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Bird ownership is both a joy and a responsibility. Learning about the feathered friends we share our lives with is an ongoing process. For those of you who are considering buying your first bird or for those of us who have kept various types of birds for years, there is always something new to learn! The more homework you do, the better prepared you will be to take care of these magnificent creatures. The happier the parrot; the happier the owner. The happier the owner; the happier the parrot.

Nutrition is extremely important to a bird’s physical and psychological well-being. David J. Henzier’s book, Healthy Diet, Healthy Bird: A Complete Guide to Avian Nutrition, contains a wealth of valuable information. Generally, birds need a ratio of 8% fat to 12-14% protein with the remainder being carbohydrates. This ratio will vary in certain species and a breeder bird’s diet will require more protein than a regular maintenance diet.

Vitamin A is extremely important to the health of bird’s skin, respiratory, other epithelial tissues and feather condition. Insufficient vitamin A is the most common vitamin deficiency seen in pet birds. However, too much vitamin A can be just as harmful, so don’t overdo the supplements. Good vitamin A food sources are yellow and orange-colored & dark-green leafy vegetables. Squash, sweet potatoes and yams, carrots, egg yokes, alfalfa sprouts and kale are just a few good choices.

Never feed your birds chocolate, alcohol, avocado, rhubarb or products containing caffeine. The seeds or pits of apricot, peach, cherry, plum, nectarines and apples contain sugars which convert and release cyanide when ingested. Seeds from melons are OK. Foods high in fat, salt and sugar are no-no’s.

Sunflower seeds are not nutritious, are vitamin-deficient and high in fat. Dried fruits are O.K. as long as they are not “crystallized.” Breakfast cereals such as Shredded Wheat and Cheerios are good for birds. These can be served dry or soaked in natural fruit juice and even topped with grated almonds - a good calcium source. Parrots should never be given milk because it contains lactose, a sugar which parrots cannot digest. Cereals with extra vitamins and iron can be harmful since iron is stored and can reach dangerous levels in birds. Check the labels.

Though milk is not recommended, yogurt is an excellent additive especially if it contains natural, live cultures. The acidophilus bacteria is beneficial and helps fight off invasion by harmful bacteria in the digestive system. Hard cheese, such as cheddar, can be a treat rich in calcium and protein. However, because it is high in fat, it should not be offered as a daily food. When considering whether to give your birds table foods or snacks, ask yourself, “Is this food healthy and nutritious for me?”

For more information about nutrition and other aspects of bird care, read "The Orginal Flying Machine", "The Companion Parrot Quarterly" and Bird Talk magazine.