Photo: Dot Schwarz. Pellets, seeds, fruits, vegetables… the possibilities of what we can offer our parrots are extensive! Just ensure they have a good balance of all four to keep in top condition, advises Dot.


DOT SCHWARZ concludes her three-part series on parrot nutrition (see March 14 and April 18 issues) with thoughts on sprouting seeds, human foods and wild parrots’ palates


GERMINATING and sprouting seeds and selected beans, such as chickpeas and mung beans, release valuable nutrients. Sprouts can be fed on their own or as a part of diets such as Shauna’s mash or Steve Hartman’s circus diet.

Sprouting turns a seed into a high- quality growing vegetable containing fat as an energy source, which continues to grow as long as it is moist and at least at room temperature. All seeds benefit from this. The quality of the seeds you use can be determined by the percentage that sprouts. You should expect at least 90 per cent to sprout within three to five days.

Once you get into the habit of sprouting, it’s not that much of a chore. So, if you use human-quality seed, you’ll gain a welcome addition to salads or other dishes. I sprout every three days and have two days’ supply in the fridge. (I add that my husband Wal disapproves of being offered “some of the parrots’ food”.)

There are commercial sprout mixes. Many people who’ve had decades of experience advocate sprouting and feeding these to companion birds. The successful Suffolk breeder, Mike Hurley, sprouts seeds and legumes for his birds and doesn’t feed pellets. Les Rance of the Parrot Society has made his own electric sprouter out of an old fridge. I have seldom seen a collection of birds of such shining plumage.

The only drawbacks are you have to learn how to do it. Sprouts can grow mouldy, both when growing and when harvested. Experience teaches you how to prevent spoilage. Never feed a sprout if it does not look fresh.

Your parrot insists on sharing your food

You’ve been told countless times that fried food, tea, coffee, alcohol, chocolate and avocado are unwise and can even be fatal for birds. So, you have two choices. First: don’t let your bird out of the cage when humans are eating. This is a hard one, because my pet birds enjoy actively socialising with visitors who may be eating and drinking unsuitable items. Second: only serve and eat healthy foods. Since we eat mainly vegetarian foods, this is easier than it seemed at first. And it has been helpful to our health because fried food, fats and too much sugar give me indigestion.

People foods to avoid

Purists will insist NO human food. EVER! I’m less cautious and don’t think one chip, one M&M, or a nibble of pizza will kill your companion. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, chocolate, fried food and avocados and cigarettes totally, though. These can cause fatal diseases for both the parrots and us.

Experts don’t necessarily agree. On page 96 of my first parrot book The Grey Parrot (fifth edition, 1987), it states: The preferred food in most cases contains hemp, peanuts, cendra pine nuts, and hard maize, and is therefore a completely unusable mixture… I must urgently warn against purchasing prepared “parrot food”… Each fancier must always mix the food himself; because only then is it possible to know what the birds are getting.

I then looked up on the internet “Is hemp safe for parrots?” I read: 2013. We used to use hemp seeds as a training treat with our Grey bird. He loved them. Or another comment in 2013: Hemp is safe for birds in small quantities. Breeders often use hemp to simulate breeding.

Replicating their wild cousins

Variety is the spice of life. Realising how much wild parrots chew fresh bark was a determining factor for me to provide the same for my aviary and indoor birds. Whether you offer pellets or seeds as the principal part of the diet, the birds also need fresh produce. My regime is 40 per cent seeds and pellets and 60 per cent fresh food. This includes a lot of nuts, (especially the macaws), some human food and the occasional (not suitable but they love it) item. I am aware that current opinion decides 60 per cent of the diet should be pellets and only 10 per cent should be seeds.

I wanted some reassurance that my haphazard methods were not doing them any long-term harm. So in January, I took Benni, the blue-and-gold macaw  and Artha grey to have a complete blood test. Every result was well within the normal range.

I was delighted.

Dot Schwarz shares her life with 10 species of psittacines, four pet parrots and 20-plus parrot and parakeet rescues and rehomes.


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