What Do Parrots Eat? Healthy Parrot Diet and What to Avoid

what do parrots eat

Wondering what to feed your parrots? What should you do if you don’t know what to include in a healthy parrot diet? What do parrots love eating most? What do you avoid? You have come to the right place if you have been asking yourself whether parrots eat a varied diet. This article will give you some fun facts and insights about a healthy parrot diet and what to avoid.

Parrots are omnivores which means that they consume both plants and animals. They require a variety of food to stay alive, be healthy, and be active. In captivity, most of their diet consist of pellets, as well as fresh and whole foods.

Seeds are their favorite, but you should not feed them only seeds. Also, not all foods are safe for parrots to consume. Some foods like avocado, raw potato, and tomato stems are toxic. Foods with preservatives, added or artificial sugar, and salt may also harm the bird.

What Do Parrots Eat in the Wild?

Parrots in the wild eat a varied diet that comprises seeds, fruits, flowers, nuts, and insects.

  • Nuts: Wild parrots are fond of hazelnuts, cashews, almonds, pistachios, macadamias, and walnuts.
  • Fruits: Parrots love fruits, and they can easily access them in the wild. Their favorite fruits include wild berries and figs.
  • Seeds: Parrots do enjoy seeds. Some of the seeds that attract the largest number of wild parrots include sunflower, millet, barley, pumpkin, corn, and sorghum.
  • Flowers: Wild parrots eat flowers as an option whenever they cannot find other food. They feed on safe edible flowers such as daisies, chamomile, hibiscus, roses, jasmine, among many others.
  • Insects: Parrots in the wild have a natural love for insects. They can eat insects such as earthworm, termites, caterpillars, and mealworms. Apart from providing a number of nutrients, these insects are also safe and easy to eat.

Wild parrots do not eat a wide range of foods you’d give your pet parrots at home. They do not have the same standards of nutrition as parrots in captivity. Wild parrots will only experiment on other foods when they run out of options within their natural habitats.

What Foods Do Parrots Like to Eat?

Seeds and nuts are parrots’ favorite meals. Give your parrot a plate of either nuts or seeds and another plate of vegetables, and you will notice that they won’t choose the vegetables!

Seeds are rich in energy and will enable the parrot to attain the level of energy it requires in a day. You should always give them fresh seeds, and avoid old and stale seeds since it interferes with the bird’s nutritional health. That being said, seeds are generally high in fat, which is not great for a parrot’s health if fed as the sole diet. Seeds should be a small part of a parrot’s diet, or only given as treats.

Nuts, such as walnuts, almonds, and pistachios are a great source of proteins. They are also safe to feed your parrot. You only have to avoid feeding them excess nuts as this can lead to severe nutritional deficiencies. Certain nuts, such as peanuts and tree nuts, may also contain aflatoxins, which are a type of toxin produced by fungi on these plants.

Parrots, like human beings, also love eating food that are full of flavor, particularly fruits. In the wild, parrots feast on fruits from trees and shrubs. However, as many fruits have high sugar content, parrots in captivity should not have an excessive amount of fruits per day, as it can lead to health issues that result from high sugar diets.

What to Include in a Healthy Diet for Parrots?

You can bring a little change to your routine of feeding parrots by including an additional diet for parrots. Keep their nutritional needs in mind to make sure that the parrots stay healthy always. Some of the healthy diet options you can choose include:

  • Fresh, nutritious fruits and veggies: They are a good, natural source of vitamins. You can mash, chop, or give them as a whole. This depends on you and your parrot’s preference as different birds react differently towards different forms of such foods being presented to them.
  • A mixture of seeds to address their dietary needs: Nutritional contents for many seeds vary. Blending them ensures that the birds receive varied nutrients. You can create your own seed mix (always ensure to buy unsalted ones with no added oils, flavorings, or preservatives), or buy ready-made seed mixes from the pet store.
  • Pellets: Formulated pellets for parrots have a high nutritional value since it’s a combination of a variety of foods.
  • Fresh water: Water is essential to transport food and nutrients within their bodies. Replace the water in your parrot’s water bowl regularly, and ensure that the water and the bowl is clean.

