June 11, 2018

Examining psittacine nutrition at Children’s Animal Center

Considering that June 11-17 is World Meat-Free Week, June 16 is National Fresh Veggies Day, and National Eat Your Vegetables Day is June 17, this a great time to turn our attention to the psittacine nutrition plan at our Children’s Animal Center (CAC). Our CAC Spring Intern Laura Saltzer wrote this blog on the topic.

This bare-eyed cockatoo diet includes yam, okra, beet, kiwi berry, plum, bean mix and feed pellets.

At Fossil Rim’s Children’s Animal Center (CAC), we host several species of birds; besides our emus, we take care of two bare-eyed cockatoos, an Eclectus parrot, and two blue and gold macaws.

Keeping our animals fed is an enormous responsibility that requires plenty of patience and care. When it comes to bird nutrition, variety is key. A well-balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, and proteins ensures that our animals stay happy and healthy throughout their long lives.

Each day, animal care specialists at the CAC prepare diets for all of our birds. Preparing new diets daily ensures that their food is packed with nutrients and remains fresh. Frozen foods are often lacking in nutrients are high in sodium.

Bird feed pellets are weighed to track how much is offered to each animal. Uneaten pellets are then weighed to monitor consumption amount.

We aim to provide our birds with a diet that is approximately 40-percent grains and legumes, 40-percent vegetables, and 10-percent fruit. The remaining percentage is covered by occasionally feeding them nuts and seeds as treats, because birds are prone to rapid weight gain. We never feed caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, fruit seeds/pits, avocado, chocolate, or artificial sugars, as they are all incredibly toxic for birds.

Alongside the selection of fruits and vegetables, we provide our birds with the specially formulated pellets that contain the grains they need in their diets. The variety of pellets available to bird owners can be overwhelming.

When choosing a pellet, we consider several factors: pellet size, nutrient composition, and body composition. Pellet size is an important variable because pellets that are too big or too small will not be appealing for a bird to eat.

We also consider the general nutrient composition of the pellet. Nutrient composition should have a balance of protein, fat and fiber to keep birds healthy.

The blue and gold macaw “George” is very interested in a nut offered by a Children’s Animal Center intern.

Finally, when deciding on a pellet, we think about the body composition of our birds in comparison to their age (young vs. old) and if they are breeding. Some pellets contain slightly more fats, proteins, and supplements for each animal’s needs. However, our birds are all at a healthy weight, which is why we choose a pellet aimed at maintenance, rather than weight gain or loss.

Calcium is an important nutrient to include in a bird’s diet. Calcium is used by the bird for bone formation, blood clotting and eggshell production.

Calcium also affects the heart, muscle and nerve function, as well as enzyme systems in the body. At the CAC, providing our birds with foods high in calcium – such as nuts, seeds, cuttlebones, oyster shell and leafy greens – and vitamin A ensures that they will always have enough calcium.

Calcium supplements provided include crushed oyster shell and whole cuttlebone.

A calcium deficiency can cause infertility, soft eggshells, or egg binding, wherein the egg becomes lodged in the oviduct. Many dairy products, such as cheese, yogurt and milk, are high in calcium, but not safe for birds. Birds are lactose intolerant, so ingesting dairy can cause sickness or even death.

Perhaps the most important thing for us all to remember is to be observant. Be mindful of your bird’s likes and dislikes, as well as how much of their diet is consumed each time they are fed.

Birds are wonderful animals that require a significant amount of attention. It takes time and patience to be able to provide excellent running care.

-Laura Saltzer, CAC Spring Intern


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