The 'Circus Diet' for Pet Birds

  1. Introduction
  2. General Concepts
  3. The Circus Diet contains:
    1. Parrot Pellets
    2. Sprouted Sunflower, Millet and Other Seeds
    3. Bean, Rice, Corn Crock-pot Mix
    4. Fruits and Vegetables
    5. Treats
    6. Combining of Ingredients
    7. Bulk Preparation - Storage
    8. Feeding: Determining How Much To Feed
    9. Opportunistic Feeders
    10. Create a Foraging Attitude - Three Benefits From One Activity
    11. Overfeeding
    12. Poisonous Foods List
    13. Teach Your Bird to Forage in Case He Escapes

1. Introduction

The 'Circus Diet' was named by The Ohio State University Veterinary School students who trained at Hartman Aviary. They were surprised to find parrots eating a diet so rich in flavors, textures and colors, and felt the birds were getting the same experience humans get when we go to the circus and eat all those exciting circus delights.

There is no such thing as the "perfect" parrot diet. The ingredients we use and suggest are to be a guide to a complete diet. All of the items in our diet can be swapped for similar items. It is important to include a variety of foods each day. A varied diet will improve mental and physical health and teach your bird to accept many foods. Variety is also the "spice of life" for parrots.

With the exception of a very few species of parrots, you should not try to duplicate the diet your parrot would eat in the wild. Wild parrots are very active mentally and physically, flying miles a day, and utilize their nutrients differently than our sedentary pets. Wild parrots are also generalized as chronically undernourished most of the year. You can find wild diets that consist of 10 or 20 items, but most are only seasonally available. Most parrot species have only a few of the items available during any season, so feeding all of the items at one time would not be a duplicate of their wild diet.

Just like humans, individual parrots have particular tastes. They should be offered a wide variety of items they like, and even some foods they may not especially like. When it comes to our birds, we are the parents and they are the children. They neither understand the food pyramid, nor do they understand that some of the foods they need for a healthy diet may not be their favorites. Just because peas and carrots are not his particular favorite does not mean a parrot should not be eating them.

Food fit for a king...and a parrot. Hartman Aviary provides wide variety of foods for the flock Our goal is to have approximately 30 different items in their meal each day. Many foods will vary depending upon what fresh produce is seasonably available. However, the Circus Diet is easier to prepare than you might think.

The Circus Diet promotes good eating habits in pet birds. Birds that have well developed palates are healthier and more adaptable to diet changes throughout their lives. Parrots that accidently leave home for a while, who are used to the variety of tastes, flavors and textures of the Circus Diet, have a significantly higher survival potential because they are confident about finding food while on the loose.

2. General Concepts

We advise the main 'meal' of the day to be fed about two hours after your bird's wake up time in the morning for two reasons. First, most humans eat soon after they wake up in the morning if they need to go to work or school, but when we have a choice on the weekend, we take a more leisurely approach and tend to eat a little later. Most wild parrots take some time to chat and goof off before setting out for breakfast in the morning.

Second, there should still be a small amount of food left in the dish from yesterday. Some items will be stale or the taste may have changed, but all of the items are still edible. If your parrot did not eat many of the items he is not fond of, but are required for a complete diet he may eat them early the next morning. As you will see later this is an important strategy for making sure your bird eats a complete diet without being overfed.

At least half of the correct 'meal' portion size (chapter 6 below) will be consumed in about 15 minutes, with the remainder of the Circus Diet being consumed throughout the day. The rest of the diet is offered in the form of treats that are fed sporadically throughout the day and always in the evening, about an hour before bedtime. A parrot that does not eat something before bedtime may become very hungry and uncomfortable during the night. A bored parrot that is fed all of his food early in the day may eat everything by afternoon. If not offered food before bedtime it could be 18 hours before he eats again.

All items in the Circus Diet are diced into small pieces no larger than a pea. There are four important reasons for this.

  1. Many parrots are picky eaters. Small particles mixed together have residue from all the other pieces on them. Thus, when a bird eats one item, he is getting a taste of everything in the mix. This is important because of the way the food center works in the brain. The bird's brain keeps track of all foods consumed for 6 to 8 hours. If, at any time, a bird does not feel well when eating a new food, the brain records that it may be a result of the new food and thus cause the bird to avoid this new food in the future. The reason this happens is that parrots evolved as seasonal feeders and generally eat very few items at a time; they continually change their diet as other foods become available. Just like humans, birds don't always remember exactly which foods or what stage of ripeness is healthy so they sample the new food for a few days before they consume a whole meal of any particular food. After sampling the new food for three days, the bird's brain will no longer be cautious of the item and will allow the bird to eat large quantities. Enough Circus Diet to feed 700 pounds/320 kilos of parrots (275 parrots) Our diet mix makes it impossible for a bird to avoid trace amounts of individual foods so their brain is quickly programmed to accept all of the items. Once a bird's subconscious and conscious brain is programmed to eat a large variety of foods, it's very easy to make changes and introduce new items to their diets.

