Biochemical individuality is a topic of great importance. There is a difference in the dietary needs of not only each genus, species and sub-species of parrot, BUT also of each individual parrot. Therefore, when it comes to nutrition, I believe it is important to consider the individual's dietary needs. Our parrots are not clones, and even if they were, circumstances such as age, sex, activity, climate, environment, health status, stress level and so forth would influence their nutritional needs. For this reason, no one diet is ideal for all parrots.
While the common belief is that all parrots require the same diet (indicated by the generic way that diets are prepared for most parrots) with a few exceptions, there are no universally accepted requirements for specific nutrients for parrots. Although all parrots require the same nutrients, each species (or individual) may require more or less of a particular nutrient to be healthy, such as one may require a higher or lower level of fat, protein, carbohydrate, vitamin, mineral or water in their diet, and their caloric needs will vary.
Energy foods are high in calories and are the main source of a parrot's diet in the wild. However, in captivity with the low level activity of our parrots' experience, the quantities of what we feed will depend on their lifestyles and the various stages (i.e., growth, molting or breeding) they encounter throughout their lives. The amounts of nutrients required by an individual parrot is also influenced by its size, illness/injury, hormonal status, nutritional status, and the type of diet consumed (its bioavailability), as well as the factors described above. Additionally, because each parrot is biochemically and genetically unique with different strengths and weaknesses, its quantitative nutritional needs will differ.
Each nutrient has its own special function, but no nutrient acts independent of another. All of the essential nutrients must be present in the diet in varying quantities over a period of days. It isn't necessary that your parrot be served "complete nutrition" at every meal, every day. A variety of healthy foods fed each day will add up to a properly balanced diet.
FEEDING IN THE WILD
In the wild, our parrots, which are primarily herbivorous, find their own foods to nourish and sustain life, and these foods are the living material produced by our planet Earth. Parrots are biologically adapted to fresh raw foods which, depending upon the parrot species, are mainly consumed in the form of simple and complex carbohydrates (nuts, seeds, flower nectar, pollen, blossoms, berries, fruits, leaf buds, roots, vegetable matter, along with other live foods, such as insects, larvae and small vertebrae). In nature, food predates the eater: not the other way around. In the wild, there are no microwaves, ovens, extruders or grain mills, and so on. All life was sustained eating natural foods from natural sources. Nothing more, nothing less.
We know that parrots in the wild don't know what fats, protein and carbohydrates are; they don't have a calorie counter nor do they have degrees in nutrition. How then do they manage to survive and possess good health? If the right foods surround them they will choose and eat the proper foods to remain healthy and disease-free. In captivity the same thing occurs. If parrots lose the freedom to choose what is healthy, this is when health declines and disease results.
Another interesting thing often occurs with regards to eating patterns. When a parrot is given a diet that is deficient, it tends to lose its innate wisdom as to what is good for it. As soon as a parrot becomes adapted to a healthy diet from an unhealthy diet (and this can take time!), its appetite soars. For example, if sugar is contained in its diet it will often crave sweets. Further, if a parrot is nutritionally deprived, it may consume more sugar-containing foods than those parrots that are nutritionally satisfied.
I feed my parrots a diet that is as close to nature as possible and I've created a special home-prepared diet for them, made up of all natural ingredients. I call it the "mash diet." This diet consists of a blend of a large variety of organically grown fruits, vegetables, herbs, legumes, grains and seeds. In addition, I include a few natural supplements. (Please refer to the nutrition section of the articles on the http://www.africangreys.com web site for an article by Dr. McWatters on the Mash Diet.-ED)
The need for supplementation will depend on the genetic background of the individual, how healthy or sick it is, and the quality and variety of food it is being offered. Quite often, a parrot in poor health requires more supplementation. On the other hand, some parrots with very weakened systems cannot tolerate much supplementation, and one has to discover what can be tolerated, as well as what is necessary for the optimum degree of health that can be achieved in this individual.
Due to the great variety of foods contained in the Mash Diet, my parrots' meals vary somewhat in content each day. While we cannot mimic what our parrots would eat in the wild, this type of diet closely resembles the composition of the natural foods that would be found in their native habitat.
In summary, each parrot has quantitatively a distinct pattern of nutritional needs. From individual to individual, specific needs may vary several-fold. Important deficiencies may exist which have not been discoverable clinically by observing acute outward symptoms.
The above article was published in the Summer 2001 issue of The Grey Play Round Table® Magazine.
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