Pellet Debate

My question is just what is abusive about feeding a seed only diet? Do parrots in the wild eat pellets or other commercially available foods? I have often advised people to feed pellets because the birds tend to eat only their favorite seeds and discard the others as they search for their favorites. This is much like children being offered a bowl of corn, peas, carrots, and M&M’s – what do you think they will eat? Does this mean that they do not like the peas, corn or carrots?

No it means the method of delivery was wrong. If you feed only one variety of seed at a time then you can insure that the bird is eating more than one type of seeds – which we assume is healthier (?).

Is feeding a bird the same basic ingredients in a bland and boring pellet less abusive – just because they have been exposed to heat and pressure and other processing? Are not fresh foods in their natural state more healthy than processed?

Parrots: more than pets, friends for life.  Chris Biro

My early thinking was influenced by so many birds I saw who suffered malnutrition because their diet was solely seed. Some of the reasons for malnutrition were the lack of Vitamin A and a reverse ratio of calcium to phosphorous. As a result, I turned to a straight pellet diet for all my birds. My theory was, if birds get sick on an all seed diet, we won’t feed them any seed.

Vitamin A is necessary for many of the body’s functions including disease-fighting. Many of the birds I purchased when I first started had respiratory problems, no pappillae in the choana, poor feather condition, and for some, the beginnings of fatty liver disease. Most of them had to go on antibiotics and all of them received vitamin shots to get them started back to health.

Vitamin A deficiency beyond a certain point is irreversible, according to my vet at the time. Seeds also have a poor calcium/phosphorous ratio. This ratio causes hens to be prone to egg-binding. Additionally, since birds require calcium for egg formation and it isn’t present in adequate amounts in a seed diet, the calcium will be leached from their own bones in order to supply it to the egg. So besides causing egg-binding, the bird’s own skeletal structure is compromised.

When babies are being fed all seeds, they don’t obtain the calcium required for rapid growth. Aside from these two large issues, there are a host of other vitamins and minerals lacking in such a diet.

I remember visiting one person’s home who had been bragging about her beautiful blue front amazon. This bird was also on an all seed diet, but she did give it fruits and veggies, which it didn’t eat. The bird had dull feathers, an elongated beak, was overweight, and had scaly feet. I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Since all her birds were in this condition because of the poor diet, she never had anything healthy to compare them with. She may have thought they were beautiful but I knew what they could have been had they been fed better.

As time went on and I learned more, I started realizing how extremist my viewpoints of feeding just pellets really were. Of course an all-seed diet will result in malnourished birds. There are nutrients that seeds do not contain. A limited diet of any kind will result in malnutrition. Even most pellet manufacturers admit that feeding an all pellet diet is not to the bird’s best benefit over the long term.

Pellets definitely aren’t tailored for any particular bird. However, there is a phenomenon we have discussed previously on this list. When birds, who have been on a poor diet, are initially fed pellets, they begin to glow with good health. Their beaks, feathers, and feet clearly demonstrate the the dietary outages have been corrected. As time goes by, there is a rebound effect, where other nutritional problems arise because of the nutritional misses or overages in the pelleted diet.

In nature many birds subsist mainly on seeds. Cockatiels, budgies, and many of the grass keets are included in this. MAINLY, however, is the operative word. Birds free to choose their diet do not eat only seeds. They have a host of other foods to choose from, and this includes: leaf, bud, branch, bark, soil, flower, pollen, green seed head, fruit, pond algae, other vegetation and bugs. As they forage, they consume a wide variety of foods to fill their nutritional needs.

When they are sick, their body draws them to plants whose energies complement their needs so they can be healed. Birds in captivity have access to only what we feed them and it is nowhere near the variety that nature provides. Even though, due to seasonal variation, the natural environment is not always lush and food is consequently limited, this privation is not ongoing throughout the bird’s life. There is relief as the season changes. Not so in captivity.

It is well documented by veterinarians that an all-seed diet causes malnutrition. In my opinion a pellet diet provides many of the vitamins and minerals lacking in seeds, but in its own way is also limited causing other problems of malnourishment. Some are problems of excess and others are caused by nutrients still lacking in the pellets.

Although seeds should not be the complete diet they should be part of a healthy, balanced diet. Seeds are now included in my birds’ diet. Why? Because seeds contain some good nutrients useful for maintaining the health of my birds. There is a nutrient break-down of many different seeds on the holistic bird list, but I’ll mention a few of the more common ones:

Sunflower- Sunflower seeds have been used traditionally not only as energy food but medicinally as well. Medicinally, sunflower seeds help to reduce allergic reactions, reduce cardiovascular problems, treat worms, and improve eyesight. Nutritionally, sunflower is high in potassium/low in sodium, contains essential linoleic acid, vitamin E, selenium, 25% protein, a good amount of fiber, rich in B vitamins, (particularly thiamine, pyridoxine, niacin, and pantothenic acid) plus the minerals zinc, calcium, manganese, copper, and phosphorous. True, sunflower seeds are high in fat, so don’t feed a ton of them, limit the amount.

