If you’re new to parrot keeping or trying to improve your parrot’s diet, you might be wondering what types of parrot food are out there. What do parrots eat?
Let’s go into 5 common types of parrot food that, together, can form the bulk of what your domestic feathered friend eats.
Here at Parrot Essentials, we’ve found parrot pellets to be the preferable staple food for our birds. Although seed mixes (which we’ll discuss below) have long been the popular choice, they are unfortunately not always the most nutritious option.
Nutrient deficiency is a very common issue in pet parrots. In a bid to combat this, commercial parrot pellets were developed. They’re a seed alternative that’s lower in calories but higher in nutrients, making high-quality pellets (that don’t contain excessive sugars or low-quality ingredients) a good staple option.
A diet consisting of 50-75% pellets, supplemented with the other foods on this list, should work well to avoid nutrient deficiency and keep your parrot healthy.
Tip: Not all parrots will be happy about being presented with pellets, especially if they’re not used to unfamiliar foods. Check out our guide to converting your parrot to pellets to help make the transition a smooth one.
Parrot seed mix
Traditionally, parrot food seed mixes have always been the go-to food option for pet parrots. It is true that some parrot species, like budgies and cockatiels, almost exclusively consume seeds in the wild.
Despite the above, most sources don’t recommend feeding seeds as a staple anymore. Domestic parrots don’t need the large amounts of fat and calories that seeds provide, and we just can’t offer the same variety that wild parrots would encounter.
Does that mean seed mixes are a no-go that you should banish from your home? We don’t necessarily think so. Variety is the key to keeping any pet happy and healthy. Seeds can totally play a part in that. Just don’t overdo it: try to make seeds no more than 10-15% of your bird’s diet.
Tip: Avoid mixes that are heavy in very fatty seeds like sunflower seeds (those work better as training treats!).
Vegetables for parrots
We’re often asked whether parrots can eat various types of “human foods”. And in fact, they can! If you’re making a salad for yourself, don’t forget to offer a small portion to your parrot (before you add salt or other seasonings, of course).
Researchers found that Amazon parrots fed a mix of mostly pellets supplemented with fresh produce like vegetables (25%) ended up ingesting a good balance of nutrients (Brightsmith, 2012).
Generally, the more colourful the veggie, the better it will be for your parrot. Dark leafy greens like kale, (bell) peppers, (snap) peas, carrots, broccoli, sweetcorn: all of them can be fed raw. You can chop them up, but leaving them whole also works. Offering the whole vegetable helps to keep your parrot busy foraging for an extended period of time.
Note: Watery vegetables like iceberg lettuce, cucumber and celery are fine, but not very nutritionally dense. Spinach should be avoided in large quantities as it can inhibit proper calcium uptake. Mushrooms and avocado are harmful (see more harmful and toxic parrot foods).
Fruits for parrots
In the wild, many parrots eat a diet that’s very high in fruits. However, like seeds, fruits shouldn’t make up the main part of your domestic feathered friend’s diet.
Although fruit is obviously a great source of nutrients, the cultivars of fruits that have been developed for humans are often high in sugars and calories. Compare this to what wild parrots are used to eating: wild fruit types, often not even ripe. We, parrot owners, unfortunately generally just don’t have access to that. Most of us don’t have Mauritia palms, Endocarpus bushes or Comocladia trees in our garden.
All this being said, it’s absolutely fine to share some fruit with your parrot once in a while. They might love the crunchy texture of an apple or to demolish a strawberry (leave the leafy crown please!). Just be sure to buy organic or give the fruit a good wash.
Sprouts for parrots
One great type of parrot food that’s often overlooked entirely by less experienced parrot owners is sprouts. Sprouting is a perfect way to feed seeds but greatly increase their nutritional value with very little work!
You can actually sprout pretty much any standard parrot seed mix. Just place some seeds between two damp paper towels, pop the whole thing in a zip-lock bag and place this in a warm, light place. Even leaving the seeds in the bag just overnight already starts the sprouting process, but you can also leave them for a day or two until you see actual little green sprouts appearing.
Want to add even more variety? There are various sprouting mixes out there that are formulated for parrots and contain a range of different seeds, grains and legumes.
As you’ve hopefully concluded from the above, putting together a nutritious diet for your parrot that also stimulates foraging behaviour is not difficult at all. A high-quality pellet as a staple, supplemented with nutritious sprouts, vegetables and some fruits and seeds, works well for many species.
PS: Don’t forget to look up the needs of your specific parrot species and tweak accordingly. African grey parrots, for example, are quite susceptible to calcium deficiencies. Eclectus parrots, meanwhile, have a longer digestive tract and should be fed a specialized Eclectus food.
Brightsmith, D. J. (2012). Nutritional levels of diets fed to captive Amazon parrots: does mixing seed, produce, and pellets provide a healthy diet?. Journal of avian medicine and surgery, 26(3), 149-160.
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.