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How to Choose the Right Pet Bird Food: Nutrition, Labels & More!

Nicole Cosgrove

Vet approved

	Dr. Paola Cuevas Photo

Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Paola Cuevas

Vet, MVZ

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Pet birds come in all shapes and sizes, from the smallest zebra finch to the biggest macaw. Their nutritional needs can vary greatly, so it’s important to find the right food for your unique bird.

In this article, we’ll look at the general nutritional requirements of birds as well as the specific needs of some of the more popular pet bird species.

Of course, expert nutritional advice for your pet bird comes from your veterinarian, especially one who specializes in avian and exotic pet care. Be sure to talk to your vet if you have questions about your bird’s care.

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Pet Bird Diet

a racing pigeon eating crumbs
Image Credit: vickypawprince, Pixabay

What are the nutritional needs of birds? There are 6 categories of nutrients that all birds need to survive:

  • Water
  • Proteins
  • Carbohydrates (and fiber)
  • Lipids (fats and oils)
  • Minerals
  • Vitamins

Your bird should eat a balanced diet that contains these essential nutrients.

Birds can get some of the nutrition they need from seeds but eating only seeds will not provide your bird with the right amounts of all the essential nutrients.

Seeds are low in calcium and other nutrients, but they can be high in fat. There’s a reason many vets call seeds “bird junk food”—like potato chips and chocolate chip cookies for people.

Pet birds can become overweight when they eat too much rich food, just like dogs and cats. So, an all-seed diet is not a good idea for birds, as much as they love to eat them.

Fresh fruits and vegetables are a healthy addition to a pet bird’s diet. Good choices include brightly colored items like squash, carrots, peppers, sweet potato, cantaloupe, and mango.

You can add commercial pellets or pellet/seed mixtures to your bird’s diet.  There are plenty of options out there when it comes to prepared diets. How can you tell which one is the right choice for your bird?

Let’s look at how different pet bird foods meet the nutritional needs of a few of the more common types of pet birds.

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Bird Food for Parrots

parrots eating food
Image Credit: Dewald Van Rensburg, Pixabay

A healthy diet for your parrot should be 80% high-quality commercial pellets with some added fresh vegetables and fruits.

All-pellet bird food is better than a seed and pellet mixture, especially if your bird likes to pick out the tasty seeds and avoid the pellets in a mix.

Commercial pellets for parrots are formulated for their unique nutritional needs. They are made from a combination of grains, seeds, vegetables, and fruits.

Vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients are added to ensure that your parrot eats a balanced diet.

Different manufacturers will have different ingredients in their parrot pellets. You can compare ingredient lists to find the right combination for your bird.

Pet food manufacturers are required to list some nutritional information on their labels: crude fat, protein, fiber, and moisture. Quality food will also have the right amounts of important vitamins and minerals; sometimes they will be listed, but it’s not required.

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Bird Food for Cockatiels

cockatiel in cage
Image Credit: Simona Robová, Pixabay

The cockatiel is a small type of parrot that’s part of the cockatoo family of birds.

Cockatiels in the wild eat seeds, and pet cockatiels enjoy eating them too. But seeds should not be the main component of a pet cockatiel’s diet.

What should a pet cockatiel eat? A small number of seeds are OK, but vets recommend a quality pelleted diet for cockatiels to ensure that they get complete and balanced nutrition.

Fruits and vegetables can also be added to the diet. A good rule of thumb for your pet cockatiel’s diet is 75–80% pellets and 20–25% fruits, vegetables, and seeds.

You can buy commercial pellets specifically formulated for cockatiels and other small parrots. An all-natural food with no artificial colors or flavors is a good healthy choice.

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Bird Food for Parakeets

Plum-headed Parakeet
Image Credit: Amol Subhash Rapte, Shutterstock

There are over 100 species of parakeets, including the popular budgerigar (or budgie). All are small-sized parrots that have different nutritional needs than larger parrots.

Wild parakeets eat many different types of plant foods, including seeds, depending on the season. As with other birds, pet parakeets and budgies should only eat a small number of seeds to avoid becoming overweight.

What should you feed your parakeet? A diet primarily made up of pellets formulated for the specific nutritional needs of parakeets is the ideal option. Parakeet pellets have the right combination of nutrients in the right amounts.

Parakeets like seeds, especially millet seeds, but feed them only in small amounts. Besides pellets and seeds, around 20–25% of your parakeet’s diet can be made up of fruits and vegetables.

Good fruit and vegetable choices include apple, grapes, zucchini, broccoli, bananas, and corn. Avoid pale vegetables with high water content and low nutritional value like iceberg lettuce.

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Bird Food for Finches

house finch
Image Credit: Pixabay

Finches are among the smallest types of pet birds. The finch family of birds also includes the canary. Are their nutritional needs different from other birds, like parrots?

In the wild, a finch’s diet consists of seeds (especially grass seeds) and other plant foods like fruits and berries. Some also will eat insects.

What about the pet finch diet? Like other birds that enjoy seeds, it’s a good idea to limit the number of seeds that a pet finch eats because they are high in fat and low in some important nutrients. A teaspoon of seeds per day, and per bird, is plenty for pet finches.

Like other birds, pellets should make up the bulk of a pet finch’s diet. There are a variety of small pellets available to meet the nutritional needs of finches. Check the ingredients list to see what food items go into your finch’s pellets.

Besides pellets and seeds, around 20% of your pet finch’s diet can include fresh fruits and vegetables. You can try things like kale, peppers, strawberries, apples, corn, and raspberries.

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Choosing the Right Bird Food

Different pet bird species can have different food preferences and nutritional requirements. Most avian vets say that the bulk of your bird’s diet should be in the form of good quality pellets.

Choose a pellet that’s specifically formulated for your bird, whether it’s a large or small parrot or another type of bird such as a finch.

Besides pellets, a smaller part of your bird’s diet can include seeds but be careful not to feed too many seeds because they are high in fat and do not provide complete and balanced nutrition.

Fresh fruits and vegetables can also be a good addition to your pet bird’s diet. Choose colorful vegetables as they contain a lot of nutrients. Fruits and berries are also a tasty treat for pet birds.


Featured Image Credit: Snoopy0107, Shutterstock

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.