Did you ever wonder why your parakeet starts chirping louder and moving around excitedly when you put bird seed in the feeder?
That’s because parakeets (also known as budgerigars or budgies) are programmed by Mother Nature to feed on seeds.
Wild Parakeets Diet is mostly seeds
Wild parakeets live in the interior of Australia. When you get more than a few miles from the coast, the Australian landscape becomes dry grassland.
The seeds of these grasses lie dormant in the ground most of the year waiting for the flooding rains of summer.
Torrents of moisture bring them to life, and they grow about 3 feet tall. Then they put out a seed head and die.
Parakeets feed on those seeds. They time the laying of their eggs, so their hatchlings leave the nest when the grasses have the most seeds.
The high-fat, high-carb seeds give them the energy they need to gain as much possible for a long dry season ahead.
For parakeets, weed seeds are like a combination of an energy bar and chocolate.
It doesn’t surprise anyone that parakeets love bird seed. In the wild, seed us a very large part of what they eat.
But it’s impossible to eat seeds grown on plants in the Australian outback without picking up some unexpected nutrients.
In the Wild, Seeds aren’t just Seeds for Parakeets
In Australia, the most common plant is a weed called Mitchell grass. This plant is also known by its botanical name, Astrebla.
Parakeets dine on its seeds everywhere they find them.
The outback also supports wild oats, canary grass, spinifex, and Tussock grass.
Parakeets eat their seeds in smaller amounts. In parakeets, these plants establish a connection between food and mood that keeps the birds alive.
Wild oats contains compounds that help the brain deal with stress. There is a lot of stress for tiny birds that have to fly as far as 30 miles between meals in the dry season.
English scientists have found Canary grass seed is a natural source of tiny amounts of the psychedelic drug DMT (N,N-dimethyltryptamine), which has effects similar to “magic mushrooms.” (We do not suggest that you start eating canary grass seed yourself for this effect.)
Scientists do know that eating canary grass seed causes information to flow from the bird’s thinking brain down rather than from the bird’s habit-keeping brain up. Eating canary grass seeds stimulates parakeets to look for more.
The prestigious medical journal Lancet published a study that found that spinifex contains natural pain relievers.
And scientists have demonstrated that Tussock grass hosts a kind of bacteria on its seeds that makes an antidote for aflatoxin, a poison made by molds that grow on dry plants.
We all know that parakeets are brilliant singers and mimics.
But this tiny bird also knows how to fly around and find herbal remedies for stress, mental fatigue, pain, and poisons.
The seeds parakeets eat in the wild do much, much more than just provide calories for flying.
Parakeets will also Eat Berries, Bugs, and Dirt
Parakeets in the wild eat all the seeds they can. They need the energy for the hours of flying they do to find food and water.
In good conditions, however, parakeets will also eat berries and bugs. Parakeets forage for seeds on the ground.
Berries sometimes fall to the ground, providing parakeets with some variety in their diets. Parakeets are more interested in the seed inside the berry than the fleshy part of the berry, however.
Parakeets also sometimes eat bugs. Tiny insects get scooped with seeds. Weevils infesting grass seeds, for example, will get eaten along with the grass seed.
These tiny insects provide complete amino acids for building proteins. They are a good source of vitamin B12 and vitamin D. And as we mentioned earlier, some seeds host probiotic bacteria.
Parakeets eat small amounts of dirt and rocks. These hard materials stay in the parakeet’s gizzard, where they act as the bird’s “teeth.” Fine grit, gravel, hard dirt, and tiny rocks help parakeets break down hard seed coats to digest the kernel inside.
Except during nesting season, parakeets lead a nomadic lifestyle searching for food and water.
They can go for days and even weeks without drinking water because they get it from the food they eat. (You should still provide your pet parakeet with clean, fresh water twice a day, however.)
When parakeets find a large water source, such as a seasonal pond or large puddles, they may decide it’s time to start a family. That is, if they can find a nesting site in an old eucalyptus tree with holes in its trunk.
With a little effort, you can find these seeds for your parakeet. Wild oats grow across most of the continental United States.
It is wild crafted and sold in herb stores. Canary grass seed is part of many premium bird seed blends for parakeets. Spinifex seed is available from seed savers’ exchanges.
You can buy Tussock grass seed as an ornamental. (Don’t feed your parakeet seeds from garden stores. They are treated with chemicals. Harvest your own.)
You could give your parakeet an authentic diet, with a little effort, if you have some garden space. So, why is it that bird seed companies don’t use the seeds that birds naturally eat?
The Problem with Bird Seed
One of the tragic consequences of introducing a bird captured in the wild to captivity is starvation.
A wild parakeet confined in a display at a zoo or a large aviary still wants its usual foods. If bird keepers provide it with strange foods, it won’t necessarily eat them.
It’s not unheard of for parakeets to starve because they were given a food they didn’t recognize.
Ordinary brands of bird seed use seeds of plants like corn and sorghum that are grown in enormous quantities in the United States.
A reporter bought samples of the leading brands of bird seed in the US and counted the seeds. From most abundant to least abundant, the seeds in the a “premium” bird seed blend were:
- Black oil sunflower, 43% by weight.
- White millet, 29%.
- Cracked corn, 14%.
- Black oil sunflower, 14%.
No parakeet in the wild ever eats these seeds. The reporter analyzed other brands and found 43% red milo in one and 42% black oil sunflower seed in another.
Parakeets don’t eat black oil sunflower seeds in the wild, but, as the taste test below will show, they at least like them.
