Essential Fatty Acids

Fat Is NOT The 'F' Word In Birds' Diets

Many people have been wondering what role can essential fatty acids play in the health of their pet birds. Let this article clear it all up!

You've spent hours tending to your feathered friend and he's the most beautiful one on the block. But how do you keep him healthy?

Just as with humans, there are certain nutrients that are essential for your bird's health. Healthy bird's rely on raw foods containing the necessary essential fatty acids, (EFAs). So if you want to keep your feathered friend healthy and happy, feed him plenty of foods high in EFAs.


Which is better Omega-3 or Omega-6?

If you’re looking to add a new, important supplement to your bird’s diet, consider adding in a range of foods that are rich in omega's. Both have benefits and should be kept at roughly equal levels.

Most experts recommend around 5–10 percent of your bird’s total diet should come from omega-3 fatty acids.

Simply put, Omega-3 fats are healthy unsaturated fats. It is found in fish and seafood, nuts and seeds, and plant oils.
  • Omega 3 Fatty Acids help combat chronic inflammation
  • They promote eye health, and also aid in neural development
  • They also may decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Help regulate mood, reduce the symptoms of depression
  • May aid in maintaining joint health
  •  Essential for brain function
Omega-6 fats belong to a group of unsaturated fats known as polyunsaturated fatty acid which are important for normal growth, health, and maintenance of good skin and hair.

Lack of Omega-6 fats in your diet can lead to dry skin, dandruff, brittle hair, inflammation and a higher risk of cancer. omega-6 can be found in a number of foods including walnuts, almonds, pine nuts, hemp seed, and flaxseed.

It is very important to balance the intake of omega-3 and 6 and to feed them in moderation since they are calorie dense. The goal is generally a 1:1 ratio of Omega 3:Omega 6.

Why do bird's need essential fatty acids?

When we think of EFA's, we're namely talking about omega 3's and omega 6's.
EFA's support many body functions. They are needed for cell membrane structure and function, as well as in energy production and metabolism. They are also important for growth and development of young birds, including feather growth, hatching success, egg shell quality, hatchling size and juvenile survival rates.

EFA's play a role in inflammation and immune response, and help regulate blood clotting. When EFA's are deficient in your bird's diet, they may suffer from chronic inflammation in many parts of their bodies including blood vessels, joints, and skin. Plus, EFA's are required for the body to absorb vitamins A, D, K, and E.

Omega-3 is an essential fatty acid that supports many body functions . It helps maintain a healthy skin and feather condition, aids in digestion, and boosts immunity. It supports vision and motor coordination. It also aids in blood clotting and reduces inflammation.

Excellent bird safe sources of Omega-3 include:

✓ Pumpkin seeds
✓ Brazil nuts
✓ Pecans, walnuts
✓ Hazel nuts
✓ Pine nuts
✓ Flax seed oil
Omega Fatty Acids

Omega-6 is another essential fatty acid that supports several body functions. It helps with growth and development of young birds including feather growth, hatching success, egg shell quality, hatchling size and juvenile survival rates. It also promotes good health of your bird's skin and feathers. In addition, it supports the liver and kidneys. Of special note is that it curbs behavior disturbances.
Excellent bird-safe sources of Omega-6 include:

Now that you know more about EFA's and why your bird needs them, it is important to understand that overdoing these foods can actually cause fatty liver disease and inflammation in the body. It is always best to stick with moderation when adding oils or nuts to your bird's diet. Don't forget that birds need a high quality seed mix in their diet as well for optimal health!

Make sure to eat a balanced diet. A good rule of thumb is to feed your bird 1:1 ratio of omega 3 and 6's (1 part omega-3 to 1 part omega-6).

Two common misconceptions about feeding birds

There are two major misconceptions about bird diets that you need to know about.

The first is that birds can thrive on seeds alone. Feeding just seeds may quite possibly end up killing your bird because it won't get the nutrients that it needs to thrive.

