The purpose of this blog is to share general information and is written to the author's best knowledge. It is not intended to be used in place of veterinary advice. For health concerns, please seek proper veterinary care.
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It can generally go without saying that there are many, many different kinds of birds out there. From the exotic birds that people appreciate as pets to the beautiful sparrows and chickadees in one’s backyard, there are plenty of opportunities that people will have to come across birds in their lives.
No matter if you want to cut down on the amount of waste that goes into landfills or you genuinely want to feed the birds in your life, there will come a time when you might wonder whether or not birds can eat certain food scraps, especially fruits and vegetables.
Unfortunately, there is no distinct “yes” or “no” to whether or not birds as a whole can eat specific fruits or vegetables, as different birds will have digestive systems that have adapted to different kinds of food.
However, there are some cases where it is pretty easy to give a broad answer, such as with tomatoes. Birds, whether in the wild or as exotic pets, should not have a lot of raw tomato in their diet because tomatoes are generally too acidic for their little bodies.
Tomatoes and Acidity
One thing that a lot of people do not realize is that tomatoes are actually considerably acidic. On the pH scale, where numbers closer to 1 denote extremely acidic substances and numbers closer to 14 denote more alkaline substances, tomatoes tend to range between 3.5 and 4.9, depending on the specific type of tomato.
By comparison, lemons are considered to be one of the most acidic fruits at a pH of 2 in their natural state, apple cider vinegar tends to be around 3.1, and soy sauce comes in at a pH of about 4.4, putting tomatoes right between drinking vinegar or drinking soy sauce for your little bird’s digestive system.
Now, people (excluding people who have problems with acidity) can usually handle tomatoes without a problem, but what about your avian companion?
Birds have a more sensitive digestive system than people do and the most acidic portions of a raw tomato can easily be far too acidic for your little bird to eat. Accidentally having your bird get into a raw tomato once or twice in its life shouldn’t be an issue, assuming that your bird isn’t hypersensitive to acid, but you should not feed tomatoes to your bird (of any type) as a regular food.
Having such a high acid intake on a regular basis will increase the chances that your bird develops ulcers, among other problems. This can cause intestinal distress and, if left untreated, can progress into vomiting and vomiting blood, neither of which are good for your little bird’s stress levels.
As a very occasional treat, tomatoes rarely pose an issue, but when there are so many better treats out there, it is best to not even bother with the tomatoes. Besides, there are also fruits that your bird can safely pick, chew, and tear at, which will not only provide treats but also mental stimulation in its life.
Forms of Tomato That Are Okay for Your Bird
With all of this being said, not all tomatoes are extremely acidic. In fact, it is usually the tomato juice that is the most problematic for acid, and this means that it is fairly easy to reduce the acidity of the tomatoes.
If you are willing to do this, or if you don’t mind purchasing dried tomatoes for your bird, these can actually become enjoyable treats.
Much of the acidic content of the tomato will evaporate during the drying process for tomatoes, so assuming that there are no added ingredients that could pose a problem for your bird, these can become treats for them if you really want to give them something to enjoy.
If you have a dehydrator, this can also be a way for you to create bird treats in the comfort of your own home, as you will also be certain that the dried tomatoes from the dehydrator will not have any additives in them.
Some people argue that spaghetti sauce can be safe for birds, and in theory, it certainly can be. The problem comes from what other ingredients are used to make the spaghetti sauce, when thinking about commercial and store-bought versions.
The argument for spaghetti sauce is that because most spaghetti sauce is used with cooked tomatoes, much of the acid content is cooked out of it as well, leaving it safe for your bird to eat. Assuming that the spaghetti sauce is purely cooked tomato sauce, then this would certainly be the case.
The problem is that people tend to add onions and garlic to their spaghetti sauce for flavoring, as not everyone wants to have just tomato flavor in their sauce, and these foods can cause problems in birds.
As long as the spaghetti sauce you feed your bird is purely cooked tomatoes and nothing else, it can be a safe version of tomatoes to feed to your bird.
When all is said and done, as long as your tomatoes have been processed in a way that drastically reduces the acid content (either through cooking or through drying), they will be safe for your birds.
It is raw tomatoes that generally cause issues for these flighty friends, and these should stay out of their diet whenever you can help it.
What Is a Bird’s Diet?
Speaking of a bird’s diet, you might begin to wonder what you could feed your bird. This can be a little bit hard to answer, as different birds around the world might have different specifications as to what they can and cannot eat.
