and the environment will dictate that bird’s nutritional requirements; such as, does the bird live indoors in an artificially heated and cooled environment, or outdoors in an environment where it receives the benefits of natural sunshine and fresh air?
It has been written by top Eclectus breeders for some time that because of the Eclectus’ longer digestive tract, an effort should be made to keep Eclectus on a low fat diet to avoid the development of fatty tumors.
Our adults do well on a diet consisting of approximately 6% fat, and about twice that amount for the youngsters because of their higher activity level enabling them to burn more fat. Again, however, they are all individuals, and this general definition of percentage of fat in the Eclectus diet, is dictated by each individual’s specific needs. One thing many new Eclectus owners need to remember that “low fat” does not mean “no fat”. The fat-soluble vitamins A, D3, E, and K, are stored in fat cells, and if not enough fat cells are present, toxic overdose may result if excess levels of fat-soluble vitamins are given, particularly D3.
Our Solomon Island Eclectus eat vegetables, fruits, legumes, pasta or rice, grains, and pellets daily. We offer about 50% of the vegetable/fruit/legume/pasta mixture and about 50% pellets (We use Roudybush 3% fat size small maintenance pellets for hookbills), but it is difficult to know if they are proportionately consuming this 50/50 combination.
If you are looking for a menu to follow, here are some ideas from our diet;
Breakfast consists of a mixture of soft vegetables, fruits, cooked legumes, pasta or rice, other grains, and a few slices of nuts (such as almond or walnut). Some of the foods include:
- 1- 2 c. Soft vegetable mix (frozen corn, peas, green beans, diced carrots) warmed by covering with very hot water, then rinsing. Repeat as many times as necessary to warm the mix.
- Baked yams or sweet potatoes
- Diced beets
- Baked pumpkin
- Corn on the cob (we feed each pair approximately
- 1″ to 2″ per day. If they are feeding youngsters, this amount is increased up to approximately 6″ per day.)
- Fresh, steamed, or cooked carrot sticks or rings
- Bean sprouts
- Fresh or cooked squash
- Red or green peppers
- Berries in season
- Melons in season
- Cooked brown or white rice (brown is preferred)
- Cooked pasta
- Cereals (low sugar and low salt)
- Less frequently, we offer bok choy, kale, broccoli, green beans, oranges.
Most of the foods are warmed to at least room temperature prior to serving. Also, be sure to wash the foods thoroughly. Cooking will result in the destruction of enzymes in most foods, so I would recommend serving fresh fruits and vegetables whenever possible.
Celery is not on our menu because it is low in vitamin content and stringy. We feel it is more crunch than lunch.
We occasionally serve a square of toast with peanut butter. If your bird is deficient in Vitamin D3, A, or E, you may want to add one drop of fresh cod liver oil or wheat germ oil to the peanut butter, but use caution. Too much vitamin D3 can cause hypervitaminosis, and too much Vitamin A and/or Vitamin E may cause toxicity problems. Note that these oils are best refrigerated to avoid rancidity. Also, use caution when serving peanut butter as too much can cause a raise in cholesterol, and may be detrimental to a sedentary bird.
Many Eclectus breeders offer citrus fruit more often than we do. It can help stimulate digestion and offer succulence, but some feel the acid is too high to offer every day. We, here in the Midwest, do not always have the advantage of quality fresh fruits available in our grocery stores every day, and oranges are, unfortunately, one of the fruits we often have to pass.
At 5:00 P.M., we serve a mixture of cooked or sprouted legumes, and/or one or more of the following:
- Hard boiled or scrambled egg (if hard-boiled, it is cut and mashed)
- Steamed rice
- Any cooked pasta (we do not give our Eclectus raw pasta, though some Eclectus owners and breeders do. I have read it may cause problems in youngsters who may not have totally developed digestive systems.)
- Well-cooked meat
- Any dinner casserole made with bird-safe foods
- Any cornbread recipes made with bird-safe ingredients
- Any oatmeal muffin recipes made with bird-safe ingredients
- Any items from the breakfast list
To prepare scrambled eggs, we wash the egg thoroughly, liquify the clean egg (with shell) in a blender. Eggs are scrambled in a very small amount of oil. Again, be cholesterol conscious. Also, a word of caution. I do not think it is a good idea to give a bird an entire scrambled egg, (or exclusively large amounts of any one particular prepared food item) because it could result in the bird gorging itself as Eclectus infants often do; then regurgitating due to being overly full.
