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African Grey Nutrition - Food Combining

When taking the overall nutritional profile into consideration for any species of an exotic bird, we must first begin to understand where their species originated and the indigenous foods which grow in that region.

African Greys indigenously originated in Western and Central Africa. Although there are slight geographical variations in the species, “Congo” African Greys and “Timneh” African Greys coexist in the same, overall locations living in the primary and secondary rainforest edges and clearings. In other terms, both species of Greys would consume basically the same foods and are known to forage from the forest floor to a degree. There may be slight differences, however, taking into consideration that Congos are found primarily in West Kenya, NW Tanzania, South Zaire and North Angola. Whereas the Timnehs are found primarily in the West Upper Guinea, bordering on savannahs of West Africa.(1) Timnehs originate from a more moist environment whereas Congos originate from a dry, arid environment comparatively. Even so, taking the environmental differences into consideration, both species consume similar foods. However, the Timneh may consume a higher volume of animal protein simply due to the fact they tend to live nearer to rivers and swamps where mollusks are abundant and insects may also be more abundant due to the constant, ambient humidity and moisture.

Due to the muscle mass and bone structure of African Greys, we can arrive at three nutritional conclusions from the start: they require high amounts of quality protein, foods that offer bioavailable sources of calcium along with the co-nutrients that aid in the absorption of those two primary nutrients. Also, Vitamin A is absolutely necessary for many functions, but plays a huge role in protein synthesis and bone formation. This stated, I have personally found in my clinical research that African Greys do not always metabolize protein efficiently, nor do they absorb calcium without the aid of co-nutrients. However, it is not difficult to provide bioavailable beta-carotene, the precursor to Vitamin A.

How and what foods to provide those three main nutrients in the African Grey diet becomes fairly obvious once we begin to understand the foods Nature provided in the indigenous regions these magnificent birds originated from.

Both plant protein and animal protein are necessary to meet the overall protein profile of the African Grey. Bulked with muscle mass of their own, they require foods that can deliver protein while also providing the co-nutrients necessary to digest, absorb and metabolize those protein sources.

Plant protein is hydrolyzed (broken down) mainly by the proteases (digestive enzymes) each plant inherently possesses along with a body’s natural enzymes that are stimulated when food is consumed. This process begins in the proventriculus. Once broken down into single unit food nutrients, i.e. amino acids, fatty acids, carbohydrates, and finally monosaccharides any living creature can then metabolize those nutrients efficiently making efficient use of even the smallest amounts of each nutrient. Plant protein is a huge contributor to the overall nutritional profile of exotic birds, but the kind and balance of plant protein is the vital element in a total nutritional profile. Understanding that Nature has provided more fruit than seed, more seed than legumes and more legumes than grains in the indigenous regions African Greys come from, we must admit this is the order to follow when preparing a daily diet for our Greys. Some of the most reliable sources of plant protein containing adequate bioavailable sources of Vitamin A are mango (containing the essential amino acid Lysine required for exotic birds), wheatgrass and barley grass (not the grain, which contains indigestible gluten protein). Keep in mind though that all plants and especially tropical fruit and its seed Nature have provided for exotic birds contain protein.

For exotic birds to derive the most amount of protein from seed, it should be “living seed,” or rather sprouted before being fed. It can then be fed moist or gently dehydrated at or under 115 degrees F. Items cool as they dehydrate so the actual dehydration temperature need not be 105 degrees F or less. However, you will want to make sure you pull any item you dehydrate from the unit as soon as it is completely dehydrated. Leaving an already dry item in the dehydrator for extended periods of time causes the internal temperature of the item to rise. If the internal temperature rises above 105-115 degrees natural digestive enzymes are quickly destroyed. Delicate fatty acids such as Omega 3 is the next nutrient to be destroyed at high internal temperatures. Finally, protein molecules become rearranged and then carbohydrate fibers get altered, and last crucial vitamins and minerals degrade and deteriorate. This is why we do not cook any foods we feed to birds; birds are intrinsically designed to consume raw foods without exception; Nature proves this to be true.

