If you’re thinking of adding a budgie or other type of parakeet to your family, you might be wondering: what do parakeets eat? A suitable diet is very important to make sure your parakeet makes it to a respectable age, but unfortunately there are still a lot of myths out there when it comes to parrot diet.
Keep reading to find out everything about what your parakeet should and shouldn’t be eating!
Wild parakeet diet
Let’s start out by having a quick peek at what parakeets eat in the wild. Although we shouldn’t try to copy the wild diet because domestic conditions are different, it’ll at least give us a good indication of the direction in which we should be thinking.
Wild budgies mainly subsist on seeds. They are ground feeders that putter around the floors of their native Australia in search of edible morsels like the seeds of the common spinifex grass.
This is a high-energy diet perfect for active birds like budgies. After all, they spend most of the day flying around in search of food and precious water.
Wild budgies will also consume any other foods they come across. Populations can sometimes be a nuisance to farmers when they descend to munch on their crops of fruit, vegetables and grasses.
Even unlucky small insects that find themselves in front of a budgie’s beak won’t be safe from these ever-hungry parakeets!
Did you know? Budgies have the ability to de-hull seeds using just their beak and flexible tongue, meaning they don’t waste crop- and stomach space on seed hulls.
Although budgies are the most popular parakeets in the pet trade, there are plenty of other parrots that also fall into this category.
There’s ringnecks (genus Psittacula), quaker parrots (Myiopsitta monachus), conures, lineolated parakeets (Bolborhynchus lineola), rosy Bourke’s parakeets (Neopsephotus bourkii), kakarikis (Cyanoramphus novaezelandiae)… and many more.
- As a general rule of thumb, wild parakeets that live in tropical and temperate regions, like conures and ringnecks, will survive on a diet high in fruits, flowers and nuts. Sugary fruits especially are ideal to supply them with the energy they need for their active behavior.
- Wild parakeets that inhabit more arid habitats, like the Australian rosy Bourke’s parakeet, will have a similar diet to budgies. They mostly consume grasses and seeds, possibly with some fruits mixed in if they can find them.
Seeds for parakeets
For parakeets in captivity, the main assumption is usually that they do best on a diet of seeds. Although this thought seems to make sense, especially for natural seed eaters like budgies, seeds are unfortunately not actually the best choice.
Although seeds are great for birds, they are also very fatty. Ideal for wild specimens that fly great distances on the daily. Not so great for our domestic ‘keets, which will never get the same amount of exercise even if they’re out of their cages for most of the day. Additionally, wild parakeets will have access not just to dried seeds but also to fresh and sprouting ones.
So should we be shunning seeds? No! They can still make up part of a healthy and varied diet for your budgie or other parakeet. It’s absolutely fine to offer a teaspoon or two of high-quality seed mix a few times a week. A sprig of millet is also perfect for the occasional treat that small parakeets will go crazy for.
If you’d like to offer a nutritious treat, try sprouting some seeds for your parakeet(s). It’s very simple: just sprinkle some of your favorite seed mix between some paper towel, wet it and place this in a ziploc baggie. Put the bag in a warm and light spot and the seeds should start to sprout within two days or so.
I can’t give you exact numbers since everyone has their own opinions, but I’ll mention that for my own budgies, about 15% of their diet consists of (un-)sprouted seed mix and millet sprays.
Tip: Try to find a seed mix without sunflower seeds, as sunflower is almost like “bird crack” and can become addictive. This can cause your parakeet to ignore other foods. For budgies and other small parakeets, sunflower seeds are also simply too big.
Pellets for parakeets
Pelleted for food parrots was popularized as a cheap option that doesn’t spoil quickly. It comes with the added advantage that birds can’t pick and choose what they want to eat and leave other foods untouched. Some sources now recommend feeding a pellet-only diet, stating it’s a better choice because it’s not as high in fat as seed mixes.
Although it’s true that many pellet brands contain vegetables and might offer a wider range of micro-nutrients than seeds, there’s no be-all, end-all food option for parakeets. The key to keeping any pet (and human) healthy is variety and it’s no different for these birds. Pellets can be a part of that, but not the entirety.
An additional problem with many pelleted foods is that they can be quite low in quality. Before buying a pellet food to make up part of your parakeet’s diet, you should check the ingredient list. It should be low in filler ingredients (corn, soy) as well as sugar and salt. A popular brand that I also feed my own budgies is Harrison’s.
So how much of your parakeet’s diet should consist of pellets? Everyone has their own preferences and opinions so I can’t give you exact numbers, but I’ll say that I personally feed about 30% pellets.
