Parakeets have eclectic tastes, and can eat a wide variety of readily-available seeds, greens, vegetables, and fruit. The key is balance, which is why many owners opt for a good mix of dry and sprouting seeds, and use the fresh foods as add-ons. If sourcing your own individual ingredients, or checking the contents of a seed mix, use the following lists as guidance. Always go for organic produce, as chemical residues can be harmful to parakeets. Equally important, never mix your own parakeet food without expert advice.
Parakeet seed needs to be fresh, and owners need to be aware that store-bought seed has a limited shelf life. Once the use-by date has passed, the nutrients will have disappeared too. Seed exposed to direct light or too much heat suffers the same leaching of goodness. It's always a good idea to ask around – on pet forums online and local parakeet breeders - to see what the best available mix is in your neighborhood. Or, of course, you can always buy online.
If you are not sure how old a batch of seed is, soak some of it in water for six hours, and then place the drained seeds on wet cotton wool or kitchen paper, and leave them in a warm place for 24 hours. After this time, at least 50% of the seeds should be sprouting. A really good batch will show 80-100% sprouting. If nothing happens after 36 hours, and if you’re sure the seeds were kept moist throughout (essential for germination), you’ve got a dead batch of food that will leave your parakeets malnourished.
All parakeets need a high quality, fresh seed mix
Seeds and grains are the parakeet's main food in the wild, and should make up 50% of your pet bird’s intake. Wheat, barley, rye, and oats are all derived originally from wild grasses, and these can be included in a seed mix as fresh, in the form of threshed (hulled) grains. Pearl barley and rolled oats are not suitable, and nor are grain-based breakfast cereals (which are usually more sugar than grain). Anything roasted, soaked, baked, boiled, or cooked in some other way is unsuitable too. Oats can be offered as sprays, giving the parakeet some hard but pleasurable work getting through the tough husk to the grain beneath.
A selection of parakeet-friendly grains
Parakeet-Friendly Grains: a List
- Buckwheat (whole)
- Canary seed
- Sweetcorn kernels
Parakeet Grass Seeds
Grass seed (which includes the grains mentioned above) should make up 50% of your parakeets' food. Only feed wild grass seeds if you are 100% sure they are suitable. Some available wild seeds such as Cockspur grass, (barnyard grass), Barnyard millet, Japanese millet (Water grass) can accumulates high levels of nitrates, and have been known to poison livestock. There are no general warnings in relation to pet birds, but there is evidence that once they reach a few inches in height, these foods are positively toxic for parakeets due to the nitrates.
Parakeet Herb Seeds
Herb-derived seeds should form a quarter of a good seed mix. You don’t necessarily need many of the following parakeet-friendly seeds in any given mix.
A gourmet parakeet eyes up the seeds on offer
- Mustard (yellow, red, and black)
- Red Clover
Parakeet Oily Seeds
Parakeets love oilseeds, in the same way kids love junk food - and with the same health warnings! Their oiliness makes them the parakeet equivalent of burger and fries, so keep them to a minimum – no more than 10% of the overall seed mix.
Oilseeds do not store well, so only buy them in small quantities. After three months they will be rancid.
Millet, hemp, niger and rape are actually grains, strictly speaking, but they’re included in the following list due to their high fat content.
- Flax (not suitable for sprouting – they acquire a slimy surface that parakeets don’t like)
- Hemp (slightly crushed, to crack the tough husks)
- Niger (or Nyjer)
- Pumpkin (soaked and allowed to germinate first)
The legumes include lentils, peas, and beans. They should be served whole (not split) and sprouting, not hard and dry. They are packed full of protein, so serve them sparingly - an excess of protein gives parakeets the urge to breed. This is handy if you want your birds to breed, but it's asking for trouble otherwise!
Note: many beans are toxic for parakeets, so never experiment with anything not listed below.
- Adzuki beans
- Black-eyed peas
- Chickpeas (Garbanzo)
- Green peas
- Lentils (all types)
- Mung beans
- Yellow peas
Parakeet Food Pellets
Pellets provide a rounded diet, but it’s one that most parakeets find unpalatable unless they’ve never been given the chance to eat anything else. They were popular with parakeet owners in the US in the 1980s and 90s, based on the mistaken belief (false news?) that seed-based diets lacked essential minerals such as calcium and iron, whereas pellets offered a complete nutritional solution. This is simply not true. A mixture of seed and fresh foods, with a mineral block to nibble, is the perfect parakeet diet. Furthermore, most parakeets find the pellets unpalatable, unless they are fed on them from an early age.
Parakeet food pellets
The pellets are not harmful, though, and it's true that they provide a nutritionally complete diet. But with a diet of seeds, fresh food and a mineral block, the birds have food that is more tactile and interesting, so you simply don’t need pellets. Claims that a pellet diet can lengthen a bird’s life should be treated with the cynicism they deserve.