It’s a much-debated subject among parrot enthusiasts: should parrot diet consist of seeds or pellets? Seeds are the classic choice but research suggests that parrot pellets are the superior staple option.
Let’s go into why you should switch your parrot to a pelleted diet and, more importantly, how to do so.
Why should your bird be eating parrot pellets?
To those who aren’t familiar with parrot diet, feeding a pellet-based diet might sound counter-intuitive. Isn’t it better to feed something directly extracted from nature, like seeds are? After all, seeds have been the go-to food for parrots for as long as anyone can remember.
Wild VS captive
It’s true that some parrot species, like budgies and cockatiels, feed mainly on seeds in the wild. However, it’s important to realize that nature and our homes are two very different places.
A wild budgie will fly significant distances every day to find food and water. It spends much of its day foraging, working hard to find those precious calories. Grass seeds are just what it needs: high in fats, containing plenty of energy to keep the bird going. It eats them in all of their stages, varying from fresh to dried to sprouted. It will also eat anything else it can find.
A captive budgie lives a completely different life. Ideally, it should be out of its cage for most of the day, but even then its activity levels will never come close to those of its wild counterpart. It needs fewer calories.
Make the switch to parrot pellets!
The seeds that are available to us as parrot owners are limited in variety. Also, they don’t come in all those different phases of development like the ones that wild parrots would find.
Some mixes are high in filler seeds with low nutritional value and most lack calcium, an extremely important nutrient (Werquin, De Cock & Ghysels, 2005). A seed-only diet is simply not going to cut it for your parrot in terms of long-term health and lifespan.
If your parrot is eating a seed-based diet only, it’s time to switch to a pellet-based diet. Unlike seeds, pellets are specially formulated to form a complete parrot diet. They’re lower in calories but at the same time higher in (micro-)nutrients, meaning they help lower the risk of both obesity and ill health due to malnutrition.
The only problem? Getting a parrot to adjust to new food options can be a daunting task. This especially applies if the bird has only ever eaten seeds. They can flat out refuse! However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t start working towards this goal, so let’s go into what you can do to make the switch as smooth as possible.
Note: While we recommend against a seed-based parrot diet, that doesn’t mean seeds don’t have their place.
Variety is key and that can absolutely include seeds, especially for species like budgies that eat a lot of them in the wild. You just shouldn’t overdo it and you should make sure you go for a high-quality seed mix.
Parrot diet switch: A word of warning
Before we start getting your bird to accept parrot pellets, we have to mention that not all individuals will immediately accept this new food option. In fact, many don’t even recognize pellets as being edible at first! They’re simply not used to them, especially if they’ve only ever had seeds as par.
It can be tempting to just place some pellets in your parrot’s food bowl and call it a day. Once the bird gets hungry enough it’ll eat them, right? Wrong, unfortunately. You should never, ever try to starve your parrot into a different diet.
Additionally, unless your avian vet has told you to go ahead, a sick parrot shouldn’t be subjected to a big change like this. It’s possible that your bird loses some weight in the process, which can be disastrous if it’s already under the weather!
While adjusting your parrot’s diet, you should make sure to keep an accurate (gram) scale on hand. Keeping an eye on your bird’s weight and its droppings ensures you’ll be able to spot any problems before they get out of hand.
Making the switch to parrot pellets
Now that you know why your bird should be eating parrot pellets and what you should be mindful of when making the switch to a parrot diet consisting of pellets, let’s get started!
We put together a simple PDF explaining the process.
When using this method, be sure to weigh your parrot daily or at least every few days to make sure it’s not losing too much weight.
If you are seeing weight loss, revert to one of the previous steps and try to get even more creative! The tips below should help.
- You may find the conversion process slow and frustrating, but believe us that it works every time. It took the author months of coaxing to get two budgies to accept a pelleted diet. Now, they couldn’t be more excited about the pellets.
- Parrots are extremely social and learn by watching. Some parrot owners have had success in getting their bird to accept food by pretending to eat it themselves! Act excited about it and your bird will too.
- Your bird will be hungry in the morning, making this the perfect time to try and offer some yummy parrot pellets.
- You can grind up some pellets and sprinkle the dust over your parrot’s favourite food in order to get it used to the flavour.
- LaFeber makes a product called NutriBerries, which are balls consisting of both seeds and pellets. A good option to sneakily start including pellets without your parrot even noticing.
- There are parrot pellets out there that are coloured (naturally), like ZuPreem Fruit Blend. Since parrots are attracted to coloured things, these might be helpful in convincing your birds to make the switch.
- If your parrot likes to eat from your hand, regularly attempt to hand-feed pellets. It might eventually work!
- Some parrots like their pellets moistened. Just be sure to remove soaked pellets after an hour or two, as they will spoil quickly.
- During the transition, to at least make the seeds a bit healthier and get your bird used to changes in their food, try sprouting them. It should work with any normal seed mix or you can go for a sprouting mix.
- If your parrot was on a seed-only diet, don’t stop after the conversion to pellets as the main diet. Your bird should also be eating fresh foods like veggies and some fruits!
Werquin, G. J. D. L., De Cock, K. J. S., & Ghysels, P. G. C. (2005). Comparison of the nutrient analysis and caloric density of 30 commercial seed mixtures (in toto and dehulled) with 27 commercial diets for parrots. Journal of animal physiology and animal nutrition, 89(3‐6), 215-221.