The Eclectus Diet: The Do's, the Don'ts, and Everything You Need to Know But Were Too Afraid to Ask

chris-md

Supporting Member
Feb 6, 2010
4,118
1,276
Maryland - USA
Parrots
Parker - male Eclectus

Aphrodite - red throated conure (RIP)
The eclectus diet; much talked-about, always poorly understood. This post will have three objectives:
  • Explain the dos and don’ts of feeding your eclectus
  • Relate it to wild eclectus feeding behavior
  • Examine the discussion surrounding their physiology, and what makes them unique among parrot species.
What is important to understand is that WHAT/HOW to feed them is universally agreed and understood. What may be misunderstood is the physiology that explains WHY they may be so different.

How is the Eclectus diet different from other companion parrots:

This much is well-known: Eclectus digestive system is very sensitive, and this means they have special dietary requirements. Where most parrots in aviculture are some variation of granivores (“seed eaters”), in the wild eclectus are “generalist frugivores”. By frugivores, that tindicates their primary food source is fruits. The "Generalist" modifier tempers this requirement slightly, indicating that while most of their diet is primarily fruits, they incorporate numerous other food sources in their diet, such as flowers, seeds, and buds.

This is an important takeaway: ekkies are NOT evolved to be on seed-heavy diets!

The rules: do's and don’ts in the eclectus diet:

Lets start with what NOT to do:

Because they're digestive system is very sensitive ECLECTUS SHOULD NOT BE FED ENRICHED FOOD. Food containing added vitamins and minerals, or artificial dyes, or fruits preserved in sulfur dioxide should not be fed to eclectus. Part of what makes them unique is that their physiology makes them sensitive to these additives, and can trigger toe tapping and wing flipping.

Eclectus do have a need for higher vitamin A/beta carotene in their diet. A good source of this is any fruit/vegetable red or orange in color: carrots, sweet potatoes, and assorted color bell peppers are often used for this purpose.

There is also belief that they require higher fiber content…more on this further in the document.

This means most pellet brands (Zupreem, Pretty Bird, Roudybush, Harrison’s, etc) should not be fed to eclectus. You will hear myriad stories online about how “my ekkie has been on pellets for years and is fine”…this is true, some birds do well on them. However, pellets have been implicated in so many eclectus health problems – muscle spasms in the legs (toe tapping) and wings (wing flipping) most notably - that your default should be NOT to include them in your birds diet. Unenriched pellets, such as TOPs, are perfectly ok to serve.

This also means you need to be careful what human food you provide your parrots. Read labels, and be sure to only feed your bird food products that are free of added vitamins and minerals.

What DO you feed your eclectus?

Eclectus need to be fed a diet primarily of fresh fruit, vegetables, and legumes (with heavy emphasis on pulses such as chickpeas, lentils, and mung beans). Sprouts are a perfect addition to the diet as well. In essence, their diet can be described as "FRESH VARIETY".

There are many ways to feed a diversity of fresh goods. Many accomplish this by way of the use of chop, a mixture of a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, and grains, that have been run through a food processor to ensure all food are small enough to avoid being able to pick out individual preferred bits of food – an excellent preparation technique for picky eaters.

You can find myriad examples of chop recipes here:

(1) Chop Recipes Resource Thread


WHY does this make them unique?

We’ve mentioned the eclectus digestive system is special and sensitive. What makes it so special and sensitive, you ask? Well, unusually, that’s the challenge: we don’t really know. We can universally agree they are adapted to eating primarily fruits, which will come with its own set of adaptive . But that’s where the agreement ends. To that end, there are two primary schools of thought:

Common ethos: what many have accepted as true is that eclectus have longer digestive systems. Longer digestive systems provide increased surface area to extract nutrients from nutrient-poor foods. This creates a situation where the birds digestive system extracts too many vitamins from nutrient dense food, which can be detrimental to the birds health. This elongated system has further implications, suggesting that with a longer system, there is a higher fiber requirement for the diet.

