Feeding your parrots a balanced, nutritionally-rich diet is essential for their mental and physical well-being. Neglecting the nutrients they need, such as protein, can severely compromise their health.
A parrot’s diet should consist of 10-20% protein. Lean chicken, turkey, and cooked fish are the best animal protein sources. Parrots also like bone marrow from animal bones. Some nuts, including roasted peanuts, pine nuts, almonds, cashews, and walnuts, are high in protein. Similarly, certain seeds, such as pumpkin, sunflower, sesame, and flax seeds, are good protein sources.
Protein deficiencies are all too common with parrots. Even though they predominantly eat fruits, vegetables, seeds, and nuts, they’re omnivores, so they need animal and plant-based protein to thrive.
Do Parrots Need Protein?
Parrots are omnivores, which means they eat both meat and plant-based foods. In the wild, they most commonly get their protein through insects, worms, and small bugs, but some owners share meat with their parrots in captivity. Though, meat isn’t a primary part of their diet.
As discussed, parrots need a diet consisting of 10-20% protein. They also need to eat the following foods:
- Whole grains
- Meat and other protein sources
Another thing to bear in mind is that parrots aren’t predators. While they feed on insects, as mentioned, they don’t kill and eat other animals for protein. Instead, parrots get protein from other sources.
Is Protein Good for Parrots?
Protein is one of the essential nutrients for parrots. They need protein because it’s the primary building block for their muscles and tissue and enables them to fly, perch, and coordinate their eating movements. Insufficient protein impacts their muscle tone, making these basic functions difficult.
Protein also provides more calories than all other elements of a bird’s diet and fuels parrots with the energy they need to get on with the day. Other uses of protein include:
- Improves and enhances cardiovascular health
- Produces healthy blood cells
- Sharpens cognitive function
- Improves and regulates mood
- Keeps parrots feeling full for longer
However, not all protein’s created equal. There are many different types, but parrots need complete forms of protein that contain all ten amino acids that parrots can’t make themselves. Without them, parrots are unable to create the necessary proteins they need to function.
Animal protein is of better quality than plant-based protein because plants don’t contain all the necessary amino acids. Parrots also benefit from fatty acids and collagen, which they can get from meat-based protein sources.
A protein deficiency in parrots causes them to eat more to get the protein they need, increasing their fat and carbohydrate intake and leaving them vulnerable to weight gain and obesity-related diseases, such as fatty liver disease. Too much protein and fat also lead to hormone surges, affecting your parrot’s behavior and mood.
While parrots need protein, too much is a problem. According to the University of Florida, It can impair the liver and kidneys, preventing them from functioning efficiently.
What’s the Best Source of Protein for Parrots?
When looking for the healthiest high protein food for parrots, opt for a balance of animal and plant-based proteins and offer a variety so that your parrot doesn’t get bored. Food provides mental stimulation for birds. There are several protein-rich foods for parrots, such as:
We’ve established that parrots are meat-eaters. However, because of the fat and cholesterol levels, they shouldn’t eat meat too often. Smaller parrot species like conures and budgies don’t eat meat. Parrots can eat the following meats:
Chicken is the best kind of meat for parrots because it’s:
- Lean and contains low fat levels
- Good for developing strong bones. Important, especially for older birds.
- High in protein
- Useful for optimizing parrots’ hormones
Plain chicken is rarely packaged with toxins and sugars, making it safe for parrots to eat. Avoid cooked chicken containing herbs and spices, as these ingredients aren’t healthy. If the chicken’s not organic or contains chemicals you’re not familiar with, reconsider feeding it to your parrot.
When feeding chicken to your parrot for the first time, only offer small quantities to allow your parrot to get used to the taste and texture. Don’t let it overeat, as chicken can cause stomach problems.
Pork is much higher in saturated fat and calories than chicken, so it’s not the best choice for parrots. However, some parrots prefer the taste of pork over chicken. In that case, you can offer your parrot small pieces of pork every few weeks. Any more can lead to heart problems.
Lamb is a type of red meat, so it’s not as healthy as chicken, which is white. You can treat lamb in the same way as pork, only offering your parrot a few pieces every few weeks. This is strictly to boost its protein levels – it’s not a good idea to let your parrot get a taste for red meat.
Turkey has a similar nutritional value to chicken, making it one of the healthier meat options. As a result, you can include it in your parrot’s diet if it’s not a fan of chicken or other poultry. Boil it or bake it without any added ingredients and feed it to your parrot plain.
You can feed certain animal bones to parrots to boost their protein levels. As described by Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology, parrots move their upper beaks independently of their skull, allowing them to gain the momentum they need to crush the bones open. However, you can help smaller, weaker parrots by crushing them first.
