Feb. 6, 2001 It's true that Polly may want a cracker - in fact, she may want some peas and carrots, a tossed salad, rolls and that smoked salmon you were about to chow down on.
Pet birds - especially parrots - often can eat the same food you might prepare for yourself, and in fact, prefer such food, and it can be healthy for them, says Dr. Alice Blue-McLendon, a veterinarian who specializes in birds at Texas A&M University's College of Veterinary Medicine.
Proper nutrition for birds is often overlooked or misunderstood by many bird owners, who tend to believe that birds will only eat birdseed.
While many birds do eat seed - the correct term is pelleted food - there are other birds that can eat many of the same things people can, says Blue-McLendon.
"As long as the table food is not high in sugar or fats, it's usually okay to give birds what you might be eating at the time," says Blue-McLendon.
"Birds especially like different kinds of fruits and vegetables, but they also like other foods, too. A few things to stay away from are chocolate, avocados and onions.
"But in general, foods that are rich in protein, vitamins and calcium are good for birds."
Like people, many birds need to count their calories, Blue-McLendon says.
Certain species of birds tend to get obese. These include Amazon parrots and some cockatoos, and these birds' food intake needs to be closely regulated, she adds.
"Also, many types of birds are prone to get hardening of the arteries much the same way as it occurs in people," Blue-McLendon notes.
"Some birds need a low-fat diet. Too much cholesterol may contribute to heart disease."
Besides diet, bird owners should be aware of changing temperatures that can be fatal to birds.
In Texas - where it can be 80 degrees one day and 20 degrees the next - sudden temperature changes can be harmful to pet birds.
"If a bird such as a parrot has been in a warm kitchen for days and is suddenly placed out in a porch during a cold night, it might have some problems," Blue-McLendon says.
"Birds need to be able to adjust to the changing temperatures. A heat lamp placed nearby is often a good idea if the bird is to be outside in an enclosed area. Birds kept outdoors must have protection from the wind.
"Also, birds that do remain outdoors should probably be given a little more food and fed at least twice a day.
"In Texas, we usually have a fairly mild climate, and most birds will be fine, but it's still a good idea to keep an eye on the thermometer and take some extra precaution to keep birds from getting too cold," he adds.
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