Additionally, Nature provided animal protein for African Greys. This animal protein specifically for African Greys and Macaws consists mostly of mollusks from the rivers of Africa. Of course in the wild parrots would consume mollusks raw, but in captivity, we must ensure the health of our birds by slightly steaming any mollusk we may feed due to bacterial growth in a cultivated industry. Snails, mussels, and clams are all excellent animal protein to feed, especially when taken into consideration the texture/fiber of these items. They have smooth muscles which mean quicker digestion and absorption of nutrients. Just what a bird requires! Meat such as chicken, turkey, beef or any other meat can be digested by the digestive tract of parrots considering the pH level of gastric juices birds inherently maintain. However a very important factor to remember; because the latter kind of meats listed are made of fiber that is tough, stringy and dense a very long digestive period is required, and therefore nutrients are not absorbed as quickly. As for most flighted creatures this imposes a problem and set back to taking to quick flight. Most digestive tracts of birds are not designed or equipped to digest such dense, stringy meats. They have very short and narrow digestive tracts indicating they need foods that digest quickly ensuring total absorption of nutrients in a short period of time. This does not include birds of prey which normally consume tough muscle meat on a regular basis.

To properly digest, absorb and metabolize animal protein the amino acid methionine is required. Meat is normally high in methionine, but plants are lower. This is why plants utilize digestive enzymes more than methionine to break down the protein they contain. While methionine is found in high levels in meat, it is also found in some plant sources. Eucalyptus leaves, sesame seeds, and spirulina all contain very adequate levels of methionine to help supplement a captive bird’s diet. Supplementing with any one or a combination of these foods helps ensure that a bird absorbs and metabolizes the animal protein they may consume. Supplementing with eucalyptus leaves, sprouted sesame seed, and/or Spirulina also helps to ensure plant protein absorption. I personally do not utilize spirulina as a nutrient or methionine supplement due to the pollution of our oceans following the current history timeline and all of the biohazards of petroleum drilling. Also, let’s be sure to mention the scale and sheer amount of human waste and trash now present in our oceans. If I use any oceanic food at all, I make absolutely sure it is harvested from the most pristine oceans.

Regarding calcium in the African Grey’s diet, feeding a diverse variety, in balance of species-specific foods on a regular and consistent basis, augmenting with other tender greens such as cilantro, parsley, and especially alfalfa which quantifiably contains Vitamin D3 is paramount. Also, foods such as sprouted cow-peas and larvae or insects are high in calcium and magnesium are great sources of digestive enzymes and minerals. A bird should not only be receiving adequate calcium but metabolizing it as well. All of these foods not only supply natural calcium sources, but they also supply their own type of proteins. Let’s remember to choose foods that are low in phytates and oxalates. Both of these anti-nutrients do their best to prevent calcium absorption. Considering the previous list of foods to feed containing bioavailable calcium, cilantro, parsley and alfalfa provide the best bioavailable calcium, this is in addition to the wonderful source of Vitamin A they contain! Worth mentioning again, Vitamin A is a crucial vitamin for many reasons, two of which is protein synthesis and bone formation.

Beta-carotene, the precursor to Vitamin A can easily be supplied by mango and papaya. Although they appear to contain a lower amount of Vitamin A than, say yams the advantages mango and papaya offer is the fiber they both contain; pectin. Nutrients are more easily absorbed from pectin fiber than from cellulose or starch fiber found in botanically classified vegetables, squash, and tubers. Pectin also helps the short and narrow digestive tract of a bird retain nutrients for a longer period of time for total absorption. Whereas cellulose acts as a laxative and causes nutrients to leach out of the digestive tract before they are totally absorbed. The constant question regarding yams is “Should yams be cooked before serving to my bird?” In my opinion no food, except meat should be cooked before offering it to our birds. The reason behind so much misinformation regarding how to prepare food for our birds is due to hyperbolic Internet disinformation. Yams do not need to be cooked any more than any other fresh plant food. However, yams are exceedingly high in starch, a hard, waxy molecule difficult to digest and metabolize. No matter what form you feed yams, cooked or uncooked this waxy molecule will still provide starch which turns into a type of “refined sugar” in the digestive tract – potentially leading to or adding to yeast infections and avian diabetes. My suggestion for feeding yams to “only” those species who might consume yams in the wild: “Feed on a very limited basis and always raw so that a maximum amount of digestive enzymes are present to help break this food down for absorption and metabolism.”

