Rosemary Low explains the nutritional benefits of vegetables to Parrots.
Some Parrots relish all kinds of vegetables, leafy greens and wild-picked “weeds”. Others are just not interested. I believe that the success of feeding these items depends on four factors:
- The Parrot species and, of course, individual preferences.
- The method of vegetable presentation
- Being in the same space as other Parrots that eat them.
- Vegetable freshness and the storage method.
If your birds are like children and they don’t want to eat their vegetables, don’t give up! Use tactics to make them more appealing. Attach them to a favourite toy. Or if they refuse to eat chopped vegetables in a mixture, throw the vegetable on the roof for aviary birds.
They love to pull things inside! If vegetables are not accepted, wrap them up in little paper parcels that the most intelligent Parrots, like Greys, love to explore!
Ensure that the produce you buy is not only of good quality but also fresh. Let me give an example: celery. If the stalks are crisp and fresh and snap when you break them, you can push them through the mesh of the cage or aviary. If they bend and do not snap they are not fresh and will be refused by most Parrots.
The best way to ensure freshness is to grow your own! Even if you lack a garden, you can grow spinach beet in window boxes and small varieties of tomatoes in planters.
The method of presentation is very important. In my experience, vegetables (also fruits) are more readily eaten when hung from a stainless-steel hanger, marketed for Parrots.
Or just get some 12g wire and bend it into shape. Some people prefer to chop vegetables, cooked or raw, and add them to a sprouted or softfood mixture. I suggest trying both, to discover in which form they are most readily accepted.
Vegetables are a highly nutritious addition to the diet. Most contain important elements that are missing from seed, such as minerals and antioxidants. They are also high in necessary fibre. Protein content is low compared with some foods but this is compensated by other qualities.
Protein content is highest in peas in the pod (6%), sweetcorn (4%), bean sprouts (about 3%) and tomatoes 1.6%. If you can find pea shoots in a supermarket this is an excellent food which contains nearly 3% protein.
Most other vegetables have less than 1% protein content. Protein, composed of amino acids, is essential in the structure of all living cells. (Amino acids are organic acids containing certain chemical compounds.)
Vitamin A content
Vegetables that contain higher levels of Vitamin A are especially valuable. This is the vitamin whose deficiency is most likely to cause serious health problems in Parrots. These vegetables should be stored when fresh outside the fridge and used as soon as possible.
When cooked, they must be stored in a fridge for a short time only. Vitamin A content declines in fridge storage. Other valuable elements in vegetables are vitamin B6, and necessary minerals such as zinc, and silica which assists in utilising calcium.
Much of the water-soluble vitamins in carrots and other vegetables, are destroyed by boiling. This includes Vitamins B and C. However, in an experiment by researchers at the University of Parma, it was found that vegetables that were boiled for ten minutes had the highest level of carotenoids.
Boiling softens the tough fibres and loosens the cell walls, releasing thebeneficial antioxidants.
Peas and beans
The natural diet of many Parrots includes pods which contain seeds. Leguminous plants (those of the pea family) that have seeds in pods, play a large part in the diet of some Parrots in the wild.
Opening these is a pleasure for many Parrots – and peas in the pod are probably the most nutritious of all green vegetables. Peas in the pod (raw) are a great favourite with the larger Parrots that hold food in the foot.
For many species, frozen or fresh peas are a very valuable addition to rearing foods or vegetable mixtures. Petit pois, the tiny sweeter peas that can be bought frozen, are more expensive than garden peas but they are delicious. It is amazing that the best brands of peas are frozen within a few minutes of being picked! To me, they taste better than fresh ones.
Green beans of various types, such as the “fine” beans and runner beans may or may not be sampled. The bigger Parrots, such as Amazons, usually enjoy them. At 1.6% their protein content is fairly good.
A marvellous little bean is the mung bean, bought dried. It is often used in mixtures of sprouted grains and pulses. In my experience it sprouts so quickly after being soaked (more so than other items in a mixture) that it is best soaked and sprouted on its own.
These tiny sprouted beans are appreciated by Parrots of all sizes.
Some species do like broccoli. It contains antioxidants, dietary fibre, Vitamin C and calcium. It should be stored in the coldest part of the fridge but preferably for no longer than four days After this time it can start to lose its colour and beneficial properties. When buying broccoli chose carefully – look for crisp, tight pieces.
It can be fed raw or lightly steamed. A raw piece which includes the stalk can be hung from the roof if threaded on to a stainless-steel holder. If chopped and placed in the food dish it might be ignored. For the larger Parrots, offer a small floret which can be held in the foot.
Carrot contains carotene, a precursor of Vitamins A and D. It can enhance the bill colour of Parrots with orange or red beaks but not, in Parrots, unlike in other birds, the plumage. This is because the red feathers of Parrots are not produced as a result of the structure of the feather, but by a special class of pigments, unique to Parrots, called psittacofulvins.
(More about this in my book Parrots: A Celebration of their Beauty.) Carrot also contains antioxidants, fibre and minerals.