There are five main food categories that birds enjoy, with some overlap in different bird species. These categories include the following:
- Insectivores: worms, grubs, ants, and other insects
- Carnivores: rodents, snakes, young rabbits, and other small animals
- Herbivores: seeds, grasses, leaves, and other plant-based material
- Frugivores: nuts, berries, fruits, and other fruit-like foods
- Palynivores: nectar and pollen
Some birds will not fall strictly into one category and may fall more into an opportunistic category, meaning that they will eat anything that they come across, no matter what bird feeding group it falls into. Other birds may be dependent on a specific food group but don’t mind branching out.
A good example of the latter statement would be birds that fall into the frugivores category. These birds would still technically be herbivores, as fruits and berries are still plants, but because they absorb most of their nutrients from fruit and berries specifically, the bulk of their diet needs to be made up of them and they cannot afford to branch out into eating leaves or grass.
With all of that being said, what a bird’s diet includes depends almost entirely on the bird’s species itself. Owls, for example, are carnivorous and probably would not care very much if you started planting shrubs that would normally attract birds that enjoy flowers.
Domestic birds, or most birds that are kept as pets, are typically more tropical birds or birds that live in a specific environment. Think of parrots, budgies, cockatoos, and similar birds.
What About Birds as Pets?
Almost all of these pet birds fall into the order of animals known as Psittaciformes. As a general rule, this order of birds will enjoy eating seeds, fruits, nectar, pollen, and flower buds, putting most of them into the groups of herbivores, frugivores, and palynivores.
Naturally, there are going to be some outsiders within this group, as there are some species that prey on insects or even small animals, but for most birds that are kept as pets, you can generally assume that they will be happy with fruits and seeds as part of their general diet.
In this group of birds, they will generally enjoy fruits that can be readily found in their natural environment, or fruits that are found in the southern hemisphere of the world. This includes apples, cherries, blueberries, and strawberries.
Some of these fruits are relatively acidic, especially when compared to tomatoes, but the issue here is that these fruits not only have different acidic compounds in them that these birds have evolved to be able to digest properly, but they also carry far more nutrients that the birds can make use of, making them a beneficial addition to any diet.
These birds may also enjoy vegetables and one of the best examples of this is with leafy greens. Leafy greens are very nutritious for your bird, and for many birds, the action of tearing them apart and into small enough pieces that the bird can enjoy is going to provide some mental stimulation for the day.
Do keep in mind that for pet birds, there are often bird foods that you will use for the staple part of your bird’s diet. These feeds will have everything that your bird needs in it so you won’t have to worry about trying to scavenge for specific kinds of insects, plants, or fruits.
Most of the fruits and vegetables that you add to your bird’s diet outside of its pellets and feed are going to be treats, supplements, or toppers for the rest of your bird’s food, so make sure that you aren’t feeding your bird too much of them or else you might run into some problems.
Generally, feeding birds fruits should not be an issue as long as you know what you are doing and what type of fruits your birds appreciate the most. A little bit of research into what your bird naturally enjoys will go a long, long way in its enjoyment of life.
What Are the Signs That a Bird Has a Bad Diet?
When it comes to caring for your feathered friend, you will always want to make sure that you are feeding your bird the right amount of food and ensuring that your bird is getting all the nutrients it could possibly need.
Because of this, you are also going to want to know what the signs of a malnourished bird are so that you can get on top of fixing its diet as soon as possible.
With an ideal diet, a bird should have feathers in good, clean condition and your bird should be happy about preening and keeping them beautiful, and your bird should be healthy in all other aspects of its body. It should be happy, vocal (assuming it’s a vocal bird), and friendly to you.
It can be hard to spot signs of a malnourished bird, as birds naturally try to hide when they are not feeling well due to their nature as prey animals. Even experienced bird owners can miss the signs if a bird is hiding it too well.
The signs that a bird is not getting the diet that it needs include the head being disproportionately large compared to the rest of the bird’s body, discolored feathers, poor movement in the limbs, unsteadiness, and so on.
These are all signs that your bird is not getting the nutrients that it needs and are all indicative of a nutritional deficit, a protein deficit, vitamin deficit, or similar.
If you notice any of these signs, the first thing that you should do is take your bird to an avian specialist vet who will have the knowledge and the equipment to help your bird out.
While it may cause your bird a little bit of stress, the vet will have the equipment needed to not only figure out where the bird’s biggest deficiencies are but also be able to help the bird get back to full health.
In these cases, the vet will inform you of the best way to nourish the bird and what type of diet it should require, depending on how severe the deficits are. From here, you can begin searching for a richer, better diet for your bird.
Taking care of birds can sometimes be a challenging task, especially when they are stubborn, finicky, and picky eaters, but when you give your bird the best diet that you can, they will respond by being full of energy and life, being one of the best friends that you could ever ask for from a pet.