  2. Even large macaws consume very little food each day, so small pieces make it easier to provide a well-balanced and interesting meal.

  3. If more than one bird is eating from the same food dish, it is easier for the less aggressive birds to get some of the tastier and/or healthier items.

  4. Most birds take a bite and drop the rest so if any item is larger than a pea, a portion is apt to be dropped on the floor and a significant amount will be wasted. Large pieces of food held in the foot may be dropped as soon as your parrot changes his mind, sees a cage mate headed for the dish, sees you enter the room, etcetera.

Portion size is very important for captive birds. Ad lib feeding leads to picky eating and unhealthy diets. The 'meal' you prepare and place in the cage should be almost completely consumed by the next morning. Never offer more than 10% more food than the bird should be eating. Remove the very small uneaten portion the next morning before offering more food.

Never leave an open bowl of pellets in the cage. Besides being unhealthy, offering too much food causes the bird to eat small amounts throughout the day rather than consuming a whole 'meal' when the food is first offered. This continued sampling of food all day long can lead a bored parrot into other repetitive behaviors that are categorized as stereotypical behaviors like Pennatillomania (feather mutilation syndrome) and polydipsia (excessive water consumption).

Due to the large number of ingredients we suggest preparing larger quantities once a month that can be broken down into daily portions and frozen until needed. Add the pellet portion after thawing and warming. If the pellets are added to the mix too long before serving, they will be too soft.

Warm the food to at least room temperature, too cold and it may not taste good. Birds can eat warm food just like us. Most birds are used to room temperature so if you do warm the food make sure it is not too warm to burn their mouth.

3. The Circus Diet contains 5 different groups of food. Percentage of each group in the overall diet is by finished, ready-to-feed weight.

  1. 20% Parrot Pellets
  2. 20% Sprouted Sunflower, Millet and Other Seeds
  3. 20% Bean, Rice, Corn Crock-pot Mix
  4. 20% Fruits and Vegetables
  5. 20% Treats

A. Parrot Pellets

Parrot pellets come in two forms, pelleted and extruded. Since both styles are basically the same type of food, I will generically refer to them as 'pellets'.

Both can be of good or bad quality. In general, the formulated diet industry is well developed, thus it's easy for manufacturers to produce high quality diets. It is well known how to blend nutrients and add vitamins and minerals into the mixes so they are bio-available at the concentrations required for parrots.

'Pellets' are basically ground up particles with vitamins and minerals added. They are forced into a press at high pressure that creates a very high heat, hot enough to cook the ingredients during the few minutes the mix is in the machine. Pellets break easily and you can see individual pieces of grain.

Extruded diets are basically the same ingredients used in pellets but are cooked before they go into the pellet machine. Extruded pellets look like human breakfast cereal.

Pelleted bird food on the left and Extruded bird food on the right

There are many brands of pellets available. You can find various types of organic, colors, shapes, textures, flavors, and etcetera. All well-known brands are basically the same with minor differences. Choose well-known brand and you can't go wrong.

Having fed over 5000 birds since 1985, I have found the best size for all parrots is the size usually called 'small' and is about 3/16th of an inch. There is usually more waste issues with larger pellets that have a bite removed and the rest dropped to the bottom of the cage. Small size also works better in the Circus Diet mix.

Organic pellets are a personal choice. If you eat an organic diet then consider feeding your bird organic feeds. Otherwise, there is no reason to use this type - unless you own one of the rare parrots that may be allergic to a certain item in nonorganic food.

Most of the 360 species of parrots can eat the same multi-species pellet when incorporated into the Circus Diet. We have successfully fed over 80 species of parrots the Circus Diet. For species with specific dietary needs like Hyacinth Macaws and Lories, we vary the diet with the supplemental treats we feed. For instance Hyacinth Macaws get more high-fat nuts while Amazons and Lories get low-fat fruit treats.

