Feeding a Budgerigar
There is a lot of information available about diets for pet birds and as time goes on, our knowledge continues to improve. This is due to heightened awareness of the importance of nutrition plus increased research involving pet and wild birds. As with all other animals, birds need a proper balance of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals and water. Different species of birds often require different foods to achieve a balanced diet.
Should I be concerned about what my budgie eats?
Nutrition is the most commonly neglected element of owning a pet bird. Too often owners assume they are feeding a proper balanced diet to their Budgie when in fact they are not. Poor nutrition is a common source of many health problems. It is important to continually strive to improve your bird’s diet. This will involve reading, carefully interpreting and integrating the information along with a certain degree of “common sense”. Above all, discuss nutrition with your veterinarian!
It is not enough to feed a Budgie just to keep it alive; instead your goal should be to help it thrive and flourish. Your bird’s health will depend on how well it is fed.
What does my Budgie naturally eat?
Budgies eat a variety of grasses and plants found on the ground in the wild. Budgies are vulnerable to obesity, iodine deficiencies and related problems. A well balanced and varied diet must be maintained at all times to assist in avoiding these problems.
What should I feed my Budgie?
Seeds are available everywhere, remain fresh when stored properly and are very convenient to feed. Although Budgies do eat seeds, they would naturally consume a far greater variety of seed types in the wild as different plants come into season than they do in captivity. An all seed diet tends to be high in fat and provides an imbalanced source of nutrients that will lead to ill health and potentially shorten the life expectancy of your Budgie. Commercial seed mixes may contain from 2 - 8 different kinds of seeds. The problem that exists when offering a large container of seed to a Budgie, is that the bird proceeds to selectively eat 1 or 2 of its “favourite” types of seed only. Remember a budgie only weighs 20-30g so does not need vast quantities of food each day! Millet seed is often chosen preferentially. As well, owners will give a “millet spray” or branch. This, of course, is more of the same seed and leads to further malnutrition. “Honey Sticks” are often offered but once again contain more seed stuck together with sugar and honey. “Molting foods”, “song foods” and “conditioning foods” are also available. These products are simply different combinations of seeds that really have no particular bearing on the condition described. What does lead to healthy molt, song and condition is a balanced diet all of the time. If a smaller amount of a good quality, varied seed mix is offered then it is likely the bird will eat a greater variety of seed. Offer less and they will eat better.
How much do I offer?
As a guideline, most Budgies can be maintained on 1.5 - 2 level “measure” teaspoons of seeds per bird, per day in a shallow dish depending on the size of the bird. If there is more than one Budgie in the cage, separate dishes should be used for each bird to ensure those birds at the bottom of the “pecking order” have a chance to eat. This may not be possible in a flock situation. Any seeds left over in the dish at the end of the day could suggest that too many seeds were offered originally. Seeds should only be a small part of a balanced diet. Your budgie needs to have seed as no more than 50% of its diet. See below for vegetables and other components you can add, to provide a more balanced diet.
Fresh foods (see table below)
Many budgies can be trained to eat reasonable quantities of green leafy vegetables and fruit, to provide some variety and diet enrichment. If left to their own wishes, the amounts taken are unlikely to have a significant effect on the overall diet. Budgies are rarely great eaters of fruit or vegetables in captivity – you need to work on this so that they consume more of these to mimic what they eat in the wild. You can remove the seed for some hours each day to encourage them to eat the vegetables and fruit - as a healthy snack between their meals of seed. But they can be single-minded and difficult to wean onto vegetables, once they are accustomed to an all-seed diet. The best strategy is to introduce your Budgie to these fresh foods when they are young and easily weaned onto a more balanced diet.
Formulated or pelleted diets
Pellets, crumble and hand-feeding mashes have been developed to meet nearly all your bird’s nutritional needs (reputable manufacturer’s recommend that their pellets form 70-80% of the diet with the balance made up of vegetables). Different formulations are available for different life stages and for the management of certain diseases. Hand raised babies are the easiest to start on a pelleted diet. If you decide to go for a complete diet rather than making one up yourself with a variety of food inputs, then many consider that pellets are the ideal diet, therefore you are encouraged to slowly train “seed eating” birds to convert to a pelleted diet.
Fresh clean water must be available at all times. Dishes must be cleaned thoroughly every day, especially the tube or gravity water containers. Sometimes budgies will go for long periods without drinking – this can be entirely normal as budgies are adapted to living in dry conditions.
Will my bird have any different needs throughout its life?
Birds that are extremely young, stressed, injured, laying eggs or raising young may have certain special requirements. Consult your veterinarian with regard to these situations.
Do I need to use a vitamin-mineral mixture?
If your bird is on a great diet, does it need extra vitamins, minerals or amino-acids? There is much written about supplementation. The powdered supplements are often regarded as more stable. Mix these products with water or preferably apply directly onto moist food. Placing these powders on seeds or dried foods is of little value since it will ultimately end up on the bottom of the food dish. One opinion suggests that a bird eating 75 - 80% of its diet in the form of pelleted or formulated food may not need supplements. Specific vitamins or minerals may be more important at various times during a bird’s life (e.g. egg laying - requires calcium supplementation). Your veterinarian can help you assess your bird’s diet and it’s particular needs.
Does my bird need gravel or grit?
In the wild, a bird would naturally consume small stones, gravel or grit whenever it wishes to. This is to aid in the mechanical digestion of seeds. Controversy exists over its need in captivity especially with formulated diets. Offering a small amount in a separate dish will allow the bird to decide if it needs or wants it. Never place gravel on the bottom of the cage as the bird is then forced to eat it out of its “toilet”, the dirtiest part of the cage. Gravel with charcoal in it is reported to absorb certain vitamins from the digestive tract making them unavailable to the bird.. White oyster shell may be part of some gravel mixes, to provide a source of calcium. Some sick birds will eat inappropriate amounts of grit, causing digestive problems and in some cases blockage. So grit should only be available in small amounts for any sick bird. If irregular or excessive consumption is witnessed, consult your veterinarian.
Some suggested fresh food items:
- beans (cooked) such as
- i.e. chic pea
- brussel sprouts
- carrot tops
- cherries (not the pip!)
- chili peppers (red, green & hot)
- Chinese vegetables
- e.g. bok choy
- dandelion leaves
- kiwi fruit
- mustard greens
- rice (brown)
- sprouted seeds
- sweet potato
- Swiss chard
Avoid cabbage, avocado, onion and rhubarb leaves as they are reported to be potentially toxic.
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