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Tough Love

By moving between old food, new food, and treat incentives, your bird converts to a new pellet-based feeding plan by creating a routine he recognizes.

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Choose this plan if your bird is:

  • Most species
  • Any age
  • Likes treats
  • Easily accepts new food
Tough Love Conversion Method [2:07]

Tough Love Step-by-Step Plan

  1. tough love

    Add 2 New Food Dishes

    Start by placing a few extra food dishes in your bird's cage. Put one next to your bird's highest perch, typically where he sleeps. Place the second food dish lower in the cage where you would normally feed your bird.

    This method involves converting your 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 easygoing birds that enjoy eating treats and that are not stressed by change.


    • Be sure to place the new pelleted food in dishes your bird is familiar with and at locations in the cage he normally sits to eat and perches frequently.
    • Always make sure your bird has access to fresh, clean water; some birds will drink more during the conversion process.
  2. tough love 2

    Add the New Pelleted Food

    Each of the new dishes should contain the new pelleted food. The idea is to provide your bird with repeated exposure to the new food at multiple locations in the cage so that he has several chances to try the food as he maneuvers 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 he may become with it.


    • If, after several days, your 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 his interest.
    • Pellets should remain in the cage at all times; they should be freshened daily, especially if they become wet or soiled.
  3. tough love 3

    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 your bird a very small portion of old food as you try to get him comfortable with the new food to ensure that he is eating something as he transitions to pellets.


    • Be sure to offer only a small portion of old food so that your 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.
  4. tough love 4

    Feed Old Food Twice a Day

    Establish a routine of feeding your bird a portion of the old food twice a day – once in the morning and once in the evening.

    Birds are creatures of habit that thrive on predictability; the goal is to offer your bird a routine in which he can anticipate receiving a small amount of old food twice a day but allow him to have access to a larger amount of new pelleted food on which to graze throughout the day at several preferred locations in his cage.


    • Try to offer the old food at the same time - morning and evening - so that your bird can anticipate its arrival.
    • Parrots are extremely smart and recognize routines and patterns easily; they will catch on quickly that only a small amount of old food is coming at limited times, so if they are hungry in between, they will have to eat pellets.
  5. tough love 5

    Provide a Midday Treat

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

    While this method may be “tougher” love than some other methods of pellet conversion, your bird still gets a favorite treat from you, so he knows you still love him.


    • 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 your 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 your bird if they consume the spoiled food.
    • To further encourage your 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 your bird to encourage him to taste the pellets as he eats the treat.
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    Stop the Old Food in the Morning

    Once you have established this routine for a few days, stop giving him the old food in the morning, so the only food he has available in the morning is the new food. Even when you take away the morning serving of old food, the bird still anticipates receiving his 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, your 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 your bird is consuming a significant number of pellets; this may take some birds days to weeks.
    • If you see that your 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.
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    Continue This Routine

    Continue this routine for a few days. Don’t rush this step; you want to allow your 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.

  8. TL

    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 your bird only pellets and treats, can take weeks; don’t rush, and go at the pace your bird seems to respond to.


    • Before you take away the evening serving of old food, be sure your bird is consuming an adequate number of pellets each day.
    • Ideally, to ensure that your bird is consuming an adequate number of pellets each day, get a scale that weighs in grams, and weigh your bird each morning, before he eats; track your 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 your bird loses more than 10% of his body weight when converting to pellets, or he seems weak or lethargic, contact your avian veterinarian immediately.
    • Another way to be sure your bird is eating enough when he converts to pellets is to count his 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.
    • Your bird should produce several droppings a day (at least one every few hours, depending on what he is eating) as he transitions to pellets; if you are not seeing this many droppings, especially if the bird is thin to begin with, contact your avian veterinarian to see whether he or she wants you to extend the length of the conversion process as your pet gradually makes the transition.
    • The consistency of the droppings may change once your 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 your bird appears weak or lethargic, contact your avian veterinarian.
    • Don’t be surprised if you offer a multi-colored pellet, and your bird selects out certain colors he prefers while leaving over colors he isn’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.

You May Also Want to Try:

  • Slow and Stead Alt Icon

    Slow and Steady

    Over the course of a week, your bird gradually transitions from his old food to a new pellet-based feeding plan.

  • Birdie's Choice Alt Icon

    Birdie's Choice

    Choose three types of pellets and let your bird select his new pellet-based feeding plan quickly and without weeks of transitioning foods.

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