What size pellets should I feed my parrot is a frequent question I receive. And now that I have become a Roudybush distributor, I am even more in tune with the different kinds of pellets out there. However, I somewhat disagree with the manufacturer recommended pellet sizes and some of the recommendations out there in regards to pellet size.
So first off, keep in mind that all pellets from a manufacturer (of the same line) contain the same nutritional content regardless of the parrot that is pictured on the package. Even if the package says that the pellet is for Amazons, they only mean that the size is recommended for Amazons and not that the diet is especially modified for the requirements of Amazons. Unfortunately species specific diets are not generally available.
Now when it comes to pellet size, the most important thing is how it is relative to the bird itself. Feeding excessively large pellets can make it difficult to impossible for a bird to eat. On the other hand, feeding excessively small pellets can leave it uninterested. Generally though, too small is safer than too large.
In this article I am going to refer to pellet sizes based on Roudybush because it is the pellet I am most familiar with. I think other manufacturers sell roughly similar sized pellets or refer to the size as relative to each of my birds for reference. Besides a few mini sizes, Roudybush basically comes in small, medium, and large. I have a small, medium, and large parrot so it is a perfect opportunity to compare the sizes.
For really smaller parrots like GCC, Cockatiel, Lovebird, Parrotlet, Budgie, the pellets I will be referring to in this article are too big. Mini or Crumble sizes are good for those birds. Choosing between the two really comes down to what your bird likes best because both are small enough and recommended.
Once you get to a Senegal Parrot sized bird or larger, you have more freedom of choice between the three main pellet sizes. My feeling is that the medium Roudybush pellets are actually perfect for all parrots small, medium, and large (again, excluding really small parrots). This has to do not only with parrot sizes but also personalities.
Initially I started out feeding medium to save money by using the same size for my Senegal and Cape Parrot. But with time, I discovered that even if I only had one or the other, medium would still be ideal. The Senegal is accustomed to eating big foods. Whether it's a baby carrot, a grape, or a piece of broccoli, these are all way big in relation to the size of a Senegal. Yet, she is used to manipulating large foods and gravitates toward them. The Medium size pellets are big enough that she has to hold and work on them, but far from overwhelming. I'm not even going to get into why Medium size pellets are good for medium size parrots.
Now when it comes to the Macaw, conveniently Medium size pellets turned out to be ideal for her as well. The Macaw on the other hand is used to dealing with smaller foods relative to her size. Whether it's working a pine nut out of the shell or a sunflower seed, she is accustomed to eating stuff that's pretty small relative to her hulking size. I have tried small, medium, and large pellets on all 3 of the birds and have found that in a bind they could eat any of the three sizes. However, the medium is not only the central size for 3 birds, but it is also their favorite for their personalities.
Another reason I like to use medium pellets is because it enables me to keep track of how much the birds are eating. In all three sized parrots, I am able to count out the amount of pellets they get and be able to see if something is left over. If the pellets are too small, it is difficult to keep count. On the other hand, excessively large pellets take long to consume and don't work as well for treats. Medium Roudybush actually works as a superb treat for training my parrots.
So when you are picking a pellet size for your parrot, don't worry about the size that is recommended on the package. If you have a lot of small through large parrots, just get the medium and feed it to everybody to save the hassle and money of getting different sized pellets. If you have just one bird, try the medium first and only if it's a problematic size, try changing to small or large. At this point, even if I had just one of the 3 birds, I would still choose to feed the medium Roudybush pellets for the reasons mentioned.
I haven't given much thought to what Kili & Truman prefer as treats in a long time. The initial process for discovering a bird's favorite treats involves offering variety and watching what order they eat things in. But it's been years since I've done that with these two and with time I've began to notice that it doesn't make much difference what I give them. They are always content with what they get.
During a lot of my training I use Roudybush pellets as rewards for flight recall and training because that's what my parrots normally consume and it's healthier for them than eating other stuff. By teaching them to work for pellets it has made their performance a lot more reliable. There is much less of the "well I would come to you for a sunflower seed but I think I'd rather pass if you've only got a safflower..." attitude when they know what they'll get but yet prefer it.
So now I put it to the test, after years of healthy eating habits with uncolored Roudybush Maintenance pellets as the staple of their diet, what do Kili & Truman prefer when given the choice?
