Q & A: “Why is it good to feed with sprouted and boiled seeds?”

Diet is one of the most important husbandry aspects in maintaining a parrot healthy; when caged parrots are fed a poor diet their health will soon reflect this. Obesity, white plaques in the mouth from a vitamin deficiency, respiratory tract infection, plumage stress marks or color changes, and more all soon become apparent. The diet must be varied, nutritious, and interesting. It must also be presented in such a manner so as to make it attractive to the bird.

Our birds like us will eat what they like most if given an opportunity. Everyone loves cakes, sweets, and desserts. But these foods are fatty, tend to be laden with sugar, and are not healthy. The same happens with parrots.  If fed a bowl of mixed fruits, vegetables, greens, seeds, and nuts, they will eat the sunflower seeds and peanuts first, then the other nuts, and finally, if present in the mix, safflower, and hemp. They will ignore the millets, milo, buckwheat, oats, fruits, vegetables, and more. They simply do not provide the energy that the less healthy fatty seeds provide.

This means that the seed mix offered to the birds should be selected for the species for which they are intended for. Amazons, Galahs Eolophus roseicapillus, and some Australian parrots become obese very easily on fatty seeds. Their diet should be selected so that it is varied and contains a minimal amount of fat. Macaws, on the other hand, require fat in their diet. The same applies to African Greys Psittacus erithacus, which like the large macaws evolved to process fatty palm seeds. To ensure that my birds receive what is healthy, I like to have several mixes available and to provide the different mixes to the different species. The seeds complement the pelleted diet which we also feed and which together with vegetables, fruits, cooked mixes, sprouts, and more form the diet.

Pellets are processed food that has the widest acceptance in the USA. Countries like Australia, Brazil, and the EU are now paying closer attention to these manufactured diets. They are not perfect; pellets were formulated from poultry research, as no company has funded or conducted research on parrots in the wild. Poultry is terrestrial, has a short lifespan, and is precocial—the chicks can feed themselves from the minute they hatch. Parrots are the complete opposite. They are altricial, meaning that the chicks require assistance for some time before they can fend for themselves. Pellets, however, provide an assurance that a nutritional deficiency can be avoided. They are better than a diet based primarily on sunflower seeds and peanuts.

Whether you feed seeds or pellets, approximately 40% of the food you offer your birds should consist of vegetables, fruits, and other foods, including germinating seeds and grains, whole grain bread, cooked whole grain pasta, and brown rice. I err more towards vegetables than fruits. This is because wild parrots feed predominately on unripe fruits. They do this to avoid competition with mammals and other birds. The unripe fruit is low in sugar and often bitter and astringent. Commercial fruits have been produced to become ultra sweet. This is easily proven: bite into a wild apple and then a commercial apple. I am sure the unpleasant taste of the first will be pervasive.

The extremely sweet cultivated fruits should thus be avoided. If you feed fruits, select tropical varieties which are nutritionally superior to temperate fruits like apple, pear, grapes, and cherries, or choose types that are less sweet, such as the heirloon cooking apples, or select fruit that are not yet ripe; the ripening process boosts the sugar content. I prefer to feed vegetables and greens and use fruit as a treat.

Another dietary element that can be used is pulses. Lentils, garbanzo, pinto beans, mungbeans, and more can be partly cooked or germinated. Either process is required to reduce lectins, which are harmful. Sprouting mungbeans, lentils, garbanzo beans, and more are nutritiously superior to the dry form; in sprouts, fibers, proteins, essential fatty acids, and enzymes become easier to access during digestion. As an example, the vitamin content in sprouting mungbeans can increase 200%. The same applies to germinating seeds. A mixture of germinating seeds and pulses provides healthy food, which the parrots will readily eat and which can complement the rest of the fare.

When sprouting, it is imperative to wash the sprouts extremely well and to use a bacterial retardant during the initial soaking process. We have used bleach, apple cider vinegar, and grapefruit seed extract during the 6-8 hours of initial soaking. The seeds and pulses are then washed in copious amounts of water several times daily. Once the pulses and seeds begin to show a tiny sprout, they are soaked for two hours in a bacterial retardant (usually grapefruit seed extract) and then washed again.

The sprouts are then examined and smelled. They should never have an acrid or acidic odor. If they do, discard them and start over. Good, clean sprouts should have a sweet and desirable odor. The sprouts can then be fed. I always leave them to sit in a colander for 20-30 minutes to get rid of the excess water and feed them very early in the morning. The bowls are removed after an hour or two.  This is to prevent the husks and remaining grains and beans from fermenting in our hot climate.

Another means of destroying bacteria in sprouts is to blanch them in boiling water. This process does destroy some of the nutritious elements but the end result is still healthy.

An alternative to sprout is to soak and then cook pulses and seeds. Corn, garbanzo, mung and pinto beans, buckwheat, sunflower, safflower, and many more can be soaked for an hour and then boiled until the pulses become soft. Generally speaking, garbanzo takes longer to cook than lentils, so it is best to add the different grains to the different stages of cooking. The mix should not be overcooked, as most parrots dislike mush. You can add vegetables and pasta to this mix. Again, in a warm climate providfe it only in the morning and remove any uneaten amount after an hour or two to deter the foods from souring.

Food presentation is key. Parrots like colorful foods. This is why most species select the pellets containing color over the varieties that are the same color. When feeding a cooked mix, add colorful vegetables—beet, carrot, pumpkin, corn off the cob, peas, and more. Also, present the healthy foods early in the morning, when they are hungriest. If the birds refuse these foods, remove their seeds or pellets the night before so that they are especially hungry in the morning.

Tony’s book Psittaculture, is available from:

Psittaculture A Manual for the Care and Breeding of Parrots
Psittaculture A Manual for the Care and Breeding of Parrots

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