In their native habitat, some parrots like cockatiels and budgerigar parakeets, as well as many cockatoos and macaws are seed-eaters. These birds are able to consume a balanced diet because of the vast numbers of seeds eaten (over 60 different types). Commercial seed mixes lack the desired balance of nutrients including vitamins A, D3, E and K, certain amino acids, calcium, and other minerals. Over time, seed diets lead to vitamin A deficiency, poor feather quality, and a weakened immune system.
There are two types of seeds fed to pet birds: oil seeds and non-oil seeds. Oil seeds are a rich source of energy and vitamin E. Oil seeds such as sunflower seeds contain at least 50% fat and are low in calcium. Non-oil seeds such as millet are much lower in fat when compared to oil seeds and the energy present is stored as starch. It is very common for birds fed all-seed mixtures to eat an excessive number of oil seeds and to subsequently gain weight. Although much less common, small parrots like a cockatiel may occasionally eat non-oil seeds like millet to the exclusion of everything else. These birds lose body condition as they continue to eat ravenously, attempting to extract sufficient nutrition from these non-oil seeds devoid of significant levels of fat, protein, vitamins, and minerals.
Although seed mixes should never be recommended for companion parrots, it is always prudent to keep fresh seed mix for hospitalized patients. Additionally, hulled sunflower seeds or sunflower hearts may be purchased from a pet food or organic food stores. Hulled sunflower seeds are an excellent, short-term, energy-dense food to offer to the hospitalized companion parrot that is used to eating seeds but has little energy for or interest in cracking open seeds. Store sunflower hearts in a cool, dry place.
Black-oil sunflower seeds
The darker the sunflower seed, the higher its fat content (Fig 1). Therefore thinly shelled black-oil sunflower seeds are particularly high in energy.
Striped sunflower seeds
Striped sunflower seeds are larger and thicker (Fig 2). Although still high in fat, these seeds are not as energy-dense as black-oil sunflower seeds.
Safflower seeds are white, shiny, cone-shaped seeds that resemble white sunflower seeds (Fig 3).
“Thistle” seed, also known as niger or nyjer, is frequently fed to small songbirds such as finches and canaries (Fig 4). Niger is imported from Africa and Asia where it is sterilized so it will not grow in North America.
Millet is a small, round grain frequently eaten by small, ground foraging species such as budgerigar parakeets and cockatiels. The cream-colored seed, white proso millet, is a popular component of seed mixes (Fig 5).
Canary seed is frequently fed to small bird species (Fig 6).
Milo or “grain sorghum” is a round, red grain approximately twice the size of millet (Fig 7). Milo is often a major component of inexpensive seed mixes, but it is rarely eaten well by most birds.