Specially formulated pellets are available for a few groups of species like lories and Africans. If your flock consists of any of the special groups in significant numbers, you may want to utilize one of these special diets. At Hartman Aviary, we've had great success using an average extruded maintenance pellet in the Circus Diet with species specific treats; we have never needed to use specially formulated pellets even though we have large numbers of many of the species that have special diets available.

Important: All quality brands of pellets have a good supply of vitamins and minerals. If the rest of the diet is complete you will not be adding vitamins. Vitamins are only needed for poor diets and unhealthy birds that require extra support. Vitamins should be added to food and not water. Water with vitamins taste bad and can become a sewer very quickly.

B. Sprouted Sunflower, Millet and Other Seeds

Sprouting turns a dormant seed into a high quality growing vegetable. "Growing" is an important concept to understand. Unlike a ripened vegetable (corn, broccoli) that starts to die and lose nutrient quality as soon as it is harvested, a sprout contains fat as an energy source and continues to grow as long as it is moist, and is at least room temperature.

As an example, sunflower seeds start out with at least 25% fat which is very unhealthy for a parrot. During the sprouting process, the fat is converted into low fat carbohydrate and becomes a much healthier food by providing the highest amount of vitamins, minerals, proteins and enzymes of any food per unit of calorie. Sprouted seeds will actually continue to grow and increase their quality all day long while they are waiting to be eaten.

In addition to high levels of fat, all seeds have small amounts of natural preservatives in them that keep the seed from rotting and making them less palatable to some pests. In large quantities they would be poisonous to humans and parrots, but in the small quantities found in seeds they are just a minor annoyance to the digestive system. This minor annoyance is eliminated by sprouting and cooking and allows them to be digested more efficiently.

Many types of seeds are sold in 'pet bird seed mixes' and all of them can be sprouted. Wild bird seed mixes are similar to the seeds found in a hookbill (parrot) seed mix that is sold in pet stores. Look for the package with the widest variety of seeds and beware of stock that is over one year old.

Sunflower seeds take about 72 hours to sprout about ½ inch. Some seeds may take a day or two longer for you to notice them sprouting. Even though some seeds have not started opening in 72 hours the sprouting has started and they can be fed.

The quality of the seeds you are using can be determined by the percentage of seeds that sprout. Soon after sunflower seeds are harvested, you should expect at least 90% to sprout in 3 to 4 days. Seeds that are stored improperly or are older than one year may have a significantly reduced sprouting rate. These seeds may still be useful as a food but the quality is diminished.

A good way to test the quality of any dry seeds you feed is to periodically sprout a handful to see what percentage sprouts. Most seed are harvested once a year and stored in large bins. Sometimes seeds from a prior year may get into your mix. Your bird is only eating a small quantity so its is important that you feed only nutritious seeds that will sprout.

The Sprouting Process

- container to hold wet seeds
- colander with small holes to rinse sprouts.

Choose a container that is at least twice as large as the batch of seeds you will be sprouting. The size of the batch will be determined by the amount you think equals 20% of your flocks' total diet for the period you are expecting this batch to last.

Day 1: The seeds will be in the container submerged in water for the first 24 hours. Mix the seeds well until all seeds are wet and allow them to soak until the same time the next day. As long the seeds are wet to begin with the water will wick from one seed to another and all seeds will stay wet. As the seeds absorb water they will begin to sink. For optimal results you can stir the seeds a few times to ensure the ones on top get wet faster.

Store in a shady spot on the counter; sunshine through a window may dry out the top layer and reduce the percentage of sprouting seeds. The temperature of the area where you are sprouting will have a significant impact on the rate of sprouting. Room temperature below 60F/16C will require an extra day or two. Temperatures around 75F/24C will provide the highest sprouting rate. Often the back of a refrigerator puts out a lot of heat so if you keep your home cool in the winter, next to the refrigerator may be the best spot.

Day 2: Rinse the seeds. Dump seeds into a colander and refill the container with water, dump the seeds back in and aggressively mix them. Repeat this two or three times. The contact with each other will help remove any debris from the outside of the seed and insure they are all soaked. Return the seeds to the colander and place the colander on top of the container so there is air under the seeds. You can leave them in the container but we find they sprout a little faster if air can circulate around the seeds. Do not add more water.  The water that is already soaked into the seeds and the fresh water from the rinse will be enough to keep the seeds moist and continue the sprouting process. Seeds sprout faster at higher room temperatures. This group sprouted in 72 hours at 70F/21C.

