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Marrow seeds for parrots?

Expert Question

Dear EB, I'm the owner of two Quaker Parrots (Myiopsitta monachus). I usually give them a prepared mix for parrots, with different kinds of seeds. However, I noticed they like marrow seeds best.

So, I give them these seeds as a reward when they speak or they generically do as I say, but I still haven't found out in any book if they are harmful to their health. Can I go on giving them these seeds?

They are very fond of pizza, bread and breadsticks , too. Is that good? Thanks for your attention!


Expert Answer

Diego, Marrow (pumpkin/squash family) seeds are very nutritious for parrots. They have a wide range of health benefits including containing manganese, zinc and other trace mineral, helping curb certain forms of cancerous cells, and naturally acting as anthelmintic (de-worming).

We feed them boiled, baked (after we eat the pumpkin flesh ourselves) or raw to our birds. they can also be sprouted which makes them even more nutritious.

Unfortunately the lowest quality marrow seeds are the ones included in bagged bird food mixes--often they are flat, unripe at harvest, old, or will not sprout (hence are no longer alive). If your psittacines like them so much I would go and purchase some human grade edible seeds at a health food store or grocery that sells trail mix snacks, etc. Furthermore, if your quaker parrot prefers them, he might be telling you he needs the mineral/diet ingredients in pumpkin seed because he is not getting them in the rest of his food. Therefore, I would not merely offer them as treat rewards, but would feed a more significant amount (say eight to ten)  daily for two weeks or so to improve his health. If after that point, you find he chooses to not eat them all, he likely no longer has the nutritional craving his body has satisfied. There are lots of other seeds you can offer as rewards in the meantime--sunflower, bits of walnut or almond, pine nut, etc.

As to the pizza, bread thing, you must understand that white flour is basically a void food for parrots and over the long run will leave them deficient in certain dietary needs. Keep those treats to a bare minimum and substitue better items like popcorn, whole wheat crackers, unsugared breakfast flakes, and the like. If your are feeding 75% or more dry seed mix to your birds, no matter the ingredients, you must work to get vegetables and green and raw foods (grated on top maybe?) fruit pips, cooked buckwheat, lentils, etc. into the diet along with a powdered vitamin mineral supplement. Too many seeds will likely shorten your bird's life and make them overweight at a young age.

Cheers, EB Cravens

EB Cravens
About EB Cravens

“If we TRULY believe our captive-raised hookbills are important to world parrot conservation, we must work ceaselessly to ensure that these same psittacines retain as much of their wild instinctual behavior as is possible,” affirms avicultural writer and hobby breeder EB Cravens, from his small organic farm on the slopes of the Big Island Hawaii.

“Our goal is to birth and raise only a few baby parrots who know that they are parrots, but choose to befriend humans, because humans are nice to them… feed them… and are fun to be with!”

EB has bred, trained, raised, kept and rehabilitated more than 75 species of psittacines during the past twenty plus years both at his home and while managing the notable exotic bird shoppe, Feathered Friends of Santa Fe, New Mexico. His emphasis on natural environments for birds, the urging of babies to fully fledge during the extended weaning process, and the leaving of chicks for many weeks inside the nest box with their parents in order that they may learn the many intangibles of their species, have succeeded in changing for the better the lives of so many captive parrots.

A science writer by training, he was for years a regular contributor for AFA’s Watchbird Magazine and the Companion Parrot Quarterly. EB currently writes a monthly column entitled “The Complete Psittacine” in PARROTS Magazine out of England; and another, “The Hookbill Hobbyist” down under in the well-regarded Australian Birdkeeper. His monthly series of articles “Birdkeeping Naturally,” is sent out to bird clubs and individuals around the U.S.

“As devastating pressures continue upon avian species in the wilds,” he says, “it is critical that those keeping birds in captivity do so with responsibility and foresight.”