Foods for an African Grey

Written by amie sugat
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Foods for an African Grey
A Congo African Grey parrot; notice the red tail. (parrot image by Ivonne Wierink from Fotolia.com)

African Greys thrive on a well-balanced diet. African Grey species include the Timneh African Grey and Congo African Grey, and both thrive on a diet with a variety of healthy foods. Both varieties of these birds as well as speciality varieties bred in captivity generally eat the same diet.

A poorly balanced diet that relies only on pelletted food or on handouts of human food will lead to malnutrition, diseases, lethargy, self mutilation, feather loss, hyperactivity, screeching, bad tempers, continuous moulting, feather plucking, biting, aggression, inability to grow feathers, weight gain, weight loss, refusal to eat and various diseases.

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In the Wild

African Greys generally feed on palm nuts, fruits, seeds, leaves and bark indigenous to the areas of Africa they come from. They have been observed eating snails, chewing on animal bones and getting into human food when available. African Greys are opportunistic feeders, though they are generally vegetarians.

In Captivity: Commercial Diets

Most African Greys are hatched and raised in captivity. There are many diets on the market for parrots, and a few designed for African Greys in particular. Look for organic and all-natural brands that leave out food colouring, preservatives and especially sulphur additives, as these can compromise the birds' health.

A healthy store-bought food should contain dried fruits and vegetables, herbs, and possibly super foods, such as bee pollen and spirulina. The brand should be low in sunflower, safflower or black sunflower seeds, as well as other high-oil seeds.

But feeding an African Grey only commercial foods can cause iron overload disease, such as gout or vitamin and mineral deficiencies. It is crucial to the parrots' health that they receive supplementation with fresh, dried, and sprouted fruits vegetables and seeds.

In Captivity: Homemade Diet, Fruits and Vegetables

Fresh fruits and vegetables should be part of the African Grey's diet. The web site AvianWeb.com states that fresh and cooked plain fruits and vegetables are necessary to the African Grey's diet, and that even dried fruits and vegetables that do not contain sulphur or preservatives can be offered. Human baby food also is a healthy addition to a seed-only diet.

Fresh, dried or cooked fruits and vegetables should be organic and preservative-, salt- and dressing- free. Food colourings and sulphur dioxide--additives used to make dried fruits and vegetables bright in colour--can cause hyperactive disorders in parrots and prompt aggressiveness, shedding or feather plucking.

Avoid citrus fruits and highly acidic fruits, as these can increase iron absorption from the commercial diet, leading to serious illnesses and death. Freely feed small amounts of all other fruits and vegetables according to the bird's personal preferences.

Fruit should be given in moderation because of its high sugar content. Berries are lower in sugar and are a healthier choice.

Foods for an African Grey
Vegetables and fruit are welcome additions to African Grey's diet. (at the market image by Lars Christensen from Fotolia.com)

In Captivity: Homemade Diet, Legumes and Seeds

African Greys depend on a diet rich in protein and complex carbohydrates. Their diet should be about 15 per cent protein. They are healthiest if their diet contains a balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. For these reasons, their diet should contain a variety of raw, cooked and sprouted seeds.

Raw seeds such has flax seed--not flax oil--provide crucial protein and omega fatty acids. Sunflower seeds can contain too much oil and fat and turn a parrot into a seed junkie, but whole flax seeds contain crucial protein, fibre, healthy fats, phytochemicals, lignans and other health benefits, just as they do for humans.

Small sprouted or germinated seeds may be lower in protein, but they make up for it in boundless vitamins, enzymes, minerals, vegetable proteins, chlorophyll and carbohydrates. Sprouted seeds are also lower in fat because of the germination process. Good sprout seeds to use include niger, rape seed, canary, millet, sesame and those seeds intended for sprouting for human consumption.

African Greys also enjoy small amounts of oats, cereal grains, almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts and raw nut butters. However, these should be given in moderation, as they are high in fat. The seeds of tree fruits such as apricots, peaches, plums and other fruits should never be fed to parrots, as they can cause arsenic poisoning.