When we make cornbread, we often add strained vegetables or fruits, well-cooked hamburger, cooked, mashed pasta, steamed rice, oatmeal, and/or a variety of other healthy foods items.
At 7:30 P.M. the remainder of the pellets in the food dishes (which are mostly powder by then) are soaked with very warm water and allowed to sit a few minutes until they are the consistency of oatmeal. Our Eclectus relish this warm, mushy pellet “oatmeal” and fill their crops with it before bedtime. However, the dish must be removed within one hour (sooner for infants) because once water is added to the dry pellets, it can quickly become a breeding ground for bacteria and yeast.
Just before bedtime, at approximately 10:00 P.M., to lure the birds back into their cages after play/exercise sessions, we offer a snack of one of the following:
- Garlic toast
- Crackers (our birds prefer lowsalt wheat thins)
- Cried croutons, bread or toast
- Chips (ours like a small piece of no-salt tostido chips, or baked tostido chips)
- Cereal (any low salt, low sugar)
- One peanut from a jar of roasted, unsalted peanuts
- Any other dry food which an Eclectus can easily hold in his/her foot.
- A few dry seeds. ( Sunflower seed is known to be the best source of the amino acid lysine.) (Pumpkin seed is a good source of Vitamin A)
- Walnuts (A good source of Vitamin A)
- Bread Sticks (ie. Garlic, onion)
Vitamin supplementation in our aviary has become the exception rather than the rule. If our Eclectus get too many vitamins, they become hyper, and since they eat such a full, well-rounded diet and because the pellets we feed are supplemented with vitamins, we generally do not find the need to supplement. There are exceptions to this, however, such as the need for extra calcium, occasionally, in breeding pairs. I have been told by some vets that they treat more cases of hypervitaminosis (a vitamin overdose) than hypovitaminosis (vitamin deficiency).
However, if you feed a diet that does not include fortified pellets or fortified seeds, you may want to consider adding a vitamin supplement. The nutritional values of specific foods may have been determined many years ago. Since then, the land has been over cultivated and over treated with chemicals, and is deficient in many nutrients that were once plentiful in rich soil. Farmers use fertilizers to give plants the most important elements to produce BIG fruits and vegetables, BUT not all the elements to produce fruits and vegetables with HIGH, BENEFICIAL NUTRITIONAL ELEMENTS.
For example, I recently read that tests were performed on oranges, and it was determined that it would take 4 oranges today to have the same quantities of Vitamin C of an orange grown over 30 years ago.
FORBIDDEN OR LIMITED FOODS:
We never feed the following foods to our Eclectus:
- Foods high in sugar and/or salt
- Spinach, carrot tops, beet tops (the first Eclectus-specific book I read stated not to feed spinach because Eclectus are affected by the oxalic acid, which interferes with the absorption of calcium and can crystallize in the kidneys. One person I know disagrees with this theory, but I have chosen to error on the side of safety until proof is provided.)
- Fruit seeds or pits (many contain cyanide, but actual toxicity is dose-related)
- Any source of caffeine
- Undercooked legumes.
Chocolate is broken down by the bird’s digestive system into theobromine, which is very toxic. Baker’s chocolate and bittersweet chocolate are more toxic than milk chocolate, but no chocolate is totally safe for our birds.
Certain uncooked dried beans contain enzyme inhibitors, are undigestible, and may tend to cause visceral gout in birds. These enzyme inhibitors may prevent or decrease the utilization in the body of substances such as trypsin and chymotrypsin to produce nutritional deficiencies. Beans that can interfere with proteolytic enzymes are lima, kidney and soybeans. Cooking of the beans for at least 2 hours destroys these enzyme inhibitors. Other dried beans do not appear to contain these enzyme inhibitors, or if present, are in low concentrations. To be on the safe side, we cook ALL varieties of beans.
There remains a question as to which varieties of avocados are toxic to our birds, but to be on the safe side, no variety of avocados are fed to our birds. Apparently, also, different parts of the avocado are considered safe, while other parts are considered toxic.
