Spinach (Spinacia oleracea) belongs to the Chenopodiaceae family, which includes chard and beetroot. Despite being a good source of vitamins and minerals, it’s bitter-tasting and salty.
While this leafy green vegetable is highly beneficial to us, many people wonder if it has the same health benefits for parrots because not all human foods are safe for birds.
Parrots can eat spinach because it contains vitamins A and K, protein, calcium, iron, magnesium, and potassium. Also, its antioxidant properties reduce oxidative stress from free radicals.
Spinach is high in oxalic acid, inhibiting the absorption of minerals like calcium.
While a small amount of spinach (especially when boiled) causes minimal harm, consuming too many oxalic acid-rich vegetables increases the risk of kidney stones and egg binding in gravid females.
Is Spinach Good for Parrots?
Spinach is healthy for parrots, whether it’s raw or cooked. According to the International Journal of Life Sciences and Review, spinach contains the following nutrients:
- Vitamin A (141 mcg).
- Vitamin K (145 mcg)
- Calcium (29.7 mg).
- Iron (0.81 mg).
- Magnesium (24 mg).
- Potassium (167 mg).
- Phosphorus (14.7 mg).
- Folate (58 mcg).
Antioxidants include flavonoids, lutein, vitamins C and E, carotenoids, and phenolic compounds. The antioxidants in spinach reduce the damage caused by free radicals and oxidative stress.
According to the National Library of Medicine: National Center for Biotechnology Information, oxidative stress can contribute to degenerative diseases.
Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology Part B: Biochemistry and Molecular Biology studied the impact of dietary antioxidants and flight training on oxidative damage in adult parrots.
The parrots in the study were fed spinach and given flight training sessions as exercise. The combination of flight training and antioxidants reduced oxidative damage over the 9 weeks.
Innovative Food Science & Emerging Technologies found that raw and frozen spinach have higher antioxidant properties than canned and jarred spinach.
The preparation method affects the antioxidants in spinach, which is why canned and jarred spinach contain less than fresh, raw, and frozen spinach.
Vitamin A (retinol) is a fat-soluble vitamin with antioxidant properties. Ensuring a parrot gets enough vitamin A reduces its risk of respiratory infections, beak and claw deformation, and poor growth.
Vitamin A boosts a parrot’s immune system, which fights off infections (bacterial, viral, and fungal), illnesses, and diseases. It’ll also benefit a parrot’s skin, feathers, and ocular health.
Parrots with hypovitaminosis A have brittle, broken, frayed, and discolored feathers. Also, the skin will become irritable, itchy, and sore, often leading to destructive behaviors like feather picking.
Without sufficient vitamin A, the nostril lining will dry, and secretions will accumulate in the mouth. This build-up becomes thick and crusty, making breathing more challenging.
Vitamin A is essential for good reproductive health, especially in egg-laying females.
Vitamin K (phylloquinone) is high in leafy green vegetables like spinach, kale, broccoli, and cabbage.
Vitamin K is essential for strong bones because it regulates calcium and phosphorus metabolism. It’s also essential for blood coagulation after sustaining cuts and lacerations.
A parrot with a vitamin K deficiency will have weak bones, so it’s likelier to sustain fractures. If it sustains a wound, stemming the blood flow will be more difficult and take longer.
According to Melbourne Bird Vet, bacteria in birds’ bowels can produce vitamin K. While deficiencies are uncommon, they can occur following the overuse of antibiotics, which kills the bacteria.
Iron is essential for creating hemoglobin, which carries oxygenated blood around the body. Vitamin C converts iron into ferrous, which is more easily absorbed.
Feeding parrots iron-rich foods can prevent anemia, which makes them tired, weak, and lethargic. Too much iron is bad for parrots because it can cause Iron Storage Disease (ISD).
The excess iron is stored in the liver as hemosiderin, causing hepatocellular damage (haemochromatosis) once the maximum storage threshold has been exceeded.
There are rarely signs that a parrot has Iron Storage Disease until it has progressed. The symptoms of ISD that can arise include the following:
- Biliverdinuria (yellow or green urates).
- Hypoalbuminemia (A lack of albumin protein in birds’ urine or stools).
- Dyspnea (difficulty breathing).
- Distended (swollen) abdomen.
- Severe weight loss.
- Acute circulatory failure.
According to Veterian Key, the minimum iron requirement for Psittaciformes is 80 ppm.
Spinach is high in calcium, which keeps bones strong. Without adequate amounts, parrots can develop a calcium deficiency (hypocalcemia), which can lead to the following:
- Bone weakness and fractures.
- Egg abnormalities.
- Dystocia (egg binding).
- Skeletal decalcification.
Acute Hypocalcemia occurs when there are low serum calcium levels in the blood. Ensure a parrot receives ample calcium through spinach and other calcium-rich foods.
Birds can’t absorb calcium without vitamin D3, which is synthesized from exposure to the sun.
Without sufficient magnesium, calcium won’t be properly absorbed. If this happens, it leads to calcification of the arteries (arteriosclerosis), joints, and other soft tissues in birds’ bodies.
Magnesium also relaxes the muscles, nerves, and brain. Deprived of this essential mineral, it can result in muscle twitching and jerking, like toe-tapping and wing-flapping.
Cooking spinach (rather than offering it raw) increases the amount of magnesium. However, cooking spinach reduces the number of antioxidants like lutein.
Spinach is considered a superfood because antioxidants like lutein, beta carotene, coumaric acid, and ferulic acid reduce harm to a parrot’s body from free radicals.
Spinach isn’t high in protein but is among the best plant-based sources. Also, it contains all 9 essential amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein.
Spinach can be beneficial if a parrot doesn’t hydrate sufficiently because it’s 93% water.
Is Spinach Bad for Parrots?
While spinach is beneficial for parrots’ health, it has some drawbacks.
Many owners worry about feeding too much spinach to parrots. Spinach contains oxalic acid, which binds to minerals like calcium, inhibiting absorption. It can also cause kidney problems and egg binding.
According to the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, boiling spinach reduces the oxalate content by 30-87%. Spinach leaves shouldn’t cause issues for healthy birds when consumed sensibly.
How Much Spinach Can Parrots Eat?
As with all foods, feed parrots spinach in moderation, especially as it’s high in oxalic acid. Adding a couple of spinach leaves to its bowl once or twice a week, along with other vegetables, will be beneficial.