Additionally the rinsing will clean off any excessive bacteria and fungus that may have been on the seeds before sprouting. Some batches of seeds that contain a lot of bacteria and fungus may have a white film on the water and the seeds may feel slightly slimy. This slime can be a result of natural contamination that is only on the outside of the seeds, or indicate the seeds are old and have not been stored properly. If your sprouting results are not successful you should purchase more seeds from a different source to find out if the problem is your process, or a batch of old, dead seeds.

An extra step to ensure your seeds are clean is to add a few drops of bleach to one of the rinses. Let set for a few minutes and rinse again. In the spring time before the next harvest of seeds comes the seeds you are using will be about 1 year old. During this time of the year we are more likely to feel the need to add bleach to one rinse each day.

Day 3: Repeat Day 2.

Day 4: The seeds have been wet and growing for 72 hours. This is enough time for most seeds to open up and have a small tip of plant protruding. At Hartman Aviary, this is the stage where the sprouts are fed. An even better result is obtained if you sprout for one more day.

The sprouted seeds need to be aggressively rinsed for a few seconds to remove the gunk, bacteria and fungus that could have been growing on the outside of the seeds. On the last day of sprouting we always add a small amount of bleach to one rinse. For one gallon of water you will add about on teaspoon of bleach and soak for 1 minute. Then rinse a couple more times in warm/hot water. 

Before feeding it is a good idea to steam the seeds in a microwave for a few seconds to kill any bacteria and fungus that may still be on the outside of the seeds. This simple process involves leaving the sprouts in the colander and placing in a microwave for a few seconds. The cooking time will vary depending on the wattage of your microwave so you will need to experiment with the cooking time. Cook long enough to create some steam to kill the bacteria, but not so long that you cook the seeds. The steam comes from the moisture on the outside of the seeds heating up. Because the outside of the seeds are wet the seeds will get hotter on the outside faster than on the inside. A few seconds after you see steam rising pull them out and mix them up to distribute the heat. This process will also help to dry the seeds before they are added to the other ingredients.

The steam process is not critical, only a precaution. Hartman Aviary sprouts ~ 1 Gallon / 3.8 Liters of seeds each day, and microwaves for 5.5 minutes.

A quick internet search will expose volumes of additional information about sprouting.

C. Bean, Rice, Corn Crock-pot Mix

Hartman Aviary's mix contains equal amounts these 8 ingredients.

  1. dry navy beans
  2. dry great northern beans
  3. dry pinto beans
  4. dry black beans
  5. dry red beans
  6. dry green split peas
  7. brown rice
  8. dry whole corn (can be purchased from most pet or wild bird feed stores)

Hartman Aviary uses ~ 2,000 pounds/1,000 kilos of beans, rice and corn in their crock pot mix each year.Our choice is based on nutrition, cost, variety and size. All of these beans are available from a local distributor in large quantities for a reasonable price. Substitutes can be made for any item with similar items. The wide variety of items in this entire diet negate the need to micro manage each item.

For the needs of pet bird owners and small breeders, it will be more economical to purchase a soup bean mix at the grocery. Often you can get as many as 15 different beans in the mix and you can purchase a few pounds at a time. We purchase over 500 pounds at a time in large boxes.

Large quantities can be cooked in a crock pot by adding equal amounts of all the ingredients and filling with water until the water level is about 1 inch over the beans. At Hartman Aviary we use ~60 ounces of the mix, by volume, per day. The amount of water needed will vary with your specific mix of beans and rice. Every time we mix a 200-pound batch, we find that we need to add slightly more or less water. Crock pot cookers that use the 15-bean mix will need to use enough rice to equal at least 10% of the mix. Important: The rice soaks up the water first. Since the rice is mixed around all of the beans it works as a sponge and holds the water around the beans in the upper part of the mix allowing the upper beans to soak even after the water level has dropped. You will have better cooking results if the mix is stirred late in the day to distribute the water more evenly. Without an evening mixing, the beans on top will be a little harder and the beans on the bottom will be softer.

Crock pot timer is set so the mix is cooled down to medium warm for feeding in morning.We allow the water to soak into the beans overnight. The crock pot is on a timer that turns on early in the morning to cook on high for 3.5 hours. By the time we are ready to feed, the mix has cooled down enough to handle. The best results will be if the beans are well cooked and supple without much extra goo.

Smaller portions for pet bird diets can be made on a stove using the same soaking process. Avoid excessive stirring which will turn the beans into a paste.

It may take a few attempts to figure out exactly how much water you need to use for your particular mix of ingredients, and how many minutes for your particular crock pot.