Pumpkin- Pumpkin seeds are best known for their concentration of zinc. They have also been used in the treatment of intestinal worms. They are a good source of protein and contain a good balance of the amino acids, though tryptophan, methionine, and cysteine are a little low. No one is proposing to make pumpkin seeds a complete diet, however. Pumpkin seeds are also high in iron, calcium phosporous, magnesioum, copper, Vitamin E, and essential fatty acids. There is a mix of B vitamins with niacin being the richest.

Safflower is 16% protein and 38% fat. It also is high in B vitamins.

Millet is a nonglutenous grain. It is the most alkaline of the grains and is potentially the least congesting. It contains 15% protein, is low in fat, has high fiber, good amounts of niacin, thiamine, and riboflavin, a little vitamin E, and some iron, magnesium, and potassium. Because of its low fat content, millet would be excellent to balance out some of the higher-fat flower seeds.

Seeds are part of the natural diet of birds in addition to all kinds of vegetation…and a few bugs.

Pellets, on the other hand, are not part of a bird’s natural diet. Additionally, it is very easy for a grain miller to add poor quality grains, including those that are moldy, dirty, and insect infested, into a pellet mix. Once everything was ground up and pressed together, who would know? The purchaser also has no idea if the quality control is in place. Too much or too little supplementation can be added by a careless mixer and you won’t know until your birds start dropping dead or getting ill.

The fat in a pellet mix is more likely to be rancid than the fat contained in fresh unhulled seeds.

It is much more difficult to hide poor seed quality. If the seeds are dirty or if they are moldy, you can reject them. You don’t have to feed them to your birds. With pellets, you can only hope for the best. There’s no telling what they contain.

If you feel a need to add supplements to a natural diet of fresh fruits, vegetables, and seeds, you can tailor the amount and kind of supplement to the needs of your bird. When you feed pellets, you are stuck with what has been added by the manufacturer.

If there are concerns about fat for some species, then increase the amount of cereal grains like millet and oats. Flower seeds like sunflower, safflower, rape, flax, and hemp are higher in fat. I feed all of my birds (from Macaws to cockatiels) a good cockatiel mix. Then I add daily nuts to the Macaws and weekly nuts to every body else. My birds get seeds three to four days a week.

Rule of thumb: Feeding a limited diet over time will always result in malnutrition.

Best Guidline: Feed a varied diet and rotate foods for the best chance at covering the nutritional requirements.

Fact: seeds contain good nutrition but are not by themselves a complete diet. They should be included in any balanced diet regimen.  gloria

In the wild Cockatoo’s and Macaws eat far more seeds and nuts than an Amazon. I also know that African Greys require more fat in their diet than most parrots. Two very well known breeders have had to increase the amount of sunflower in their flocks to get their Greys to breed. No sunflower no babies.

How much fat is required by each species or how much seed and type is required?? Who knows. Does anyone? I am of the holistic view. Observe your birds and as a slight problem develops adjust the diet to those nutritional needs. When I added more seed and nuts to their diet I weighed them daily. No weight gain. If there was too much fat or carbs in their diet wouldn’t they gain weight? Now that I sprout their seeds I put the sprouted seeds in their bowls for a half hour.

Somedays all seed is gone and others its hardly touched. My B&G rarely has any left but on occasion there are a few left in the bowl. I put their sprouted seed in with the frozen veggies right now as I am having a hard time convincing them that frozen is good. Once the diet is converted to fresh, frozen and cooked foods I will stop putting seeds in their fresh food.

In the past and in the future seeds and nuts are given at dusk, just before it gets dark and they are only left in the bowl for a half hour. Any remaining seed or nuts are removed. My avian vet had extensive experience treating birds for malnutrition related disease for the past 15 years. Once on the recommended diet (he recommends pellets only) the birds vital signs and life improved. Those on the seed only diets died. Seems pretty cut and dried to me Which diet is right for each species of bird?

I try to keep my bird diets as close to their natural diet as is possible. I also allow them to pick and choose what they want to eat and it varies from day to day. Sometimes they eat al ot of fruit and other days it goes untouched. Birds who fly and actually work for their keep would probably require allot more fat in their diet than would my birds who walk only.

If you look hard enough I’m sure you will find some “expert” that recommends a variety of seeds as a sole diet. Based on what avian vets have told me over the years and my own personal experience of feeding a seed only diet I could never recommend seed only to anyone If you want written facts on what seed only diets do to parrots Please read Avian Medicine: Principles and Application by Ritchie, Harrison and Harrison. The facts on why its so bad are all there, in living color no less. Very graphic pictures of fatty liver disease etc.  Valerie

Do we know that these deaths have occurred due to the seeds or what is IN the seeds – pesticides, herbicides, etc.? Or from the manner in which they were fed – seed mixtures vs. single seed types per serving? Just how much do we really know about the issue? Don’t get me wrong here, I do not feed seeds only – far from it. And actually I can not say I currently know anyone who does.

Some of the several birds that have come to us from other peoples homes were fed seeds PLUS white bread with butter and other “people food” (obviously not much better).