All varieties of beans should be cooked for at least two hours before allowing the parrot to eat them, as the enzymes in the raw forms of the beans can cause digestion problems, illnesses, nutritional deficiencies, and in large amounts, might lead to death. Once cooked, garbanzo, pinto, kidney, anasazi, black, fava, kidney, lima, navy, pinto, soya beans and others are safe to feed your Grey.

Foods for an African Grey
(nutritious sprouts image by Shirley Hirst from Fotolia.com)

In Captivity: Homemade Diet, Leafy Greens

In the wild, African Greys naturally seek out leafy greens, tree leaves and herbs. Organic baby greens, salad mixes and herb mixes are a welcome daily part of the parrots' diet. Even baby, soft herbs such as parsley, cilantro, arugula, basil, mint and other seasonal garden herbs that are pesticide-free, herbicide-free and grown without commercial fertilisers will be accepted delightfully by most parrots.

Medicinal herbs and salad mixes designed for parrots can also be found on commercial parrot websites.

Most dark leafy greens are acceptable and provide calcium and chlorophyll, which improve feather colour and health. Leafy greens such as Lettuces, broccoli, rapini, turnip, collards and mustard are healthier choices. However, leafy greens such as spinach, chard and beet contain oxalic acid and inhibit the absorption of calcium.

In general, if the fruit or vegetable is safe and healthy for a human to eat, it is safe for a parrot.

Foods for an African Grey
(salad bowl with fresh salad and tomato image by Piter Pkruger from Fotolia.com)

Supplementation for Deficiencies

In captivity, African Greys are often afflicted with vitamin and mineral deficiencies, which can cause serious health complications and a shortened lifespan. Calcium intake is usually severely limited. Many owners of African Greys, unlike most other parrots, find that their parrot does not readily accept cuttlebones. Grinding up the cuttlebone or eggshells and sprinkling this over their soft foods can provide calcium supplementation.

Too much calcium, on the other hand, can cause vitamin deficiencies. Before supplementing the parrot's diet, it is wise to have it examined by a vet annually, during which you can ask her opinion of the bird's health and need for calcium supplementation.

Foods for an African Grey
A cuttle fish, a relative of the squid (cuttlefish 2 image by cherie from Fotolia.com)

Feed These Foods in Moderation

All parrots favour sunflower seeds or peanuts over other foods in their diet. Unfortunately, a diet consisting mostly of these foods can lead to malnutrition and diseases. Keeping the parrot's diet low in sunflower, safflower, rape seed and peanuts is recommended by AvianWeb.com. Complete elimination of these seeds in non-sprouted form is considered even better.

Too much calcium supplementation (more than 1 per cent) can lead to a decrease in the birds' ability to absorb proteins, fats, vitamins, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, iodine, zinc and manganese. A calcium supplementation of over 2.5 per cent will lead to nephrosis (kidney disease), hypercalcemia (too much calcium in the blood), hypophosphemia (too little phosphate in the blood and complications), visceral and renal gout (toxic blood and kidney stones) and loss of appetite.

Most human foods can be given in moderation. However, foods high in salt, sugar or fat should be avoided, as should processed or packaged human foods. In general, if the bird is given a taste of human food such as ice cream or potatoes chips, it will be fine; but if it becomes a habit, the bird will become sick and overweight.

Foods for an African Grey
Sunflower seeds are too high in fat for African Greys to consume regularly. (sunflower and sunflower seeds image by Andrey Chmelyov from Fotolia.com)

These Foods Can Be Deadly

Birds should never be fed avocados, chocolate, caffeinated foods or beverages, alcohol, sugar, fat, salt, foods with mould (cheeses), foods that have developed mould (spoiled food), raw meat, uncooked eggs, cured meats, lunch meats, cake, candy, soda, sweetened drinks, artificially flavoured or sweetened foods, processed foods, kids cereal's, cereals with added sugar or large amounts of citrus fruits.

Also, parrots and other birds should never be fed food that has been cooked with non-stick cookware. Products with non-stick coating, including cookware, utensils, space heaters, irons, ironing board covers, bread machines, ovens and oven racks give off fumes that can be deadly to birds. They should never be fed foods that have been in contact with these surfaces or be kept in a room with them.

Foods for an African Grey
Raw meat and junk food can make a parrot ill or kill it. (fresh sausages image by .shock from Fotolia.com)

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