Even in the case of humans, dogs, and cats (species which have been extensively studied) absolute knowledge about all nutrient requirements are not even close to being known. So how can we possibly know the dietary requirements of all the species of birds held in captivity? We can not!! We must base the art of feeding our avian charges on the science that has been done, and make rational decisions about things which are not yet known.
Eclectus parrots are specialists amongst the parrots, and the generalisations we make for other parrots do not always apply to Eclectus parrots. In the wild they are canopy feeders, eating many fruits, nuts, and seeds of rainforest plants. They are not obligate frugivores, but as much as 80% of their wild diet is reported to be fruit in some ecological studies. They have adapted to such a diet which is very rich in fibre by virtue of a longer-than-usual digestive tract. We also know that they require a diet rich in β-carotenes (which are converted as needed to vitamin A), and plant proteins (some authors have suggested 12%dm but this is only an estimate, and has not been scientifically established). On the other hand their diet should be relatively low in fat – some authorities recommend 6%dm, rising to 12%dm during growth or breeding.
Pet Eclectus parrots are critically dependent on their diet to help maintain health. Problem behaviours, and vices such as feather picking, may be dramatically accentuated in the face of poor nutrition.
Our general recommendations for the nutrition of Eclectus parrots are:
- Feed 25-50% of the diet as a high quality formulated (pelleted) food as specific for eclectus parrots as is available. A number of manufacturers are working toward an eclectus-specific diet in pelleted form. Currently there are several options for formulated food that would be suitable, but we recommend the medium parrot pellet by Dr Mac’s Organic Origins.
- Feed 40-60% of the diet in the form of fruits and vegetables. In the wild eclectus parrots feed on a wide range of vegetable matter and fruit of plants of the rainforest canopy. Subtropical and tropical fruits should comprise about 60% of this portion of the diet (24-36% of the total ration). Their ration should include banana, mango, paw paw, passionfruit, rockmelon, watermelon, berries, pomegranate, kiwifruit, but lesser amounts of apples, pears, and orange. Changing through fresh, organic, seasonally available tropical fruits is best, but using thawed frozen fruits is also very useful.
Peppers and chilli do not taste “hot” to birds as they do not have the appropriate sensory nerves for capsaicin in their mouth or on their tongue. These “fruits” have special health engendering properties and should be added in small portions to the plant component of eclectus diets.
Vegetables in the form of pulses or legumes are very important in supplying plant protein and fibre, and slightly softened chick peas, fava beans, lentils, and soy beans are excellent. They should comprise 10% of the fruit and vegetable component (or 4-6% of the total ration). Unsoaked pulses contain antimetabolites which are potentially dangerous, so I do not recommend feeding legumes raw.
Carrots, sweet potato, and corn are all rich sources of β-carotenes as well as containing considerable quantities of fibre. Corn is very high in simple starch, and I recommend limiting its intake to a couple of times each week. Carrot and sweet potato should be given every day!
Dark green leafy vegetables are an excellent source of β-carotenes and include dandelion leaves, milk thistle, bok choy, spinach, and carrot tops. In my experience dicing them finely and mixing them with other components of the diet increase their acceptance. BUT I recommend limiting the green vegetable components arising from cruciferous (brassicaceous) vegetables such as broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, mustard, and turnip tops as these plants contain oxalates and they can interfere with absorption of other nutrients. In large amounts these plants can cause problems.
- Grains and seeds should form 10% of the diet. I do NOT recommend the feeding of dry seed to eclectus parrots. Seed for Ekkies should be sprouted! Sprouted or germinated seed undergoes dramatic biochemical change, converting the nutrients stored as carbohydrates and oils to a wider variety of more highly digestible nutrients. They are certainly a valuable addition to the diet of all captive seed eating birds. However the sprouting seed have much potential to become contaminated with bacteria and especially fungi (moulds). We recommend soaking the seed in water with sodium hypochlorite (Miltons Johnson & Johnson Baby Bottle Sanitiser solutions) at the recommended concentration for 24 hours. The seeds are then rinsed very thoroughly and allowed to stand in a warm environment (22-25°C) for a further 24 hours. The sprouted seed is then rinsed thoroughly a final time and then fed to the birds. Some breeders will add supplementary calcium, or general vitamin/mineral supplements after the final rinse in the hope that the birds will consume small amounts of these nutrients from the surface of the sprouted seed. Further information on sprouting can be seen at www.avianweb.com/sprouting.html and www.parrothelp.org/page11/page15/page36/page38/page38.html
Sprouting sunflower seed and oats is sufficient to provide a wide variety of essential nutrients! Now that some specialty green grocers are offering a wide variety of sprouted seeds for use in salads, some eclectus owners allow someone else the worry of sprouting the seed and use sprouted alfalfa, mung beans, or any of the other types that are currently available.
