Diet conversion in the absence of an established flock already eating a balanced diet takes time, and is typically an incremental process. So go slowly, be patient, and make sure your birds are eating (e.g., by measuring the amount of food your offer) and not losing too much weight in the process.
Below, I’ll detail the strategy I use to build momentum at the start of the diet conversion process, taking advantage of familiar, seed-like foods that encourage budgies to be curious and venture outside their culinary comfort zone.
1.) Upgrade Your Seed Mix
You can improve the quality of your bird’s diet without doing a sudden overhaul.
When doing a diet conversion, the first thing I usually do is improve the quality of whatever foods my birds are already eating. If they only recognize a simple seed mix, the first thing I introduce is Lafeber’s Nutriberries.
Nutriberries are an interesting solution to the nutritional deficiencies in seed mixes. Traditional seed mixes are either unsupplemented or have the supplements sprayed onto the outside of the shell. The problem is, our budgies don’t eat the shell so very little makes it into the bird, resulting in nutritional deficiencies. Nutriberries are made by removing the shells from the seeds and then coating them with a pellet/supplement mixture and sticking them together. This makes a familiar but much more nutritionally complete item that is easy to transition onto. This food is complete enough where your bird won’t be at major risk for life threatening nutritional deficiencies so that we can continue our food introduction efforts without stressing out.
2.) Feed the Correct Amount
Always feed just a bit more than you know your birds can finish.
This way, they finish what they recognize first, then continue to dig around if they’re still hungry. If there is an endless amount of their preferred food, they will simply eat around the new items and never feel compelled to try something new. Budgies should get just slightly more food than they can finish in a day, encouraging them to try a bit of everything but giving them enough room to fill up and be full.
3.) One Concept at a Time
Even if a new food doesn’t seem that different to you, your bird may disagree!
Small differences between food items can seem strange or overwhelming to your budgie. It took me a week to slowly introduce sprouts to flock member Gandalf, because he had never experienced food with moisture before.
Moisture alone could be something we need to slowly introduce. Offering slightly sprouted seed millet or seeds they already recognize can be a good way to make the introduction. This is a good place to introduce Lafeber’s Avicakes. Avicakes are 50% seed, 50% pellet and is a great item to use to introduce the concept of pellets because it merges the two items into a single food item and helps them connect the dots to try this new food.
4.) Gaining Momentum
It’s important to take diet conversion a step at a time.
If a bird has never eaten anything but a simple, familiar diet, and the first time it dares to try something new it tastes awful, they might not be as open to trying new things in the future. This is why I always start with foods I know my birds will like, such as soaked seeds/sprouts or Lafeber’s Nutriberries. This opens the door to introducing more foods down the line.
5.) Cooked Grains
Cooked grain can be a great tool for introducing other foods in the future.
After my budgies are comfortable trying soaked seeds and/or new seed types, I start to introduce a bit of cooked grain. Boiled quinoa, brown rice, millet, and rolled oats with some bird-safe spices all tend to go over well. Be sure to touch the food before serving to make sure it isn’t hot!
Once they’ve become comfortable with this, I can use the grain as a vehicle for all sorts of finely chopped fresh foods while we work on introducing them whole.
6.) Fresh Veggies
The right greens can be a nutritional powerhouse in your budgie’s diet.
For budgies, I always recommend starting with nutrient dense greens. Budgies have a natural attraction to greenery because they evolved to search for grass seed in the semi-arid regions of australia.
Choose low oxalate, calcium-rich options, like cauliflower, broccoli, and bok choy. Most commercial seed diets are already calcium deficient, and oxalates can bind calcium and further decrease the amount your bird absorbs from their food.
I typically offer veggies in two forms: finely chopped into grain, as mentioned above, and whole. When mixing chopped veggies into grain, try starting with a small amount and working your way up as your birds become comfortable. I also hang or clip whole stalks of different herbs onto playstands, cages, and toys, adding mental as well as dietary enrichment!
7.) Pellets and Bird Bread
Combining pellets and seed into one item, bird bread, can help ease your bird through the introduction.
Finally, when introducing pellets, consider one of two approaches: you can grind them and introduce them in cooked grain, much like finely chopped veggies, or you can bake them into small pieces of bird bread along with some seed.
The bird bread approach integrates pellets and seed into one food item. Budgies very quickly learn to tear at and eat bits of the bread when there’s no more seed left, giving them a smooth, positive introduction to eating pellets. For a full bird bread recipe and a more in-depth explanation of how this technique works, check out our article here.
Diet conversion is a big topic. Unfortunately, almost every parrot owner is forced to struggle through diet conversion due to poor, unethical breeding practices that persist around the world. But with a solid understanding of the basics, the rules-of-thumb, and (of course!) the strategies outlined above, it’s possible to slowly but surely improve your budgie’s diet.