Our birds are fed lots of organic raw finely chopped veggies mixed into a morning goop of rolled grains (barley, wheat, oats, quinoa, etc.) with some of these added that have been sprouted, a large tablespoon or so of organic peanut butter for additional flavor (feeding 60 birds), plus of course other herbs like garlic, etc. etc.

They also get seeds and nuts and also have available all the time Triple P pellets – they do eat the pellets but they eat ALL of the goop and only resort to the pellets when the goop is gone. (*Note: Chris now manufactures a completely organic pellet which he has named the Foundation Formula. He feeds it to his own birds and offers it for sale.)

Naturally, they love their seeds the most, which is why I am working on sourcing the organic seeds. It is great fun to go do our pirate show at various bird club expose’ because we get to compare our birds to the other birds present and in nearly every case, ours look much brighter, with much nicer feather condition and generally look overall healthier.

I am not concerned about our birds diet at present. I have confidence in our diet due to the fact that we have somewhere around 30 – 50 thousand people a year holding and petting our birds and so far none of the diseases we are so often warned about have been a problem over the last ten years or so of doing this show – their diet must be helping with this.

We did have some trouble in the beginning with poor feather condition and some other problems when we fed only pellets (Scenic) but that cleared up soon after we started mixing our own version of food (goop).

I am interested in the seed issue because I think we have had so much trouble with seed only diets mainly due to HOW we have fed them (mixtures) and due to the chemicals that are designed to penetrate these commercially grown seeds (pesticides, herbicides, and other preservatives and radiation). Most people do not stop to think of just what part of the plant the pesticides are designed to protect (the seed or fruit) and how they actually protect this part of the plant (by penetrating the target portion of the plant). Seeds are dangerous to us also, mostly because of the high concentration of foreign chemicals present, put there by our friendly farmers with government approval or even subsidies.

Are these seeds still “dangerous” to birds if they are actually organically grown in soil that has minerals present?

How much of this is considered in the evaluations that report seeds as being incomplete foods for parrots? And who is making these evaluations – pellet manufacturers (I don’t know about this one way or the other)?

I have recently encountered info that seems to indicate that the large light striped sunflower seeds are actually very healthy for parrots and are nearly a complete diet in themselves – the small black sunflower seeds are oil seeds and are NOT good for parrots (high fat content). This is also why I am searching for sources of organic sunflower seeds – the black seeds are easy to find since they are grown for oil production, the larger light colored striped seeds IN SHELL are a bit tougher to find.

There are a lot of questions pertaining to the seed only diet issue that make me seriously question the validity of declaring the seed only diet equal to being “abusive”. I am open to and very interested in more info on the subject if any of you have it.  Chris

Some thoughts on seed/Vs pellets

1. The last time I got into the seed/pellet discussion I read the label on several of the popular pellet packages and I seem to recall that the ingredients were made from many of the things found in most parrot seed mixtures.

2. A friend of mine, Wendy Huntbach operates a parrot refuge where there are 100+ large parrots of all species. Quite a few of the parrots are respectably old and in their forties, fifties and even sixties and have never seen a pellet in their lives. She does feed seed and also a wide variety of fruits, veggies, etc.

3. Many of the pellet manufacturers claim that use of a pelleted diet results in longer lived parrots. I was not aware that pellets had been around long enough to be able to gather the statistical data that would support their claims. Don’t a lot of parrots live 30-75 years?

4. If you feed a parrot a seed only diet it most likely is not as healthy as a varied diet. If you feed a parrot a pellet only diet is most likely is not as healthy as a varied diet.

5. If I ate the same food all the time I would get bored with it and I presume that parrots are the same.

6. Any doctor or who treats humans will tell you that a good diet consists of fresh (living) foods from the different food groups. I presume the same thing must apply to parrots and other animals. Pellets do not fall into any of the food groups.

7. Pellets have probably done a lot of good for the health of many parrots. Perhaps the people on these mail list are better informed parrot owners but a lot of people that I have met haven’t got a clue of what a good parrot diet is and even if they did they would probably not want to take the time to prepare proper foods. For this type of person pellets probably will provide a healthier diet.

Personally I am not very fond of pellets. I prefer to use a quality seed/nut/dried fruit mixture as the diet staple and supplement it with a variety of other foods and fruits.  Roy Berger

I believe that each species of bird requires different amounts of fat. Quakers for instances, and Amazons are prone to fatty liver disease. They require less fat in order to try and avoid this terrible disease.

All of my birds get pellets with fresh fruits and veggies with an occasional pizza crust thrown in. My Q’s and Zons get no seeds. The breeders do get a little bit but not much. Also you have to think about how much fat they are capable of burning off in our environment that we have set up for them. True, some seeds are lower in fat than others. but me having a seed junkie before conversion can tell you that Quakers tend to pick out the Safflower and Sunflower and leave the rest. These are the ones that are highest in fats.  Ang

I am a small commercial breeder. My income depends on healthy, happy cockatiels and babies. I’ve gone full circle on the diets. I’ve started with seed, then went to the vitamin fortified seed, then to the pellets, from there doing the cooking and veggies and back to seed.