Brown rice is highly digestible, and has a significant amount of fibre. It can be fed daily as a quarter of the grain/seed component (or about 2.5% of the total daily ration).
Nuts are a rich source of fats, so they should be fed sparingly to avoid obesity and liver disease. They are a rich source of plant protein, and they are highly palatable, so can be used as a treat!
Walnuts are commonly contaminated with aspergillus aflatoxin which will lead to life-threatening hepatitis. Safe levels of aflatoxin for humans are dangerous for birds, and I would not feed walnuts to my birds.
- Grit – Whilst not essential for digestive purposes, grit certainly plays a role in the digestion of food, and offering a quality prepared well rinsed bird grit seems a sensible addition to the diet.
- Chewables – Some foods are more important for the psychological stimulus they provide than for the minimal amounts of nutrients they add to the diet. Parrots are unstoppable chewers and this helps to alleviate problems associated with boredom. Things such as leftover raw bones, pine cones, banksia cones, “nuts” from bottlebrushes (Callistemon spp or Melaleuca spp), Grevillea flowers, gum nuts, hakea nuts, sheoak nuts (Casurina spp), cow hide chews (for dogs), and natural branches all are very useful additions to the diet and should be offered in generous amounts.
- Water – fresh, clean pure water should be provided at all times. Water should be changed daily, and water dishes should be placed to avoid contamination with food or droppings. Water dishes should be made in such a shape, and from such a material as to facilitate easy cleaning. Drinking and bathing water should be provided separately where possible.
- Eggs: many aviculturists feed their eclectus parrots eggs – the whites are an excellent protein source, but in the diet outlined above they will be unnecessary. Yolks will provide excessive cholesterol and predispose the birds to artherosclerosis and heart disease.
When fed a diet such as this, there is no need for additional vitamin or mineral supplementation. Such additives are used to “patch up” a dodgy diet, and their use should not be required in most instances.
Foods fed to eclectus parrots are highly perishable, and will support the growth of many disease-causing organisms if left to sit. They must be removed, discarded and replaced at least three times each day
What NOT to feed – Russian comfrey, avocado, onion, uncooked legumes, walnuts, chocolate, any fatty or starchy human foods, any human foods containing artificial colours or flavours, and pasta (almost all starch). See our information sheet on what is dangerous in bird nutrition for details!
So for a SINGLE pet eclectus parrot a potential daily menu might comprise a total weight of approximately 125g which would be divided into:
Parrot pellets 15g
Fruit and vegetable mix 30g
Cooked brown rice 3g
Sprouted seed 10g
Alternate vegetable mix 17g
Sprouted seed 5g
Parrot pellets 15g
Fruit and vegetable mix 20g
Sprouted seed 10g
One peanut or half a macadamia
Portions can be made up and frozen, and then thawed immediately before feeding. The amount of food is less than most people feed, and limits the possibility that the bird selects the most palatable items and unbalances the diet. Further it saves money! HOWEVER an owner must regularly monitor their eclectus parrot’s weight, and adjust intake to maintain body weight, and prevent obesity.
As can be seen by this overview, the art and science of eclectus nutrition is a rapidly developing field of endeavour, which is more complex than most people realise. Allowing your birds to reach the full potential must start with feeding a diet of the very highest standard, for food is the foundation stone on which we build our birds’ health.
If you have any additional questions concerning the health of your eclectus parrot, then remember that you can access the service of the Sugarloaf Animal Hospital by simply telephoning 4955 1833.