These bones are safe for parrots:
Parrots enjoy bone marrow more than meat and bones. After crushing the bones, parrots scoop out the marrowbone and discard the shards. The good news is bone marrow’s healthy and can become an occasional part of your parrot’s diet. Not only does bone marrow contain protein, but it’s rich in:
- Vitamin A
- Fatty acids
- Amino acids, including glycine
Budgies benefit from glycine more than most parrots, according to The Journal of Nutrition.
Most parrots enjoy chicken bones, particularly if there’s meat on the bone. Before crushing them to get to the bone marrow inside, they eat the cooked flesh first. If your parrot struggles to tear the meat off the bone, you can pick it off and put it in a shallow dish.
Parrots are only allowed chicken bones that are free from flavorings, colorings, and seasonings. That’s because they contain ingredients parrots shouldn’t eat, such as sugar, salt, and additives. Take the skin off the chicken bones before feeling them to your parrot.
Also, make sure they’re not fried. Fried chicken contains excess saturated food and oil, which contribute to obesity and can make your parrot feel unwell.
While pork isn’t a natural part of a parrot’s diet, they’re thicker and stronger than chicken bones, making them less likely to splinter off and get stuck in your bird’s crop. There’s little research to suggest whether pork’s healthy for your parrot or not, but sharing a few pieces with your parrot shouldn’t cause any harm, as long as you observe your parrot while it eats.
Turkey bones are similar to chicken bones, and most parrots enjoy the taste. Like chicken bones, they eat the turkey meat then crack the bones open to eat the marrow inside.
Most parrots won’t actually eat the bones. You can remove the marrow for them instead to reduce the chances of crop impaction. Be careful that your parrot doesn’t ingest any tiny turkey bone fragments.
Fish is another great source of protein for parrots. In fact, fish is the best animal protein your bird can eat. That’s because fish contains nutrients and vitamins your parrot can’t get from other food sources. It’s also low in saturated fat and calories. Protein from fish helps:
- Boost the immune system
- Provide energy
- Strengthen cardiovascular health
- Produce healthy blood cells
- Sharpen their minds
Active birds can have fish once or twice a week, but sedentary parrots should have it a bit less than this. A few pieces of tuna or salmon are best for parrots. Not only is it healthy, but parrots enjoy the taste as it’s the closest flavor to fresh meat in the wild.
Stay away from shellfish, such as shrimp, crabs, as exposure to pollutants, natural toxins, and mercury makes it unhealthy.
Seeds are an essential feature in many parrot’s diets. The good news is that some varieties contain high protein levels and help boost your parrot’s intake. However, seeds are also high in fat, so be careful with how much you feed your parrot at one time. These seeds are the most protein-dense:
Parrots love pumpkin seeds. They’re an excellent source of protein, unsaturated fats, and omega-6 acids, which parrots need for healthy bodies. One ounce contains 7 grams of protein and 13 grams of fat. Pumpkin seeds also contain:
To safely feed them to your parrot:
- Spoon out the seeds from the pumpkin and remove the pulp and strings.
- Use a clean towel to dry the seeds and put them on a baking tray.
- Bake for 40-45 minutes at 375 degrees, regularly turning them.
As soon as they’ve cooled down, you can give a small handful to your parrot.
Sunflower seeds contain protein, but it’s the plant-based kind. It’s not a complete source of protein, so it doesn’t have the entire bank of amino acids they need. That’s why it’s best to provide sunflower seeds as a mix alongside other seeds and nuts.
That being said, sunflower seeds are a good way to increase your parrot’s protein intake when they don’t eat meat and other animal proteins. African grey parrots particularly love sunflower seeds and choose them above all other foods.
As described by Sciencing, birds are highly fond of sesame seeds. In the wild, parrots enjoy foraging for sesame seeds alongside other seeds and nuts. Sesame seeds contain 17 g of protein per 100 g. While this is too much for parrots in one go, they’re a good way to boost your parrot’s protein levels. Sesame seeds are also rich in:
- Healthy oils
As a result, flax seeds are a superfood and make a healthy addition to a parrot’s balanced diet. Parrots enjoy the delicious nutty flavor and are happy to eat them. While they’re a good source of protein, they’re high in fat, so you must only feed them in moderation.
There are two kinds of flax seeds: brown and golden. The good news is they’re both safe for parrots to eat. Not only do flax seeds contain protein, but they have:
- B vitamins
- Omega-3 fatty acids
Flax seeds can also improve skin and feather and quality while minimizing the urge to pluck out feathers. Flax seeds are only small with hard shells. They can be difficult for parrots to eat, so some owners grind the seeds before feeding them to their birds.
Wild parrots eat nuts to get the protein, fats, and vitamins they need. Slow-moving captive parrots shouldn’t eat too many nuts – they can have a few a week. Too much, however, is unhealthy and pushes their fat levels too high. Here are the best nuts for protein:
Peanuts are a rich source of protein and essential amino acids. They also contain:
- Vitamin E
Just don’t offer your parrots raw peanuts due to the presence of Aflatoxin, which is toxic to the liver. Peanuts should only be fed to parrots (in moderation) once they’ve been roasted.