10 for 10 Kili picked Roudybush pellets over sunflower seeds. Truman was 8 for 10 on this trial run but anecdotally prefers pellets even more than Kili. I later discovered he was trying to outsmart me by grabbing the seed so he could get the pellet too so I don't really think it counts! Anecdotally I would say that I've noticed a 9/10 typical preference for the birds to take pellets over seeds. Once in a while they just like something different for fun or variety and that's perfectly normal. If pellets make up the dominant portion of their diet, this is absolutely considered to be more healthy by avian veterinarians.
if you think about it, the same holds true for people. People who are used to healthy eating can enjoy healthy food more and don't feel forced to eat right. I know when I am out and about and active a lot, I will sooner go for a healthy meal than junk food and it's the same with my birds. They exercise a lot and work hard and at the end of the day, they want what will sustain their bodies and not just some momentary pleasure at the expense of their long term health.
Santina has converted to Roudybush Pellets readily and predominantly gets pellets for training as well! I'm not certain she would qualify as well as Kili/Truman in a similar test but I can tell you she runs down her perch and jumps on my arm to get a pellet so we're definitely on the right track.
Interestingly the same results continued for pellets vs nuts as long as the nut wasn't bigger than the pellet. However, the birds will often go for a small piece of pellet over an average piece of nut or seed. Moral of the story is that parrots that are cared for using my method, choose healthy eating. If they are choosing healthy eating then we can be assured that they are content with the healthy food we are feeding them. Happiness and healthiness go hand in hand and are the basis of my approach. Learn how to give your parrot the Wizard's treatment from my book, The Parrot Wizard's Guide to Well-Behaved Parrots.
During my recent visit to Ginger's Parrots Rescue in Phoenix, there was one bird in particular that I had trouble recognizing. She had no trouble recognizing me as we'd become friends during my previous visits and she even participated in my seminar. This was Ubee, a 16 year old female Senegal Parrot.
Ubee is a sweet little Senegal Parrot but can be very bratty and requires a firm hand. She is one of the smaller Senegals I've seen yet with a huge personality. She can be quite the little terror if given the opportunity. I recall a story where Ubee (while still originally clipped) jumped off her tree, casually strolled across the floor, climbed up Ginger's husband's leg, got on his shoulder, and then viciously attacked him! That's the kind of bird Ubee is and the reason she is being rehabilitated at the rescue.
Anyway, the interesting thing is that the last time I saw Ubee, she was half black on her wings. Her plumage was covered in stress bars and she sooner looked like a black parrot with green specs rather than the other way around. She was very easy to tell apart from the other Senegals because of this alternate appearance. Yet this time when I visited, I could no longer tell Ubee apart by color. I had to get used to telling her apart from the others mainly by size alone. Her vest is also more orange than the others but that is harder to see at first glance.
So what is fascinating is that after less than a year primarily on Roudybush pellets (converted from a different/colored pellet prior) this Senegal Parrot's plumage has taken a 180 and really cleaned up! Not only are the stress bars gone, but the plumage is brighter, crisper, and cleaner looking. Aviculturists and Veterinarians seem to be able to infer a lot about a bird's health by its plumage so I think it is pretty reasonable to correlate that this parrot not only appears visibly better but is healthier as well.
To me, seeing these kinds of visible results is by far the biggest reason to use and support a Roudybush pellet diet. Seeing is believing. It's one thing to postulate that one pellet is better than another based on ingredients, etc. But it's quite another when you see brilliant plumage (and particularly in contrast to how it was on a different diet). Furthermore, Roudybush has years of research and data to back it up. Regardless, nothing is more convincing than seeing actual improvement.
I realize the color/flash in the photos is a bit different but I really want to point out the clarity of the plumage in the second photo. Notice all of the black in the wing feathers as well as tail feathers. After being converted to Roudybush, the plumage has become more uniform as well as vibrant. I can vouch that in person I noticed the plumage to be a brighter shade of green than originally. It went from a dark leafy green to a more iridescent sort of green that I am accustomed to seeing on my own Poicephalus parrots.
