Seeds Commonly Fed to Companion Birds


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.


Oil seeds

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.

Black-oil sunflower seeds

Fig 1. Black-oil sunflower seeds are particularly high in fat. Click image to enlarge.

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.

Striped sunflower seeds

Fig 2. Striped sunflower seeds. Click image to enlarge.

Safflower seeds

Safflower seeds are white, shiny, cone-shaped seeds that resemble white sunflower seeds (Fig 3).

Safflower seeds

Fig 3. Safflower seeds. Click image to enlarge.

Thistle seed

“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.

Thistle seed

Fig 4. Thistle seed is an oil-seed commonly fed to songbirds. Click image to enlarge.

Non-oil seeds


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).

Millet seed

Fig 5. Millet is a non-oil seed devoid of significant nutrition. Click image to enlarge.

Canary Seed

Canary seed is frequently fed to small bird species (Fig 6).

Canary seed

Fig 6. Canary seed. Click image to enlarge.


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.

Milo grain

Fig 7. Few birds favor Milo or “grain sorghum”. Click image to enlarge.



Project FeederWatch. Seeds and grains for birds; written
Accessed Dec 12, 2007.

Roudybush TE. Nutrition. In: Altman RB, Clubb SL, Dorrestein GM, Quesenberry K.Avian Medicine and SurgeryNon-. WB Saunders Co; Philadelphia, PA. p. 38-40.

To cite this page:

Pollock C. Seeds commonly fed to companion birds. December 12, 2007. LafeberVet Web site. Available at