Nuts & Seeds

- By DeAnn Waggoner, Executive Director, Wings of Love Bird Haven

You talk to many bird owners and you will hear such things as "I've fed my bird nuts and seeds for 15 years and he is healthy so far..." or "My bird was healthy--just died one day all of a sudden for no reason at all."

Compare these comments to what we might hear said about someone's ancestors... "My ancestors always ate meat and did fine" or "My grandfather lived 55 years on an all meat diet". Have you heard this one...My father at 50 was the picture of health until he died of a heart attack." How healthy were they really?

Let's take a look at the three main areas of nutrition in an all seed/nut diet: total fat levels, calcium and phosphorus levels and Vitamin A content. Total Fat levels... current nutritional research suggests that most psittacines need no more than 15% total fat in their diet. Safflower seeds represent the lowest fat level in all seeds and they have a fat content of 38.40%. This exceeds the maximum levels by 250%. Calcium (Ca), Phosphorus (P) and Ca:P ratio...Pssitacine research seems to mirror that of poultry findings showing that a diet should contain 0.50% calcium for maintenance and 1% for proper bone development. Using 100 gms of any given food, this would equate to 0.5 - 1 gm (500-1000 mg) of calcium to contain adequate levels for maintenance and growth. The highest levels of calcium in seeds/nuts is demonstrated by almonds at 266 mg, barely 50% of the levels necessary for maintenance and only 27% of the calcium needed for growth. High-fat diets may further exacerbate the situation by forming insoluble calcium soups thereby preventing calcium uptake in the small intestines which would result in even less percent.

Ca:P ratio analyzed in bone approximates 2:1. Any given diet should deliver this ratio of calcium to phosphorus to maintain equilibrium within the body. The best level to be achieved with seeds and nuts is represented on the chart by macadamia at 1:1.94, delivering 4 times higher phosphorus levels compared to calcium. The kidneys must excrete this excess phosphorus from the body and when they do, they also excrete calcium. This process further magnifies the overall calcium depletion within the body of the bird.

Vitamin A: Vitamin A is crucial to cellular function in many parts of the body including the formation of mucous membranes and epithelial surfaces, for growth, vision, development of the vascular system, production of adrenal hormones, formation of red and orange pigments in feathers and many other functions. A concentration of 5000 IU/pound of food is required to prevent eventual signs of Vitamin A deficiency. For a 100 gm portion of food, there must be 1100 IU of vitamin A to meet these requirements. The highest level on the chart for nuts and seeds is represented by pumpkin seeds at 380 IU/100 gm wt...barely 1/3 of the level necessary for sustaining avian health.

Profiling these three nutritional categories of seeds and nuts should clearly demonstrate how a diet exclusive of any supplementation will eventually lead a bird to multiple nutritional deficiencies and a shortened life span. The deficiencies are masked for an extended period of time due to each organs reserve capacity. For example, the kidneys can perform 100% of their function with only 30% of their total mass. This is why people can donate a kidney and still live normally. The liver can perform 100% of its function in some species with only 10% of its total mass. The same has also been seen in psittacine birds. Once this threshold is crossed the clinical symptoms are not only obvious, but usually severe and often life threatening. It has been said many times that "ignorance is bliss", but as it relates to one's health we know that this is not true. A diet for a pet bird must contain ALL nutritional groups (protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals) in the right proportions to support each bird's genetics for maximum life expectancy.

One last comment. The claim that supplementing a seed diet with fruits and vegetables will make the diet "complete" is not an accurate statement. Supplementation solves some of the problems, but tends to create others. Science does not have all of the answers, but much progress has been made in the last several years. Blood tests are now available and often required to determine the current nutritional condition of a bird and serve as a guide to demonstrate improvement once nutritional therapy is instituted. Ask your veterinarian to help you plan the proper nutrition for your specific species of pet bird. If you don't won't know. Approximately 94% of the birds tested at most clinics have some form of nutritional imbalances. The bird is the result of what it eats. Please feed a large variety of foods STARTING WITH veggies and sprouts, then add pellets, nuts, seeds, grains, legumes, et cetera to "round out" and complete the diet.

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