Too much water and the beans will be mushy and with too little water the beans will be too dry.

D. Fruits and Vegetables

All of these items need to be diced into pea-size pieces.

A mix of about 25% fruit and 75% vegetables works well. In general, any combination will work fine; each time you make a batch choose a few different kinds of items so that over time, your birds will be exposed to many different flavors and textures.

Some vegetables such as potatoes or yams need to be cooked, but other vegetables most are great raw. Most of the hard vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower and carrots spend a few seconds in the microwave. Thorough cooking is not necessary but a few seconds will help kill any residual bacteria and change the texture of any part that gets a little more cooking.

Keep in mind that if you are making a bulk amount, items like lettuce and citrus will not hold up to the freezing; the lettuce wilts and the citrus will turn to juice. The change will make the final mix a little less firm but will not hurt the nutrients. You may choose to add these items when you add the pellets just before feeding.

E. Treats

Low fat pet bird treats are best because you can feed more. We feed the main meal in the morning and offer special treats sporadically throughout the day. We always feed some treats an hour or so before bedtime so they don't go to bed hungry and finish out the day with a mentally stimulating activity. A bird with a boring diet may not get around to eating before bed and consequently always be hungry during the night and end up grumpy during the day.

A great deal of satisfaction is gained by holding and touching food while it is being eaten. This mentally and physically satisfying food experience can be met using large, low calorie treats like apple slices, vegetables, and popcorn for treats. Feeding small items to reduce waste is good management but periodically feeding some large items is fun for the birds.

With all treats, we need to keep in mind the calorie count of the complete diet. Some treats like nuts, while nutritious, are very high in fat. Other treats like popcorn and apples are also nutritious, but are mostly water and air, and low in calories.

Parrots like Amazons, who tend to store fat and have a lower metabolism, receive a teaspoon of fruit in the evening. Most of our other species receive nuts or seeds.

Smaller parrots, such as parakeets, conures and Quakers, get about 6 sunflower seeds. Greys, Goffins, small macaws and others medium-size species get two or three almonds.

Larger cockatoos receive three almonds and macaws get three almonds plus three Brazil nuts. You may substitute all of these nuts and seeds with other similar nuts and seeds.

Regardless of what you have read, almost all healthy human foods are also healthy for parrots. There is no reason not to supplement your parrot's diet with the same items you are eating, just keep portion size in mind.

4. Combining of Ingredients

You will need to plan at least three days ahead for the sprouts and two days ahead for the beans so all ingredients are ready when you cut the fruit and vegetables. If the Circus Diet is to be frozen and possibly spend a few days in the refrigerator thawing, it is important to have all the ingredients ready at the same time. If the fruit and vegetables are cut and stored in the refrigerator ahead of time, they will not last as long after the mix is thawed.

Mix the beans and seeds together first, adding the fruit last so the softer items are more likely to stay intact. If you want to go the extra mile, you may cut fresh fruit every day to be added to the portion of the diet you have thawed out. The entire mix should be wet enough to stick together but dry enough for the individual pieces to be picked apart.

The pellets can be added at the time the rest of the ingredients are mixed together, or added just before feeding. At Hartman Aviary we add the pellets just before we feed. If the pellets are added to the mixture that will be in the refrigerator or freezer they will soften. Some birds like them soft and moist and others like pellets that are hard and crispy. You will need to experiment to find which works best for your situation.

When the Circus Diet is created properly, pieces of food will have small amounts of all of the other items on its surface. Since the parrot is unable to remove the residue he will become used to eating all of the items in the mix.

5. Bulk Preparation - Storage

Now that you have the percentages, all you need to do is decide how much to make at one time. We recommend about 1 month's supply for your birds' needs. Mix the sprouts, beans, fruits and vegetables together. Do not add the pellets until the day you feed. This mix is stable in the refrigerator for as long as most foods you prepare for yourself, about 3-5 days. We recommend that the bulk food be frozen into easily usable servings.

Circus Diet can be frozen in flattened Zip Lock bags.Our favorite method of freezer storage is quart zip lock bags that, after filling, are placed on the counter and flattened out to about ½ inch thick. Once frozen it is easy to break off a few servings at a time. Place the 2-3 day portion in a small, air tight container in the refrigerator. Remove one day's serving from the refrigerator, heat in the microwave for a few seconds, and you are ready to mix with your 20% pellet portion. With this method you can feed several parrots a complicated and complete diet in a few minutes a day.

