Unless you give a parrot nutritional supplements, it needs a diet high in calcium. A parrot may develop hypocalcemia if it lacks sufficient dietary calcium, vitamin D3, and magnesium.
Many of us associate dairy with calcium, but parrots are lactose intolerant. You can introduce calcium to a parrot’s diet through lactose-free cheese, but other options exist.
Calcium-rich foods for parrots include leafy greens like kale, broccoli, mustard greens, and collards. You’ll also find calcium in fruits like kiwis and apricots and nuts like almonds and hazelnuts.
What Is Hypocalcemia in Parrots?
Hypocalcemia is a condition caused by a calcium deficiency. You’ll observe stereotypical behaviors, balance and coordination problems, and issues with climbing and maneuvering.
Female parrots may produce weak, misshapen eggs, which can become lodged in the oviduct. Females need sufficient calcium to prevent egg binding (dystocia).
Hypocalcemia can be resolved by adding more calcium to a parrot’s diet. If a bird already receives sufficient calcium, it likely isn’t getting enough vitamin D3 or magnesium.
Why Should Parrots Eat Foods with Calcium?
Calcium is essential for a strong and healthy skeleton and eggshells. Many bird owners are surprised to discover that about 97% of eggshells and 90% of bones are calcium.
Calcium also affects how nerves send messages around the body, muscle movement, brain and heart health, hormone secretion, fat metabolism, and blood clotting (coagulation).
Many owners provide supplements to prevent and recover from calcium deficiencies.
Why Do Parrots Need Vitamin D3?
Vitamin D3 ensures that calcium is absorbed into the body. If a parrot eats food rich in calcium but doesn’t get enough vitamin D3 and magnesium, calcium can’t be absorbed into the intestines.
Parrots can’t generate vitamin D3 in the body. Vitamin D3 is made when the skin is directly exposed to the sun’s UVA and UVB rays (or an artificial UV light source).
Vitamin D deficiencies are rare in wild parrots but common in captive birds.
Birds distribute vitamin D3 precursors from the preen gland to their feathers. Exposure to shortwave ultraviolet light converts these vitamin precursors into a utilizable source of vitamin D3.
Parrots also produce vitamin D3 precursors on their exposed skin (the feet, around the eyes, and legs).
It’s recommended that caged birds are given direct sun exposure. Part of the cage should be in direct sunlight, while the rest should be in the shade so the bird has a cooler place to retreat.
Putting a cage beside the window is ineffective because short-wavelength UV rays can’t penetrate glass.
Parrots can get vitamin D from their diet, but few foods they eat are good sources. Most of their food is plant-based, so it contains vitamin D2. While this is okay for mammals, it’s only 3-4% effective for birds.
Why Do Parrots Need Magnesium?
Magnesium is the body’s second most abundant mineral, most of which is found in the bone matrix. Without sufficient dietary magnesium, parrots can’t synthesize calcium.
A parrot may have a magnesium deficiency if prone to anxious behavior. If a parrot is also pulling out feathers and its feather health generally suffers, this suggests a mineral shortfall.
Parrots experience calcification in their arteries, blood vessels, and joints without sufficient magnesium.
What Are The Best Calcium Rich Foods for Parrots?
If you’re concerned that a parrot has hypocalcemia, you’ll likely need to adjust its diet. Before making significant dietary alterations, you should discuss the matter with a veterinarian.
Here are some good dietary sources of calcium for parrots:
1/ Dark, Leafy Greens
Leafy greens are among the best sources of calcium for parrots. However, light-colored greens, like lettuce (iceberg lettuce, in particular,) offer limited nutrition.
The best leafy green to feed birds includes the following:
- Brussel sprouts.
- Mustard greens.
- Dandelion greens.
Most parrots enjoy dark leafy greens, so provide some during the day.
2/ Nuts And Seeds
|Macadamia nuts||Poppy seeds|
While they contain lots of calcium, they’re also fatty and can lead to weight gain. Keep these foods as complementary snacks, treats, and training rewards for parrots.
3/ Beans And Lentils
Beans and lentils are widely regarded as a source of protein for vegans and vegetarians. Aside from protein, these beans are high in calcium:
- Black beans.
- Goa beans (winged beans).
- Kidney beans.
- Navy beans.
- White beans.
Before feeding beans to parrots, they must be cooked. Raw beans contain hemagglutinin, which Future Virology explains is linked to severe respiratory problems in birds.
Cooked beans can be fed whole or mashed and offered as a chop.
4/ Fresh And Dried Fruits
Whether fresh or dried, fruit is vital to the health of parrots. The fruits highest in calcium include:
If a bird develops a taste for sweet treats, it can experience gastrointestinal distress, like diarrhea. That’s why offering pet parrots different types of fruit and veg in moderation is important.
Oatmeal is high in calcium. A 100-gram serving of oatmeal contains around 80 mg of calcium. Half a cup of oats offers more calcium than an 8 oz glass of cow’s milk.
Oatmeal doesn’t need to be cooked for parrots to eat and gain benefits. It’s healthier when raw.
Eggs are a good source of calcium, protein, and other essential nutrients for parrots.
If you don’t mind cleaning up a little mess afterward, offer a parrot a boiled egg. It’ll enjoy making its way through the eggshell, where most calcium is found.
Alternatively, you can also grind eggshells and sprinkle them over other foods.
Birds can benefit from the calcium in the shell and vitamin D3 in the yolk. As discussed, birds can’t absorb calcium into the body without sufficient vitamin D and magnesium.
7/ Lactose-Free Cheese
Milk is vital for healthy bones due to its high calcium content. Unfortunately, parrots can’t take advantage of this due to the presence of lactose in cow’s milk and associated dairy products like cheese.
Lactose is a sugar found in most dairy products and is broken down by lactase, an enzyme in the body.
Birds, including parrots, don’t generate lactase, which means lactose can’t be digested. It’ll sit in the stomach until expelled, often in the form of diarrhea.
Lactose-free cheese is a safe parrot snack, as it won’t cause stomach upsets but still contains all the calcium of traditional dairy. Ensure you buy lactose-free cheese, not dairy-free, because cheese alternatives created for the vegan diet rarely contain calcium.