Senegal / Poicephalus Parrots: Dietary Requirements & Feeding
In their natural habitat, the Poicephalus Parrots eat a variety of seeds (including sprouted) as well as myriad fruit, plants, greens, blossoms, grain, nuts and even insects.
Within their natural range, they undergo local movements, driven mainly by the availability of the food. In some areas, they are considered farm pests by local farmers, as they often feed on crops.
Some sub-species have shown specific dietary preferences:
- Senegal Parrots particularly favor the seed of locust beans and newly formed buds of a variety of trees. They are also considered a pest by local farmers, as they like to raide maize and millet fields, and also steal Ground Nuts (Peanuts) that have been laid out to dry in the sun.
- Rueppell's Parrots (Poicephalus rueppellii) particularly like the buds and shoots of the Acacia flowers; fruits of Grewia (raisins), Ficus (figs) and Combretum (bushwillows); nectar of Tapinthus (mistletoes); as well as caterpillars and spiders.
A lot is still to be learned about the natural diet of these Poicephalus parrots and their natural diet will inevitably vary with the seasons. Research on this topic is currently undertaken and this new-found knowledge is likely to be helpful to those caring for these species, as this data will be helpful in assessing the dietary requirements of captive birds.
There are different schools of thought as to what should be fed. Some breeders favor a diet that contains a good amount of pellets; while others prefer staying as close to their natural diet (above) as possible, which is why relevant research is so valuable.
Most experts in this area recommend that their diet should consist of a quality small parrot mix (some are listed below), supplemented with various fruits, green foods, millet spray, and occasionally some mealworms (or other forms of protein - as listed below).
- I would start with a good quality (if possible organic) dry food / seed mix. Ideally it should contain the below (or you can add yourself):
- Bee Pollen Granules: The ultimate whole food
- Nuts: Macadamia, Brazil pieces, Almond pieces, Filbert pieces, Cashew pieces, Pecan pieces, Pistachio meats, Pignolia pieces, Walnut pieces
- Dried Fruit: Banana Chips, Apples, Mango pieces, Coconut Chips, Orange Peel Strips, Raisins, Cranberries
- Vegetables: Petite peas, Carrots, Celery Stalk & Leaf, Parsley Flakes, Green Beans, Spinach Flakes, Red & Green Bell Peppers, Broccoli, Zucchini
- Seeds: Canary Grass, White Millet, Canola, Safflower, Sunflower, Niger, Caraway, Hemp, Sesame, Flax
- Grain: Oat Groats
- Bean: Soy Bean
- Herbs: Echinacea Augustifolia, Dandelion Leaf, Red Clover blossoms, Papaya Leaf, Oat Straw, Peppermint Leaf, Calendula Flowers, Red Raspberry Leaf, Alfalfa, Fennel Seed, Thyme Leaf, Rose Hips, Rosemary Leaf, Basil Leaf
The formulated you choose, should lack the harmful additives that are commonly found in commercial mixes. Bird stores generally have a better selection of bird foods than generic pet stores, but they also carry those brands that contain harmful chemicals. Reading the list of ingredients is really important. The general rule is: if you can't pronounce it -- don't buy it! All ingredients should be natural and healthy.
Vegetables and fruits should be part of a parrot's daily diet. This includes apples, grapes, many garden vegetables such as spinach, watercress, field lettuce, poppy, chickweed, dandelions, carrots, corn on the cob, peas, endives and sweet potatoes.
Convenient Sources of Fruits / Veggies:
- Baby Food: Human baby food with fruits & vegetables (i.e. Gerbers)
- Dry Fruits / Veggies: When fresh fruits and vegetables are not available, dehydrated fruits and vegetables work wonderfully. Many birds love their crunchiness, or they toss them into their water dish (creating a "soup" of some sorts) and then eat them once they are rehydrated. Be prepared to change the water more often throughout the day. Dried fruits & vegetables have the advantage that they don't go off. You could literally leave them in their cages for days (unless they get wet, of course). This surely comes in handy when traveling. Dried fruits & veggies also help convert "seed junkies" to a healthier diet. When you are at home, you can moisten the dried fruits & veggies with warm water to rehydrate them. Birds tend to LOVE warm fruits & veggies, maybe because it gives them flashbacks to the times when they were chicks and were fed warm regurgitated food by their bird parents.