Through *elimination* of all I’ve given over the past 5+ years, I’m full circle to 95% of my diet consisting of seed. The remainder is a small piece of wheat bread daily, local fresh vegetation (different items several times a week), and monkey biscuit 1-2 times a week. My observations are of 400+ cockatiels, which many are 2nd to 5th generation on my property.

Chris brought up an interesting point as to possible pesticides and preservative in seed. This is something I am pursuing in regards to 2 local suppliers. How a supplier ‘stores’ seed makes a difference. Many *treat* (and do not disclose what is used) seed so that is physically appealing ( bug free. etc.) to the end consumer.

Local humidity makes a difference. Nutritional value at the tail-end of a season is also dependent on how the seed was stored. If in silo’s, excessive heat build-up reduces nutrient content. This also applies to the grains used for pellets. If someone would do a survey of the time of year when sudden deaths from diet are the highest, it would be from Aug- late October. Or, secondary problems, during this time period, which would be aflatoxins and aspirgillius, from end of season storage practices.

The *mix* of seed per species makes a difference. Many mixes have ‘fillers’ (excess oat groat, buckwheat, etc.) that the birds rarely eat, thus a contributor to support the malnutrition theory. Sunflower seeds vary in nutritional value, such as black oil versus striped, yet the reports on fat are of the black oil variety’s.

Varying nutritional needs during season changes need to be addressed, such as more fat…less fat, etc. Overfeeding, and allowing a bird to ‘cherry pick’ also contributes to obesity, and/or malnutrition.

Cockatiels WILL have fatty liver problems regardless of the diet. This species is physically designed for lots of excersise, which sadly in a pet situation is lacking. Caging for type of species makes a difference. When the newness wears of the bird spends 95% of it’s life sitting in a cage. I believe exposure to sunlight and fresh air make a difference. Lack of socializing with other birds in a flock situation makes a difference. Supplementing and water treatments make a difference…or lack of, such as distilled water usage, which is void of minerals.

As far as I’m concerned **the whole picture** has to be addressed, rather than attacking a certain diet. And as far as I can tell, the statistics do not cover or mention these variables. As to myself, I have learned that cockatiels will cherry pick. Early on I asked a vet what is the amount this species will eat in a day. I was told a cockatiel will consume about 1 oz. per day, slightly more if it is a large active bird. I started *measuring* my seed, using a 3 oz. paper bathroom dixie cup. Each pair gets 1 cup (3 oz.) per day of seed.

The only time my birds are caged is when they are set-up for breeding. The remainder of the time they are in intermediate holding (resting pairs, 2-3 wks) cages or large walk-in flights. If there is 50 birds in a flight, I measure out 25 cups of seed. In a 24 hour period of time, when I change feed again, there is still a small remainder of seed I am throwing out.

When there are babies hatching and in the nest, I daily measure and adjust the amount given per pair. Doing this is also my first alert to a problem. I know exactly have much each cage/flight consumes in a day. If I see that there is a drop in seed consumption (early morning check), I am alerted to a possible problem.

Two things that have NEVER shown up in necropsy reports is fatty liver or malnutrition. I vary my mix per seasons. I use 4 different mixes: Cockatiel, parakeet, finch and canary. During the winter I use predominately keet food and cut in striped sunflower seed, more as the weather gets colder. Every few weeks I will also cut in small amounts of finch and canary.

During the spring I will add more canary seed. During the summer, again I use mainly parakeet seed, and reduce the striped sunflower. When we go thru our rainy periods I add more of the finch and canary (smaller seeds), and increase the amounts of grass and local vegetation.

Early on I was doing the cooking, veggies, and eggfoods. I was also having alot of yeast and bacterial problems. Each time I eliminated (first the cooked foods) an item the problems lessened. Totally eliminating all of these items also eliminated 98% of my yeast and bacterial problems!! Thus, I also started getting larger, healthier babies from the seed diet. I

have 2 groups I can use for comparison. 300+ birds are outside, and the remaining 100 birds are inside. Both groups have access to free flight, and the outdoors. The inside birds have a window pass-thru to the outside from their flight room. Both groups get measured seed, daily bread, varied and rotated amounts of grass and local vegetation.

The inside birds are mainly pets and I’ll still give them cooked stuff, like butternut squash, or raw corn on the cob, corn muffins, etc. The inside birds that get the additional items to eat have more problems with yeast, bacteria, and smaller babies. The measured diet has not effected the size and thriftiness, and most of all health of the cockatiels. Each generation has shown an increase in size and prolificness.

In comparison to all other local breeders (of cockatiels) I have less health related problems, and I am 4-5 times larger than my competitors. Would I call my diet, and abusive diet?.No! Are my birds abused? No they are physically and physiologically well maintained. I feel I have adequately addressed their needs and a lot of the variables I listed in the beginning of this letter.

I am very content with what I am doing, and I have a large enough group of birds to *visually* see the overall results.  Susanne

Addendum: a few months later, I believe a lot of the flowers are rich in bioflavinoids (sp) some vitamin A and rich in vitamin C. Colors of the flowers also have different nutrient content. I had a site that did have a breakdown of the nutrient value in wild plants, flowers and roots…but it is somewhere *among the missing* on the long list of links I have saved. If I find it I will post it.