Understanding that Greys originate from, and live in the wild regions that are hot, both dry and moist and that they live in the lower and middle canopies of the rainforest, we soon come to realize they are both a canopy and a ground-foraging species. However, most of their time is spent in the mid-canopies up and away from predators. Since we know this information of being true, that African Greys spend more time in the mid-canopy of the forest than on the ground, common sense tells us they most likely consume more tropical fruit, tender greens, and insects than any other food source overall.

What might these species find in this area of the rainforest to consume as quality foods abundant with the type of nutrition specific to African Greys?

We know for certain that tropical fruits and the seeds they contain are primary in almost any exotic bird’s diet. This also stands true for African Greys. Mango and papaya trees are lush in the African Grey environment.(2)(3) Also, palms offer their fruit, commonly known as palm nuts and dates. The primary species of palm indigenous to Western and Central Africa are the African Oil Palm (Elaeis guieensis) or “palm nuts” as the avian community refers to, Doum Palm aka Gingerbread Palm (Hyphaene thebaica.), Date Palm (Phoenix dactylifera)-traditional dates we find in our grocery stores, a Cycad species (Encephalartos hildebrantii), Kenyan Giant Cycad (Encephalartos tegulaneus), Voi Cycad (Encephalartos kisambo), also Cycads (Encephalartos whitelockii), (Encephalartos ituriensis). (Encephalartos laurentianus).(4) The fact that palm nuts are indigenous and readily available to African Greys in the wild indicates their need for quality fatty acids, especially lauric, oleic and myristic acids. The fact that palm nuts contain a high amount of lauric acid, and given that African Greys obviously consume palm nuts, we must also derive by common sense that African Greys may be prone to candida (yeast infections) since lauric acid is one of the main amino acids that destroys candida. Therefore it is absolutely essential we provide their overall diet with adequate amounts of lauric and oleic acid. Additionally, most of us know how prone to cardiovascular disease African Greys are. Myristic acid helps prevent cardiovascular disease. Feeding foods high in myristic acid (Which is also found in nutmeg-indigenous to Indonesia which probably suggests that many exotic birds actually do consume nutmeg. In small doses it is a safe, tasty spice offering nutritional and healing qualities), along with the proper ratio of calcium to magnesium (1:1) should drastically ensure the prevention of heart disease in African Greys. Of course this assumes we are feeding a balanced diet at all times including one that is abundant with Omega 3 which also helps prevent cardiovascular disease. Omega 3 can be found in mango, papaya, tender greens and krill oil from Antarctica. Krill oil is also abundant in beta-carotene.

In spite of the fact many of us believe coconut palms are indigenous to the regions where African Grey parrots come from, this is a fallacy. The original DNA of coconuts has been found to begin in India and Southeast Asia. However, their domestication dates as far back as migrating Europeans bringing them to Africa and later on to South America to cultivate.(5) Coconut meat also contains lauric and myristic acids. In other words, generally speaking, if a food source offers the kind of nutrition a particular exotic bird species requires to thrive, the food is usually a safe bet to feed. However, when foods contain many anti-nutrients such as too much “dead” starch minus a healthy level of the digestive enzyme “amylase”, high phytates that prevent protein and mineral absorption, high oxalates that bind proteins, high amounts of cellulose an insoluble fiber, tannins that strip Vitamin B12 from the system, lectins that bind carbohydrates to protein, gluten an indigestible protein, over-feeding foods containing leptins – a hormone that regulates appetite. When too many leptins enter the system they bind to the fat cells they are produced in and prevent the hormone from doing the job it is meant to do – correctly and efficiently regulate appetite. Foods that participate in abnormally high leptin levels are flours of all varieties, potatoes of all varieties, including sweet potatoes, cooked rice, and all other high-starch foods. These foods should not be fed, or fed in very small quantities when they are fed. Anti-nutrients can even get in the way of digestive enzymes. Therefore macro nutrients (protein, fat, and carbohydrates) cannot be properly broken down for total absorption and metabolism.

