Birds, like people, “are what they eat.” Therefore, to be healthy, they must consume all of the necessary nutrients (protein carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals and water) in the proper proportions. Unfortunately, the exact nutritional requirements for all of the various caged birds have not been determined.

Commercial bird diets advertised as “complete” or “balanced” are, therefore, not necessarily scientifically formulated for life-time as a sole diet. These diets are the result of breeding successes or have been derived from poultry diets, however, as the years go by we have more information and they have improved significantly. If your bird eats only pelleted food and fresh table foods, additional supplementation many not be necessary.

Caged birds eating a significant amount of seed in their diets should be given vitamin supplements because we know seeds are nutritionally deficient. Powdered vitamins can be sprinkled over fruits, vegetables and other table food items to which the powder will adhere. Do not sprinkle powdered vitamins over seeds. Powders do not adhere to dry seeds and end up on the bottom of the food cup. Further, birds do not eat the seed hull, to which the powder may adhere.

A water soluble vitamin should be added to the drinking water and replenished with each water change. Do not distribute liquid vitamins over seeds because they can cause the seeds to become rancid. If liquid vitamins are used, the water container Vitamin supplements intended for birds must contain vitamin D3 because this is the only form of vitamin D that can be used by birds. Water soluble mineral preparations (Neo-calglucon™) can be added to the drinking water if it is determined that your bird is calcium deficient and at risk for fractures. As with the vitamin preparations, the mineral supplements represent and “insurance policy” in case your bird’s diet is lacking in 1 or more of these trace minerals used in forming eggshells. Additional sources of minerals may be offered to caged birds when needed. Cuttle bone and oyster shell may be offered to smaller caged birds. Oyster shell and mineral blocks may be provided for larger caged birds. Pelleted diets have adequate calcium in them for non-breeding birds. Birds laying eggs can become deficient and need additional calcium— seek veterinary input to remedy or prevent calcium deficiency.

Because birds do not have teeth, they do not chew their food. The gizzard functions to break up seeds and other food items so that they can be digested. Wild birds consume sand or tiny pebbles (“grit”) which pass into their gizzards and remain within this muscular organ to assist in the mechanical breakdown of seeds and other firm foodstuffs.

Grit apparently is not absolutely necessary for proper digestion among hookbilled birds (parakeets, cockatiels, parrots). Hookbilled birds that have been denied grit for extended periods do not pass whole, undigested seeds in their droppings. In fact, use of grit for these caged birds is controversial among aviculturists. Avian veterinary experts, however, are unanimous in their opinion that grit for hookbilled birds is unnecessary and may, in fact, create serious problems (grit impaction and intestinal blockage) when consumed in large amounts. This is most likely to occur during periods of illness. For this reason, grit need not be given to hookbilled caged birds, but it should be provided for passerine type caged birds (finches, canaries). Owners of finches and canaries, however, should be vigilant and remove the grit from the cage at once if illness is suspected.