Two other methods include placing the mixed food into old style ice cube trays, or small size drinking cups that you find at water coolers. Make sure you cover in air tight containers as freezer burn and frost will negatively change the flavor. If you only have a few birds, the ice cubes or paper cups can be filled with one day's meal. Each day you can remove one portion from the freezer to the refrigerator to thaw for 24 hours and use the one that has already been thawing for the last 24 hours.

Important: When heating food it is important to understand your bird will not know to check the food to see if it is too hot and may burn his tongue. Freshly steamed sprouts may feel cool on the outside and hot on the inside.

Most bird diets are fed at room temperature but birds like warm food just like us so mix it up.

6. Feeding: Determining How Much To Feed

Baby parrots start eating adult food at about 5 weeks old and are still learning how to find food, and what items are edible for a few months after weaning. You will find information about feeding babies here.

In most cases pet parrots have had much more food available in their cage than they could consume over several days. This overfeeding situation leads to poor eating habits which will take a week or two to overcome.

During the first week of the transition mix the Circus Diet 50/50 with the old diet. Feed the same total quantity of food your parrot had available with his old diet. During this week there will probably not be enough of the original diet to satisfy your bird, but he will find plenty of other options in the Circus Diet. He will also be consuming small amounts of residue of all the other items in the Circus Diet so his brain will slowly become programmed to accept all the new items as food, even if he does not like the items.

After one week eliminate the old diet and feed only the Circus Diet in the same quantity as the old diet. Each day thereafter begin removing about 10% of the total food until you get to a point that almost all of the food is gone by the next morning. You are probably still feeding about 20% more than your bird needs to be healthy. He still needs to learn not to drop and waste so much, and he still needs to get rid of a lot of the fat he is carrying around. Up to this point we have not done anything to improve eating habits except in the case of the bird who starts off loving all of the different items in the Circus Diet, and has begun eating large meals as soon as the food is offered.

Once we have reduced the portion size to what we think the bird needs each day, we day we begin this experiment. Every day for the next few weeks feed 5-10% less than the bird wants one day and more the next. He will not starve, it will be more like going on a very slight diet. On the days when there is not quite enough food he will learn not to drop as much, and since he is now starting to understand the idea of being hungry (like we are just before we sit down to a meal), he will start to eat a whole crop of food as soon as it is offered.

If the mix is not warm, heat it up a little in the microwave just before feeding. Make sure it is stirred and checked to make sure it is not hot enough to burn the mouth of a hungry bird. Warm food adds another dimension to the diet, so if the mix is not warm heat it up a little in the microwave before feeding.

Parrots will require a slightly different number of calories every day just like us. On a regular basis you will need to monitor the amount of food left over and the amount that is wasted in the bottom of the cage to know how much to feed.

The following is a very general guideline of portion sizes we use at Hartman aviary for flighted active parrots:

Small parrots: (Cockatiels, Senegals, large parakeets, conures)
18 grams of Circus Diet and the equivalent of 4 grams of sunflower seeds for treats in the evening. (1 Ounce = 28.4 Grams)

These three piles of Circus Diet represent approximate total daily portions for three size groups of pet birds.Medium parrots; (Yellow Collar Macaw, African Grey, Umbrella Cockatoo)

Our experience is that Amazon parrots need fewer calories, and store fat better than the average parrot, so we tend to offer fewer seeds and nuts and lower fat treats such as fruit and popcorn.

Large parrots: (large macaws)
90 grams of Circus Diet and the equivalent of 20 grams of sunflower seeds and nuts for treats in the evening. (1 Ounce = 28.4 Grams)

Important: At Hartman Aviary we have had experience with thousands of new birds coming into our flock in 30 years. Because of our experience, and that there are other birds around for new birds to watch, we are able to quickly and safely change all new birds over to the Circus Diet in 3 days. The plan we outline above is a greatly extended version designed for hesitant bird owners.

7. Opportunistic Feeders Parrots have large crops that allow them to binge feed when they have the opportunity.

Parrots have crops because they are 'opportunistic feeders' in the wild. They forage most of the day but need to be able to consume large quantities of food as soon as they find it. Parrots are most vulnerable to predators when feeding so they don't want to be in the same place any longer than necessary. Even more than humans, their brain is geared toward eating large meals if possible. The traditional ad lib feeding of large quantities of boring food impacts the mental and physical health of pet parrots.

8. Create A Foraging Attitude
       Three Benefits from One Activity

The traditional ad lib feeding of large quantities of boring food impacts the mental and physical health of pet parrots by taking the thinking out of eating.

