Food mistakes with birds
Here are some common big mistakes some inexperienced bird owners can
and have made. Most of these seem to happen with small birds,
such as budgies (parakeets) and cockatiels.
There are doubtless many other things to know. Do your research:
buy/borrow books and magazines, talk to bird owners, and talk to your
qualified avian vet. Good luck!
- "The bowl looks full but it's not!" Learn how to recognize
eaten seed vs. edible seed. Birds who eat seed leave behind hulls
that can be mistaken for whole seeds. I've heard of owners leaving
the food bowl in without changing it for days, resulting in a bird
that starves to death "with a full foodbowl." (Food and water should
be replaced daily at minimum.)
- "If it's not on the ground, it's not food." Some young
birds, especially young budgies, don't know how to eat (or drink) from
their new bowls. They don't recognize the contents as food; they only
know how to eat seed off the cage floor. If you notice a new bird not
eating from its bowl for a long time, you may want to try lowering the
foodbowl and/or putting a shallow saucer of food on the floor for the
bird to see if it eats from there. (Some young birds don't yet
understand clear bowls -- they try to eat through the clear walls --
so you may need to show your bird which part of the bowl is open.)
Experiment and try different ways of teaching the bird where to get
- "Where's my water? I can't find any!" The same applies to
water as with food: young birds don't know that a particular container
contains water. Try showing the bird the water moving around in the
container, or get a little drop to drip from the edge near the bird.
After a while, the bird usually gets the idea that there's water in
the container. If switching to water bottles: show the bird
how the water bottle works (make sure it sees water dripping
from the nozzle, etc.), and never switch completely away from a bowl
until you're really sure the bird knows how to drink from the water
bottle. Watch for "jammed up" water nozzles whenever you clean and
refill it -- make sure the bird can get water from it when you put it
- "Is that all I get??" It's safer to over-feed a bird at first,
rather than risk starving the bird. Reduce quantities only once you
get a good feel for how much the bird needs. Experiment to make sure
you're right. Birds can get fat, especially on some diets, but err on
the cautious side.
- "You poisoned my water!" Some birds will refuse to drink water
with medicine (and/or perhaps vitamins) added. Observe the bird
carefully for the first few days. Know your bird's limits; some birds
will give in and get their medicine, while others will still refuse to
drink to the point where it can hurt them. A good vet can find some
other way to medicate your bird, other than the water.
- "I'd rather starve than touch that!" Whether because they hate
the food or just don't know it's food, some birds can and do starve to
death rather than eat new foods. (And even if a bird nibbles at
something, it doesn't mean he understands it's food; he might just
think it's a chew toy! Make SURE he's swallowing it and knows it's
food!) In switching to new foods, always make sure the bird is eating
enough food of some sort to stay healthy (and if you don't know how
much is enough, talk to your avian vet). A very small bird has a high
metabolism and requires frequent meals, so while one night of hunger
may be OK for a healthy bird, more than that can be dangerous. Bird
Talk magazine, among other sources, has more information on how to
convert birds to new foods.
- "All I want is seed." As stated elsewhere, a seed-only diet
is insufficient. Some birds, especially those that are not tame, may
be next to impossible to convert to a healthy non-seed-only diet, but
hand-tame birds, though often stubborn, can usually be converted much
more easily. Start young -- young birds are much more willing to try
out new foods. Suggestions on how to teach
your bird to eat veggies and pellets.
- "That's REALLY not food for me." It happens that sometimes,
really clueless owners will try to feed the bird something
inappropriate, like in the story I read in Bird Talk of an owner
trying to feed a toucan a certain sugary cereal associated with a
cartoon toucan -- but real toucans are carnivorous! Make sure you get
food appropriate for your bird.
- "Ewww, my bowl is gross." Clean the water and food
containers thoroughly daily! (More often if there's poop in them.)
Tip: to rinse away stubborn detergent, spray on some vinegar, and then
rinse thoroughly in water. (Very useful for water bottles.) Watch
for nooks and crannies in bowls and bottles where germs hide, such as
the corners: if the surface feels slimy, you have a bacterial
- "Not watching the bird eat/drink/play/sleep is OK; it'll be fine."
Wrong!!! First time owners ESPECIALLY need to learn to observe a
bird. Learn its body language. Find out how to tell if it's healthy,
sick, lonely. Anticipate its needs; always provide fresh food and
water, and make sure it eats and drinks. Do your research; read the
bird magazines, buy the birdie books, and TAKE YOUR BIRD TO A GOOD
AVIAN VET. Ask your avian vet all your questions. Don't be afraid to
call up your vet at the first sign of
trouble! Birds can get very sick very fast.
- "Beware inobvious poisons." NEVER FEED YOUR BIRD CHOCOLATE. It's
poisonous to them. So is avocado and hence guacamole (parts of the
fruit are toxic). No alcohol. No caffeine. No lead, no cigarette
butts (cigarette smoke is bad, too). Watch out for poisonous
houseplants, too. NEVER USE TEFLON COOKWARE IN A HOUSE WITH BIRDS.
Main Birdie page