The interesting thing is that this parrot was already on a pellet diet, just of a different kind. Seeing improvement when a parrot converts from seeds to any pellet is pretty obvious. But it is much more surprising to see this much improvement from a parrot going from one pellet to another.
Here are a few more reasons I think this is a pretty objective demonstration of the value of the diet change. The rescue keeps parrots on a predominantly pellet diet (80%+) so it's almost impossible that the change is due to beneficial supplemental foods. Unfortunately the rescue birds do not get outside much (which I am hoping to change) so the role of natural sunlight did not play a role at improving feathering. Although it is impossible to compare stress levels between the prior home and rescue, I doubt that stress at the rescue decreased. If anything, I would guess that stress increases (in a healthy amount) because the birds are trained and have to fend for themselves in a flock environment. Also the parrots' food is managed so food stress certainly is not lower. Yet the plumage of all of the parrots has improved while on the Roudybush Maintenance diet. Improvement has been noted in all of the parrots, however, Ubee's case really stands out because it was so drastic and quick.
I am first to admit I don't know much about parrot nutrition. I don't think any individual can claim to know what foods a captive parrot needs and in what proportion. The problem is that the fresh/human foods we can offer are not natural to parrots, the proportions are arbitrary, and the results are difficult to measure. If you offer a mix of fruits/vegetables to your parrot, you can't tell which ones are helping or hurting because you only see the net result. If feeding an all fresh diet is better than pellets, at best it is only marginally so. I see excellent plumage and health results of parrots that have been converted to Roudybush. But going with a fresh diet is risky. Since you don't have the knowledge of how to properly balance the diet and since the parrot does not either (remember in nature is is balanced by availability and species are evolved to subsist on that availability), there is a greater risk of something necessary being left out. For example if you decide to mix seeds and pellets and let the parrot choose, the parrot will eat a lot more seeds then pellets and effectively be on a seed based diet. Likewise with fruits/vegetables, if the parrot eats all the ones it likes and leaves the others, it may just be on an all fruit diet and be missing out.
Reading the research and hearing good things about Roudybush convinced me to try it for my parrots and to recommend it to the rescue. Seeing the improvements first hand (much more starkly in the rescue parrots because mine were on ok diets prior), has even further solidified my opinion that a predominantly Roudybush diet is a reliable starting point when it comes to parrot diet. I may have expected some improvement but I am actually a bit surprised that the advantage is so extensive and visible. Perhaps there is something better out there or a better fresh diet, however, seeing how good the plumage on a Roudybush fed parrot already is, it would be very difficult to observe and demonstrate this. Until someone is able to do so, I will stick with what I know produces reliably results. On this basis, I will continue to recommend Roudybush as an excellent staple diet for companion parrots.
Here is a video of me target flying a bunch of Ginger's Rescue Senegals for Roudybush pellets as treats.
Since I got Truman back in 2010, both of my parrots have been on a Roudybush Maintenance Pellet diet. Before that point, Kili had been on a Purina pellet diet that she was weened on at the store I got her; Truman was on Pretty Bird. I did not want to feed two separate diets and nor was I thrilled with either. I was faced with the choice of what diet both of my parrots would be on from then forward.
Let me begin by saying that I don't know much about parrot diet and nor does anyone else. Anyone who says they know everything about parrot diet actually knows little. The most respectable people that I have talked to about parrot diet fully admit that we know very little and to take it with a grain of salt. The problem is not only that little research has been done but also that there exist over 300 species of parrots that all have vastly different diets. For starters we are dealing with parrots from 3 isolated continents, 2 different families, and over 90 generas. Habitats range from lush rain forests to savannahs and deserts. Clearly different parrots are eating completely different foods.
Now let's add the fact that none of the foods we feed to captive parrots are anything they would encounter in the wild. Whether it's fruits, vegetables, nuts, or seeds (with few exceptions) these are entirely human foods and have nothing to do with the foods these birds would naturally encounter. For this reason, you can't argue that an apple or sunflower seed is a natural food for parrots while a pellet is not. The parrot would eat neither in the wild. So instead of trying to find the foods that are natural to a certain species of parrot (actually impossible because they aren't cultivated and cannot be sourced), the next best solution is to learn their nutritional requirements and appeal to those. Though there are variations in nutritional requirements, they are far more similar across species than specific foods consumed.