*Updated thinking: This concept of the elongated digestive system is being challenged in certain corners of the avicultural community – some believe it to be a red herring. Little is written specifically about the eclectus digestive system, and what exists in academic literature makes no mention whatsoever of elongated digestive system. Instead, what is spoken about is primarily how specifically the upper digestive system is structured (i.e. large crop, wide esophagus, elastic proventriculus, to name a few), with emphasis on the fact that the features of this upper digestive system are clearly adaptations for a frugivorous diet – with some left over granivorous tendencies. As frugivores, they are adapted to rapid digestion, which is actually antithetical to the concept of having a longer digestive system, which would be an adaptation for slower digestion.

This updated thinking essentially says “being Frugivores really is what makes them unusual: most parrot species in captivity are primarily granivorous, we understand them better. By default we, perhaps inadvertently out of habit and convenience, force granivory onto a species that isn’t adapted for that, and its no wonder we have problems”

The primary challenge to this new way of thinking – this “frugivorous adaptive digestive system” - cannot, as yet, explain WHY enriched foods often create problems.

The challenge to the “elongated system” is the established concept of gut plasticity: it is a well-documented phenomenon where the length of the digestive system is capable of changing with diet. A change in diet if sustained can, over the course of a couple weeks, cause a digestive system to lengthen or shorten according to digestive need. Therefore, one could posit that what we’ve assumed to be a “longer digestive system” is the result of feeding our ekkies a more granivorous diet in captivity. What we have observed is the effect of diet, rather than being an established trait.

A note on fruit

The there is one notable issue with fruit: HORMONES! In eclectus we are always trying to avoid unnecessary hormonal behavior, and one of the major hormone triggers for our companion eclectus is excess sugar in the diet, a huge source of that coming from naturally occurring fructose in fruits. Feeding too many fruits can trigger hormonal behavior.

What does this mean for you and for the diet

By and large, not much! Whether you subscribe to the “longer digestive tract” or the “its frugivory, stupid” way of thinking, either way you need to be feeding fresh food for your eclectus’ primary diet. The WHY is more an academic discussion. That said, there COULD be minor implications:
  • Some have claimed noticed that their eclectus does better when more fruit is in their diets
  • As previously noted, it is a common refrain that eclectus need higher fiber content due to an elongated digestive system. The fact that they are adapted primarily to eating fruit pulp – well known to be a poor source of insoluble fiber - directly contradicts this believe in need for higher fiber. Ekkie digestion is physiologically designed to be quick; high fiber in a diet actually slows digestion, probably not a good thing. Perhaps there might be a need for increased soluble fiber – something fruits are rich in - compared to other species, but further academic review and clarification is required to make this distinction
This said, when feeding a fresh diet, one should be providing a highly diverse diet. By feeding a diverse diet, this negates most concerns as they are getting a bit of everything.

Here's the bottom line: whether you subscribe to the more traditional school of thought or the newer viewpoint, the major difference will be your perspective on the importance of fruit in the diet.

Tradition says “veggies and grain heavy, with minimized fruit”.

New thinking says “veggies and grains, maximizing fruit in the diet to the point just below hormonal behavior threshold, if that even exists for your bird”.

As you can see, either way, the diet will be similar to the point of near indistinction regardless of what you may believe about their physiology. The only difference is do you view fruits from the top down (minimize) or bottom up (maximize up to hormones). You're liekly to feed the same amount of fruit either way.

Either way, a diverse diet of fresh…EVERYTHING…will accomplish all goes with regards to proper eclectus nutrition.


*All claims of scientific note (i.e. eclectus physiology design/digestive adaptations, wild diet, etc) can be exemplified in the following scientific paper: Exploring The Wild Diet | birdhealth
 

Terry57

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Chris, this is absolutely fantastic! Thank you so much for all your hard work on writing this up, my Friend.
You are going to help a lot of ekkies, and I think everyone will be interested in the research you included.
 

caring

New member
Aug 9, 2020
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24
The eclectus diet; much talked-about, always poorly understood. This post will have three objectives:
  • Explain the dos and don’ts of feeding your eclectus
  • Relate it to wild eclectus feeding behavior
  • Examine the discussion surrounding their physiology, and what makes them unique among parrot species.
What is important to understand is that WHAT/HOW to feed them is universally agreed and understood. What may be misunderstood is the physiology that explains WHY they may be so different.