There are many more foods African Greys would consume in their indigenous regions; Watermelon (Citrulla lanatus)(All melon should be fed 30 minutes before and 30 minutes after ANY other foods. This is due to their high water content which cause them to break down faster than other foods causing other foods that are present in the digestive tract to ferment before they are broken down. This pre-fermenting is what causes internal fungal infections such as yeast overgrowth), Okra (Hibiscus esculentus), Calabash Bottle Gourd (Lagenaria siceraria), Baobab (Adansonia digitate), Horned melon, wild cucumber (Cucumis -many species), Figs Ficus (many species), Grewia (many species), Gingerbread plum Parinari (several species), Tamarind (Tamarindus indica), Sour plum (Ximenia -several species), Ziziphus (Ziziphus mauritiana), Wild sorghum (Sorghum verticiliflorum), Sorghum (Sorghum bicolor) (many local varieties), Fonio , “Acha” or “Fundi Millet” (Digitaria exilis), Black Fonio (Digitaria iburua), African Rice (Oryza glaberrima) http://www.kew.org/science-conservation/plants-fungi/oryza-glaberrima-african-rice, http://www.pnas.org/content/99/25/16360.full, Finger Millet (Eleusine coracana) http://www.kew.org/science-conservation/plants-fungi/eleusine-coracana-finger-millet and https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4033754, Desert Panic aka Proso Millet (Panicum laetum) (Lost Crops of Africa: Volume 1: Grains - Board on Science and Technology for International Development, Office of International Affairs, Policy and Global Affairs, National Research Council 1996), Cowpeas aka Black-eyed Peas (Vigna unguiculata), Sesame (Sesamum indicum), Yams (Dioscorea –rotundata, cayenensis, bulbifera, preussi,i praehinsilis, sansibarensis, dumetorum).(6) Cassava is the most prevalent tuber found in Africa, but it comes with a warning: http://www.mnn.com/food/healthy-eating/photos/8-poisonous-foods-we-commonly-eat/5-cassava.

Nuts that are indigenous to the regions in which African Greys originate are Kola Nuts, Cashews, Almonds, and Macadamias found primarily in Southern Africa. Also “pignolia” nuts, or pinon nuts. Many confuse these with pine nuts, but they are botanically different altogether.(7)

A listing of native African Fruits:

(8)

As we can clearly see there are several foods we can find in our relative countries to help provide the indigenous nutrition African Greys require in supplementing their overall nutritional profile. The varieties each of us can find in our own countries may be a sub-species or not perfectly likened to those varieties found indigenously for our parrots in their native lands, but at least we in keeping with of similar foods.

It becomes quite obvious why we at Origins Wild Diet (TheBestBirdFood.com) have decided to produce species-specific exotic bird foods. In fact, we were the first commercial company to do so!

Always improving our Origins Wild Diet species-specific exotic bird foods, annually we review our recipes and upgrade to include the most recent research we can find regarding the nutritional requirements of every species of exotic bird we produce foods for.

References: (1)”Parrots” -Juniper and Parr 1998;  (2) http://www.nda.agric.za/docs/Infopaks/mango.htm; (3) https://hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/morton/papaya_ars.html#Origin and Distribution; (4) http://miami-dade.ifas.ufl.edu/old/programs/urbanhort/publications/PDF/African%20Palms%20and%20Cycads.pdf;  (5) https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/thoughtomics/httpblogsscientificamericancomthoughtomics20110801coconuts-not-indigenous-but-quite-at-home-nevertheless; (6) http://www.indiana.edu/~origins/teach/TW_dom_plant.pdf; (7) http://www.pinonnuts.com/aboutpinenuts1.htm; (8) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_culinary_fruits#Culinary_fruits_by_geographical_origin.

This article subject to revision founded upon new, reliable research information.

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