When bird experts did a “taste test” of what parakeets like of the seeds commonly available in the USA, the rankings were:
- Canary seeds.
- Sunflower chips.
- Black oil sunflower.
- White millet.
- Thistle seed.
- Striped safflower.
- Cracked corn.
- Red milo.
The reporter also tested other products, but the bottom line is this:
Most commercial bird seed mixes leave out the seeds that parakeets like to eat.
If you get the Walmart brand that has a lot of black oil sunflower seed, they may eat the black oil sunflower seed and let the rest go to waste.
Your bird may suffer malnutrition because they are not interested in strange food.
There is a way to deal with this problem. By products that contain the ingredients parakeets like. These are:
- Canary seed.
- Black oil sunflower seed.
Skip products that are mostly milo or mostly corn. But supplement your parakeet’s diet with other foods that parakeets eat in the wild.
Fruits and Veggies for Your ParaKeet
It’s really difficult to pick the seeds out of a bird seed mix. Your bird will be happier if you spend the extra money to buy the seeds they really like, and won’t let them go to waste.
It’s OK not to give your parakeet a mostly-seed diet, like they eat in nature. Your bird may fly a few feet a day, certainly not 30 miles a day.
Fruits and vegetables will give your bird a balance of vitamins and minerals that can’t be found in bird seed.
And you will have fun experimenting with all sorts of fruits and vegetables to discover which ones your parakeet likes.
Healthy choices for parakeets include:
- Sliced bananas (No need to give the bird the peel)
- Any berry humans would eat, especially blackberries and blueberries
- Sliced raw beets
- Broccoli florets
- Sliced or shredded carrots
- Cauliflower florets
- Raw corn kernels
- Orange slices
- Grapefruit wedges
- Mango slices (no skin or peel, they’re toxic)
- Cucumber slices
- Yellow squash or zucchini slices
- Chunks of pineapple
- Shredded Swiss chard, cabbage, spinach, or kale
- Sliced peaches, plums, or pears, but never the pit. The pit of stone fruits contains amygdalin, which the body converts to cyanide
Give your parakeet a tablespoon, that is, about 15 grams, of five selections every day. Notice which foods get eaten, and offer them again.
Once you have discovered the foods your parakeet likes, you can offer them every day.
Of course, if you have a hop bush, an Australian plant that grows anywhere you can grow oleanders, your parakeet might be happy to eat a few of its berries.
Don’t get too many, because they are mildly toxic. They contain some compounds that are also found in soap.
You could offer your bird acorns, Brazil nuts, pistachios, or walnuts, all out of the shell, or sprouted green grasses, such as wheatgrass.
Sunflower sprouts and mung bean sprouts concentrate mineral nutrition for the birds and people that eat them.
Parakeets will enjoy occasional servings of dried mealworms or even food from your own table (no alcohol, avocados, or chocolate, but spicy foods are OK).
This leaves one more major food group for caged parakeets.
Pellets are ground seeds, fruit, and vegetables with nutritional supplements shaped into dry shapes that look like seeds.
They are designed to check all the boxes for vitamins, minerals, carbohydrate, protein, and fat that scientists believe will keep your parakeet healthy.
If you do a search for information about parakeets and pellets on the Internet, you will find dozens of references to “How to Force Your Parakeet to Eat Pellets” with comments like “I know this doesn’t look very appetizing, but it’s very healthy for your budgie.”
The typical advice is to add pellets slowly to your bird’s diet until eventually they are getting half their nutrients from pellets. Some “experts” will recommend more. Some will recommend less.
There is one important thing to remember about parakeets and pellets:
Pellets don’t do any good if parakeets don’t eat them.
If you keep finding uneaten pellets in your parakeet’s cage, offer a natural diet of about half seeds and half other whole foods.
It’s OK to include some mealworms for extra protein and fat.
How Do You Know Your Parakeet Needs a More Natural Diet?
Malnutrition in parakeets isn’t hard to recognize:
- Your parakeet may have one infection after another
- Tail feathers may be easily bent or broken
- The beak may look flaky
- Your parakeet may have cracks in its feet
- Sneezing followed by a clear discharge is a sign of malnutrition. Green or yellow discharge indicates infection
- Your parakeet’s poop maybe green and loose
- Your bird has swelling above or around the eyes
- Your parakeet may be underweight or overweight
- Your parakeet picks at its feathers
- Your parakeet stops singing
There are some things you can do that at least help your bird look better.
Making sure your bird has adequate opportunities for taking a birdbath at least keeps feathers in their best possible condition.
Red palm oil can provide your parakeet with energy. The omega-6 essential fatty acids in red palm oil help with some skin and feather conditions, even though they are “pro-inflammatory.”
Sometimes just moving your bird’s cage or aviary into a sunny location can make a huge difference in how your bird acts.
If that’s not possible, give your bird a vitamin D supplement in doses recommended on the label.
When your bird is sick, it’s only to give it some treats, but don’t forget the basics.
The closer your parakeet’s diet imitates the foods parakeets eat in nature, the happier and healthier it will be.
Other articles you may also like:
- Can Parakeets Eat Bananas?
- What’s the Difference Between a Parrot and a Parakeet?
- Can Parakeets and Finches Eat the Same Food?
- Can Parakeets Be Left Alone for a Few Days?
- Can Parakeets Live in Cold Weather?
- How to Attract Wild Birds to Your Backyard
- How to Tell Gender in Parakeets
- How to Prevent Mites in Parakeets?
- What Do Parrots Eat?
- Can Pet Birds Eat Wild Bird Food?
- 10 Human Foods Pet Birds Can Eat