How is the Eclectus diet different from other companion parrots:

This much is well-known: Eclectus digestive system is very sensitive, and this means they have special dietary requirements. Where most parrots in aviculture are some variation of granivores (“seed eaters”), in the wild eclectus are “generalist frugivores”. By frugivores, that tindicates their primary food source is fruits. The "Generalist" modifier tempers this requirement slightly, indicating that while most of their diet is primarily fruits, they incorporate numerous other food sources in their diet, such as flowers, seeds, and buds.

This is an important takeaway: ekkies are NOT evolved to be on seed-heavy diets!

The rules: do's and don’ts in the eclectus diet:

Lets start with what NOT to do:

Because they're digestive system is very sensitive ECLECTUS SHOULD NOT BE FED ENRICHED FOOD. Food containing added vitamins and minerals, or artificial dyes, or fruits preserved in sulfur dioxide should not be fed to eclectus. Part of what makes them unique is that their physiology makes them sensitive to these additives, and can trigger toe tapping and wing flipping.

Eclectus do have a need for higher vitamin A/beta carotene in their diet. A good source of this is any fruit/vegetable red or orange in color: carrots, sweet potatoes, and assorted color bell peppers are often used for this purpose.

There is also belief that they require higher fiber content…more on this further in the document.

This means most pellet brands (Zupreem, Pretty Bird, Roudybush, Harrison’s, etc) should not be fed to eclectus. You will hear myriad stories online about how “my ekkie has been on pellets for years and is fine”…this is true, some birds do well on them. However, pellets have been implicated in so many eclectus health problems – muscle spasms in the legs (toe tapping) and wings (wing flipping) most notably - that your default should be NOT to include them in your birds diet. Unenriched pellets, such as TOPs, are perfectly ok to serve.

This also means you need to be careful what human food you provide your parrots. Read labels, and be sure to only feed your bird food products that are free of added vitamins and minerals.

What DO you feed your eclectus?

Eclectus need to be fed a diet primarily of fresh fruit, vegetables, and legumes (with heavy emphasis on pulses such as chickpeas, lentils, and mung beans). Sprouts are a perfect addition to the diet as well. In essence, their diet can be described as "FRESH VARIETY".

There are many ways to feed a diversity of fresh goods. Many accomplish this by way of the use of chop, a mixture of a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, and grains, that have been run through a food processor to ensure all food are small enough to avoid being able to pick out individual preferred bits of food – an excellent preparation technique for picky eaters.

You can find myriad examples of chop recipes here:

(1) Chop Recipes Resource Thread


WHY does this make them unique?

We’ve mentioned the eclectus digestive system is special and sensitive. What makes it so special and sensitive, you ask? Well, unusually, that’s the challenge: we don’t really know. We can universally agree they are adapted to eating primarily fruits, which will come with its own set of adaptive . But that’s where the agreement ends. To that end, there are two primary schools of thought:

Common ethos: what many have accepted as true is that eclectus have longer digestive systems. Longer digestive systems provide increased surface area to extract nutrients from nutrient-poor foods. This creates a situation where the birds digestive system extracts too many vitamins from nutrient dense food, which can be detrimental to the birds health. This elongated system has further implications, suggesting that with a longer system, there is a higher fiber requirement for the diet.

*Updated thinking: This concept of the elongated digestive system is being challenged in certain corners of the avicultural community – some believe it to be a red herring. Little is written specifically about the eclectus digestive system, and what exists in academic literature makes no mention whatsoever of elongated digestive system. Instead, what is spoken about is primarily how specifically the upper digestive system is structured (i.e. large crop, wide esophagus, elastic proventriculus, to name a few), with emphasis on the fact that the features of this upper digestive system are clearly adaptations for a frugivorous diet – with some left over granivorous tendencies. As frugivores, they are adapted to rapid digestion, which is actually antithetical to the concept of having a longer digestive system, which would be an adaptation for slower digestion.

This updated thinking essentially says “being Frugivores really is what makes them unusual: most parrot species in captivity are primarily granivorous, we understand them better. By default we, perhaps inadvertently out of habit and convenience, force granivory onto a species that isn’t adapted for that, and its no wonder we have problems”

The primary challenge to this new way of thinking – this “frugivorous adaptive digestive system” - cannot, as yet, explain WHY enriched foods often create problems.