Before I can make the case why I chose Roudybush, I have to begin by explaining why pellets in the first place. You see, parrots are picky eaters and tend to eat the most caloric foods while leaving behind the more nutritious ones. The reason for this is pretty simply, in the wild the highly desired foods are seasonal and limited. Eat those first while they are available and when they are not, revert to the other stuff. The seed mixes we can buy are already premixed. So the supply of sunflower seeds or whatever else never runs out as it gets restocked daily. Furthermore, the vitamins and minerals are simply sprinkled on the seeds and not actually in them so who knows how much the bird is actually getting? On the flipside there also exists the possibility of a parrot overdosing (which can be as dangerous as not getting enough) by eating too much of a certain seed or drinking water with vitamins mixed in. Pellets on the other hand are thoughtfully balanced. Since the parrot is eating the same thing in each bite, there is no chance of getting the wrong amounts of things while ensuring that the bird gets a healthy dose.
One thing that really convinced me that pellets are a superior food for parrots was a discussion I had with Truman's breeder about pellets vs vegetables and fresh foods. She is a firm believer that pellets are food and everything else is just play stuff. In other words, pellets are for health and the other foods are just fun/tasty for the birds but not important. She explained to me that she used to be a firm believer in giving fresh foods to the birds and would spend hours every day preparing them until her mother became ill. She had to take a year off from the breeding business to care for her mother while entrusting her birds to the husband. The birds would be canned during this period and just bare essentials done until her return. What this meant was no more time consuming fresh foods. The birds were put on an all pellet diet. After a solid year on nothing but pellets, the birds appeared healthier (not only to the breeder but the vet as well) but more convincingly yielded greater offspring. Unlike beliefs about which foods may or may not be better, this is actually some very objective evidence. Since learning about this, I never again felt bad about leaving my parrots on just pellets when I'm away and predominantly feeding them a pellet diet. When I feed vegetables to my parrots, it's to make them lose weight and not to make them healthier.
Some people try to go with all natural or less pellet dominated diets. The problem I have with these is how do you know what to actually feed your parrot, in what quantity, in what balance, and how to ensure they are actually eating that and not other things? It seems to me that most people just make up what they think is healthy and feed it to their parrots rather than actually basing it on any rational evidence. For example I've heard great arguments for why frozen vegetables are healthier than fresh and the other way around as well. How am I to judge which arguments have better merits? Instead I feed a bit of either to the birds but only as supplement to pellets which are actually proven to work.
Pellets provide ample and balanced nutrition. Once accustomed to them, parrots eat them whole heartedly. My parrots have never been on seed or other diets, but when viewed by vets they are always complemented on having a very healthy appearance. On the flip side, looking at similar parrots that are on unhealthy diets, the difference is quite apparent. So given that I am very convinced that pellets are the best diet available for parrots, the big question when I was getting Truman was which pellet to use? I had no special attachment to Kili's Purina pellets except that was what she was weened on so I continued using them out of habit. Truman was weened on Pretty Bird but I did not want to use a colored pellet. All the silly shapes aren't necessary either, a hungry parrot will eat regardless how entertaining the food looks.
I researched different pellets on the market before coming to my decision. I ruled out colorful and sugary pellets up front. Not only is it safer to avoid using colored foods but also it allows you to monitor droppings for abnormalities. Sugary pellets and other globby treat ball type products were out of the question as well. The last thing a captive parrot needs is refined sugar. They already have more energy than they can expend sitting in a cage and flying in the confines of a home, so getting hyper off refined sugar is not only detrimental to their health but also their behavior. If you are unsure if what you are feeding your parrot is sweetened, I urge you to taste it to find out. If it's sweet, you should probably look for an alternative. Also, keep in mind that sugary pellets are more prone to spoilage or causing yeast infections.