Natural, organic peanut butter is a good option, as it doesn’t contain additives, preservatives, and sugars.
Pine nuts are a primary source of protein for wild parrots, especially the thick-billed kind. They can help:
- Improve digestion
- Strengthen bones
- Improve feather coloration
That’s because they’re an excellent source of calcium, fiber, manganese, and phosphorous. They’re also packed with vitamins E and K.
Almonds are one of the best nuts to feed your parrot overall. That’s because they have the broadest range of nutrients, including:
- Dietary fiber
- Healthy fat
- Omega-3 fatty acids
All of these nutrients combined have numerous health benefits. However, don’t feed your parrot bitter almonds, as they’re toxic. They’re banned in the US, but they can be found in most European countries.
Parrots living in Brazil, India, and Southeast Asia rely on cashews for nutrition. A 28.35 g serving of cashew nuts contains 5.16 g of protein, which is a significant amount. Cashews help form muscles and feathers.
While cashews are an excellent source of energy for active parrots, they can be problematic for birds that don’t get enough exercise. That’s because they contain a lot of fat.
Adding walnuts to your parrot’s diet is an excellent way to boost its protein intake and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. In fact, according to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, walnuts have the highest levels of omega-3 out of all nuts. This lowers the risk of fatal heart disease by 10%.
Parrots enjoy walnuts because they’re sweet and buttery, and the plain, unsalted kind is okay for parrots to eat. Just don’t overfeed them, as they’re larger than other nuts.
Vegetables High in Protein
Vegetables are an essential part of your parrot’s diet. Not all are high in protein, but these vegetables contain the most and are therefore an excellent addition a couple of times a week:
Spinach is one of the healthiest leafy greens, containing tonnes of nutrients and vitamins parrots need. 100 g of spinach contains 2.86 g of protein.
The biggest benefit of spinach is that it has all the amino acids parrots need, which parrots absorb after digestion. Once digested, the amino acids recombine, forming new protein molecules.
Peas one of the best sources of plant-based protein, meaning they fill parrots up and keep them healthy. This reduces the number of calories they need at other times throughout the day, leaving more space for vitamins and other nutrients. They also contain high amounts of fiber, ensuring good digestion.
Peas also provide mental enrichment. Birds enjoy pecking at peas from a dish, eating them one by one.
Asparagus is crunchy and comes in different colors, including green, white, and purple. Parrots enjoy variety, so switching between the three provides mental enrichment. It’s low in calories but contains protein, keeping your parrot full for longer.
Asparagus also has plenty of health benefits. It’s rich in antioxidants and helps with digestion. It also contains insoluble fiber, increasing bulk into the stool. This reduces the chance of constipation.
Brussel sprouts are a good source of protein. One cup containing 88 g of Brussel sprouts includes 3 g of protein. They also contain:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin K
- Vitamin C
Not only that, but Brussel sprouts are a rich source of antioxidants. As a result, they can reduce oxidative damage by 28%.
Corn on the Cob
While corn on the cob isn’t the highest source of protein, it’s still decent. Not only that, but it’s healthy, so it has far-reaching benefits. That’s because it contains:
- B vitamins, including B5, B9, B6, B3
You can prepare corn on the corn in several ways. Parrots enjoy it baked, boiled, grilled, barbequed, and microwaved.
Fruits provide quick-releasing carbs and the vitamins and minerals they need to be healthy. Some fruits contain ample amounts of protein, making this tasty snack nutritionally beneficial. These fruits contain more protein than others.
A cup of sliced apricots contains just over 2 grams of protein. They’re also high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals, including:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin C
When feeding apricots to your parrot, keep the peel on the slices, as most of the nutrients are in the skin.
Even though kiwis are small, they’re full of flavor and nutrients. They contain lots of vitamin C above all other nutrients. Kiwis contain kiwellin and kissper, two proteins that may have anti-inflammatory properties, benefitting a parrot’s overall health.
One cup of blueberries contains approximately 2 grams of protein, which is impressive for a fruit. As well as fresh, washed blackberries, you can feed your parrot homemade blackberry juice and jam. However, be careful of overfeeding, as they’re high in natural sugars, risking obesity.
One medium orange contains 1.2 grams of protein. Parrots can eat all parts of an orange, including the flesh, seeds, and peel. However, the juice doesn’t contain much protein, so stick with the edible parts. As well as protein, orange contains:
One medium banana contains 1.3 grams of protein, which is a further way to top up your parrot’s protein levels. The peel, finger, and leaves are all good for parrots to eat. Parrots enjoy eating unpeeled bananas the most, as they like to break them apart. In fact, they like the rubbery texture of the skin more than the meat.
Because there’s such a large range of parrot-safe protein foods, your parrot shouldn’t go short on this nutrient. Monitor your bird’s intake and ensure it doesn’t over or under-eat the nutrient, as either one isn’t healthy.