ARTICLES | Parrot Diet

Red Palm Oil

Many parrots love red palm oil. But why? Obviously, they seem to like the taste. Also, there are field observations that show clearly that the fruits of the oil palm are definitely part of wild parrots’ diets. But does it make sense for us to feed red palm oil to our pet parrots?

Excellent Vitamin A Source

Many parrots suffer from Vitamin A deficiency. It is a contributing factor for many parrot diseases, such as Aspergillosis, liver and skin problems. There are even a number of avian vets who as a matter of course assume that a parrot kept as a pet is almost always Vitamin A deficient.

As a comparison: The recommended daily allowance of vitamin A for humans is approximately 2400 – 5000 IE, for parrots, however, it is 2000 – 4000 IE per kg body weight. In other words, per kg parrot as much Vitamin A is required as for an entire human! Thus the need for Vitamin A for parrots is a multitude higher than for humans. In addition, some of the best sources of Vitamin A are milk, fish and liver, which some humans love to eat, but which really do not belong on a parrots meal plan.

Why not simply give supplements?

Popcorn with Red Palm Oil - a Favorite Treat

Popcorn with Red Palm Oil - a Favorite TreatPhoto: Lena Schenk

One may think that it would be easiest to simply give a Vitamin A supplement. This is, unfortunately, a fallacy, as synthetic Vitmain A carries significant health risks. Vitamin A is one of the fat soluble vitamins. This means that it cannot be easily excreted from the body like it is possible for the water soluble vitamins. This can lead to vitamin overdosage which can be dangerous, even life-threatening. Even worse, the symptoms of a Vitamin A poisoning are fairly similar to that of a lack of Vitamin A, further increasing the risk of giving too much Vitamin A. Especially parrots who require continuous addition of Vitamin A in high doses are at risk. What to do?

Beta-Carotene

Hahn's Macaw Enjoying Red Palm Oil Straight from the Spoon

Hahn

Beta-Carotene to the rescue. Beta-Carotene is a precursor of Vitamin A which is converted by the body into Vitamin A as needed. Whatever amounts of Beta-Carotene are not needed by the body are simply excreted. Thus, an overdosing is practically impossible. Therefore it is much better to add Beta-Carotene to the diet than Vitamin A. One disadvantage of Beta-Carotene is that the ability to convert it into Vitamin A varies between individuals. Especially young or infirm animals may have less conversion efficiency. Consequently, one should dose Beta-Carotene in excess.

Why Red Palm Oil?

Red Palm Oil

Red Palm OilPhoto: Lena Schenk

Almost all parrots kept as pets require additional Vitamin A, even when they are fed a healthy and varied diet. Young birds need it, because of their higher requirement and less efficient conversion. Adult parrots require it, because most older parrots are not totally healthy, but battle with Aspergillosis, liver and skin problems (these are the most common relevant ailments). In addition an unwell body is less efficient in converting Vitamin A than a healthy one. In addition long term deficits may be present in older animals which need to be considered.
Because of the different conversion efficiencies in different individuals, Beta-Carotene should always be fed in abundance. This is most easily done with red palm oil as it contains such high amounts of Beta-Carotene – approximately 15 times as much as carrots. In contrast to synthetic Vitamin A we cannot harm our parrots with Beta-Carotene, but we may really help them – upside without a downside. Last but not least, red palm oil is a yummy treat for many parrots. Aren’t we all seeking for treats that are healthy?

Application

Red palm oil is usually solid at room temperature. Like margarin it may be scooped with a spoon or spread on a salt-free cracker or similar. Alternatively, you may liquefy it by placing the container briefly in a hot water bath (hot water from your faucet is fully sufficient) and pouring the red palm oil over your birds’ food. A big favourite with my parrots is popcorn made with red palm oil. Another yummy treat are warm foods, such as mashed potatoes, to which red palm oil has been added.

Important

Please buy red palm oil exclusively in organic quality that has been farmed sustainably. I am sure you do not want to be responsible for the deforestation and habitat destruction of tropical forests for palm oil plantations.