Why should we be aware of bird malnutrition?

Malnutrition is the number one cause of early death in pet birds. 

Vets often described that 70 to 80% of their daily office visit have to do with the complications of bird malnutrition.

There are a couple of reasons for such high rates a bird malnutrition according to BirdSupplies.com founder, Diane Burroughs, LCSW, a bird behaviorist who is certified in Nutrition For Mental Health.  First, the study of avian of nutritional needs is  relatively new.  In the past, a lot of death research on psittacine  nutritional needs was conducted on poultry. 

Also, we've been fed a lot of myths regarding avian nutritional needs. For a long time we believed that we just had to feed our birds a decent seed mix. This couldn't be further from the truth. 

Then, there was a period of time when we were told to feed our birds the table food that we eat. The trouble with that is that we, as people, don't eat all that healthy either. We love our fatty, salty, sweet foods.

Parasites may also cause malnutrition in birds. 

Depending on the lacking nutrients, malnutrition can affect particular organs and systems or it can suppress a bird’s entire immune system.  Both are a major cause for concern.  A lowered immune system makes your bird is susceptible to deadly bacterial or fungal diseases.  

Couple malnutrition with the fact that our pet birds are driven to hide their illnesses, injuries, and pain from us as a survival mechanism. Unless you know what you're looking for, it is  almost impossible to tell whether your bird is suffering from malnutrition. The key word here is almost.

 I'm going to let you in on some secrets of what to look for to tell whether your bird is in pain or is suffering from the effects of malnutrition.

What are the warning signs of malnutrition?

A number of different bodily systems put off warning signs that your birds help is waning. Make it a point to  carefully examine your bird everyday. once you get into a routine up looking at your bird from head to toe, you'll be able to spot bird malnutrition or signs that something is wrong.

 Of course, these daily check cannot replace the skillful I your avian veterinarian. Make sure to keep up with your annual wellness checks.


SKIN: dry itchy skin, flaking, long nails and overgrown beaks, poor feather condition. Scaly, patchy looking feet.

FEATHERS: dull, faded feathers absent of vibrant greens, blues and reds and broken or frayed feathers

RESPIRATORY: sinusitis, sneezing, liths in the nose, air sacculitis, aspergillosis.

DIGESTIVE SYSTEM: enteritis, hepatitis, pancreatitis (shows up as dark green colored stools, or diarrhea or no eating, no stools) fatty tumors or fatty liver disease

REPRODUCTIVE: egg binding, infertility, weak chicks.

ENDOCRINE: feather picking, feather coloration problems, hormonal imbalance, etc.

A malnourished bird may also experience obesity which leads to heart problems, liver problems, tumors and pressure sources.  

Malnourished birds have low stamina and appear lethargic.  You might call them “perch potatoes.” A healthy bird is active and inquisitive while a malnourished bird just don't seem to have much energy.

The most common deficiencies include lack of protein, calcium and magnesium. Get a complete bird calcium from UnRuffledRx. Also, important vitamins such as vitamin A, B complex vitamins, and Vitamin D3.    it is not uncommon for birds to suffer from a deficiency of essential fatty acids. Parrot vitamins such as UnRuffledRx FeatheredUp! can go a long way toward improving your parrots well-being.

Take a look at these side-by-side comparisons of Congo African grey parrots. The one on the left, a rescue, show signs of severe malnutrition while the one on the right has been fed a healthy diet.

Malnourished vs. Healthy African Grey Parrots

How can you tell if a bird is malnourished?

  • Disproportionately large head

  • Foot or skeletal deformities or lameness

  • Feather discoloration due to protein or other deficiencies

  • White-yellow plaque in mouth as a result of low beta carotene

  • Blunted choanal papillae (the slit in the roof of your birds mouth that moves air from the nasal cavity to the trachea)

The bird on the left passed away shortly after this photo was taken due  to the severity of its malnutrition.

How can we prevent bird malnutrition?

We recommend that you monitor your bird’s weight at least weekly, maybe more if it is a particularly fussy eater.  To get a baseline weight, weigh your bird in grams during the same time of day to take into account the weight of the food in the crop.  

Develop a record keeping system.  For instance, I weigh my birds on Sunday morning before  breakfast. After a few weeks, you’ll know your bird's baseline weight.  Then you’ll be able to detect when your bird suffers a weight loss. 