Other fresh foods prepared in different ways are also good companions for parrots. They include the following:

  • Cooked cereals and whole grains, such as maize, barley, oat, wheat, and rice. They offer nutritional values that parrots cannot find in other foods. They are very rich in carbohydrates with some portion of proteins. Cereals and Whole grains give parrots the required energy to go on with day-to-day activities.
  • Raw organic or steamed vegetables: Parrots feed on a variety of fresh vegetables, such as kales, carrots, broccoli, and yellow squash. Eating vegetables is important for their health. They provide vitamins, fiber, and minerals for the bird.
  • Sprouts, soaked, or cooked legumes: Parrots love eating sprouts like alfafa among other legumes. They are the best source of proteins, and also an excellent source of fiber for the bird. 
Parrots should be given a variety of food daily, to ensure they are getting a balanced diet and the right nutrition

Some ideas of foods you can offer to your parrot include:

Veggies

  • Broccoli
  • Squash
  • Sprouts
  • Cauliflower
  • Carrots
  • Bell peppers
  • Chili peppers (yes, they can tolerate the spice!)

Fruits

  • Banana
  • Grape (in moderation)
  • Blueberry
  • Apple
  • Cherry (without the pits)

Nuts

  • Macadamia nuts
  • Walnuts
  • Almonds
  • Hazelnuts
  • Pine nuts

Seeds and Grains

  • Millet (either individual seeds, or in a spray)
  • Barley
  • Chia seeds
  • Safflower seeds
  • Quinoa

Others

  • Supplement vitamins and minerals, especially for those parrots who heavily rely on seeds. Don’t overdo it as this may harm your parrot. You can talk to your veterinary doctor to advise you on vitamin and mineral intake. Usually, birds that already eat a varied diet daily will not need additional supplements.
  • Offer nutritious snacks basically formulated for parrots, but in moderation. Snacks can also be used as treats for training, especially if they are your parrot’s favorite food!
what to feed parrots
What we feed our own parrots: a daily base of formulated pellets and a small amount of seed mix (left), plus a variety of fresh fruits and veggies (right). Isn’t it colorful?

Special Diet for Certain Parrots

There are some breeds of parrots that have special diet needs, such as eclectus parrots, hyacinth macaws, lories and lorikeets. While many diets may work for your parrot, the key is finding the one they need according to the species they are.

Eclectus Parrots

Eclectus parrots are probably the most studied species of parrots when it comes to their diet. These lovely parrots need a special diet rather than the usual types of food that you typically give a lovebird, an Amazon, or an Alexandrine parakeet.

Eclectus parrots generally have longer digestive tracts than other birds, which means that food takes a longer time to pass through their bodies. With longer residence times in their bodies, they are able to better absorb nutrients and vitamins from whatever food they eat. However, this also means that they also tend to be more prone to health issues resulting from excess, which may cause toxicity.

They should not be given pellets as their major food base, as pellets are processed foods with several additives, some of which could be harmful to them. They should also not be given vitamin supplements unless specified by a vet as a result of a diagnosed health condition or deficiency.

Eclectus parrots should be fed fresh fruits and vegetables, preferably organic ones, as a major part of their diets. A minor part of their diets can consist of seeds, nuts, a small amount of pellets, and other treats.

Hyacinth Macaws

The largest in size of all parrots, the hyacinth macaw is a majestic bird, with bright blue feathers. It has a black beak that is specifically shaped to crack nuts in the wild. Unlike many other parrots, hyacinth macaws have high tolerance for diets with high fat content. In the wild, Hyacinth macaws eat almost exclusively palm nuts from two specific species of palm trees: the acuri and the bocaiuva palms. They also eat other palms, fruits, and seeds in the wild. In captivity, they should also be offered fruits and vegetables in addition to various nuts, seeds, and pellets.

