Mutation Parrotlets & Pellets
Something to Think About
By: Sandee Molenda,
When you have been breeding
birds as long as I have, you have seen a lot of changes in the world of
aviculture. I remember where there were no avian veterinarians, the only birds
available were caught out in the jungle and there was no such thing as a bird
"toy". Thank goodness that things have changed dramatically in the
last 20 years!
One thing that has not changed
is human nature. Once we learn something, it can be difficult to keep an open
mind about new developments. Nowhere in aviculture is this so remarkably
demonstrated than in the field of avian nutrition. In reminisce of yesterday, it
also brings to mind when pellets were first invented and marketed as a complete
food for your bird. At the time, the only "parrot food" was a mix of
sunflower seed, corn, peanuts and dried chili peppers. Feeding fruit and
vegetables to your birds was thought to cause diarrhea! Of course, we know the
"first" parrot food was extremely high in fat and had almost no
nutritional value other than the dried chili peppers. Now, of course, we know
much better than that and certainly have a huge variety in what we should feed
Many people today believe that
unless their birds are eating pellets, they are not receiving a healthy diet. My
belief is that there are many ways to supply a healthy and varied diet to our
birds and pellets may or may not be a part of that program. It is up to the
individual breeder to make that determination. However, one must remember that
pellets are made from seed, namely corn, something that is not part of most
parrots, including parrotlets' natural diet and is not a highly nutritious food
at that. It is simply ground up seed with vitamins mixed in.
Today, in addition to a huge
variety of seeds and pellets, we have a limitless supply of fresh fruits,
vegetables, sprouts and greens as well as whole grain breads, grains, rice and
pasta. Many companies such as LeAvian(tm) and Soak N' Cook(tm) offer
combinations of vegetables, fruits, grains, herbs, seeds and nuts which can be
cooked and frozen then thawed as need be. These foods, combined with or without
seeds and/or pellets, make up a healthful and complete diet for any
However, if you have color
mutation parrotlets, you would do well to feed these natural foods and avoid
pellets altogether. For several years now, there have been numerous reports of mutation
parrotlets - particularly the "red eyed" birds of developing high uric
acid levels and/or kidney problems including calcification of the kidneys. This
problem has also been reported in some of the color mutation cockatiels and
budgies as well. Veterinarians have seen these problems in their own practices
and it has been reported by veterinarians doing research and pathology.
It has been widely believed by many parrotlet breeders that the problems
are due to possible problems with the birds' assimilation of protein in
primarily pelleted diets. Many parrotlets owners have reported high uric
acid levels often resulting in kidney failure in their color mutations that have
been on a primarily pelleted diet. This is not to say there is ANYTHING wrong
with pellets as it seems to be in the way the birds' process the protein. This
has been borne out by private veterinarians as well as veterinarians at research
universities that have also documented this problem in color mutations.
When I was at the
2003 International Aviculturist Society’s convention, I received some very
interesting information from Mark Hagen of Hagen International. Mr. Hagen's
family has owned Hagen, which has one of the largest avian nutritional research
facilities in the world. They are also one of the few that actually uses
parrotlets in their research. Mr. Hagen, during his presentation on avian
nutrition, said something that struck me that could perhaps be one of the
reasons that many mutation parrotlets seem to develop problems and it has
nothing to do with protein. It has to do with fat.
A seed based diet,
even one supplemented with fresh foods, is generally a higher fat diet than one
that is pelleted. And what does fat do besides make you fat? It stores water.
Water is needed for proper hydration and kidney function. Most parrots that are
taken off seed diets and placed on extruded or pelleted diets, begin consuming
mass amounts of water - often twice or even three times the amount of water they
consumed when on the seed based diet. Perhaps parrotlets, a genus that normally
does not drink a lot of water anyway, do not offset this lack of fat by
consuming more water the way other parrots do. Interestingly, cockatiels and
budgies, being desert dwelling birds, also do not consume a lot of water.
Pacific parrotlets, the species with the most color mutations, also come from
dry, desert-like regions and also do not consume a lot of water anyway. In
normal green birds, this may not be a problem. But perhaps in mutations, due to
their abnormal genetic make up, this lack of water can manifest itself in kidney
problems. Parrotlet mutations have not been bred for many generations so perhaps
as time goes on and the birds' continue to improve by out crossing to normal
wild-types, this will be bred out.
In my own aviary, I am no longer feeding pellets to my
mutations after losing a male fallow Pacific at six months to kidney failure. In
fact, I do not give pellets to my split mutation parrotlets either. As with all
my birds, about 70% of their diet is fresh foods with the remainder being seed.
I am constantly doing research on nutrition with my birds and I may again change
my program, but for now, this protocol works well - I have beautiful healthy
birds who produce gorgeous bouncing babies. I also have a lot of old birds that
I have had for more than 20 years and that to me, let's me know that what I am
doing is right for me - and them.
Of course, the
Golden Rule of breeding birds when I got started was "What works for me may
not work for you" so I am certainly not advocating that anyone feed their
parrotlets the same way I do. I only present this information based on my 20+
years of experience and my research
and networking with various experts at speaking engagements and conventions.
Each person must evaluate their own and their parrotlets' needs and, working
with their own veterinarians as well as doing their own research, to make the
appropriate decision for the best diet for their own parrotlets.