MYTH: "...AND LETTUCE TOO"Iceberg lettuce, like celery and other pale vegetables, is almost all water. Dark green or dark yellow-orange vegetables are more nutritious. If your birds enjoy lettuce, offer a darker green variety like romaine. Other good veggies are broccoli, parsley, dandelion leaves, spinach, carrots, sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts, asparagus, green peppers, pea pods, green beans, corn-on-the-cob, thawed frozen corn and peas. In general, most fruits are not as nutritious as most vegetables. If your birds do like fruit, feed more nutritious cantaloupe, papaya, mango, apricots, and bananas.
All vegetables and fruits should be fresh, washed, and as free of pesticides as possible. Canned vegetables are usually very high in sodium, so choose fresh, frozen, or a low-sodium canned variety instead. Never feed your birds produce that was grown by the side of the road or potentially fouled by other animals. If you wouldn't feel safe eating it yourself, don't feed it to your birds! Avocado is toxic and should be avoided completely.
MYTH: VEGETABLES, FRUITS, AND OTHER MOIST FOODS CAUSE DIARRHEAMany older books on cockatiels and budgies warn against feeding too many "greens" because these foods, in excess, could cause digestive upset and diarrhea. Some even go as far as to show a picture of a "healthy" bird's tiny dark droppings next to the looser, greener ones of a bird "suffering" from vegetable-induced "gastric distress."
In actuality, fresh moist foods do not cause true diarrhea, but just an increase in clear liquid urine output as the bird eliminates the water it doesn't need from the food. If you can link a color or consistency change in the droppings to anything your budgie or cockatiel has eaten within the last several hours, the changes are probably normal. For example, a bird that has recently eaten carrots may have wet, orange droppings. If you notice any change in the color, consistency, volume, odor, or frequency of droppings that is not directly related to the ingestion of a particular food, call your avian veterinarian.
MYTH: BIRDS NEED GRIT IN ORDER TO PROPERLY DIGEST THEIR FOODThere are two kinds of grit available for pet birds. "Insoluble" grit consists of sand or crushed gravel or quartz. When your birds ingest this grit, it collects in the ventriculus (gizzard), the muscular part of the stomach, where it helps to grind hard food particles into a fine mush so the intestines can more efficiently extract needed nutrients. Insoluble grit is very hard and not easily dissolved by digestive fluids. As a result, it remains in the ventriculus quite a long time until it is worn down enough to pass through the system.
"Soluble" grit, most commonly sold in the form of ground oyster shells, is a softer grit that is easily dissolved by the stomach. It may temporarily assist in grinding food, but it actually functions more as a mineral supplement since it is rapidly broken down and absorbed. Some bird gravel manufacturers package soluble and insoluble grit together.
Whether or not to provide insoluble grit as part of the diet is one of the most controversial issues in avian nutrition. While pigeons, fowl, and some other birds do indeed need grit to help remove seed hulls, there is evidence that it is unnecessary for healthy psittacines because they hull their seeds before swallowing them.1, 4 Other studies show that the presence of insoluble grit in the ventriculus truly does increase digestive efficiency by increasing the strength of the ventriculus' muscular contractions and helping to grind hard food particles.2, 3
The risk of supplying insoluble grit is that some birds will overeat it and completely obstruct their digestive systems. Ill or nutritionally deprived birds are the most likely to overeat grit and cause digestive impaction. Young, curious, overly hungry, or bored birds may also be at risk.
If after weighing the benefits and risks you do choose to feed insoluble grit, do not offer large quantities at once. A few grains per month per bird is sufficient. Do not feed grits containing charcoal as charcoal has been found to absorb vitamins A, B2, and K from the intestines.2
MYTH: MYTHS ARE ONLY MYTHS
As you can see, there is often a grain of truth to every nutrition myth. It is important to educate yourself so you can sort out the truth from the fiction and ensure that your bird receives the best nutrition possible.