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Variety in Our Birds' Diets: Enough and the Right Kind

This morning in one of our Origins Wild Diet groups, “Avian Nutrition: Really Raw for Birds” one of our members asked about “variety” in her bird’s diet. She also mentioned feeding pellets, vegetables, low fat. Below is my response.

“While there are numerous ways to making dry pet food, the most commonly used process is extrusion. This process was adapted for making pet food in the 1950s based upon technology used to make puffed breakfast cereals. The diagram on Making Pet Food by Extrusion illustrates the process:

  1. Ingredients are brought together in a mixer. Dry ingredients may be ground prior to introduction to wet ingredients. Once mixed together, they form a moist dough.

  2. The dough is heated in the preconditioner prior to introduction to the extruder.

  3. The extruder, essentially a giant meat grinder, is where the primary cooking phase for dry extruded pet food products occurs. The dough is cooked under intense heat and pressure as it moves toward the open end of the extruder. At the end of the extruder, hot dough passes through a shaping die and knife (similar to the action of a meat grinder) where the small pieces expand rapidly into kibble once they are under standard air pressure.

  4. Kibble is dried in an oven until its moisture content is low enough to make it shelf stable like a cookie or cracker. The drying oven is followed by a cooling phase.

  5. After cooling, kibble may pass through a machine that sprays on a coating, which is generally a flavor enhancer.

  6. Packaging (bags, boxes, pouches, etc.) is filled during the last step to precise amounts to meet the weight advertised on the label. The final result is finished pet foods or treats.” Ref:

First of all,  (A)as we look deeper into extrusion (or some manufacturers “press” their kibble/pellets) – either method uses about 600 pounds per square inch and usually over 200 degrees F to form their pellets. In cold-pressed/extruded manufacturing the pellets are not truthfully “cold-pressed”, they are made with lower heat usually at about 160 degrees F. Extrusion and pressing causes vital nutrients to literally leach out of individual ingredients, thus the reason for “spray-coating.” Any temperature over 110-115 degrees F literally destroys all digestive enzymes, the very foundation of nutrition of individual ingredients. (B)Heat rearranges the individual molecules of all of the amino acids (proteins) and carbohydrates (fiber). (C)Heat destroys almost all vitamins and some of the minerals. Therefore all of the original, naturally occurring nutrition the “mix” of ingredients has to offer, known as *real, raw food*has been totally and completely altered and destroyed. Real, raw food is what a living creature’s body understands, recognizes and is able to metabolize when it is received into the digestive tract – real, raw food is totally bioavailable so even if you have a pet who may have been born with a digestive problem, or has developed an auto-immune disorder, this food is more readily recognized than any synthetic substance. (Caveat: there are times when adding supplements along with real, raw foods to a severely malnourished living creature is not only suggested, but required to ensure the creature’s system is flooded with nutrition to regain healthy homeostasis. However, most normally healthy living creatures do not need, nor does their body correctly recognize synthetic supplements as “food” per se. We must realize that synthetics are augmentations used to artificially increase original, naturally occurring nutrients.)

(D)“Sprayed-on” coating normally consists of the original naturally occurring vitamins, and sometimes minerals that have been robbed from the ingredients during the high heat and extrusion process. These vitamins are synthetic (laboratory-produced chemicals) and the minerals are usually mineral salts (laboratory-produced sodium salts) mixed in usually a very economical (cheap) source of (often hydrogenated) vegetable oil such as corn, safflower, canola (which is not really an oil, but a manufactured oil made from the rapeseed), or sunflower oil (not all sunflower oil is bad – some sunflower oil is organic and high-oleic which is actually a healthy form). All of these oils, with the exception of high-oleic sunflower oil are extremely high in pro-inflammatory Omega 6s.

(E)“Flavor enhancers” mentioned above are usually heavily laden with MSG. It can be placed on the package under a multitude of names: “natural flavors, broth, whey protein, soy protein isolate and many more. In fact there are too many hidden sources of MSG to label; you can read more here: As some of you may know MSG has been classified as an “excitotoxin” and blamed for triggering ADD, ADHD, skin rashes, allergies, and more too numerous to mention. You can read more about reactions from MSG here: You can read more about the dangers of excitoxins here: here is further reading about excitotoxins and what foods they can be found in:

Aswe can clearly understand pellets/kibble are nothing more than “dead” food commercial manufacturers have invented as a way to deliver “food” easily to mass numbers of customers so manufacturers can make mass amounts of money off the uneducated consumer. When we choose to feed pellets/kibble we are choosing to feed “dead” food to our pets. To meet the requirements of several of the governmental overseers of the pet food industry commercial manufacturers have no choice but to add synthetic vitamins and minerals in an attempt to boost the nutrition of extruded, high-heat dried mash up to acceptable levels of the generally accepted nutritional profile for each species. Adding synthetic nutrition to pellets is what makes it “legal” to sell as a nutritional source even though, in my opinion it is not an adequately healthy source of real food.

