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Home » Companion Parrots, Issue, July 2009 Highlights, Nutrition

Nutrition in Field and Aviary

By Rosemary Low

This presentation was made by Rosemary Low to the 2008 Parrots International Symposium. It deals with foods eaten by parrots in the neotropics - the Caribbean and South and Central America - and shows that our pet birds can benefit from some of these foods as well.

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Yellow-eared Parrot (Ognorhynchus icterotis) © Photo M Stafford

Parrots can be broadly separated into two categories - those that consume a wide range of items and those that specialise in eating a certain type of food, such as almonds - which are eaten by the Great Green Macaw - or palm nuts. A good example of the first category is the Scarlet Macaw, while the Hyacinthine falls into the other group.

If we look at the food items taken by Scarlet Macaws in Costa Rica in 600 feeding sessions, we can see that they are primarily seed eaters and that fruit pulp comprises a comparatively small part of the diet. Wild parrots do not always eat the pulpy part of the fruit, but they normally prefer the small seeds within. I have even seen a captive Hyacinth Macaw delicately picking the seeds from the outer part of a strawberry!

Many parrot keepers fail to realise that the larger parrots enjoy small seeds, such as canary seed, which is seldom included in mixtures for parrots.

Papuan Lorikeet (Charmosyna papou) with millet spray © Photo M&M

Nutritionally its values are good, with an ideal content of protein and fat for species such as Amazons that can easily become obese in a domestic situation. Many Amazons relish canary seed which has a much lower fat content (between 5% and 8%) than oil seeds such as sunflower. The fat content of millet is even lower. Another advantage is that it takes longer to eat a comparable amount. It is a good idea to provide a small container of canary seed separate from the larger seeds, as it tends to fall to the bottom of the container in a mixture. Millet sprays are also enjoyed by many parrot species, not just the small ones.

Typical Analyses

Seed Protein % Fat/oil
Hemp 20 32
Sunflower 23 49
Safflower 16 38
Pumpkin 24 46

Approximate nutritional analysis

Protein Fat/oil
Canary 14-17 5-8
Millet 12 4
Hemp 20 32
Sunflower 23 49
Safflower 16 38
Pumpkin 24 46


It is important to point out that parrots and parakeets fed mainly on seed will be deficient in calcium. This can have very serious consequences, affecting the health and the behaviour of the bird. It is a tragedy when this happens, because it is so easy to supplement the diet with calcium.

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