From personal experiences I have seen flowers help birds overcome past histories of chronic respiratory problems. Since my cockatiels are feed a seed diet, I have been trying to supply all other sources of nutrients, vitamins, minerals in the form of natural grasses, plants, flowers, leaves, barks, etc. Over the last 2 years I have seen a dramatic improvement with my flock and the babies in the nest.  Susanne

I think the basic consensus is that some pellets are o.k., but definitely shouldn’t make up even the majority of the diet. Pellets are not living food & there are things you can ONLY get from living food. Plus, it is better to consume nutrients from their original source rather than individual vitamins, etc, being added back into a pellet. Also, not all pellets are created equal & some even contain ingredients that can be detrimental to your birds health.

However, if you’re going to feed fresh foods you need to make sure your bird consumes the appropriate amount from each food group. It means more work on the part of the bird owner, but it also means better health for the bird!  Leanne

Just curious, I until recently feed my tiels and red rumps only seed and vege’s, Have recently had people telling me they need pellets so I have been > trying to convert to a pellet diet, or at least to include some pellets, major marathon, the only real sucsess is the chicks Im weaning, they eat everything 🙂 Is a pellet only diet with vege’s not a good thing? Wendy.L

Hi Wendy, Cockatiels and Red-rumps are almost always difficult to switch to a pellet diet, in no small part because they eat a large amount of dry seed naturally in the wild, which they supplement with flowers and fruit in season, and green shoots etc from plants and shrubs.

I used to watch Red-rumps in particular feeding in Canberra when I lived there, and they would very often ignore the green seeds on the plants but eat the dry seed on the ground. Both species will do extremely well on a sensible good quality seed mix (meaning only around 5 to 10% of oil seeds such as sunflower) and as much veggies and fruit as you can persuade them to eat.

The oldest cockatiel I know of is now 32 years old, and has lived his whole life with little more than a good seed mix and a sprig of parsley a day.

Wouldn’t it be safer to offer seeds with NO added vitamins, just a few pellets and then the tons of raw foods?

It is always instructive to look at what parrots eat in the wild, and for budgies and cockatiels that is almost exclusively dry seed. I have spent many hours watching wild budgies, cockatiels, rosellas and red-rumps feeding and all I ever see most of them them eating is seed. Any type of seed that is available. Many of those species will eat a proportion of green seed if it is available, but budgies seem to exclusively eat dry seed.

I have many times watched budgies busily picking dry seed off the ground while completely ignoring the green seed still on the grasses waving above them. So budgies in the wild eat dry seed, nothing else, just dry seed. They live and successfully breed on dry seed.

While I have never seen an analysis of the native seeds they eat, I wouldn’t mind betting they are low in fats and proteins, high in carbohydrates and low in vitamins. That budgies survive is a tribute to their toughness, and ability to effectively utilize whatever vitamins and necessary amino acids are present in their food. How long the wild budgies survive on this diet is also unknown, but again I would bet that far, far more die from the attention of predators, and especially starvation due to drought, than die from malnutrition due to not having access to pellets .

The key to how budgies in the wild can do it is I believe exercise. A bird that might fly several miles a day, cockatiels maybe up to 40 or 50 miles, is an awful lot different to a cage bound clipped pet bird, and it is because of the lack of exercise that I find many problems for birds on a pellet only diet. Most pellets simply contain too much fat.

My seed mix for budgies has around 4% fat, while many of the pellets on the market in the USA seem to have more (sometimes significantly more) than 4%. And that is why Mary’s statement about TONS of raw food is so right. Whether the bird gets seed (which I believe is needed for the psychological benefit of the bird) or pellets, fresh fruit and veggies lowers the fat intake, while at the same time providing the vitamins that seed does lack, and potentially giving too many vitamins if fed in conjunction with vitamized pellets.

So I will be sticking with my seed and fresh food diets for my birds. They do well on it, look healthy, are living to a good age, and enjoy their food. Several of my pet cockatiels are into their teens, a pair of 14 year olds just tried to breed – although didn’t want to incubate them – while the oldest cockatiel I know of (33 and still going) has urvived all his life on seed and a sprig of parsley each day.

Just to quickly turn to the addictive nature of sunflower, I have certainly seen many birds that will eat all their sunflower seed first, and be reluctant to eat other seeds. However in each case when I give them sunflower seed kernels, they are not interested, only unhulled sunflower seed. It is my believe that the fascination of many parrots with sunflower is unrelated to the taste, but is all about the enjoyment they get in the manipulation of hulling the seed. The tongue, beak and claw combination of a parrot is a marvelous set of tools, and I think they get much pleasure from manipulating objects with these tools, and the delicate hulling of a sunflower seed eems to be high on their list of pleasures.