Secondly,  I do not endorse feeding botanically classified vegetables to parrots. Parrots lack ceca, a tiny, blind-ended organ located where the small and large intestines meet that does a huge amount of work to hydrolyze (break down) cellulose in botanical vegetables. Even chickens have this organ and thus they can eat veggies with fairly no problem at all, but parrots were not created with this organ. Ref:

This is why we see parrots take a piece of fruit into their claws and ever-so-carefully peel the skin off and discard it; the skin of fruit is also composed of cellulose. The difference between the cellulose of botanical vegetables and the cellulose of fruit is the location. “Location, location, location” as they say in real estate is “everything.” When cellulose is contained on the outside of fruit and berries it is very easy to peel off and discard; when it is tightly woven into the "meat" of botanical vegetables it cannot be separated out and our birds are forced to eat it if they don't want to starve for lack of anything else to eat. (In addition cellulose actually harms the delicate digestive tract of parrots, but that's an entire different article.) Parrots instinctively know they are not supposed to eat cellulose because they lack a cecum, the organ to digest it and turn it into nutritional carbohydrate liquid that can be re-absorbed by the metabolic system. Yes, cellulose is a carbohydrate, but parrots cannot digest it; they don’t have the organ to digest it nor do they produce “cellulase” the digestive enzyme to digest it. This is one reason why parrots consume so much tropical fruit in wild; to increase the amount of carbohydrates delivered to their high metabolic system. Their blood glucose level is much higher than our human blood glucose level and therefore require a higher intake of “the 8 essential monosaccharides.” Since their system cannot utilize cellulose as a liquid carbohydrate they must turn to what Nature provided for them as their primary carbohydrate source: tropical fruit.

Third,regarding “fat” in a parrot’s diet; they not only benefit from healthy dietary fat, their system requires it. Depriving a parrot of fat literally begins to destroy their overall health. Fat is the first source of energy; carbohydrates being the second source. Without the correct kind and adequate amount of dietary fat a parrot’s overall system literally begins to suffer malnutrition and leads to “failure to thrive" or termed "ill-thrift" in veterinary terms. While deprivation of dietary fat will require a long period of time to show in ill health, incrementally over time outward signs will begin to appear: dry skin, a dry beak, clogged uropygial gland (preen gland), hyperactivity in the form of screaming and/or biting, or lethargy and loss of appetite, dull feathers, lack of “spark” in the eyes, less “chattering” or talking, inability to take directions/commands, and twitches/seizures. This is not to mention what may be happening internally such as cardiovascular disease because the correct fats are not fed. Instead, a diet high in Omega 6s that is not properly balanced with Omega 3s will lead to cardiovascular disease especially when a lot of starchy foods are fed such as dry seed, cooked grains and legumes, pastas, potatoes (white and sweet), cooked squash, and even worse when pellets are added to this mix since most pellets are grain-based. These kinds of foods, fed on a regular basis causes plaque buildup in the arteries, veins and the brain leading to heart disease, arthritis, other soft tissue disorders, dementia, and if incorrect minerals are not fed *in balance*such as high calcium without enough magnesium a parrot may also begin to suffer even more plaque buildup and kidney stones and gout. This says nothing about avian diabetes entering into our parrots’ lives when too many Omega 6s are fed in the way of cooked starches, dead seed that is not sprouted and many treats on the market that are grain-based manufactured in the same manner pellets are manufactured.

Fourth,while low sodium in the form of table salt is important to ensure in our birds’ diets, we must keep in mind that birds require dietary sodium to begin and carry out the hydrolysis process (breaking down of nutrients). Many foods contain trace amounts of sodium, but as the Tambopata Research Team learned, parrots flock to the clay licks not only to consume clay as a detox agent, but also for the sodium clay contains. You can view this video to better understand this concept. At about 5:18 in the video is where it begins discussing “sodium in clay.”


I like to use Terramin clay because it is FDA approved and human grade and has a very similar particle size to the clay in wild. This is extremely important due to the fact that birds have much smaller digestive tracts than we do. Terramin also contains all of the trace minerals in the way Nature intended them to be balanced.

Finally,in regards to “variety” in any parrot’s diet both diversity and variety are important, but it’s extremely important to understand how to “balance” the nutrition we are feeding to our exotic birds. We cannot simply throw 20, 30, or even 40 different ingredients together and expect we are meeting their nutritional requirements just because their overall diet has “variety.” While there are no hard-published nutritional profiles for any species of parrot, we do have general nutritional *balancing*guidelines, set by medical science for many species of animals and for humans as well. Understanding how one vitamin and/or mineral plays with or against another and how those micronutrients enable proteins, fats and carbohydrates to be digested, absorbed and metabolized is essential if we are to feed our birds with confidence knowing they will not suffer from malnutrition in any area on a long term basis.

My last thoughts:There is no homemade food that can be considered total and complete nutrition; there is no packaged food that can be considered total and complete nutrition. This is why I recommend feeding a laboratory-tested food specifically formulated for the species you are caring for, while also providing fresh, raw and whole foods along with that diet. Find a formulated diet that does not use extrusion, pressure-forming, high-heat or even cold-extrusion as their method of manufacturing. Make sure the ingredients used in that food are mostly organic ingredients and the food is not grain-based. For that formulated food to provide as much nutrition as possible in a balanced way it must include a long list of ingredients, not a short list all formulated and balanced ensuring no hypo- or hyper-vitaminosis. Check to make sure the company is laboratory-testing for balance of nutrients. If it is it will have a guaranteed analysis on the website (legally required by law) and on the individual packages of food (legally required by law). Finally make sure that company is licensed to produce, package and sell pet food.

Happy foraging!

©10.4.16 Passion Tree House LLC


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