Dr. Margaret Wissman explains in Birds USA, that some foods, although not toxic to birds, contain nutrient antagonists, also called anti-nutritional factors. Most of these are natural compounds within the foods, and some can be tolerated in small amounts. For example, there are enzyme inhibitors present to some degree in all plants. Significant levels are found in all of the legumes, beets, barley, buckwheat, lettuce, corn, oats, peas, peanuts, potatoes, rice, rye, sweet potatoes, turnips and wheat. Cooking quickly inactivates these enzyme inhibitors.
She further explains that tannins, compounds found in most plants, are associated with an astringent taste and cause normal browning on fruits and vegetables when they are cut or bruised. Tannins can bind protein, inhibit digestive enzymes and reduce the bioavailability of iron and Vitamin B12. They are found in high levels in carrots, rape seeds, milo, grapes, raisins, lettuce, spinach, rhubarb and onions.
Dr. Wissman offers the following explanation regarding oxalic acid: High levels of oxalate levels are found in spinach, with lower levels in peas, beets, beet greens, lettuce, turnips, carrots and berries. Oxalic acid is an organic acid that efficiently binds calcium and other trace minerals, making them unavailable for the bird. Diets high in spinach can result in decreased growth, poor bone mineralization and kidney stones.
Some foods that our birds enjoy, such as beets, brussels sprouts, red cabbage, and berries contain a naturally occurring enzyme called thiaminase, which destroys the vitamin, thiamine. Several foods interfere with normal thyroid functioning or block iodine uptake. Those containing those properties are soybeans, peanuts, pine nuts, turnip, rutabaga, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi and mustard. These foods may be fed occasionally.
Mycotoxins are byproducts of molds that can grow in and on food, and are cancer causing compounds. One potent mycotoxin, aflatoxin, is found on corn and peanuts. If you subscribed to the former Eclectus World Newsletter, you may remember reading the publisher’s (Katie Rosenberg) very informative article about Mycotoxins. She told us that the major brands of peanut butter have the lowest levels of aflatoxins. Higher levels are found in store brands and the highest levels are found in peanut butter from health food stores.
We also feed sprouted seeds once or twice per week. Our sprouting mixture consists of clean, quality, unfortified products as follows: grey striped sunflower seeds, safflower seeds, dried corn, and hulled sunflower seed hearts. Sprouting jars are filled half full with the above mix. Then the jar is filled to the top with a mixture of grapefruit extract or lemon juice and water (I add 2 to 3 Tablespoons of grapefruit extract or lemon juice to one gallon of water), and allowed to sit in a cool dark place on the counter for 12 hours. During this 12 hour period, seeds are rinsed a few times and fresh extract/juice and water mixture is used to refill the jars.
After 12 hours, the sprouting mix is drained and rinsed well; then the jar is laid on its side to allow the sprouts to finish growing, for 8 to 12 hours. Any longer than that, in my experience, may result in the formation of mold in the jar. You may choose to sprinkle some of China Praire Farm’s Fresh Addition on this sprouted mix, or any other natural supplemental mixtures which have been tested and found to be safe for birds. Initially, I did add the Fresh Addition to the sprouts, but since our birds eat so many pellets, which are already fortified with vitamins, I found it was not necessary to supplement with any additional vitamins.
The importance of adequate grains in the Eclectus diet is often overlooked. The great variety of grains are generally low in fat and supply proteins, complex carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Some of the grains our birds love are oat groats, buckwheat groats, quinoa, hulled millet, pearled barley, wheat germ, and oatmeal. Most of these grains can be found at grocery stores, health food stores or seed stores.
Most of these grains can be cooked just like oatmeal, and some can be sprinkled on the wet food. They are also a great addition to most bread or muffin recipes.
With the inclusion of grains in the Eclectus diet, I believe that birds can attain the same feeling of fullness as humans feel, and I have found that it will help curb screaming in a noisy Eclectus.
The need for a higher then normal, though the definition of normal may have various meanings, amount of beta carotene (Vitamin A) in the Eclectus diet has been recommended and written about for several years by avian nutritionists and Eclectus breeders.
It is my understanding that beta carotene is converted into useable Vitamin A, which is fat soluble (stored in fat cells), by the liver. Vitamin A also requires proper minerals and other nutrients in order to be absorbed properly by the digestive system.
