Kayla Eggleston ’17

Project TitleBroccoli or Candy: What Should I Feed my Captive Bird?
Mentor – Dustin Reichard

The diets of captive animals are entirely dependent on a caretaker’s knowledge of the animal’s nutritional requirements placing these animals at higher risk of malnutrition, which can increase  susceptibility to disease and cause a number of disorders and behavioral problems. Psittaciformes (Parrots and their relatives) are commonly owned as pets and kept in captivity for conservation and education efforts, yet the nutritional recommendations for Psittaciformes are almost entirely based upon scientifically determined data for poultry (Galliformes). In the wild, the budgerigar (Melopsittacus undulates), a common pet, is known to consume a diet almost entirely of native Australian grass seed accompanied by other available seeds. However, the commercial diets that are fed to captive budgerigars often either lack essential nutrients (seed only diets) or they contain potentially toxic levels of certain vitamins and minerals (formulated pellet diets). It is generally considered advantageous to model captive diets after wild diets, but species that have been breed for many generations in captivity may no longer follow this rule. In this study, we examined the relationship between diet and immune function by separating 36 budgerigars into three diet groups, monitoring their weight, and conducting bacterial killing assays over a period of 8 weeks. Because malnutrition in Psittaciformes is often linked to the most common clinical appearances of captive animals, we hypothesized that nutrient deficient diets would cause a negative effect on immune function and a decline in body weight.