It can be stored in a fridge for up to one week. After this it starts to become limp and it loses its beneficial qualities. There are several ways to feed carrot: grated, raw, a little can be added to eggfood or rearing food – but not too much as it makes the mixture soggy. Raw or cooked it can be cut into cubes and added to various mixtures.
For Parrots, offer small raw sticks to tame birds or wedges in welded mesh for aviary birds. Perhaps the best way is to steam or boil it for a short while as it is then more acceptable to most birds and the carotene is then more easily accessible.
This is a valuable and under-used food. Most Parrots love it. It is a myth that the stringy fibres are harmful. My Lorikeets eats a whole stick every day, including when rearing young, pushed through the aviary mesh.
Celery is said to reduce inflammation and joint pain so fed regularly it is possibly useful for elderly birds. It contains the compound butylphthalide which (certainly in humans) reduces undesirable cholesterol; also a flavonoid called luteolin which inhibits the growth of cancer cells.
Its beneficial elements also include the necessary minerals potassium, folic acid, calcium, magnesium and iron, plus essential amino acids. Its leaves contain Vitamin A. Avoid very white celery; it is less nutritious and less appealing; the darker green the better.
Search for a consistently good source because poor quality celery is unfortunately commonly offered.
When feeding it to a small number of birds, finding the best storage method is important. I have tried several methods. Unopened in cellophane wrapper it will stay fresh in for several days.
It can be removed from the cellophane wrapper, wrapped in a damp cloth and placed in the fridge with the cloth dampened daily. When part of it has been cut from the base it can also be placed in a jar with water in the bottom. Limp celery will be ignored so cut fresh daily.
Sweetcorn kernels, frozen and thawed, are a favourite with many birds. It is higher in protein than most vegetables – about 4%, similarly fresh corn on the cob. Note that the phytates in corn bind calcium and phosphorus and might reduce the availability of other minerals, such as zinc, if fed to excess.
Feed sparingly to birds with a high proportion of sunflower seed in the diet as in chicks it could result in a calcium and Vitamin D deficiency, leading to metabolic bone disease (rickets).
The kernels can be fed separately or in a mixture of vegetables; tinned sweetcorn is usually less favoured. Fresh corn on the cob is difficult to chop unless very young. Removing outer leaves and boiling for a short time (blanching) makes it more palatable and easier to cut.
After this treatment it can also be stored in the freezer for many months. Parrots relish small pieces that they can hold in the foot. In an aviary for a number of birds, whole cobs can be placed on a steel hanger.
Lettuce and other green leaves
Is lettuce of any nutritional value? Apparently Romaine lettuce is far more beneficial in comparison to iceberg lettuce. When I searched for information on the internet, I found that lettuce is said to be an excellent source of Vitamin A. This surprised me because it is known that dark green leaves are known to be a better source than light green ones.
The minerals present in lettuce are calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium and zinc. It also contains essential vitamins like thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B-6 and Vitamin E, all of which Parrots need in small amounts..
Spinach beet and Swiss chard
Unlike those of spinach (which many birds do not like), the leaves of spinach beet are relished by Parrots. They can be chopped for smaller birds and added to soft foods. Spinach beet is very easy to grow – even in window boxes.
Young plants can be planted out in May and will provide lots of beneficial dark green leaves until October or even November. Swiss chard can be grown in winter.Packets of seeds of spinach beet, beans and other vegetables, are sold in most supermarkets.
Parrots find green leaves more appetising is they are dipped in water before being fed. When they dry out they will probably be ignored.
Green leaves for free!
The green leaves most loved by cage and aviary birds are those of chickweed. In my garden it grows in planters alongside flowers. If you fill a planter with nothing but compost and keep it well watered, chickweed might appear. The secret to growing healthy looking chickweed with inviting foliage is frequent watering.
Onions, garlic, chives, shallots and leeks should not be fed to birds. These are all Alliums. They contain sulphur compounds. When chewed they decompose to disulphides which are oxidizing agents that can cause rupture of the red blood cells, resulting in anaemia.
The toxicity of onions varies according to the sulphur content of the soil in which they are grown. According to Margaret Wissman, an avian vet in the US, these sulphur compounds can cause irritation to the mouth, oesophagus and crop. However, birds, unlike dogs and other mammals, have nucleated red blood cells which might protect them from becoming anemic as a result of ingesting these compounds.
There are no scientific studies relating to this but Margaret Wissman’s opinion was that the disulphides could cause haemolytic anaemia in birds.
True or false? Case not proven. But as there are so many other vegetables that birds actually like, why would you feed these anyway? Some people do feed small amounts of cooked onion without any apparently harmful results.
There are conflicting views and no scientific evidence. However, Darren Sefton’s White-capped Pionus died after receiving some asparagus on three consecutive days (Cage and Aviary Birds, December 19 2012). It is not worth taking the risk.
Dehydrated and freeze-dried…
… vegetables are available. Under normal circumstances, when fresh vegetables are so readily available, I don’t know if these could have any benefits. It would be interesting to hear from Parrot owners who might have used them.
Find lots of delicious Parrot food here.