Just a final comment on seed and pellets, and my mention earlier of the psychological benefits of seed. I have often wondered if the much greater incidence of plucking in parrots in the USA compared to Australia is due to the boredom that can come with a diet of pellets, rather than the interest that seed gives to a parrot? Australians virtually without exception feed seed and not pellets. Should get a good debate going – any reply to this line of thought please change the subject line appropriately cheers, Mike Owen Queensland

Mike wrote:

It is always instructive to look at what parrots eat in the wild, and for budgies and cockatiels that is almost exclusively dry seed. I have spent many hours watching wild bidgies, cockatiels, rosellas and red-rumps feeding and all I ever see most of them them eating is seed. Any type of seed that is available.

I absolutely agree Mike. My Rosella will pick and nibble at greens, sprouts, fruit, etc. but what she EATS is her seed. I back Mike up on his observation of Australian birds and diets – most Australian pet birds are fed seed, and many live to a ripe old age on this diet.

Just to quickly turn to the addictive nature of sunflower, I have certainly seen many birds that will eat all their sunflower seed first, and be reluctant to eat other seeds. However in each case when I give them sunflower seed kernels, they are not interested, only unhulled sunflower seed. It is my believe that the fascination of many parrots with sunflower is unrelated to the taste, but is all about the enjoyment they get in the manipulation of hulling the seed.

That’s an interesting perspective – I hadn’t considered that before.

I have often wondered if the much greater incidence of plucking in parrots in the USA compared to Australia is due to the boredom that can come with a diet of pellets, rather than the interest that seed gives to a parrot?

Another interesting topic Mike. I think you’re right that we don’t have anywhere near the incidence of plucking here in Australia compared to USA. Why? Carole Bryant

I know I shouldn’t be getting into this discussion, as I’m not real sure I know what I’m talking about. I know far more about softbills than parrots, and with omnivore birds they have to have animal protein in order to process the fat-soluble vitamins: A, D, E, and K.

In a study, I read about on Medscape, a group of children, in a third  world country, who had a main diet of palm fruit (high in Vitamin A)  and with almost no animal protein in the diet, found all of the  children tested as deficient in Vitamin A. Here is the article:

Title  Prevalence of malnutrition and vitamin A deficiency in Nigerian  preschool children subsisting on high intakes of carotenes.  Author  Adelekan DA; Fatusi AO; Fakunle JB; Olotu CT; Olukoga IA; Jinadu MK;  Ojofeitimi EO  Address  Department of Community Health, College of Health Sciences, Obafemi  Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria.  Source  Nutr Health, 12(1):17-24 1997  Abstract  The prevalence of malnutrition and vitamin A deficiency was  determined in 204 preschool children of both sexes aged 3-57 months. The children were recruited from 2 rural communities of  Atakumosa Local Government Area of Osun State in South West Nigeria. Dietary vitamin A intake was estimated from  frequency of consumption of locally available vitamin A containing food items. Vitamin A status of the children was assessed  from concentration of retinol in plasma. Nutritional status was assessed from height and weight compared with  international reference standards. The results indicate widespread malnutrition among the children. The prevalence of  stunting (low height for age) was 60.8% while prevalence of wasting (low weight for height) was 7.4% and of underweight (low  weight for age) 27.5%. Dietary vitamin A intake appeared to be adequate in the children. Intake of vitamin A is  predominantly from plant sources. At least 43% of the children consumed the carotene rich red palm oil 6 or more times per  week in contrast to less than 1% who consumed eggs or milk for 6 or more times per week. Vitamin A was low in the  children. Only 11.3% of the children had plasma retinol concentration < 0.70 mumol/L. The results indicate that  childhood malnutrition of public health magnitude can coexist with adequate dietary vitamin A intakes or vitamin A status.

I looked at the ingredients in Dr.D’s pellets and could find no  indication of any animal protein. Most of the other brands of parrot  pellets contain something such as egg or other indications of animal  protein sources. I think this would be a concern, as we do know that  parrots require some animal protein in order to have a complete amino  acid balance.

In regard to cockatiels on pellets, Dr. Harrison in a message to  another list a year or so ago, stated that he thought, the mutations,  especially lutinos, had a hard time with pellets as they required the  bird to drink an excessive amount of water. Cockatiels (as birds from  arid areas) were not able to handle the excessive amount of water,  thereby the excess was causing liver disease. It seems kinda funny,  as Harrisons sells pellets for cockatiels. Sincerely, Jackie

I fully realize this is controversial subject. What I’m about to say is merely my own personal opinion and experience. I AM a long-term cockatiel breeder (almost 10 years now) and I have tried many different diets on my birds over the years.

I do offer pellets (I personally use Mazuri small bird breeder pellets, but that’s just personal preference and has something to do with their cost as well as quality, nutrition, and acceptibility – meaning they actually EAT them.) to my cockatiels, and many or most of them do eat some pellets, but they also get seed. Unlike many larger parrots, the cockatiel’s natural or wild diet consists largely of seeding grass heads and seeds. This leads me personally to believe that a diet suitable for other parrots may not be right for cockatiels – and repeated reports over the years of kidney disease and D3 toxicity in cockatiels fed a 100% pelleted diet support my position, in my opinion – so I continue to offer my cockatiels a varied diet that consists of seed mix, pellets, and greens/vegetables. I also add extra oats (oat groats) to the commercial seed mix we buy, but I’m not sure that that makes any difference; I just know that oats are good nutrition and low in fat.