When it comes to healthy, unsweetened, and actually researched pellet brands, the list becomes greatly narrowed down. Simply put, many pellets on the market are junk. It was pretty easy to eliminate the pellets I did not want to use but much more challenging to pick the one pellet to feed out of a few good ones. I considered organic pellets but found that the benefit comes at a disproportionately greater cost. I eat non-organic processed food with preservatives so I figured (as long as it's not detrimental) my parrots can do the same. Roudybush in my mind is the best of the non-organic pellets and I didn't feel like having organic soy or corn really makes that much of a difference through all the processing and treatment it undergoes anyway. Furthermore organic food is much more prone to spoilage and has to be used quicker. I think organic food can potentially do more harm than good because it can carry bugs/diseases resultant by the lack of preservatives and pesticides. This means it is more critical to use organic food quickly and older food is best discarded and replaced. This makes the cost of organic even higher than just the package cost.
Roudybush comes out ahead in the bird food market as the optimal balance of good nutrition, research, quality control, preservation, and cost. It is one of the more expensive pellets but quality seems proportionate to cost. Yet it is still far cheaper than organic or specialized diets. Roudybush pellets have been in use since 1981 and have gone through rigorous research and testing. I feel that for such long living birds, having time tested results is essential. We may not know long terms side effects of newer diets on kidneys/livers of parrots. Having a diet that has been researched and successful for this long is evidence I'll take any day over a hunch feeling that something is a healthy food for my birds.
Here are aspects of the pellet that makes Roudybush superior.
· Nutritional balance is achieved through years of study · Pellets contain no coloring · No sugar/sweeteners · Bird safe preservatives prevent spoilage/toxins · Steam Pelleting yields less nutrient loss and greater concentration than extrusion · Good shelf life · Time tested (going on 32 years)
I have heard complaints about the ingredients such as corn/soy basis. However, I have not read evidence for why this is bad or a better substitute. Thus in the meantime I do not have a problem with this. It's not surprising that my birds like Roudybush pellets though because they love corn. At least, unlike eating corn straight, the pellets ensure that they get a balanced nutritious diet in the process rather than just empty calories.
The place where I disagree with Roudybush (and really all the pellet manufacturers) is the concept of freefeeding the product to parrots. Of course the manufacturer has no reason to tell you otherwise because they make more money from all the overfeeding and waste. My biggest problem is with the overeating, followed by the mess, and only in last place the excess cost. The excess cost of spilled pellets is not the end of the world but still something to consider. The mess of unnecessarily spilled pellets is a bigger pain because it requires frequent cleaning. Watch the time lapse of Kili & Truman eating their pellets at the end of the video and you will see how they neatly eat over their dishes. All crumbs fall into the dish (remember there is a grate at the bottom of the cage so anything spilled elsewhere is gone forever) and then the birds lick their dish clean not leaving a single crumb. I find feeding medium pellets (which are considered suitable for much larger parrots) optimal because it allows me to count the pellets out quickly. Kili gets 5-10 per meal and Truman gets 5-20 per meal depending on weight. This is a quick amount to count out and it encourages the parrots to use their dexterous feet to hold them.
Roudybush Maintenance Pellets are the type that I would have no hesitation in recommending to other parrot owners. I feel that it is a safe, reliable, healthy, beneficial, affordable, and nutritious diet. It is the best balance of price, quality, and benefit in the market. It may be difficult to find in stores but order in bulk online, freeze, and use at your pace for greatest savings.
I am happy to share that Roudybush company values the training and educational work I am doing with parrots and has agreed to sponsor Kili & Truman with their favorite brand of pellets. I had already made up my mind and been using their pellets for several years now. But lately I've begun capitalizing on Kili & Truman's fame by getting manufacturers to sponsor them. I was thrilled that Roudybush agreed because it was already my first choice diet.
In addition, I ensured that my favorite rescue would also be taken care of with a matching contribution. Not only will my flock benefit, but so will the parrots at GingersParrots rescue. Up until six months ago the parrots had been on all kinds of diets, not to mention colorful/sugary ones. But since my first visit to the rescue, I have convinced Ginger not only to try Roudybush but also to consolidate all of her birds onto the same diet. I got her birds to try some of the pellets from Kili & Truman's stash and most of them took right to it so conversion was a non-issue. She didn't try converting them off the colored pellets because she didn't think they could do it. All it took was actually trying and now her flock is on a much healthier standard diet. So I'd like to thank Roudybush for caring about the health of rescue parrots.
Here is a video of Kili & Truman receiving their first sponsored package and enjoying their Roudybush pellets followed by GingersParrots getting their first shipment.