Balancing Avian Nutrition with Quality of Life
“Sunflower seeds have no nutritional value for birds. My avian vet said so.”
Has anyone ever said this (or something like it) to you? I hear it frequently from parrot owners but I’ve never personally heard an avian vet say it. Maybe that will change with publication of this article.
The claim that sunflower seeds have no nutritional value is false. Sunflower seeds are an excellent source of vitamin E (an important anti-oxidant which is useful in the prevention of arthritis, heart disease, and other crippling conditions), magnesium (necessary for nerve and muscle growth), and selenium (which aids in cell repair and has been shown to help prevent cancers).
Sunflower seeds (like most nuts and seeds) are relatively high in fat so you do need to limit their quantity in your bird’s diet. While it’s true that there are other, healthier sources of the nutrients contained in sunflower seeds that makes little difference to your bird who may or may not be willing to eat the healthier foods.
Beware of Absolutes
Balance in all things is the key to a happier, healthier life for birds and people alike. When you hear someone say that something is always good or always bad, be skeptical – especially when it comes to nutrition. What we feed our birds is obviously important, but so is their quality of life. If your bird loves sunflower seeds let them have a few now and then. Better yet, use their love of sunflower seeds as a bonding, training or foraging opportunity. The more activity you associate with a treat they love the better. You and your bird will be happier and healthier for it.
Why Sunflower Seeds Have a Dubious Reputation
As the presenter in the video above mentions, sunflower seeds were (at one time) a staple food for parrots – the reason being that they tend to go crazy for them and we humans didn’t know any better. As more research became available avian nutrition experts began to recognize that a diet based primarily on seeds is unhealthy for parrots. Note the use of the word “primarily” in that last sentence. We humans have a tendency to overreact – especially when it comes to things that might pose a danger to those we love – and that’s what we’ve done to the poor, unsuspecting sunflower seed.
Avian Nutrition Basics
What’s true for us is also true for our birds. Freshly prepared foods are best, but most of us have to rely on packaged foods because of the demands placed on us by jobs, families, community, and other factors. For us, a diet consisting of 60% pellets, 30% fresh or dehydrated vegetables and fruits, and 10% treats (like nuts and seeds) is a workable compromise that – combined with plenty of activity and attention from you – will give your birds their best chance at a long, healthy, and rich life.
Be mindful of what you do and do the best you can with the resources at your disposal, but don’t let it become an obsession. I bet your avian vet will agree.