Parrot Nutrition and CALCIUM

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All the long term nutritional research throughout the history of humankind, that concerns animals, has been revolved around short-lived ground feeders. Dogs, cats, horses, cows, chickens, ducks, turkeys and mice, all fall into this category.


Every company that worked to develop exotic bird diets, did so by loosely copying the nutritional values on a bag of chicken feed. At that point they began to adjust the diets in relation to the problems caused by deficiencies and overloads that were noted and reported by veterinarians. When asked why they would believe that our parrots should be fed like chickens, they logically answered that poultry nutrition was the only body of scientifically proven knowledge that they had to work with.


I have always thought along a different line. Parrots are not short-lived ground feeders. They are long-lived middle to upper canopy animals. The prospect that they should be nourished like short-lived ground feeders has always been, in my opinion, a mindset that was totally illogical. To my knowledge, the only group of long-lived middle to upper canopy animals that has had any serious study are the monkeys. Once you have made that transition in thinking, it’s only a very short leap to looking at modern, human nutritional studies. The ones that interest me most specifically are those that focus on natural, vegetarian diets.


 In traveling this route, one cannot ignore the breakthroughs that have taken place in human vitamin and mineral supplementation products. Research into the causes and the preventative measures that are concerned with osteoporosis deserve special attention. Here we come to the question of calcium. Calcium by itself has very little value without the supportive nutrients that are needed to absorb it. Even with the added supportive nutrients, if calcium metabolism is not functioning correctly, there will be deficiencies or over-calcifications. One of the biggest breakthroughs in the desire to supplement the human population with calcium has been the realization that deficiencies in magnesium will cause calcium metabolism to mal-function. If you look at the history of human calcium supplements you will see that the more modern the formulation, the higher the ratio of magnesium to calcium. There should also be the consideration of the trace mineral zinc.


Many are aware of the relationship between calcium and phosphorus. In fact, one widely used calcium supplement that has been used on birds is Calphosan. Yes there must be a reasonable balance between calcium and phosphorus. Too much phosphorus however will cause calcium depletion. If your birds are get a diet that is already high in phosphorus, and this means seeds in the diet, then the addition of a calcium supplement that contains phosphorus can be detrimental.


Vitamin C is also interesting. Supposedly, birds don’t need supplemental C. They, like dogs, have the ability to manufacture their needs through a metabolic process. Since the human metabolism cannot keep us from becoming deficient and therefore we need to ingest it, we must turn away from human nutritional studies when we think about vitamin C in relation to birds. Although I have previously stated that I think that the consideration of short-lived ground feeder nutrition is illogical when it comes to our birds, it would be foolish to turn a completely blind eye toward it. One of the most interesting things that surfaces when we look in this direction is the experience of those who breed large dogs. They have discovered that even though dogs, like birds, are not supposed to need supplemental C; when they add it to their diet, they see results. They have documented a major reduction in the progression of hip dysplasia in female dogs. The long standing assumption that dogs and birds can take care of their needs for this nutrient through a metabolic process was based on the fact that there were no known signs of deficiencies that appeared in animals that were feed diets that were deficient in vitamin C. It was never considered that vitamin C might, as does magnesium, play a role in the support of the system that regulates calcium metabolism. In fact, vitamin C is now being looked at in human nutrition, as a supportive agent in this process.