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Recommended Foods Part Two: Seeds and Natural Foods by Scott Stork

What do 'Seed and Natural Foods' mean? This could mean simple seed only mixes. It could mean sprouting mixes. It could also mean mixes that contain these things plus dried fruits and vegetables, nuts, whole foods and holistic additives or any other 'people food'.

Here we hit a gray area. In the next article in this series I will discuss 'people foods' that you should feed your birds. Many of the natural food mixes that we sell contain these foods. For the sake of clarity I will limit this article to being about mixes that contain a number of ingredients that include at least some seeds. Any of the foods that we carry that do not will be discussed next time.

How much, if any, seed should your bird have? This varies from species to species. All pet birds should have some seed in their diet. Many people have been told that seed is bad for birds. This is ridiculous. Parrots, by definition, are hook-billed birds. This hooked bill is perfect for picking, cracking and de-hulling seeds. Even finches and soft bill birds should have seed in their diet.

Too much seed is detrimental to any bird's health, but many of the nutrients found in seeds cannot be duplicated in a processed food. That is why we recommend seed based mixes should make up ten (10) to fifty (50) percent of all birds' diets. Please ask us which mix and what percentage is right for your bird.

In the first article in this series I discussed formulated diets. Many of the criteria cited are the same when discussing natural food mixes. To avoid restating the same things I will simplify by saying that we want to avoid artificial additives and that human consumption grade ingredients are preferred.

Freshness is an important issue with these foods. There are many methods that we can use to assure that natural food mixes are fresh. Tasting them, sprouting the seeds and legumes and visually inspecting them for cleanliness are the most common. All of your bird's food will keep best if sealed and refrigerated.

We carry a number of foods that fit in the category of 'Seed and Natural Food mixes'. I will discuss them by type and quality.

Seed Mixes: These are mixes that are mainly seeds with a very small amount of other ingredients. Topper's is our recommended brand and is best as a part of a varied diet. We recommend seed only if it makes up fifty (50) percent or less of the bird's diet. Ask us how much seed your bird should have. Many people feed only seed mixes, or these mixes with artificial supplements. This is very bad for the long-term health of any bird. No bird eats just seed and supplements can only help so much. Topper's is the first company to offer all human consumption grade foods and they have the best method of fortifying the seeds in their mixes. Topper mixes are also available in bulk for all sizes of birds.

Sprouting Mixes: The seeds that birds eat in the wild are rarely dry. They are usually green, developing seeds or seeds that are beginning to sprout. These seeds contain what are called live food enzymes, they have a higher nutrient to calorie ratio and they are easier to digest. Sprouted seeds can be given as treats and can be part of the human food portion of the bird's diet or can be all or a part of the seed based part of any bird's diet. They must be prepared, cleaned and handled properly to be safe. While sprouting seed takes a little extra work, it is one of the best sources of nutrition you can offer your bird. Do not attempt to sprout seeds without consulting Parrot Island for specific safety instructions. Any seed can be sprouted. It is best to use a quality human consumption grade seed mix with a well-chosen variety of seeds.

Natural Food Mixes: These are mixes that contain seeds but also contain a wide variety of other foods. If you are feeding a large amount of seed to your bird then it should be one of these mixes. These are the only mixes that we would ever recommend make up more than twenty-five (25) percent of a medium or large parrot's diet. They contain dried fruits and vegetables, nuts, legumes and other natural foods as well as seeds. There are a few foods of this type available that are not human consumption grade (such as Kaytee's Fiesta mixes), they should not be used. We sell only human consumption grade natural food mixes.

Topper's Nutra-Fruit was the first human consumption grade food of this kind available. It has high quality ingredients with some fortification but it does have some artificial additives. We also carry Goldenfeast foods. They have many mixes available for variety. They are all human consumption grade and contain no artificial additives.

It should also be mentioned that 'soak and cook' mixes may fit in this category. Because they contain mostly pastas, grains and legumes and are fed cooked not raw they will be discussed along with human food in a later issue.

This brings us to the 'whole food' or holistic ingredient natural food mixes that we carry. They actually belong in the last group of foods discussed, as they are natural food mixes. However, they are different enough and important enough to warrant their own section.

Whole Food Mixes: They are natural food mixes with all human consumption grade ingredients, some organic and some holistic ingredients. They contain precise mixtures of ingredients that are designed to give a complete diet with out any artificial or processed elements. While we do not believe in feeding any food exclusively, the more 'complete' foods we mix together the better the over all diet.

Our Parrot Island Specialty Mixes contain this style of food. We use the same ingredients in our bird food as those they sell for people. We have several specialty mixes sized for all birds from canaries to macaws. Because of the extent and quality of these ingredients they are our most expensive foods and should be kept refrigerated for optimum freshness.

Whether these foods make up all or just a part of the 'seed' portion of your bird's diet, they are a great addition to our store, and another step towards making your bird's diet complete.

Transition Foods: Transition foods approximate the held foods that parent birds offer their chicks in the nest. Baby birds are not fed only regurgitated food. The parent birds actually hold bits of food in their feet or beaks and the chicks soon learn to peck and eat. This behavior is also found in older birds when learning to eat new foods. Good transition foods are: strips of warm carrot, a wedge of firm but soft yam or sweet potato, long green beans bundled with a rawhide strip, sticks of celery or carrots, bread sticks, etc. Some of these transition foods may not be as nutritious as we would like but serve a valuable purpose in teaching our birds to eat a varied diet.

As I said at the end of the last article in this series, there are many foods on the market. When evaluating a food mix remember that only products claiming to have human consumption grade ingredients have any outside controls on what they put in their food. There are literally scores of seed mixes available but only a few are worth making a part of your bird's diet. If you feed no seeds to your bird, consider adding one of these quality mixes. If you are feeding only seed to your bird, Stop! There are ways to get even the fussiest of birds to eat a varied balanced diet. To paraphrase Sally Blanchard, 'The only way we know a bird won't eat something is if we don't offer it to them.'

This article was published on Tuesday 22 June, 2004.
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