Lories and Lorikeets

In the wild, lories and lorikeets consume nectar and pollen as well as soft foods like wild fruits, berries, and flower buds. They are not seeds eaters. These birds primarily feed on a wet diet that is specially-formulated for them and can be found in bird stores.

These birds have specially-adapted tongues with a brush-like tip to help them sweep up pollen and nectar more easily. Their beaks are also smaller in size and less adapted to crack nuts and seeds, unlike other parrots. The pollen and nectar sources contain several essential amino acids necessary for a balanced diet of these birds.

Therefore, lories and lorikeets should be fed a diet with mostly formulated wet food, and minimally pellets and seeds.

When other special parrot diets are needed

Additionally, birds that are injured or have certain gut illnesses may require specific diets, be in in form, texture, or contents. You may speak with your vet to formulate a special diet for your parrot. The vet will be able to provide you with a balanced nutritious meal fortified with vitamins and minerals.

It’s important to familiarize yourself with special diets if you want your parrot to live long. Factors to consider when giving a special diet to a parrot:

  • Incorporate a wide variety of foods in their diet
  • Grind the food by either mashing or chopping them
  • Offer well-cooked foods and vegetables
  • Provide salt and sugar-restricted diet
  • Give them unsweetened whole wheat cereals
  • Give parrots foods that are low in fats

What Can a Parrot not Eat?

Anybody would want to offer a parrot a healthy and nutritious diet. Using a variety of foods is one significant way of enticing parrots. However, you should also be aware of what parrots should avoid eating, so that you do not accidentally cause harm to your bird.

The following are some of the toxic foods a parrot should absolutely not eat (i.e. might be lethal):

  • Chocolate – Avoid offering chocolates to your parrots at all cost. Just like humans, they won’t say no to the chocolates. But chocolates contain theobromine which could cause vomiting, diarrhea, increases heart rate, seizures, and even death of your bird.
  • Spoiled seeds – Poorly stored seeds may cause health problems in parrots especially if they turn moldy or rot. Always check on the condition of the seeds before feeding them.
  • Potato and tomato stems – They contain a solanine substance, which is toxic to parrots. Solanine is a poisonous chemical that can cause gastrointestinal and nervous issues in birds.
  • Raw or uncooked beans – These contain toxins such as hemagglutinin that causes blood cells to clump together, preventing efficient exchange. When the beans are properly cooked (boiled for several minutes), these toxins are destroyed, hence making them safer to eat.
  • Avocado – The persin element in avocado causes general weakness, respiratory problems, and fluid accumulation around internal organs. When poisoned by avocado, your parrot might quite quickly show signs of weakness and unwillingness to perch.
  • Onions and Garlic – Onions and garlic are toxic to parrots regardless of whether they are fed raw or cooked. They contain sulfur and allicin chemical substances that irritate the lining of the parrot’s mouth causing ulcers and anemia.
  • Rotten, spoiled or expired food – Never give your parrots rotten food. This is pretty self-explanatory.
  • Raw meat – Parrots are omnivores and it’s not wrong to supplement them with animal protein. However, raw meat may contain killer bacteria that may result in food poisoning. You can only kill the bacteria by cooking the meat.
  • Food containing artificial sweeteners – (for example: xylitol) Artificial sweeteners have been found to be quite harmful to other pets such as dogs. While it has not been studied much in birds, it is best to avoid feeding such food.

And these are some foods that parrots should avoid eating in certain cases (i.e. may not be lethal, but best to avoid):

