Sprouting seeds for birds | Healthy parrot food!

Figuring out the right diet for your parrot can be challenging. Seed mixes are the traditional choice, but as mentioned in the article on parrot diet, they’re not ideal as a staple. Pellet quality varies wildly and some feel they’re unnatural. You can make parrot chop, but did you know there’s another great option?

Sprouting seeds for birds like parrots is a breeze and vastly increases the nutritional value of normal seed mixes. Perfect as a healthy alternative to dried seeds! Keep reading for everything you need to know about sprouting seeds for birds and why you should be doing it.

Sprouting seeds for birds: Why should you do it?

You probably have eaten sprouts and/or sprouted seeds before. I’m pretty sure we all sprouted beans in wet kitchen paper or cotton when we were in primary school! Alfalfa and mung bean sprouts have always been popular. Recent health crazes brought the introduction of more ‘unusual’ sprouts, like cilantro, radish, and wheatgrass.

Whether you like some sprouts in your salad or not, no one can deny they’re good for you. And their benefits aren’t just limited to us humans: they’re great for our feathered friends as well.

Dried vs. sprouted seeds

You see, the thing is, most traditional parrot seed mixes are dried, uniform and high in fat. This doesn’t really reflect a wild parrot’s diet, as they’d eat seeds in all their stages – fresh, dried, sprouted. It’s also too calorie-rich for our indoor birds, which don’t move around enough to justify such a high-fat diet.

Still, especially with small seed eaters like budgies and cockatiels, it’s difficult to deny them their favorite food. They just love seeds! That’s where sprouts come in. Their nutritional profile is much better than dried seeds, but they’re still similar enough that most parrots will give them a try without too much effort.

So what’s all the fuss about? Why are sprouted seeds supposedly so much better for your bird? According to a 2010 review by Marton, Mandoki, Csapo-Kiss, & Csapo:

  • Dry seeds contain stored fat meant to kickstart a sprout. Once the sprouting process is on the way, the fat content plummets and the protein content increases.
  • The amount of healthy amino acids goes up during sprouting, as does the vitamin content (notably vitamin C).
  • The mineral content stays the same, but the minerals in question are better utilized, meaning sprouts are more nutritious.
  • Speaking of better utilization: sprouts in general are easier to digest and their nutrients absorbed better. They’re even perfect for weaning baby birds, as they’re softer than dried seeds.
Close-up of sprouted millet seeds. | Sprouting seeds for birds

Sprouting seeds for birds: What do you need?

Your jar

There are a few sprouting methods, like sprouting in soil or on wet cotton/kitchen paper. The easiest method to sprout seeds for bird (and human!) consumption, though, is the sprouting jar method. It involves:

  • A large, clean, transparent jar. In the photos in this article, I used an old mayonnaise jar and an old pesto jar (after somebirdy broke the mayo one).
  • A square of mesh or breathable fabric like pantyhose or cheese cloth that will allow water to pass through.
  • A rubber band to fasten the cover.

If you plan on sprouting seeds regularly, you can also opt for the “professional” version and get a seed sprouting kit. They come with a handy lid and a stand, making everything a bit easier.

Your seeds

Time to select seeds to sprout! And here’s the kicker: almost anything sprouts. In most of the photos in this post I’m using a millet-heavy budgie seed mix without any pellets (they would just rot).

If you don’t have any bird seed laying around, though, you probably still won’t have to run out to the shops. Just raid the cupboards to see if you have one of the following:

  • Legumes: Lentils, beans (except for kidney beans), chickpeas, mung beans
  • Seeds (you may have some of these in your spice rack or garden shed): Broccoli, radish, fenugreek, mustard, clover, cilantro, radish, sunflower, pumpkin, sesame
  • Grains: Corn, wheat, barley, rye, wild rice, whole oats, spelt
  • Nuts (they have to be raw): Almond, cashew, pretty much any

I’m sure I’m forgetting loads here, so leave your suggestions in the comments. From the kitchen cupboard, my favorite option for sprouting is definitely lentils. The budgies go bonkers for them.