The challenge to the “elongated system” is the established concept of gut plasticity: it is a well-documented phenomenon where the length of the digestive system is capable of changing with diet. A change in diet if sustained can, over the course of a couple weeks, cause a digestive system to lengthen or shorten according to digestive need. Therefore, one could posit that what we’ve assumed to be a “longer digestive system” is the result of feeding our ekkies a more granivorous diet in captivity. What we have observed is the effect of diet, rather than being an established trait.

A note on fruit

The there is one notable issue with fruit: HORMONES! In eclectus we are always trying to avoid unnecessary hormonal behavior, and one of the major hormone triggers for our companion eclectus is excess sugar in the diet, a huge source of that coming from naturally occurring fructose in fruits. Feeding too many fruits can trigger hormonal behavior.

What does this mean for you and for the diet

By and large, not much! Whether you subscribe to the “longer digestive tract” or the “its frugivory, stupid” way of thinking, either way you need to be feeding fresh food for your eclectus’ primary diet. The WHY is more an academic discussion. That said, there COULD be minor implications:
  • Some have claimed noticed that their eclectus does better when more fruit is in their diets
  • As previously noted, it is a common refrain that eclectus need higher fiber content due to an elongated digestive system. The fact that they are adapted primarily to eating fruit pulp – well known to be a poor source of insoluble fiber - directly contradicts this believe in need for higher fiber. Ekkie digestion is physiologically designed to be quick; high fiber in a diet actually slows digestion, probably not a good thing. Perhaps there might be a need for increased soluble fiber – something fruits are rich in - compared to other species, but further academic review and clarification is required to make this distinction
This said, when feeding a fresh diet, one should be providing a highly diverse diet. By feeding a diverse diet, this negates most concerns as they are getting a bit of everything.

Here's the bottom line: whether you subscribe to the more traditional school of thought or the newer viewpoint, the major difference will be your perspective on the importance of fruit in the diet.

Tradition says “veggies and grain heavy, with minimized fruit”.

New thinking says “veggies and grains, maximizing fruit in the diet to the point just below hormonal behavior threshold, if that even exists for your bird”.

As you can see, either way, the diet will be similar to the point of near indistinction regardless of what you may believe about their physiology. The only difference is do you view fruits from the top down (minimize) or bottom up (maximize up to hormones). You're liekly to feed the same amount of fruit either way.

Either way, a diverse diet of fresh…EVERYTHING…will accomplish all goes with regards to proper eclectus nutrition.


*All claims of scientific note (i.e. eclectus physiology design/digestive adaptations, wild diet, etc) can be exemplified in the following scientific paper: Exploring The Wild Diet | birdhealth
Chrus. Thank you for sharing this important information. It helps clarify some of the information I had previously received about the diet for an Eclectus.
 

Birdgirl24

Well-known member
Dec 2, 2021
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590
North Dakota
Parrots
I have 1 budgie, He is a male both. I have been looking into getting an Eclectus Parrot tho.
I know this is off topic but, I'm looking into getting an Eclectus Parrot and i cant find a breeder that gives me reputable vibes. Anyone know a reputable breeder?
 
OP
chris-md

chris-md

Supporting Member
Feb 6, 2010
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Maryland - USA
Parrots
Parker - male Eclectus

Aphrodite - red throated conure (RIP)
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You’re certainly very welcome, caring!

and Thank you guys! especially you, Terry, for being a sounding board for this. I really have to credit Wingdings for sending some interesting stuff to me that kinda triggered some thinking. The writing was much harder than actually piecing everything together.

Going through this, I’m definitely reevaluating what I believe to be true and how best to process all this. I think we know more than we realize about their digestive system, but have contorted ourselves into pretzels to ignore or deny the obvious: they were built for fruits…mostly.

It’s not some big mystery about why they are so different from all the other granivores we’re taking care of.

I’ll say this: reviewing all of this, I personally strongly believe the longer digestive system explanation for their dietary needs is bunk. Too much seems to actually be known about their “upper” digestive system for the intestines to be a source of contention. Perhaps we don’t still understand why they have problems with enriched foods, but I don’t believe it’s because of the intestines.
 

