Recently people have been showing a lot of interest in sprouting for their parrots, which we love because it is something we have been recommending for years. Of course there are a lot of “how to do it” questions…but also “why to do it” - so let’s start there.
It would be reasonable for you to wonder why you should bother going to to the extra effort of sprouting when you are already feeding your bird vegetables on a daily basis.
The answer is very simple: sprouts offer more nutrition than any other fresh food you serve your bird.
Why? That’a little more complicated…
It starts with our food supply chain. When you go to the store to buy fresh produce it has already been on a long journey:
From harvesting, to processing, to a warehouse. Then it is trucked to another warehouse at its city of destination. From there it is distributed to supermarkets where customers eventually purchase it, where it might sit in their fridge until they use it.
Every day that passes there is an exponential amount of nutritional degradation. This is the normal supply chain for our fresh foods - it is not related to covid disruptions.
The sprouts we grow ourselves have been through none of this. Since they are very much alive there is 0% nutritional loss…they retain their full nutrition BECAUSE they are still alive. Your bird is literally eating a living plant. It can’t get any healthier than that.
HOW TO SPROUT is a tougher question to answer.
Mung Beans in Sprouting Jar
Since there is so much variety in what can be sprouted (like beans, seeds, grasses, micro-greens etc) and so many different sprouters that are available - it is impossible to say definitively “this is the way to sprout”. Every company will have their own method that works for the sprouting vessels they sell.
For those new to sprouting it is probably best that you decide what you want to sprout and look for a sprouter based on that. Pick something that fits both your budget and your countertop (or wherever you will keep it-different sprouts have different light requirements) and if you are feeling insecure about your ability to do this, look for that company’s tutorial for that sprouter. If they don’t have one, maybe consider looking elsewhere…there are a lot of start-up companies since the pandemic that may or may not have worked out the bugs in their products.
Hamama Sprouting Tray - Ceramic Edition (Jamie's Favorite)
While we can’t advise you on how to grow your sprouts we can definitely tell you what NOT to do:
- Avoid bacteria growth. Keep in mind that the conditions under which bacteria thrives are warmth and moisture…sprouts are growing in your house at room temperature and there is water involved. Follow the food safety instructions with your sprouter. Seed and bean spouters will typically have you rinsing often throughout the sprouting process. This is not an optional step. Sprouts using a growing medium only require that you wash the greens after trimming them just above the soil line.
- Clean your sprouting equipment. Your sprouter can harbor bacteria that will transfer to your sprouts.
- Shop for sprouting seeds wisely. Always purchase from a reputable company that specializes in sprouting products. Any sprouting seed sold for consumption will be safe for your parrot. You especially don’t want anything that has been treated or is not intended for sprouting. It is most people’s experience that store bought dried beans will not sprout - don’t waste your time. Always thoroughly rinse your seeds and beans before sprouting.
- Store your harvested sprouts properly. Most people don’t realize that if you store them in the refrigerator under the right conditions they will remain alive - often for a couple of weeks. After you have washed your harvested sprouts, lay them out to dry on cloth or paper towels. If you have a salad spinner use that first - the drier the better. The thing that kills your sprouts the fastest is lack of air circulation. Oddly, they suffocate. Don’t store them in water or seal them shut in plastic containers or ziplock bags. Put them in a bowl covered with plastic and punch holes in the top or something that allows them to breathe. Your sprouts can also freeze in your fridge (yes, even in temperatures above 32°F/0°C) so avoid placing them in the coldest parts of the fridge (especially if still damp) and keep them away from air blowers.
HOW AND HOW OFTEN TO FEED sprouts to parrots is another topic to tackle.
Sprouts are beneficial and safe for all parrot species - even the nectar eating lories and lorikeets - but they can be over-served under certain circumstances. Let me explain…
During germination, which is simply what happens to a seed when sprouting, enzymes are produced that breaks down the starches (in a process known as “predigestion”) which makes the nutrients much more readily available and quickly dispersed. For this reason, sprouts are referred to as a quick energy food.
Normally this is a good thing but when continually served combined with any commercial products that are vitamin fortified (seed mixes/pellets) it can be a problem for parrots. Eventually your bird will develop hypervitaminosis (AKA toe-tapping) which is a neurological issue that causes jerky, reflexive and repetitive foot motions that are pretty scary to witness. It is simply the response to an overload of vitamins in the system and is easily rectified by eliminating or reducing the sprouts or the vitamin fortification without having any long term effects. It is not a reason not to sprout but something to be managed appropriately.
It is fine to serve additional sprouts with the seasonal feeding system - just a sprinkling. Sprouts are a powerhouse nutritionally and a bird will not require a lot to gain the benefits.
Q: Since we are supposed to cook beans to eliminate toxins, do we have to cook sprouted beans?
A: No. The pre-digestion process in sprouting deactivates the lectins (toxins) in beans.
Q: Which are the healthiest types of sprouts for parrots?
A: The answer is: all of them. Sprouting tends to enhance or fix some of the seed or legumes qualities - such as increasing vitamins and minerals or reducing cholesterol. Sprouting makes them a better version of themselves.
They all have different benefits that we should explore but among my favorites for parrots are chia seeds for their omegas 3s and the high calcium and magnesium, wheatgrass which is high in vitamins C and E and high in antioxidants, pea shoots as a great source of vitamins K, C and A and mung beans for their antioxidants and general heart healthiness.
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.