On the other hand, a 100% seed diet may be just as bad, although it causes different problems. A few months ago a acquired 41 cockatiels from an ACS Champion breeder, and 2 of them have already died – of fatty liver disease. One of the deceased birds was 8 years old, but the other was only 3! Many of these champion bloodline birds that I was so excited about getting are obese, relatively inactive, and produce poorly when set up to breed. Although they are now being offered pellets the same as my other tiels, most of them won’t eat them. I suspect that I may have to temporarily force them to convert to a diet of pellets only in order to get them started eating pellets, and re-introduce seed mix later in limited amounts. And I’m sure the guy I got them from thought he was giving them a good diet – it was a premium “no sunflower” cockatiel seed mix that contains a wider variety of seed than most mixes.

As for my own cockatiels, some of the ones I’ve had from the very beginning are now 11 and 12 years old, still producing chicks (and having larger clutches than those much younger “champion” cockatiels!), and healthy and active. They have gone through some changes with me, but for the most part they’ve gotten the “variety” diet (seed, pellets, and veggies, with Petamine or the equivalent and egg/nestling food when raising chicks) and seem to have done very well on it. Of course I’ve had some deaths, mostly due to bacterial or viral illness, but none of MINE have died from kidney or liver disease, obesity, heart failure, D3 toxicity, or any other problem that would be associated with malnutrition or an improper diet.

Again, it’s just my personal experience, and I’m only one cockatiel breeder. I may have simply gotten lucky, or started out with an extremely healthy “line” of cockatiels, but I have gotten tiels from at least a dozen different sources and bloodlines over the years, so I’m not sure how likely that really is. Anyway, for what it’s worth, that’s my experience. Heike

Heike wrote: My theoretical conclusion is that the birds who SURVIVED to be 60, 70, and 80 years old were the ones that ate “people food” while their seed-fed contemporaries died off. It’s the only theory that makes sense to me in my own mind as to why the overwhelming majority of these older birds should be ones that were fed table food. What do you think?

I thought seed mixes only became readily available around the 1950’s. Before that, people had no choice but to feed their birds what they ate, there was nothing else. So did the people that owned birds prior to the 1950’s continue feeding people food, not buying into the seed thing, and that’s why the birds lived so long? Birds younger than those, especially those born around the 50’s or since, would much more likely have been fed seeds or, most recently, pellets. Leanne

It also sounds that those birds that ate at the table with their owners were much loved birds who spent more than average time out of their cages and probably led more interesting lives as a consequence. So for what it’s worth, I would add in “interesting environment” and “emotional wellbeing” as another factors there. Carole Bryant

The potential life span of parrots is at least half of ours. The productive life of many species is 20 years or more. I would expect the organs of younger birds to be able to deal with a reasonable amount of toxicity from chemical additives in a pelleted feed, but I don’t know if any of these toxins are cumulative and I don’t know if they affect all species the same way. Ditto in regard to chemical supplements. However, we are in the process of learning the answers to some of these questions.

Other aspects discussed in previous posts involve whether or not it is beneficial or necessary to obtain complete nutrition in every bite of food. I doubt it. If that were true, living creatures would have been unable to survive…until the invention of manufactured diets.

Does produce offered as part of the diet ‘dilute’ the chemical supplements in the feed? Hopefully so. Ditto in regard to other chemical additives. More importantly, produce ‘adds’ something to the diet. What it adds are nutrients in a natural form that the body has evolved to utilize. It also adds nutrients that are not present in pellets or seeds. I wonder what will be the long-term effect on a body that is deprived of these substances?

Case in point: Several years ago studies were done that demonstrated fewer instances of lung cancer in people whose diets were high in beta-carotene. A more recent study, however, showed that smokers who were given beta-carotene supplements had an even higher risk of lung cancer than those who were not supplemented with beta-carotene. What made the difference?

The difference is that there is some other substance associated with beta-carotene in food that is also responsible for retarding incidence of lung cancer. Beta-carotene supplements do not have this substance because they are synthesized. The best source of beta-carotene (and the substances we haven’t identified) is real food.

Polyphenols include astringent-tasting compounds called tannins, which is one of the substances under investigation by the National Cancer Institute as a natural anti-cancer compound. Fruits are rich in polyphenols.

Strawberry extract paralyzes some viruses and makes them unable to penetrate healthy cell membranes so they can’t insert their DNA into the cell for replication. Many fruit extracts have the same effect, even in low doses. Fruits having the highest anti-viral activity are bueberry, crabapple, cranberry grape, plum, pomegranate, raspberry, and strawberry. Peach is least effective. Apple juice, red wine, and tea were also effective. Researchers have identified the active antiviral agents in the fruits to be tannins, which coat virus particles and neutralize them.