Terry57

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Nov 6, 2013
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Hawkhead(Darwin),YCA(Dexter),VE (Ekko),OWA(Slater),BHP(Talli),DYH(Calypso),RLA(Kimera),Alex(Xander)CBC(Phoe),IRN (Kodee,Luna,Stevie),WCP (Pisces),CAG(Justice)GCC (Jax), GSC2(Charley)
You’re certainly very welcome, caring!

and Thank you guys! especially you, Terry, for being a sounding board for this. I really have to credit Wingdings for sending some interesting stuff to me that kinda triggered some thinking. The writing was much harder than actually piecing everything together.

Going through this, I’m definitely reevaluating what I believe to be true and how best to process all this. I think we know more than we realize about their digestive system, but have contorted ourselves into pretzels to ignore or deny the obvious: they were built for fruits…mostly.

It’s not some big mystery about why they are so different from all the other granivores we’re taking care of.

I’ll say this: reviewing all of this, I personally strongly believe the longer digestive system explanation for their dietary needs is bunk. Too much seems to actually be known about their “upper” digestive system for the intestines to be a source of contention. Perhaps we don’t still understand why they have problems with enriched foods, but I don’t believe it’s because of the intestines.
Chris, it was truly my pleasure. I started looking at things in a different way than I had before, and I think Ekko will reap the benefits.
So thank you for writing this up, and thank you @WingDing for sending that info to Chris that got this started.
 

cytherian

Member
Dec 29, 2020
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Near NYC
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Eclectus
This is really fascinating -- thank you for this important introspection into Eclectus food diets!
I wonder about monitoring them in the wild... and what's observed. Do they end up eating more fruits than vegetables? In their normal habitat, are fruits always readily there, or does their diet shift from season to season?
 
Last edited:
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chris-md

chris-md

Supporting Member
Feb 6, 2010
4,118
1,276
Maryland - USA
Parrots
Parker - male Eclectus

Aphrodite - red throated conure (RIP)
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  • #9
The paper I linked to enumerated all the foods observed being consumed Sept-Nov, and leaned heavily on fruits. There should be some seasonality, as the islands are subject to wet/dry seasons (as opposed to warm/cold seasons). Some other papers I've seen on nuts fruiting on the solomon islands show depauperate fruting Jan-April (screengrab below...hopefully), which I know lines up with some figures i've seen on breeding seasonality for ekkies as well (don't ask me where I saw that, it was a long time ago!)

1638558982317.png
 

Birdgirl24

Well-known member
Dec 2, 2021
1,451
590
North Dakota
Parrots
I have 1 budgie, He is a male both. I have been looking into getting an Eclectus Parrot tho.
The paper I linked to enumerated all the foods observed being consumed Sept-Nov, and leaned heavily on fruits. There should be some seasonality, as the islands are subject to wet/dry seasons (as opposed to warm/cold seasons). Some other papers I've seen on nuts fruiting on the solomon islands show depauperate fruting Jan-April (screengrab below...hopefully), which I know lines up with some figures i've seen on breeding seasonality for ekkies as well (don't ask me where I saw that, it was a long time ago!)

View attachment 32738
Huh i did not know that.
 
OP
chris-md

chris-md

Supporting Member
Feb 6, 2010
4,118
1,276
Maryland - USA
Parrots
Parker - male Eclectus

Aphrodite - red throated conure (RIP)
  • Thread Starter
  • Thread starter
  • #13
HOLD THE PHONE!!

What if gut length IS a factor in diet sensitivity, but from a different perspective? Under gut plasticity, a longer digestive system IS possible…DUH.

If you have your bird on a higher fiber diet, or other diet that otherwise slows digestion and causes the digestive system to elongate, suddenly you could hypothetically have the super-absorber issue coming into play.

in theory, this would explain the variability we see with some birds having issues with pellets and others not - it comes down to what you are otherwise feeding them, the things outside of the pellets. Those that are on easier-to-digest diets (high fruit diet, for example) have shorter digestive systems and not nearly as much time to digest and absorb, therefore less susceptible to issues.

Gosh I feel like I’m verging on conspiracy theories, but dang it all does suddenly make sense!
 

Birdgirl24

Well-known member
Dec 2, 2021
1,451
590
North Dakota
Parrots
I have 1 budgie, He is a male both. I have been looking into getting an Eclectus Parrot tho.
this is interesting nice to know for when I get my Ekkie thank you!
 

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