Today, we’re diving into a topic that’s as tricky as a cockatoo with a crossword: sunflower seeds in parrot diets. Yeah, I know, they love them, and you may have been feeding them for many years, but here’s the hard truth – a diet loaded with sunflower seeds is about as healthy for your parrot as a diet of potato chips is for us. The most common offenders I see in Perth are galahs, corellas and sulfurs. And the shops don’t make it easy – I’ve seen a bag of pure unhulled sunflower seed literally labelled as “Complete Parrot Food”.
So if this is you, or you know someone who provides a parrot with free access sunflower seeds, please stick with me. I even have detailed instructions for a safe diet transition at the end.
The main issue with sunflower seeds lies in their nutritional makeup. They are rich in fats but deficient in essential nutrients like calcium, vitamin A, and other minerals. This nutritional gap can lead to serious health issues for your birds, including obesity, fatty liver disease, and weakened bones.
In their natural habitats, parrots consume a varied diet consisting of different seeds, fruits, vegetables, and occasionally insects. This diversity is crucial for their health and well-being. However, a diet dominated by sunflower seeds is unbalanced and can lead to nutritional deficiencies.
To ensure the health of your feathered friends, it’s important to view sunflower seeds as an occasional treat rather than a dietary staple. For a well-rounded diet, opt for pellet-based foods formulated for parrots, supplemented with fresh fruits and vegetables. This approach will help your parrot maintain optimal health and vitality.
But how do you make these changes? It’s not easy! There are few creatures on this earth as stubborn as any of our highly intelligent parrots!
The first step is simple moderation. If you are doing what 95% of Australian bird keepers are doing, you are providing a bowl with as much as a metric cup of seed, 24/7. Even if that seed mix is only partly sunflower seeds your bird is likely totally focused on the sunflower seeds and is just throwing the other less desired seeds on your floor.
Take that bowl out and replace it with one that is far smaller. Put just one tablespoon of seed mix in it. No more!
In another small bowl (D-feeders are ideal for this) put a tablespoon of a good quality blended pellet mix.
And then finally, in a third bowl, put a very small amount of chopped fresh veggies. I find an easy way to do this that minimises waste is to get a bag of frozen peas/corn/carrot. Then again, get that trusty tablespoon and put a spoon of the frozen veg in the feeder.
Most likely your parrot is going to refuse to have anything to do with either of the 2 new bowls and will only eat the seed mix. And that’s fine! They can cheerily ignore the new foods because there is plenty of of seed to meet basic daily needs.
However, day by day they are likely to get a bit hungrier as they are likely to eat pretty much every last bit of the small amount of seed mix. You are already winning because this means they are not just eating the sunflower seeds but are also eating the less favoured seeds – adding crucial diversity to their diet. And as the days progress, they are likely to look at some of the other healthy options available. Often the corn is one of the first things they decide they like, sometimes it’s the commercial pellets.
An excellent idea to go along with this is hand feeding up to a dozen sunflower seeds a day as treats. This is super valuable if you have a bitey parrot as they naturally start to see your hand as the bringer of good things – Not scary control and grabbing. If your bird is so scared of hands they just won’t approach the hand holding the seed, you can leave it on a suitable surface and withdraw. But every time keep waiting and being patient. If your bird still won’t take a seed from your fingers after a few days of trying, feel free to offer it for a couple of minutes and then just take it away. Not fuss, no recrimination, your bird just starts to realise the hand is there with the much loved seed (they can smell it) and they need to try and get over their fear if they really want it.
Start today on giving your bird a better, more diverse diet, and remember, I visit and provide vet care to birds all over the Perth metro area. Just call.