Polyphenols are powerful antioxidents and are widely available in common food. Caffeic acid, ellagic acid, ferulic acid, and gallotannic acid (green tea) all block mutations of cancer in tissue culture and in animal studies.

The pectin in apples keeps the cardiovascular system healthy and helps to regulate blood sugar.

Apricots are high in beta carotene plus other unidentified phytonutrients that are reputed in folklore to increase longevity.

Artichokes lower blood cholesterol and stimulate bile and urine production. In 1969 French scientists took out a patent for artichoke extract because of its success in treating kidney and liver ailments. The active ingredient is cynarin.

Unripe banana and plantain is used in India for treating ulcers and other stomach disorders by strengthening and thickening the surface cells of the stomach lining. They trigger the release of a protective layer of mucus.

Blueberry combats diarrhea (especially that caused by E.coli bacteria), kills infections viruses, blocks damage to blood vessels (calcium/fat build up), The active components are anthocyanosides.

Broccoli contains potent cancer fighters: carotenoids, chlorophyll, indoles, glucosinolates, and dithiolthiones. It also heals radiatin sickness.

Brussels sprouts, along with cabbage and broccoli are part of the cruciferous family that effectively fight cancer. The chemicals identified are the same as those found in broccoli. The raw vegetable contains antithyroid chemicals that are neutralized by cooking.

Cabbage is considered the longevity food. The lowest death rates are found in cultures where the most cabbage is consumed. In addition to fighting cancer similar to Broccoli and brussles sprouts, it boosts the immune system, destroys bacteria and viruses, and contains an unidentified ‘growth factor’.

Cherries are used to cure kidney stones, gall bladder ailments, gout, and reduce excess mucus production.

Chili peppers act as an expectorant, decongestant, and heal lung ailments. They have been consumed to kill intestinal parasites.

Figs fight cancer, kill bacteria, and fight roundworms. Enzymes called ficins aid digestion.

Garlic fights infections and cancer, thins the blood, reduces blood pressure, stimulates the immune system, relieves bronchitis, is an antifungal and antibiotic. There have been over 125 scientific papers published about garic. Allicin and sulpher compounds are garlic’s major weapons.

Kale is one of the richest of all green vegetables in carotenoids, which are converted to vitamin A in the body and is high in chlorophyll.

Squash and its seeds for the carotenes and anti-worm propeties.

Fertility issues: Peas contain substances that are an effective contraceptive. Yams are rich in hormone-like substances that trigger the release of other hormones, including FSH, which stimulate the follicles to produce eggs.

Natural fruits, vegetables, and greens abound with chemicals that the body can use to stay healthy by fighting off disease. In nature, birds can snack on what is available. In cages, they eat what we give them. Maybe they can do OK anyway if they aren’t exposed to disease and if they are maintained in clinically clean environments.

A diet of pellets and seeds is missing many healthful nutrients. On the other hand, produce attracts flies and flies spread disease.


There have been lots of views put and everybody seems to have said something very valid. As a European the strange thing to me about your discussion is that you seem to be discussing only three options:

Seed and fresh foods, “normal” pellets and fresh food or “organic” pellets and fresh food. Over here the pellet option wouldn’t be in the debate because everybody tried them and, when breeding results dropped, went back to what I think is the fourth option: seed supplements and fresh foods.

My view is that it is very difficult to get the vitamin levels up and balanced with seed and fresh food diets. The seed is simply too poor in these nutrients for the fresh foods to have enough impact. The same is likely to be true of the organic pellet option. With both these systems I would be particularly concerned about the amino acid levels. The protein:energy requirements of captive birds are very different from those of wild birds and diets not supplemented either with animal protein or (much better) with lysine and methionine (limiting amino acids) are prone to lead to obesity (fatty liver disease) and molting problems. Both these have been issues on this list in the last few days.

The “normal” pellet people are on the defensive with respect to anti-oxidants, colors etc. And, since I have heard Michael Massey of Pretty Bird admit that pellets are just another way of delivering vitamins, minerals and amino acids, I can’t see why you need to take that “chemical” risk. Supplements (because they don’t contain fats) don’t need that protection to give extended shelf life.

Since the time (about seven years ago) when the British bird keeper tried and rejected pellets our supplements technology has improved dramatically. The huge range of (mostly natural) ingredients now available from the livestock and human food industries enables us to do so much that we could not do before. It can put both birds and breeders in control of their diet and it shows in health and in particular breeding results. Loads of our customers now produce more than double the number of chicks from the same number of pairs than they used to do. And they have been doing that for about four years now.

I am the first to admit that we still use some factory made vitamins in our products. I simply haven’t found any other way of producing a product that works as well or is affordable from 100% natural sources. Even “organic” products like Harrisons pellets contain loads of “factory made” ingredients. But the ones I have looked at don’t contain any amino acids nor can they contain a really good calcium source. At the AFA last August I met a lady whose bird, on Harrisons Hi Protein pellet, tested low for both blood calcium and blood protein levels. I have no idea whether this was a nutritional problem or whether the bird was ill but it makes me wonder.

So, just to stir you all up a bit, I propose seed, fresh foods and supplements!

Malcolm Green