Tip: Have a seed-addicted parakeet that won’t accept pellets? It can help to buy a small bag of a colorful brand. Although these are often more sugary, they can make a good bridge to a more natural pellet type.
Vegetables for parakeets
Now we’re getting to the good stuff. Although parakeets wouldn’t actually commonly have access to vegetables in the wild, they are a great option for our domestic birds. Veggies are low in calories, fats and sugars but still loaded with micronutrients. Your bird can eat lots of them without increasing the risk of obesity.
Most vegetables that we like to eat are perfectly safe for parakeets. Particular favorites seem to include peppers, carrot (including the leaves) and celery, although your bird might love other choices.
You can find more info about which veggies are safe, which you should feed in moderation and which you should avoid entirely in the article on vegetables for parakeets.
Again: I can’t tell you what the best percentages are when it comes to parrot diet. There hasn’t been enough research, so it’s still a controversial topic. However, I’d say that about 35% of my budgies’ diet consists of vegetables, which they have access to during most of the day.
Tip: If you got your parakeet from a pet store, chances are it will refuse to eat veggies (or maybe even pellets!) at first. Don’t give up and keep offering these foods, though don’t attempt to starve the bird into eating them either. Try different presentations and choices. They’ll get there eventually!
Fruit for parakeets
As mentioned earlier, many tropical parakeet species naturally eat a diet that’s heavy in fruits. For our domestic ‘keets, a diet centered around fruit would be too sugary because they’re not as active as their wild counterparts. However, that definitely doesn’t mean that it isn’t a good idea to offer fruits here and there.
Most fruits are perfectly safe for parakeets, with a notable exception being avocado. Citrus fruits and other very acidic types are also best avoided so your bird doesn’t get an upset stomach. For a more extensive list, head over to the article on which fruits are safe for parakeets.
For my own budgies, about 10% of their diet is made up of fruits. That’s notably less than veggies (35%) but still an important part because fruit contains all sorts of micro-nutrients and vitamins. Again, variety is key!
What else do parakeets eat?
As mentioned in the section on wild parakeet diet, most parakeets naturally eat foods that we wouldn’t normally have in our homes. Some species like the Indian ringneck parakeet feed on flowers and buds, for example, while budgies love munching on eucalyptus leaves.
Our parakeets can survive just fine without these foods because they get plenty of nutrients from the diet choices laid out above. However, if you have access to spots that are free of pesticides and pollution, going out to forage for your birds is a great idea!
Giving them unusual foods isn’t just a help in terms of nutrients, it’s also enrichment that helps keep them entertained.
So what do parakeets eat that you can find in your own garden? A lot, actually.
- Garden weeds like clover and dandelion leaves.
- Blooming grass species like wheat, millet or whatever you have growing as long as it’s not sorghum.
- Flowers from plants like daisies, chamomile, zucchini, hibiscus, lemon, nasturtium, pansies, clover, etc.
- Branches with leaves. Australian species love eucalyptus but you can also go for birch, bamboo, citrus and more.
- Herbs like basil, mint, cress, fennel, borage (in small amounts).
I regularly go “foraging” for my budgies. They adore munching on grasses and also love to chew on eucalyptus leaves, which are said to actually calm their stomachs. I also occasionally buy a basil or mint plant in the supermarket for them to destroy. All this makes up about 5% of their diet.
There are a few food choices out there that are great to add some variety to your parakeet’s diet as long as they’re cooked. Try offering cooked unsalted:
- (Whole wheat) pasta
- Wild rice
- Legumes like lentils
Cooked foods like the above make up about 5% of my own budgies’ diet, but more is fine as well.
This paragraph is surely your bird’s personal favorite. It’s always good to have some treats on hand for your parakeet for bonding purposes and especially to help during training. Common treats include:
- Millet spray
- Sunflower seeds
- Nuts like almonds (for larger species)
- Popcorn (unsalted)
Tip: If you also keep reptiles or have insects like mealworms on hand for some other reason, your parakeet can have one as a treat once in a while. Just crush the head to prevent the bug from being able to bite your bird.
Before we wrap up this diet guide, there’s one more important thing. We’ve been talking about what types of food to offer your parakeet, but the way you present food is actually also important.
First off, it’s good to have a regular food bowl that your parakeet is used to. If it knows that this bowl usually contains food, it’ll be more inclined to try unfamiliar items that show up in there.
Second, food can make fantastic enrichment for parrots. You can keep them busy by presenting food in all sorts of different ways, like one day chopping their veggies and the next day offering them whole. Hang food from clips or even stuff it inside foraging toys so your parakeet really has to work for it!
If you still have questions about what parakeets can eat or want to share your own experiences with your pet ‘keets, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below!