Vitamin A deficiency (hypovitaminosis A) can result in the eyes becoming dry and inflamed, and may result in a tumor of the eye, sinusitis, weakening of the skin cells lining the roof of the mouth and eventual candidis, etc. Because seeds are deficient in Vitamin A (beta carotene) birds on all or mostly seed diets are prone to the deficiency. A deficiency of Vitamin A can also lead to loss of Vitamin C. Vitamin D3 is also needed for proper absorption of Vitamin A, as well as other nutrients, by the body.
Since Vitamin A is a fat soluble vitamin, it does not need to be replenished every day.
It is found in two forms, preformed Vitamin A (retinol found in foods of animal origin), and provitamin A (carotene, found in foods of plant and animal origin).
Vitamin A aids in eyesight and eye disorders, improves resistance to respiratory disorders, stimulates the immune system, and promotes healthy skin, bones, and feathers.
Good sources of beta carotene are carrots, green and yellow vegetables and fruits, eggs, fish liver oil, and liver.
In my opinion, most good diets, consisting of formulated pellets and the foods mentioned above, will not require the addition of supplemental Vitamin A. If, however, a veterinarian finds that your Eclectus is deficient in Vitamin A, and determines the cause to be dietary I would suggest you use a natural supplement rather than a synthetic one. In other words, it is better to offer foods high in beta carotene instead of synthetic Vitamin A tablets which may result in hypervitaminosis A (overdose), and may in the future result in liver disease.
One recent article I read explains that in humans, polyunsaturated fatty acids with carotene work against Vitamin A unless antioxidants are present.
The amount of protein in the Eclectus diet is also a heavily debated topic. We offer foods higher in protein during periods of stress, molt, growth, and breeding, but under normal conditions, I believe an Eclectus should receive about 12% protein in the diet.
Feathers are made of mostly protein so during molt, it is an important time to increase the amount of protein offered in the Eclectus diet.
Sources of food we give our Eclectus which are high in protein are nuts, cooked beans, well-cooked meats, eggs, and sprouted seeds.
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Bodies can synthesize only some animo acids, and the rest must be supplied from the diet. Methionine is one amino acid which must be supplied in the diet, and a deficiency can result in fatty liver disease and beak overgrowth.
Proteins are components of skin, muscle, feathers, organs, and cell membranes, and they form the fibrous support network of bones that also form enzymes, hormones, and immune antibodies, they help transport oxygen throughout the body, and are necessary for water regulation, blood clotting, healing and growth.
A good source of clean water is essential for birds, especially those who are fed a diet of dry foods. Water makes up 98% of the molecules in the body. A loss of just 1/10 of a percent of water content may result in death.
We recently attended an AFA convention and one of the speakers emphasized that if your source of regular tap water is considered clean, it is the best water source available for birds, as opposed to filtered or distilled water. He explained that fluoride, a mineral important in aiding digestion, and other important minerals, are removed from water during filtration. He also explained chlorine dissipates quickly and is not considered toxic in water supplies.
Besides aiding in dissolving foods, water helps transport substances between cells, and regulates body temperature by an evaporative process through the digestive tract.
Not only should Eclectus be given a clean source of water, (we change water twice per day), but should also be fed plenty of succulent foods as another source of moisture.
It seems to me that when Eclectus are on a pellet diet, they need to drink more water, but they don’t always catch on. Also, here in the Midwest, the use of air conditioners and furnaces may tend to cause some dehydration in ourselves and our birds, so occasionally, we replace their daily water with Infalyte to help replenish any fluids and electrolytes which may be lost due to dehydration.
I also believe, as I have heard, that if an Eclectus has been medicated or known to have consumed a diet high in synthetics and/or chemicals (such as supplemental vitamins or some antibiotics), they may have a need for a higher water consumption based on the possibility of dehydration, which is a known side effect of many consumed chemicals.
Many brands of pellets contain some type of preservative; either in the form of antioxidants or antimicrobials. Ascorbic acid (vitamin C), sodium ascorbate, lecithin, BHA, Ethoxyquin and BHT are antioxidants used in formulated bird diets. Antimicrobial preservatives include benzoic acid, sodium benzoate, sorbic acid, calcium propionate, and sodium diacetate. There has been a great deal of discussion concerning the safety of some preservatives, specifically Ethoxyquin used in amounts considered safe for human consumption. The argument is that the safety level for bird consumption may not be as high as the safety level for human consumption. Many veterinarians feel that totally organic pelleted diets are safer for our birds. In my own experience, I tried one of the “organic” pelleted diets, but it was not accepted by our Eclectus.
