Throughout the birdkeeping
world, there seems to be almost
as many concepts about feeding as
there are aviculturists. Strong opinions
abound wherever nutritionists gather.
What seems certain is that we have
come a long way: little more than one
hundred years ago, psittacine collectors
in Europe were debating whether
cockatoos really needed water! And
these days many totally different feeding
programs produce monumental
We of The Natural Choice accent several
factors in our regular feeding schedule.
The first of these is raw unprocessed
food. Each and every wild caught avian
creature imported into the US was born
and raised on natural, uncooked food
sources. That is the way the ancestors of
our captive birds survived for tens of
thousands of years. Our belief is that
birds being fed a great part of their diet
with "unlive" or processed foods are at
greater risk to develop deficiencies
which manifest as organ failure, reduced
immune systems, tumors, bad
tempers or other behavior problems. At
least 50% of all the food we offer our
flock is in the natural form as it occurs
when harvested. Furthermore, when
possible, we like to spend 30 minutes or
so prior to morning feeding gathering
"wildcrafted" food ingredients- those
taken from nature following the pattern
of what other wild birds are eating in our
area. If such sources are not readily
available, we turn to our garden, which
is grown without chemicals or commercial
A typical morning feeding for our aviaries
will include seeding grasses,
flower and weed buds, undried sunflower
heads, orchard papaya, guava,
passionfruit, and macadamia nuts along
with garden vegetables and greens like
carrots, peas, asparagus, beets, kale,
vine spinach, chard, comfrey, celery, lettuce,
nasturtium and more.
Six years ago, in conjunction with
aviculturist Dale Thompson in California
and Bob Miller of 'Til Friends" Bird
Diets in New Mexico, Feathered Friends
of Santa Fe designed and began mixing a "Morning Soak Mix" based upon Thompson's work with "Soak and Cook" products being used on the west coast, but without the need for cooking. Acceptance by finicky wild-caught pets and the nutritional results compared to our old feeding program have been nothing short of phenomenal. Three months on the new diet and our pets were trimmer, more active, brighter colored at their next molt and eating a greater part of all the foods provided them (much to the benefit of our pocketbooks!).
This basic mix is comprised of pearl barley, lentils, green split peas, brown rice, yellow split peas, white proso millet, raisins, whole oats, canary seed mix containing flax, rape, niger, and hemp and rolled corn. It is soaked in boiled or hot water for at least 20 minutes in the morning while we are having our coffee, drained well and mixed with our chopped fruits and vegetables and a powdered vitamin/calcium supplement.
Having noticed at the shop that a vast majority of pet and hobby bird owners are unwilling to cook regularly for their birds, we chose to offer this quicker solution to the need for fresh and soft foods. The decision to include canary and other quite nutritious tiny seeds in the soak mix was to procure certain results: 1) It provides parakeets, Cockatiels, lovebirds, Australian and grass parakeets and the like with a daily dietary ingredient closely resembling seeding grasses in the wild (canary seed is akin to spinifex grass species); 2) It creates an enjoyable crunchy ingredient, in the otherwise soft food, which sticks to the pieces of carrot, squash, cucumber, lettuce and such after the entire batch is mixed up. We quickly noticed that larger picky parrots who would pick up carrot for example and drop it out of their food dish were holding onto the chunk and nibbling off the canary seeds. Four weeks later the same parrots would take a prolonged chew from such carrot chunks they were holding before letting
them drop from their mouth. Presto! A whole new arena of food offerings opened up for our Goffin's Cockatoos, African Greys or Green-winged Macaws who would heretofore not touch vegetables!
I, for one, no longer agree with birdkeepers who tell me that such and such a bird will not eat vegetables. One hardheaded Rose-breasted Cockatoo took four whole months before she began sampling the morning soak mix. Normally it is the aviculturist who gives up first; but we persisted in filling a cup for her every morning along with her seed mix (a holdover from the previous owners).
Of course there are certain guidelines to feeding soft foods. We find cockatoos and Cockatiels are more likely to accept a variety of vegetables than loads of fruit, for example. Many pet owners cut up large hunks of fruit or veggies and when the bird throws them out, they conclude he or she will not eat that. But it takes a tremendous amount of time and effort for a bird to throw out grated soft foods. Smaller pieces has solved many a finicky-eater syndrome.
Serving up live foods also entails avoiding the temptation to pour out a quantity of frozen peas and carrots every day and call that vegetables for your bird. Taste them sometime! This is not how thousands of generations of wild birds fed and evolved. We recommend pet owners look seriously at such item offered to their birds. Was it freeze dried, molded, extruded, vitarninized, boiled, toasted, pressed or powdered? None of this equates to wildcrafted bird foods with vitamins, amino acids, minerals, and complex enzymes existing in the balances put there by nature.
The second factor emphasized in our aviary feeding program is variety of content. If I offer an interesting food dish to my birds, invariably they rush down to the bowl to take a look and begin eating. This means varying the fruits and veggies in weekly cycles or greater monthly cycles. Not only is strict routine of food source boring to intelligent birds, but it has the added danger of establishing dangerous metabolic routines in our flock. With all our wonderful knowledge of avian nutrition, we have not yet learned it all. To offer the same foods day in day out year after year is to risk subtle nutritional setbacks which may manifest as untimely death, mate aggression, or more commonly, breeder shutdown.