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Tough Love Plan

Published on Friday, 27th August 2021

Add two new food dishes

Start by placing a few extra food dishes in the bird’s cage. Put one next to the bird’s highest perch, typically where they sleep. Place the second food dish lower in the cage where you would normally feed the bird. This method involves converting a bird to a new pellet-based diet as part of a feeding routine they anticipate and recognize. It is appropriate for birds of all sizes, breeds, and ages but may work best for more easy-going birds that enjoy eating treats and that are not stressed by change.

- Be sure to place the new pelleted food in dishes the bird is familiar with and at locations in the cage they normally sit to eat and perches frequently.
- Always make sure a bird has access to fresh, clean water; some birds will drink more during the conversion process. 

Add the new pelleted food

Each of the new dishes should contain the new pelleted food. The idea is to provide a bird with repeated exposure to the new food at multiple locations in the cage so that they have several chances to try the food as they maneuver up and down the cage. Birds don’t always recognize pellets as food, and they may even be afraid of pellets initially; so, the more frequently a bird encounters the new food, the more comfortable they may become with it.

- If, after several days, the bird shows no interest in the bowls of pelleted food in the locations you initially place them, try moving them around slightly inside the cage to see if you can stimulate their interest.
- Pellets should remain in the cage at all times; they should be freshened daily, especially if they become wet or soiled.

Keep a small portion of old food

Place a third dish containing a small portion of the old food in the cage. The idea is to continue to offer a bird a very small portion of old food as you try to get them comfortable with the new food to ensure that they are eating something as they transition to pellets.

- Be sure to offer only a small portion of old food so that the bird doesn’t fill up on it and is not hungry enough to try the new food.
- Place the small portion of old food in a familiar dish but in a location the bird doesn’t typically spend a great deal of time eating or perching.
- Even when you offer the small portion of old food, do not take out the dishes of new food; the bird should be continuously exposed to the new food even when a small portion of old food is present.

Provide a midday treat

In the middle of the day, give the bird a treat they really enjoy, like a few bites of fresh fruit, fresh veggies or a small portion of cooked food. This treat needs to be something you know the bird will readily eat.

While this method may be “tougher” love than some other methods of pellet conversion, the bird still gets a favorite treat from you, so they know you still love them.

- Do not give excessive amounts of the treat so that the bird fills up on it and has no incentive to graze on the pellets located throughout the cage.
- Be sure not to offer the treat at any other time, inside or outside the cage, so that the treat is extra special.
- Pick a treat that you know the bird adores and would never refuse; if you are not sure what that is, try a variety of fruits, vegetables, or cooked pasta, lean meat, or egg. Many birds simply love these special table foods, but just like people, birds have preferences when it comes to treats.
- Never leave moist treats, like fruits and vegetables, in the cage for more than a couple of hours, or they can spoil and grow yeast and bacteria which can infect the bird if they consume the spoiled food.
- To further encourage a bird to try the new pellets, use a hammer to grind up a small amount of the pellets in a plastic bag into a powder. Then roll the bite of treat food, moistened with water, through the powdered pellets, and feed the powder-coated treat to the bird to encourage them to taste the pellets as they eat the treat.

Stop the old food in the morning

Once you have established this routine for a few days, stop giving them the old food in the morning, so the only food they have available in the morning is the new food. Even when you take away the morning serving of old food, the bird still anticipates receiving their favorite treat in the middle of the day.

The idea is to gradually eliminate the old food from the diet as the bird consumes more of the new pellets each day. Without receiving the morning serving of old food, the bird will likely get hungrier through the morning and be more apt to consume the new pellets.

- Do not rush to take away the morning serving of old food until you are certain that the bird is consuming a significant number of pellets; this may take some birds days to weeks.
- If you see that the bird is consuming pellets more from one bowl than from another, keep the pellet bowl in the preferred location stocked with fresh pellets all day long.

Continue this routine

Continue this routine for a few days. Don’t rush this step; you want to allow a bird to acclimate to the new, once a day-old food routine before you make another change. Birds adapt better to change when it is made slowly rather than overnight. This step may take days to weeks to reach; all birds are different. 

Stop the old food in the evening

Next, take away the old food in the evening. By this point, most birds are readily eating the new food. Reaching this last step in which you eliminate all old food, feeding the bird only pellets and treats, can take weeks; don’t rush, and go at the pace the bird seems to respond to.

- Before you take away the evening serving of old food, be sure the bird is consuming an adequate number of pellets each day.
- Ideally, to ensure that a bird is consuming an adequate number of pellets each day, get a scale that weighs in grams, and weigh the bird each morning, before they eat; track the bird’s weight over the course of the conversion.
- Birds converting to pellets, especially if they have been eating high-fat seeds and nuts, initially may lose a few grams – sometimes up to 10% of their body weight. This is because pellets generally have less fat than seeds and nuts.
- If the bird loses more than 10% of their body weight when converting to pellets, or they seem weak or lethargic, contact an avian veterinarian immediately.
- Another way to be sure the bird is eating enough when they convert to pellets is to count their droppings each day by placing a sheet of paper towel on the cage bottom where the droppings fall. The paper towel makes it easier to see each dropping.
- A bird should produce several droppings a day (at least one every few hours, depending on what they are eating) as they transition to pellets; if you are not seeing this many droppings, especially if the bird is thin to begin with, contact an avian veterinarian to see whether he or she wants you to extend the length of the conversion process as the bird gradually makes the transition.
- The consistency of the droppings may change once a bird is consuming mostly pellets; they may be softer and moist. There is no cause for concern if you see these changes, as long as the bird is eating and active. If you see changes in droppings’ consistency, and the bird appears weak or lethargic, contact an avian veterinarian.
- Don’t be surprised if you offer a multi-colored pellet, and the bird selects out certain colors they prefers while leaving over colors they are't interested in; this is a common behavior and not a cause for concern.
- Birds selecting out a certain color of pellets may have droppings of that color; once again, this is not a cause for concern, as long as they are eating.

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