The reason that weighing your bird in grams is so important is because grams are a pretty small weight measurement - which is appropriate for a small pet. It would be difficult for me to tell if my bird lost just a few grams just by picking it up. I'd rather spend about $30 and know for sure.


Most nutritional problems take years to develop, but when you catch weight loss early, your bird is in a much better position to make a full recovery.

Once your vet has determined whether your birds ailing health is due to an unbalanced diet, she can recommend a species specific balanced, nutritious diet. You can learn more about converting your bird to a palliative diet in this important blog post.

How can I get my bird to gain weight?

Most birds begin the healing process once they’ve successfully converted to a well-balanced diet. This would include a premium bird pellet, such as Harrison’s Bird Foods and a rich array  uncooked, plant-based foods

Plan on a recovery period of 6 months to a year. 

Make it easy on yourself and just subscribe to Harrison's bird food diets on Amazon.  You'll save 5% with a subscription and never have to worry about running out add healthy bird food.



Keep in mind that seed diets are really fatty so your bird may actually have been overweight when you started the diet. The proper question is not so much how to get your bird to gain weight but how to get a healthy body composition.

To support your bird in becoming more fit, and of course healthier, consider learning as much as you can about all of the nutritional benefits of plant-based bird diets.

You may be thinking, right!?  How could I possibly provide all the rich vegetation that's available in a jungle?  

It's not so much about presenting the same foods that are available in a jungle. I mean you're not going to get those at the grocery store. It's more about providing the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that your bird needs in order to thrive. 

So, just like the USDA provides recommended daily allowances for various vitamins and minerals, your bird nutritional daily allowances, too.  If you're feeling a bit overwhelmed about it, pick up some science-backed parrot cookbooks, such as these below.


Many a bird has eaten fatty, seed based diets for years and once converted to pellets and fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, nutritional grains, are able to make a fresh recovery. 

Other birds may have already developed fatty liver disease. There is a lot of research regarding how milk thistle and dandelion root support birds with fatty liver disease, but of course you'd want to consult with your avian vet before starting any supplement.




Expect that your bird will experience physiological changes as it is converting to the new diet.  As your birds skin regenerates to a healthier state it will shed the dry flaky skin cells and it may even undergo a molt.  

 A couple of resources to support  your bird’s health and make it more comfortable include UnRuffledRx Aloe Vera Spray  and UnRuffledRx FeatheredUp!

As your bird regain health and stamina you may notice that it becomes more muscular and fit.  It may become“friskier” in its behavior as a sign that it feels better.   

Now is a great time to start proper bird training techniques to keep any new behavior problems from developing.  In your bird's mind, it probably feels like it got a new lease on life.

In conclusion, malnutrition is the number one reason parrots present to an Avian Veterinarian. You can best support your feathered friend by developing some habits:

  1. Take your bird into the avian veterinarian for annual wellness checks.

  2.  Convert your bird to a  premium oh, that endorsed pellet like Harrison's bird food.

  3.  Discover the joy of teaching your bird to eat a wide range of raw plant-based products.

  4.  Encourage your bird to eat well, sleep well, and exercise everyday for the best outcome.



Diane Burroughs, LCSW is a licensed psychotherapist trained in ABA therapy techniques. She specializes in anxiety disorders and is certified in Nutrition For Mental Health. With over 30 years experience, in a range of settings, she’s created thousands of successful behavior plans to help turn around challenging behavior. Diane got parrot fever in the ‘90’s and founded BirdSupplies.com in 1998. Nowadays, BirdSupplies.com focuses solely on Science-backed Parrot Wellness with bird collars for feather plucking birds, nutritional supplements to support avian wellness, and a range of educational materials to support bird behavior. Diane’s authored a number of books on supporting challenging behavior in birds.

Hey there! Because of conscientious parrot caretakers like you we are able to continue to offer valuable, science-backed parrot wellness support that will help your feathered friend to thrive so that you can enjoy it for years to come.

Please take a moment to share this blog with your friends and on your social media. If you want to learn more about science back parrot Wellness, check out my social media channels like YouTube and Pinterest. And request access to my private Facebook group, UnRuffledRx Feather Plucking Help. I can find it by clicking the banner below.