Fact: Wild birds spend a significant portion of their day foraging for food.

Fact: Wild birds' brains are very active watching for predators all day.
Fact: Most pet birds are bored and develop self-destructive stereotypical behaviors like Pennatillomania (feather mutilation syndrome) .

Feed the main meal of the day in the same place but spread treats  around the house and yard. Utilize creative foraging ideas to create a curiosity that will promote your parrot to freely explore his environment and ultimately become more independent and less likely to scream for your attention. Hiding his food around his environment will require him to forage much like he would in the wild. This increased physical and mental activity will be multiplied by his need to process other new experiences in his environment as he forages.  He may actually develop the concept missing in most pet birds lives that we call ‘looking forward to something'.Captive Foraging increases pet bird brain activity, and greatly improves mental and physical health.

Good foraging behavior will develop better eating habits, increase physical activity and greatly increase mental activity. This will generate three benefits from one activity.

The Aviator Flight Line is a wonderful tool that allows a pet bird to play and learn in a very complicated and exciting outdoor environment. There is little comparison to the stimulus that can be found outside in the yard with all the odors, sights, textures, sounds, and ever changing details. Small dishes placed around the Aviator Flight Line area will require your parrot to be rewarded with very small amounts of food or treats. Treats wrapped in small wads of paper will require him to search out these packages and open each one. Not all of them will contain a treat so his efforts will be elevated to a higher level of delayed satisfaction and continued interest. This trait is an important component of self-entertainment.

9. Overfeeding

Overfeeding the Circus Diet can be as dangerous as feeding a substandard diet. Parrots offered too large a quantity of a diet that contains more than one item will choose to eat his favorite first and the less tasty portion in smaller quantities, or not at all.

Most pet parrots are overweight and have a very high body mass index. A significant part of this issue is from eating too many high fat foods like sunflower seeds, snacking all day long, and not being able to fly and exercise. 25% of all captive parrots over 20 years old have cardiovascular disease. 

A healthy, active parrot eating a quality diet will eat most of the food as a meal when it is offered. He develops an appetite, eats a meal, and does not snack all day.

Poor diet and feeding habits of pet birds can provide a format for other destructive behaviors in a bored parrots life. As a seasonal feeder that has evolved to constantly search for food, poor eating habits can lead to a complicated combination of mental health issues. Inappropriate feeding routines can develop a 'behavior pattern' or 'method of operation' which becomes a mental template that helps establish the way a bird mentally processes other information and activities. An example is when over-feeding leads to the development of stereotypic behaviors. If a bird does not develop an appetite and has food available all the time he will tend to snack all day long. Basically he develops a repetitive behavior of walking over to the dish, eating a bite or two, going to get a drink, walking to a perch, and then repeating the eating/drinking/perching routine for a large part of the day. This routine can become a 'behavior pattern' or 'method of operation' that is repeated in all of the bird's activities. Pennatillomania (feather mutilation syndrome) is another stereotypical syndrome that can develop along with overfeeding.

10. Poisonous Foods List

The most dangerous part of a 'Poisonous Food List' that you come across may be the list itself. There are a few items on the list that are toxic in normal amounts, but very few. The list has been developed over the last 20 years by well-meaning authors, veterinarians and bird club newsletter editors. Every time someone hears about a "dangerous" food, it is added to the list without being researched. Repeat this process long enough with each editor failing to research the list they are adding to, and eventually you have a lengthy list that ultimately defies logic.

The number one flaw with the list is that portion size is not taken into consideration. A medium size parrot like an Amazon or African grey weighs about one pound. If we take a portion of food sized for a 150 pound person, and divide it into 150 parts, we would have a portion fit for an Amazon parrot. For Cockatiels the number would be 1/600th of the human portion.

For instance, while we do not recommend that you feed alcohol to a pet bird, 1/150th of a glass of wine will not harm a parrot any more that a glass of wine will a human, and would probably be beneficial.

The number two flaw is just 'plain wrong information'. The list on the nest paragraph  is not a recommendation of things to feed a pet bird, but they are items that I know for sure, from experience are not toxic to pet birds in reasonable portions. These items were taken from just one published list of 30 'poisonous' items. Eighteen of thirty I do not consider to be harmful, and eleven are included in our Circus Diet many times throughout the year.

