Converting your pet parrot from a seed based to pellet diet is a crucial step in maintaining their long-term health and welfare; however, it is not as simple as simply switching from one type to another overnight. This is a process that can be expected to take several weeks or even months to fully accomplish. Younger birds tend to be more flexible, curious and less set in their ways and will likely convert easier than mature birds – but even in a young bird a gradual introduction should be done.
How do I get my bird eating pellets?
There is no single method that works for every bird – often a few strategies will need to be undertaken during the conversion process. This method is one that I feel often works and provides a gradual introduction to pellets and consequent weaning from seed.
- Initially we need to teach the bird that the pellets are food – this may not be obvious to the bird. I recommend mixing a small quantity of pellets in with your bird’s normal seed diet for a couple of weeks.
- At the same time you can offer pellets by hand, or sprinkled onto any fresh fruit and veggies they get, or out on a table or plate when they are spending time out of the cage.
- Once your bird is familiar with the pellets in his/bowl start to reduce the amount of seed given each day and increase the amount of pellets in the bowl. We want to get to a point where the bird eats all the seed, but is still “hungry” enough to then move on to the pellets.
- Hopefully by now you will see your bird starting to pick up and play with, if not ingesting their pellets. Now I would take the next step of offering a small amount of seed in the original food dish (small = 1-2 tablespoons max depending on the size of your bird) and offer pellets in a separate dish on their own. Ideally this second dish would be placed closer to where the bird spends most of their time during the day (usually this is close to the top perch in the cage/aviary).
- Signs that your bird is starting to accept pellets include seeing a change in the colour or consistency of the droppings, finding powdered pellets in the bottom of the pellet dish, or seeing them actively being ingested.
- Note that it is typical for parrots to initially just pick up and throw the pellets out of the bowl, then they’ll often start to crush and grind them without ingesting significant amounts, and finally they’ll start to really eat them signalling acceptance of the new diet.
- At some point, we need to stop offering seed and only giving pellets. Again, building up to this is the best option. Start by offering a small amount of seed only for a short period of time once or twice a day (15-30 minutes). Pellets should be available all day. Monitor what is happening in the dish of pellets closely. Next try offering a small amount of seed only every other day – again monitoring what is happening in the pellet dish. If all is going well, offer no seed for 2-3 days at a time.
- It is critical that you monitor your bird’s droppings during this process – especially once the seed is disappearing from the diet. No droppings indicates the bird is not eating. Is your bird still bright, happy, vocalising normally, and moving around the cage/aviary/home normally?
- If possible, weigh your bird throughout the process – we really don’t want the bird to lose more than about 10% of their starting body weight during the conversion process.
Other Tips and Techniques that Can Be Useful:
- If your bird is very tame, offering the pellets as a treat or pretending to eat them yourself and then offering them to the bird often works.
- Crush up some pellets and sprinkle them over the seed or fresh fruit and veggies you are offering. This is important for birds who show a fear response to the pellets being placed in their cage!
- Slightly moisten your bird’s normal food, and then mix in some pellets. They will stick together so that the bird starts to get more of a taste for them
- Several birds together will often start eating pellets quicker than a bird on its own. This is because competition for food drives the birds to try new things faster, and because birds are good at learning from other bird’s. Once one bird starts eating pellets, the others quickly follow.
- Try sprinkling some pellets over a flat surface such as a table top. Some people find that sprinkling pellets onto a mirror attracts the bird’s attention more, and the bird will pick at the pellets and acquire a taste for them. This works particularly well for ground feeding species like budgies, cockatiels and rosellas.
- Moisten some pellets in a bowl, then press some seed into the mushy pellets, as the bird picks at the seed it will start to get the taste of the pellets. You can even try to make a pellet and seed “rissole” to encourage this.
- Some birds who have never been exposed to foods other than seeds may need to be “taught” to be curious about new food items – this might mean we need to use their favourite foods to try and “bribe” them into trying new things. For instance, some birds love pasta. Putting 1 or 2 spaghetti noodles in a bowl and mixing some crushed pellets in, or burying part of the noodles in some healthy veggies that they can dig through, can encourage food exploration.