Some people falsely believe that since birds have a propensity for liver problems, they can't tolerate any fats at all. The truth is that not all fats are bad for your bird. In fact, some of them are essential for your bird's health and well-being. We call these fats essential fatty acids.

What is the best diet for a bird?

When choosing bird food, there are some important things to look for. Stay away from heavily processed food because these foods have gone through so many changes during the manufacturing process that they've lost most of their nutrients.

Check the ingredients. There will be dye, and chemicals added these foods. You'll also notice that a lot of synthetic vitamins and minerals have been added back. Then, they're often misleadingly marketed as being a "complete diet," insinuating that your bird doesn't need veggies, fruits, EFA's, and other nutrients.

Research on these ultra-processed bird foods show that they offer only limited nutritional value and that they can even cause digestive problems, health problems, behavior problems, and even premature death.

A healthy bird diet, on the other hand, should include both premium, minimally processed pellets and fresh, raw (uncooked) unprocessed plant-based foods. Don't forget to toss in some EFA's!

Start off with a foundation of about 40-50% premium bird pellets. The other 50 - 60% of the diet should include a diverse range of plant-based foods.

Learning to make various bird chop recipes and teaching your bird how to eat them is critical to your birds physical and behavioral health.

Portion size is another thing that confuses a lot of parrot caretakers. When thinking about portion size, think of the size of your bird's crop.

Budgies, Cockatiels, and similar sized birds: 1 Tablespoon Chop

African Grey's, Amazon's and similar sized birds: 2 Tablespoons Chop

Macaw's and Cockatoos: 3 Tablespoons Chop

This is just a guideline though—each pet bird species will have slightly different nutritional requirements. Remember that each part counts.

What's the best source of essential fatty acids?

Two bird safe sources of fatty acids for birds include seeds and nuts and oils.

When talking seeds and nuts, they provide your bird with an additional source of protein, as well.

A few examples of good sources include hemp seeds, chia seeds, flax seeds, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, peanuts, almonds, walnuts and even peanuts. If you really want to ramp up the nutritional value of seeds and nuts, try soaking them in fresh water over night.

In terms of oils you can use red palm oil, coconut oil, flax seed oil or hemp seed oil. These are considered to be superior sources since they contain more essential fatty acids than any other type of oil for birds.

Compare Seeds

 Omega 3 Omega 6
Chia Seeds X X  antioxidants, minerals, fiber
Flax Seeds X Protein, fiber, thiamine, copper
Hemp Seeds X X Hormone support, pain, inflammation support


Compare Oils

Coconut 3 Heart healthy, hormone balance, great for gut health, rich in lauric acid, antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal properties
Flaxseed 3, 6 Protein, fiber, thiamine, copper
Red Palm 3, 6 Important heart, feather & skin health properties that add to your birds health.


In Conclusion, routinely adding omega-rich foods to your bird chop every single day will make a huge difference in your birds overall health. 

Related Blogs

Is Red Palm Oil Good For Parrots?

Comparing Red Palm Oil and Coconut Oil


Omega Fatty Acids: Getting the right balance

The difference between Omega 3 and Omega 6

Eclectus Toe Tapping

Diet and behavior in companion birds

Ford, S. L., (2009) Balancing Your Parrot’s Lifestyle.

Pet food standards explained

Is ultra-processed foods aging our pets?

Diane Burroughs, LCSW is a licensed psychotherapist trained in ABA therapy techniques. She specializes in avian anxiety disorders and is certified in Nutrition For Mental Health. Diane has written a number of bird behavior books and she offers behavior consultations. She's developed a range of UnRuffledRx Science-backed Parrot Wellness Supplies.

Diane's products have been featured in the Journal of Avian Medicine and Surgery and at Exoticscon, a conference for exotic pet veterinarians. Her bird collars & supplements are stocked in avian vet clinics and bird stores throughout the US. With over 30 years in the field of behavior, Diane has created thousands of successful individualized behavior plans that help pets thrive.

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