This list of 18 foods was taken form a list of 30 poisonous foods list I found on the internet.  Asparagus, Kidney Beans, Lima Beans, Butter, Coffee, Carbonated Beverages, Chocolate, Dried fruits, Egg Plant, Gatorade, Dairy Products, Olives, Onions (raw or cooked), Peanuts, Rhubarb, Tomatoes, Alcohol, Anything high in salt, sugar and fat content.

All of these items are fed at Hartman Aviary. We do not commonly feed alcohol but we have had many parties where birds are invited and we know for sure that most parrots love beer.

Salt and fat are often on the bad food list but are no more dangerous than they are for humans. Salt is not known to cause any disease in birds or humans. Salt is only a significant factor when an individual has a condition that is made worse by extra salt intake.

We don’t normally add salt to our parrots’ diet but they do enjoy lots of salty snacks just like we do.

Important: The only food that we know can be dangerous in small quantities in some circumstances are avocados.

Many items found on the list can be toxic under certain conditions, for specific animals, in excessive quantities, but most are mis-reported for parrots. While the leaves of the tomato plant are toxic, the tomato, which is on the 'poisonous list', is not. An example of an easily researched item that is on most lists is apple seeds. Here is the rest of the story for this one item.

Are Apple Seeds Dangerous?

Apple seeds and many other seeds like cherry, peach, plum, pears and apricot pits contain the same amygdalin compound which turns into cyanide when it comes in contact with digestive enzymes in our intestines. There's no evidence I can find that shows the same enzyme exist in parrots' digestive system.

Most wild and farm animals eat whole apples in large quantities when they are in season. Apple seeds have a very tough coating and need to be chewed up to release the amygdalin. Since 1985 Hartman Aviary has fed over 20,000 apples to parrots of all ages, without removing one apple seed.

It takes approximately 100 grams (½ cup - 600 seeds - ~ 6 seeds / apple) of crushed apple seeds to make a human ill. Even if you ate the seeds from many apples, or your Amazon sized bird ate 2 apples worth of seeds, one after another, the gut will easily detoxify these small quantities of cyanide as fast as it was created.

In the last 25 years, Hartman Aviary has accumulated more than 8,000 adult 'bird-years of experience', and raised over 5,000 babies learning to eat adult food. We have fed tens of thousands of apples, never removing one seed, and never having one sick bird. And, many of our birds like to peel the seeds and others eat them. They actually taste a little like almonds, I have eaten them myself.

In addition we can find no documented evidence of any parrot ever getting sick from apple seeds and we have been searching for many years.

BOTTOM LINE: At The Parrot University at Hartman Aviary, the general rule of thumb is, "If it is a good, healthy food for a human then a proportionate amount is a good, healthy food for a parrot."

11. Teach Your Bird to Forage Food  Before He Spends the Night out on the Town

This cockatoo knows to look under everything in the garden for hidden tasty treats. Survival of your escaped pet may hinge on its ability to forage for food in a tree. We teach all our pet birds to eat items hanging on the branches. If your bird has only eaten food from a dish, your plate, or your hand, they may not be able to find enough food to survive until you locate them. Usually there is something around for them eat if they can fly and recognize foods. All of our birds can fly well and are harness trained, so we can take them outside wearing an AVIATOR Harness and let them climb on a tree branch.

Foraging training starts when we hand them a treat when they are perching on the branch. Then put the food on the branch, and continually further away so they have to move and pick it up. You should go as far as tying apples and nuts to a branch so they have to reach down and pull them off. This exercise can be developed into an exciting foraging game for your parrot.

This will also teaches our bird to be comfortable standing on a shaky tree limb, with the wind blowing leaves in his face. Most escaped parrots are so scared being out on a shaky limb that they are unable to move to find food or jump off and fly to you.

Artha will never go hungry if she finds herself on the lam.

There will always be someone that says don’t teach your bird to eat strange things because he may eat the wrong food if you are not there. As you discovered about how the brain processes what foods we eat you now know that a bird fed a proper diet regimen will quickly sample foods he finds in the wild giving his brain the opportunity to figure out was is safe over a few days. A bird that is not conditioned to learn about new foods may die waiting, or may die in a few days when he becomes desperate for food and decides to eat anything he can find.

Since 1987, we have worked with many thousands of flighted birds and have gained much experience helping owners retrieve escaped pet birds. It is rare that a bird raised at Hartman Aviary does not make it back home. We attribute this to our 'Thinking Outside of the Cage' attitude that exposes our babies and adults to the greatest number of life's unpredictable possibilities. Our long distance record is a macaw that was on the lam for 5 ½ months and found 125 miles away. Just in case, we also microchip!