There are arguments for and against the use of artificial color and flavor additives in pelleted diets, citing problems such as cancer, allergies, hyperactivity, and/or liver problems. I have, however, received many reports of feather plucking activities in Eclectus fed formulated diets containing artificial flavors and/or colors.
Some breeders with limited time offer a diet of only pellets, but for those with more available time to prepare meals for your birds, I recommend a varied diet. Not only may your bird become bored with a diet of only pellets, but as Layne Dicker explains, “pellets are BORING. In the wild, birds forage, fly, husk, dig, etc., for food all day and to put one type of food in a plate in front of them lacks the essential psychological element of diet. Food should be presented in a variety of interesting, challenging, interactive ways. And since their sense of taste isn’t that good , it is the shape, size, color, texture, temperature and consistency of the food that matters.”
In my opinion, the advent of pellets is a milestone in bird nutritional care. Veterinarians and scientists have worked fervently over the years to develop formulated diets in which nutrients are balanced for the benefit of our birds. However, it has been reported that feeding too many pellets may result in health problems, such as toxicity and toe tapping, due to the addition of vitamins. We feel that a diet consisting of 50% pellets and 50% wet food is a good balance. Some view pellets as a supplemental vitamin source, rather than a total food.
Gillian Willis has written that onions contain the chemical, n-propyl disulfide. Ingestion of LARGE amounts of raw or cooked onions in some animal species can cause toxicity from this chemical which denatures hemoglobin leading to destruction of red blood cells. This causes anemia, weakness, jaundice, bloody urine and eventually death 1- 6 days after the ingestion. Cattle appear to be more susceptible than other species, but dogs, horses and rabbits are also susceptible. She is not aware of reports of toxicity in the avian species. Feeding a bird SMALL amounts of onion either raw or cooked is unlikely to cause toxicity. Best to avoid feeding to dogs or to rabbits either raw or cooked.
We once purchased a Solomon Island Eclectus hen from a wonderful breeder in Hawaii. After eating some onions and garlic, she passed a tapeworm. With proper treatment, it took 4 days to rid herself of the parasites. One veterinarian told me onions and garlic create an unwelcome environment for tapeworms, prompting them to “let go” and be passed. It seems like a great way to unofficially “test” your bird for this parasite.
We avoid giving honey to our birds, due to the risk of botulism. Immature and/or compromised immune systems are not capable of handling the toxin. In addition to the botulinus toxin, you also have the possibility of yeast infections and mycotoxins from aspergillum mold that grows very readily in honey
There are some great soak-and-cook mixes available; the one we use is made by Don Harris of California. It contains a variety of legumes, and is a great source of protein. A couple others are Crazy Corn and MaxSnax.
As previously mentioned, foods that contain oxalic acid, in the raw form, may inhibit the absorption of calcium. However, cooking breaks down the oxalic acid. Some disagree with this theory, and feel it is safe in limited quantities.
Many breeders add Apple Cider Vinegar to their birds’ water occasionally to help prevent bacterial and fungal growth. (2 Tablespoons per 1 gallon). There is a difference between the apple cider vinegar found at the grocery store and the organic apple cider vinegar found at a health food store. The grocery store variety is over processed and most beneficial enzymes, trace minerals and malic acid are destroyed. However, this type of vinegar may be a good choice to wash produce to remove disinfectants. But for consumption by birds, the health food store variety is the best choice. (Check labels for the words, unfiltered, raw, unpasteurized organic apple cider vinegar.) It is much more expensive than the grocery variety but is much better for your birds and for you also. Measure 2 Tablespoons organic apple cider vinegar to one gallon water and use for the birds’ drinking water for 10 days to 2 weeks. It is a good idea to do this every 2 to 3 months. To aid in the prevention of bacteria and yeast in youngsters, this can also be added to baby formula. It is not a “cure” but will aid in fighting body toxins, and may help set the stage for an acceptable bacteria level.