Parrots in the wild eat many plants, tubers, fruits, grains, nuts, flowers, seed and insects. Wild parrots fly kilometres daily searching for food and need a high-energy diet. Most parrots don’t eat much seed in the wild, and generally not the types of seeds you find in commercial parrot mix. They eat a wide variety of foods that you can’t hope to duplicate unless you start going out with a collector’s licence to the bush or importing them from South America. Our companion parrots will tend to be clipped and can become overweight with associated health problems if fed the same high-fat diet that the wild birds can eat. Captive parrots can be prone to obesity and Fatty Liver Disease. Research has determined that a pet parrot’s diet should be ideally about 12 – 15% fat. Most seed mixes are much higher in fat, and it gets worse by the time they have picked out and eaten their high-fat favourites, the sunflower and safflower seeds, which are also quite high in sugar.
Most seed diets are deficient in vitamins, minerals and amino acids. In the wild parrots compensate for deficiencies by eating other things. In captivity, they are dependent on what we give them, and if that’s only seed they have no way to make up for what the seeds lack. In particular, an all-seed diet lacks calcium, which is very important to parrots for maintaining their delicate bones. There are some great calcium supplements on the market, my favourite being Vetafarm’s “D Nutrical” which is a powder that you mix through your seed mix. Seeds also are lacking in complete proteins, which birds need in order to replace and grow feathers.
Parrots on a varied diet of vegetables, fruits, grains, and a small amount of pellets and seed live longer, are healthier, have better colour and feather condition, and are more active and playful than their seed only eating counterparts. Parrots have taste buds and in some ways are like children – they will eat the most of what they like the best, which generally isn’t going to be what’s good for them. Although a high-quality,(non supermarket) supplemented seed mix can actually be a fairly well-balanced diet if eaten in its entirety, it won’t be after picking out the parts it likes the best and dumping the rest on the floor. This is why we recommend not to fill your food bowl to the top. Only provide a small amount more than the bird will eat each day and if you see your bird choosing only one or two seeds and not touching the rest, remove those seeds from the mix. The easiest way to provide a seed mix and know it is going to be a balanced food is to buy a seed mix formulated by experts such as Birdzone seed blends, containing dried vegies and fruit and seeds not usually found in most seed mixes. Another great way to increase the nutrition of your seed is to sprout it. Sprouting seeds removes much of its fat content and increases the protein content and other nutrients.
Ideally, your parrot’s diet should consist of a pellet or good fortified seed blend base (50 – 70% pellets/seed blend in equal values), vegetables, grains, legumes, sprouted seed, fruits and other healthy table foods (30 – 50%). The greater the variety of foods you offer your parrot, the more likely it is that it will be able to meet its nutritional needs. A seed diet is not so bad for the birds like canaries and budgies, who eat a large amount of grass seeds in the wild and whose seed mix consists mostly of a good seed like millet. Seeds are a high-energy, natural food source that is good nutrition as part of a balanced diet. Seeds are not all bad; they are just incomplete, and often high in fat. When used in combination with other things they are be a useful addition to the parrot’s diet. The small seeds, such as millet and canary grass seed are high in carbohydrates, low in fat, and a good energy source.
There are a few downfalls to consider with pellets as well. Firstly it is a fortified food, so it is easy to overdose your birds on some vitamins if you are using a nutritional supplement at the same time. There is also the matter of the pellets being formulated as a sweeping generalisation of all bird species. The other issue is that sometimes birds will get used to the one pellet and if there comes a time where your brand of pellets is out, the bird may refuse to eat. You can combat all these problems by providing your bird with a mix of brands of pellet and a quality seed mix as part of a varied diet.