- It is important to keep in mind that some companies add artificial coloring to their dried fruits and veggies to make them visually appealing, but may be detrimental to your pet's health.Only purchase naturally dried fruits without any sulfur dioxide, as this preservative is known to increase hyperactivity, aggressiveness, feather shredding or picking due to allergies.
Sprouting or germinating is an excellent method (and most certainly one of the most cost-effective) of providing nutrient-dense (living) foods to birds. Even those that are less cooperative in eating their daily portions of fresh foods in many cases will enjoy eating sprouted seeds.
- Sprouted seeds are healthier as the sprouting changes and enhances the nutritional quality and value of seeds and grains. Sprouted seeds are lower in fat, as the process of sprouting utilizes the fat in the seed to start the growing process - thus reducing the fat stored in the seeds.
- Sprouted seeds will help balance your bird’s diet by adding a nutritious supply of high in vegetable proteins, vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and chlorophyll.Soaked and germinated "oil" seeds, like niger and rape seeds, are rich in protein and carbohydrates; while "starch" seeds, such as canary and millets, are rich in carbohydrates, but lower in protein.
- It is an invaluable food at all times; however, it is especially important for breeding or molting birds. Sprouted seeds also serve as a great rearing and weaning food as the softened shell is easier to break by chicks and gets them used to the texture of seeds.
Additional proteins should be offered such as cottage cheese, hardboiled eggs, monkey chow, and even dog food.
Peanuts are also a valuable source of protein -- however, peanuts are often contaminated with aflatoxin, a fungal toxin. Aflatoxin is carcinogenic and causes liver damage in birds and other animals. Roasting reduces aflatoxin but does not eliminate it entirely. North American peanut producers are currently working on eliminating contaminated peanuts from their products. Caution is advised when feeding peanuts. Some bird owners, opting to be on the safe side, are eliminating peanuts from their pets' diet.
In the 90's, pellets were "sold" as a complete diet and even nowadays some vets still recommend (and sell) them. There are some better pelleted diets available, specifically Harrison's Organic Pellets gets higher grades as far as quality of ingredients is concerned. Most commercial pellets out there are of poor quality and it's hard to find any pellets in the petstore that don't contain harmful chemicals. Even with the better quality pellets, one has to be concerned about "hotspots" of nutrients caused by poorly calibrated production equipment that can cause over-supplementation or even toxicities.
Taking all this into consideration, we favor the natural approach to feeding. As it is impossible to really anticipate a bird's complete nutritional profile - periodic testing for nutritional deficiencies is recommended and, if needed, a good quality avian supplement should be able to correct them.
It is important to stay away from commercial foods and supplements that contain artificial dyes, flavorings, fillers or any food that has been treated with pesticides / insecticides, which put a lot of strain on a bird's liver and kidneys. Organic food is always best. If you decide that you want to feed your birds, pellets -- choose organic pellets and even then no more than 20 to 40 percent of the parrot's diet should consist of pellets.
A cuttlebone, mineral block, gravel and oyster shell can be provided to provide the necessary calcium & minerals
About that Beak:
Their beaks grow pretty fast, but in their natural habitat these parrots spend a good amount of time chewing on branches, as they forage for food or customize their roosting / nesting place. Captive birds may not have sufficient opportunities for chewing, requiring their beaks to be professionally trimmed. However, feeding a couple of almonds a day and offering fresh branches for chewing will also keep their beaks trimmed and are far more comfortable for captive birds. Birds may also use grooming perches to keep their beaks in shape.
Converting Seed Junkies
- One of my favorite tricks is to place a shallow dish on top of their regular food dish (I found some that fit snuggly - so no soft food gets mixed into their actual seed dish). Alternatively, take out the seed dish and exchange it for one filled with fresh food items at those times of the day when your pets are most likely to eat (usually first thing in the morning or in the evening).
- Role modeling: Even the pickiest birds try new foods if they watch other birds eat them ... So a "birdie" role model would be great -- but not everybody has another "willing" bird for that purpose. Human caretakers can also be such a role model. When eating a healthy food item, I usually allow my birds to get their pickings off my plate ...
- Caffeinated drinks, alcoholic beverages, chocolate, pits of most fruits, avocado
- More on "toxic foods"
Fresh drinking and bathing water should be provided daily.