  • Fruit seeds – Most of the fruits that parrots eat, such as pears, apples, cherries, plums, and apricots contain seeds. These seeds have some toxic compounds such as amygdalin that are not healthy for parrots to eat. When in doubt, always remove the seeds before offering fruits to your parrots. Pits of pitted fruit like apricots and cherries are a no-no. However, there are seeds that are safe for consumption, like melon, pumpkin, and papaya seeds.  
  • Raw honey – Raw honey often contains spores that cause botulism, a toxin that causes ill effects like muscle paralysis and breathing difficulties. Pasteurized honey, however, is safe in moderate amounts.
  • Dairy products like milk and butter – Supplementing parrots with milk, cheese, or butter is a poor food choice. They cannot tolerate lactose in their system. They will not be able to digest it, and some birds are particularly sensitive to it. Such birds may exhibit symptoms of diarrhea after consuming lactose-containing products.
  • Peanuts – Too much consumption of peanuts is toxic for the birds due to the high-fat content in the peanuts. Parrots are highly vulnerable to high cholesterol and artery diseases. Raw peanuts also often contain fungi that release aflatoxins that harm the liver.
  • Foods containing salt – Humans don’t like excess salt in foods, and so do parrots. Too much salt is dangerous for the parrots. If too much is consumed, it can lead to excessive thirst followed by dehydration, kidney failure, and death. Smaller birds are particularly susceptible as even a tiny amount of salt can have a major impact on their small bodies.

Is an All-Seed Diet Bad for Parrots?

In older times, parrot-keepers who did not know much about parrots’ diets have been told to “just feed them seeds”. This is a practice that has changed over the years, gladly for the better, but many today still believe that it is enough to just give birds seeds.

While it is good to offer your parrots seeds, too many seeds for your parrot can lead to serious health problems. Seeds are high in fat and deficient in calcium, amino acids, vitamins and many other important minerals. Parrots need more minerals for them to stay healthy.

As I always tell others, keeping a parrot on an all-seed diet is akin to humans eating only potato chips everyday. Both come from nature, yes, but are hardly enough to provide all the nutrients we need to survive and stay healthy.

Other problems associated with an all-seed diet include:

  • Reduced immune
  • Respiratory complications
  • Bone deformities
  • Obesity
  • Fatty liver
  • Feather-picking

Although seeds provide lots of calories for your parrots, they only meet fewer nutrient requirements for the birds. Always remember to offer a low amount of seeds to your parrots, and balance the diet with other healthier foods to ensure that the bird lives a healthier and longer life.

How to Feed a Parrot

Generally, most parrots are able to eat independently. First, you need to choose an appropriate feeder with no sharp edges to avoid injuring your parrot. Attach the feeder in the cage (if you plan to let your parrot eat in its cage) or place it on a table (if you are planning to let your parrot out to eat with you).

The quantity of food that a parrot eats depends on their age, size, and health condition. Baby parrots would need handfeeding formula to increase their nutrition and help them grow up healthily. Larger parrots tend to eat more food than the smaller ones. Overweight birds will need a low-fat diet, while emaciated birds need highly nutritious food with higher fat content.

As a reference, I usually scoop one level tablespoon of pellets for Loki (lovebird) and Bibi (conure) per day, plus half a teaspoon of mixed seeds. For Freya (ringneck parakeet), as she is bigger in size, I give her a pinch more of each than Loki and Bibi. Apart from this, I offer them fresh veggies and fruits daily, plus some other seeds as treats occasionally throughout the day.

This amount of food lasts them an entire day and I often notice leftover food in their bowls depending on their moods. Sometimes, there are more leftovers than usual. If this occurs just once or twice over a period of time, I don’t pay too much attention to it. However, if it persists for several days in a row, I start to monitor their weights frequently to ensure they are not decreasing too much in weight, which signals a possible health issue.

How to Feed a Baby Parrot

In your pursuit of parrot-keeping, you may come across times when you encounter baby parrots. This may happen either because your parrots have bred, resulting in babies, or you might have bought a baby parrot from a breeder. Ideally, the second case should be avoided as the initial stages of a baby parrot’s growth are very critical to their health – most breeders do not (and should not!) sell baby parrots until they have weaned and fledged, unless there was a particular situation that required them to sell it early.

Regardless of how you come across a baby parrot, you have to assess the situation and then make a decision on how you wish to raise it. Some choose to let the parrot parents raise the baby by themselves, while others may choose to co-parent the baby parrot. Co-parenting means that apart from letting the parents feed and raise the chick, we humans also partake in supplementing feeding and handling of the bird.

