If you’ve had your parrot(s) for a while, you’ll know that our feathered friends need a varied diet to thrive. They get bored very easily and offering them new foods is a great way to keep them engaged!
Today: popcorn. It may now be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of snacks for parrots, but if prepared correctly, it’s a fun and nutritious option for your bird.
This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase, a small percentage will go directly to Psittacology at no additional cost to you. Thank you for supporting Psittacology!
Can parrots eat popcorn?
In case you weren’t sure, yes, parrots can eat popcorn. After all, it’s really just dried corn exposed to heat. Our birds can have some corn just fine, and in fact, most just go crazy for the crunchy-but-airy texture of popcorn. If yours hasn’t had the opportunity to try it yet, be sure to give it a shot.
The important thing is to make sure that any popcorn you offer to your bird is prepared without sugar or salt and popped in as little oil as possible. Air-popped is ideal!
This means that microwave popcorn is unfortunately out. As convenient as it is, it’s usually absolutely laden with oil, artificial (butter) flavorings, salt and sugar, and preservatives.
Luckily, making popcorn yourself at home is a breeze. We’re all so used to the microwave version nowadays that we seem to have forgotten how easy it actually is to pop some corn on the stove! Give it a try: it isn’t just healthier for your parrot, but also for you.
Below, we’ll have a look at two ways to make parrot-safe popcorn for your bird, plus go into a bunch of other grains that can be popped to make parrot snacks.
Popping corn for your parrot
The best way to make some popcorn to share with your parrot is by air-popping the corn. It involves zero oil and zero other ingredients, meaning it’s 100% healthy for your bird!
A lot of people think you need a popcorn machine to air-pop corn. It’s true that this is the easiest way to do it – you literally just insert the kernels and it launches delicious warm popcorn at you – but you can also air-pop in the microwave without too much effort.
Microwave air-popping can be done using a store-bought popcorn popper, but this is not a must. You can also just use regular brown paper lunch bags.
The paper bag method is very similar to using store-bought microwave popcorn, except you add the kernels to a paper bag yourself. Fold the top over 2-3 times to prevent it from opening in the microwave and throwing popcorn everywhere, and then microwave at 800 watts for 2-4 minutes.
Don’t walk away while the corn is popping. You’ll want to turn off the microwave as soon as the intervals between pops slow down, or the popcorn will burn (and might set the bag on fire in extreme cases).
Let the popcorn cool down for a bit and carefully open the bag. Set some aside for your parrot, optionally seasoning it with safe spices like cayenne pepper. You can douse the rest in butter, salt, or whatever flavorings you prefer and have it yourself.
Tip: I’ve recently begun making popcorn in my air fryer. Preheat to 400 °F/200 °C, cover the basket bottom in tin foil, add a single layer of corn kernels, and cook for 8 minutes or until the popping slows down. A bit slower than the microwave option, but it works like a charm and you don’t need oil.
Of course, the classic way to make popcorn is in a large pot on the stove. Some folks swear you can do this without oil, but I do notice mine pops better and is less prone to burning if I use a little bit.
To pop corn for your parrot on the stove, you’ll need a big, heavy-bottomed pot that heats nice and evenly. Non-stick works well if you don’t want to use a lot of oil, but it’s very important not to use any non-stick pans anywhere near your bird. If overheated, they can release toxic fumes that are fatal to parrots.
A regular pot will require more oil to keep the popcorn from sticking, but some parrot owners feel it’s a safer option.
To make your popcorn, place the pot on the stove over medium heat. Add oil with a high smoke point, like canola, corn, peanut, sunflower, or coconut. 1/2 tbsp works well for a non-stick pot; if you use a regular one, coat the entire bottom.
Place two corn kernels in the pot. You’ll know it’s hot enough when they pop! At this point, you can add enough kernels to cover the bottom. Place the lid on the pot (a glass lid is ideal), leaving a tiny crack, and let the corn do its thing until the popping slows down.
As with the air-popping method, once the popcorn is done, you can set some aside for your parrot to offer plain or seasoned with bird-safe spices. The rest is for you, bon appétit!
Tip: Use corn kernels that haven’t been sitting too long. Although they’re dried, it’s the residual moisture they contain that makes them pop. As a result, old and dried-out kernels don’t pop nearly as well as fresh ones.
Other poppable grains
If dried corn can pop due to the moisture inside turning into steam and explosively rupturing the hard outer shell (sounds pretty cool when you put it like that, right?), does the same also work for other types of grains?
The answer is a resounding yes. We’ve all had puffed rice cereal before, right? It’s produced by means of the same process, using brown rice.
The same goes for a bunch of other grains available at your local supermarket:
- Millet (yes, like the stuff used for parrots)
These won’t pop to be as large as a piece of popcorn, but they will expand and take on a toasted flavor. Because the pops aren’t as explosive (they’re more like crackles), they’re best made in a skillet rather than a pot.
You can offer the popped grains to your parrot as they are or use them to spruce up recipes like birdie bread. They also work well sprinkled over your bird’s chop.
And don’t forget: like popcorn, popped grains aren’t just for your bird. You can use them for human foods like granola bars, in your yogurt, or sprinkled over a salad.
Air-popped parrot popcorn snack
- 1 microwave
- 1 brown paper bag
- 1/4 cup corn for popping
- 1/2 tsp cayenne powder
- Place the corn in the brown paper bag. Fold the top tightly so it can't open as the corn pops.
- Set your microwave to 800W. Set the timer to 4 minutes. Do NOT leave the popcorn unattended as it pops.
- Once there are more than 2 seconds between pops (which can take 2-4 minutes depending on your microwave), turn the microwave off.
- Carefully take out the bag, touching only the folded top part to avoid burning yourself. Pour the popcorn into a bowl.
- Separate part of the popcorn for your parrot and the rest for yourself, or reserve all of it for your bird (see notes). Optionally add the cayenne powder and toss.
- Once the popcorn has fully cooled, offer some to your bird. If you get a lukewarm reaction, try crushing the kernels, as your parrot may be afraid of them. It'll get the memo once it tries them!