Whatever you go for, make sure it hasn’t been sitting on a shelf for years. Sure, even old seeds will still sometimes sprout surprisingly well, but fresher ones do really tend to have a higher success rate and sprout quicker. That’s what you want, because both unsprouted seeds sitting around and longer sprouting times mean a higher risk of mold and other issues.

Seed mix soaking before sprouting.
I went for a normal budgie seed mix here.

Sprouting seeds for birds: Step by step

After all of the introduction we’ve just gone through, the actual sprouting process is a bit of an anticlimax. It’s really very easy and hands-off!

Step 1: Soak your seeds

All seeds like an initial soak to help wake them up. The actual preferred soaking time depends (just Google it if you’re unsure!), but 6-8 hours is the norm for most.

To soak your seeds, just tip them into the jar you selected, filling it about 1/3 of the way. Cover the seeds with water and set the jar in a light but not sunny spot.

Millet seed mix soaking before sprouting.
Soaking time!

Step 2: Rinse & wait

Once soaking time’s up, give the seeds their first rinse with fresh tap water. This is easiest if you’re using a mesh cover or a sprouting lid. Just fill the jar and drain it out a few times. On the last drain, make sure you get as much water out of there as possible, giving the jar a careful shake.

Now the waiting game begins! If you have a sprouting jar holder, you can set the jar in there. If you don’t, that’s fine, you just want something that will maintain the jar at a downward-pointing angle. I use a bowl with some kitchen paper at the bottom. Twice a day, repeat the rinsing process to make sure the seeds stay hydrated.

From now on, depending on the seeds you’re using, you’ll have to wait anywhere between 24 hours (small seeds like millet) to 6 days or even more (alfalfa, clover, etc.). The first roots can appear pretty quickly, and once you see a leaf or two peeping out, you can move on to harvesting.

Budgie seed mix sprouting with roots.
Day 2: First roots on the millet and safflower.

Step 3: Feeding time!

Congrats, you just created a home-grown meal for your parrot – and yourself, if you want. Check your sprouts over one more time to make sure there’s no mold. They should smell fresh and crisp, a bit like when you open a bag of lettuce.

Offer some sprouts to the test panel and see what they think. If you’ve got sprouts left over, they can be air-dried for an hour or so and then stored. Just use a food container lined with some kitchen paper, placing the sprouts inside and then covering them with more paper. They stay fresh for a good few days.

Sprouted budgie seed mix.
Day 3: Harvesting today and tomorrow.

Notes on sprouting seeds for birds

Sprout hygiene

Cases of Salmonella or E. coli as a result of eating raw sprouts are not unheard of in humans. In fact, some studies note that the immunocompromised and elderly might want to refrain from eating sprouts (Taormina, Beuchat & Slutsker, 1999).

What does this mean for our parrots? Don’t let it scare you away! With good sprout hygiene, you should have no issues. As mentioned in the guide, you should be rinsing the seeds regularly. You could consider sprouting only as much as your parrot can eat in a short time period (1-2 days) so you don’t have to store the sprouts. They should be discarded if they look moldy or smell off.

Moldy sprouts?!

If you look at your sprouts one morning and see them covered in what seems like mold, it can be easy to panic. The actual suspect can be something different in many cases, though: cilia hairs or feather roots. These tiny white hairs look suspiciously like mold, but are actually tiny roots.

How do you tell ’em apart? Usually, if it’s mold, you’ll know. It smells moldy, looks more cobwebby than fuzzy and might come with a slimy look. It also doesn’t lessen with a rinse, while cilia hairs temporarily seem to disappear. Lastly, cilia hairs only appear on the roots, not the seed husk or anywhere else.

Difference between moldy seed sprouts and feather root hairs.

If you have any more questions about sprouting seeds for birds or if you’d like to share your own experiences with this easy and healthy DIY parrot food option, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below!

Sources

Marton, M., Mandoki, Z. S., Csapo-Kiss, Z. S., & Csapo, J. (2010). The role of sprouts in human nutrition. A review. Acta Univ. Sapientiae3, 81-117.

Taormina, P. J., Beuchat, L. R., & Slutsker, L. (1999). Infections associated with eating seed sprouts: an international concern. Emerging infectious diseases5(5), 626.

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