Baby parrots that are co-parented need to be fed baby hand-rearing formula in the early stages, then steadily weaned to solid food as it grows. They will require regular feeding to stimulate development since they are at an active growth stage. Feeding rate reduces gradually as baby parrots grow.

While each brand of baby parrot formula is different, most of them contain a highly nutritious powder mix which you just need to mix with warm water to form a slurry. The slurry is then either syringed or scooped with a feeding spoon, and given to the chick. Some baby parrot formula brands recommend to start with a thin, somewhat watery slurry in the early days after hatching, then gradually reduce the amount of water to make a thicker slurry as the chick grows bigger. This process also helps them to gradually wean on to solid foods like pellets and seeds.

During the early weaning stages, feed baby parrots a diet of veggies and fruits to start them off with exploring these various textures and tastes. This can greatly help encourage them to accept fresh diets as they get older, rather than solely preferring pellets and seeds.

A baby African Grey parrot feeding from a syringe

Should Parrots Eat Gravel?

Birds like juncos, jays, and finches eat gravel to facilitate digestion. These are the birds who swallow seeds with hulls on them. They also consume hard nuts, which requires gravel to wear the hard coating in their gizzards; thus, helping in digestion.

Unlike other birds, parrots do not need gravel to aid in digestion. Most parrots crush their food before swallowing them. Besides, the need of gravel is less of an issue to parrots since they consume soft foods like vegetables, fruits, and pellets.

Don’t supplement any gravel to your parrot as it may cause problems. They have very small intestines as compared to other birds, which may not allow gravel to pass through. Instead, the gravel gets trapped causing obstructions or health issues like kidney failure, which may kill the bird with time. 

Final Thoughts

Parrots enjoy eating just like any other bird. A parrot should be provided with a balanced amount of nutrients accordingly. Your parrot will be able to access the nutrients essential for good health if you offer a variety of feedstuffs.

  • The diet should be as interesting and varied as possible. It should ideally contain a variety of pellets, fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as some seeds and nuts.
  • Check if your parrot might require a special diet, especially if it is an eclectus, a hyacinth macaw, a lory, or a lorikeet.
  • Always make sure that the food you offer is clean and fresh.
  • Make it a habit to always remove food remains from the cage daily, or they might make your parrot ill.
  • Fresh foods such as fruits and vegetables should also not be left in their cages for more than 2 hours as they may turn bad quickly, or attract pests.

Remember to observe your parrot’s response to a diet daily. A healthy parrot will have shiny feathers, bright eyes, and active posture. Ideally, also weigh your parrots regularly (e.g. weekly) to keep track and spot any potential health issues from sudden weight gains or losses.

References

Buxton, N., & Saulnier, S. H. (2020). Wild parrots. HandRearing Birds, 587-610.

Cornejo, J., Dierenfeld, E. S., Bailey, C. A., & Brightsmith, D. J. (2013). Nutritional and     physical characteristics of commercial hand‐feeding formulas for parrots. Zoo biology, 32(5), 469-475.

Gilardi, J. D., & Toft, C. A. (2012). Parrots eat nutritious foods despite toxins. PloS one, 7(6), e38293.

Krasheninnikova, A., Höner, F., O’Neill, L., Penna, E., & von Bayern, A. M. (2018). Economic decision-making in parrots. Scientific reports, 8(1), 1-10.

Martens, J., Hoppe, D., & Woog, F. (2013). Diet and feeding behaviour of naturalised amazon parrots in a European city. Ardea, 101(1), 71-76.

Moore, M. Hand-Feeding Formulas. AFA Watchbird, 40(2&3), 47-49.

Perry, F., & Perry, L. Notes on Breeding and Hand-feeding Hooded Parrots. AFA Watchbird, 12(5), 8-12.

Sullivan, C. (2016). Parrots and cockatoos in the Victorian mallee. Australian Field Ornithology, 3(2).

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