What nuts can parrots eat?
It has to be one of the most common questions parrot people have.
We know that parrots love nuts, so it’s tempting to reward them with an abundance of them.
But like most good things in life, there’s a downside and if we want our parrots to maintain good health then a big dose of moderation and caution is required when it comes to delicious nuts.
Not surprisingly, and like most other things regarding birds, there’s so much conflicting information out there regarding particular nuts and nuts on the whole. It can make it difficult for a caring parrot guardian to have confidence that we’re doing the right thing for our beloved birds.
In general: for the majority of parrot species, nuts are considered a treat or very small part of the diet. Most nuts that are parrot-safe are also high in fat and the recommendation is that they are fed sparingly.
In addition to obesity, a diet high in nuts can lead to severe nutritional deficiencies that a parrot should be acquiring from other healthy food sources like vegetables.
Fat Content of Nuts
Excess weight in a parrot is dangerous.
As it is, most captive parrots burn nowhere near the calories that their wild counterparts do each day, and as a result, they do not need to consume as much food.
But it’s not just the quantity of food – quality is just as important. When it comes to nuts, their high fat content is something we really need to be aware of when considering these tasty treats as part of any parrot’s diet.
Over half of the calories in nuts is made up of various fats, and different types of nuts obviously contain different fat levels.
The table below shows the total fat in grams per one ounce of each of the most common nuts that we consider feeding to birds. Note these are raw, not roasted, not blanched, unsalted nuts only – the only type that should ever be given to parrots.
This includes all types of fats: saturated, mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated.
|Total Fat (grams) per ounce
Sources: US Department of Agriculture and California Almonds
As you can see, the nut with the highest proportion of fats is the Macadamia, and the lowest fat nuts being the cashews and pistachio.
Fat is of course just one part of the equation when it comes to nutrients. But it’s one that parrot owners do need to pay a lot of attention due to the risk of obesity and associated serious health problems that come with having a bird that is overweight.
Other nutritional aspects to consider with nuts include the protein content, carbohydrates and the various vitamins and minerals like potassium, magnesium and calcium.
Quick Facts about Nut Nutrition
- Out of the nuts listed in the table above, the one with the highest magneium content is the Brazil nut.
- The Pistachio has the highest level of potassium, while almonds are the richest in calcium and dietary fiber.
- Almonds are also the most protein rich nut, just slightly ahead of pistachio. Macadamia (the highest fat nut) has the lowest protein content of all the listed nuts.
- Trace minerals zinc and copper are found in tiny amounts in all the nuts, with cashews having the highest levels.
Hazelnuts come from hazel trees in the genus Corylus, and are simply the kernel of the seed of these trees. Corylus avellana is the common hazel tree that is cultivated specifically for these nuts.
But are they good for parrots and what nutritional benefits do they have?
Hazelnuts are rich in protein, while also being high in unsaturated fats, like many nuts.
This is why nuts are recommended as only a small part of a healthy diet for captive parrots.
There are important nutrients found in hazelnuts, such as manganese, magnesium copper, vitamin E and thiamine.
Hazelnuts are sold as either raw or roasted, and many are salted, while others are completely natural (raw and unsalted). Parrots should never be given salted nuts.
Raw, unsalted, unroasted hazelnuts are safe for parrots. Organic is best.
However considering their high fat content, like many nuts, most species of parrots can be fed hazelnuts as a treat food or small part of the diet.
Unsalted, raw, human grade pistachio nuts are safe for parrots to eat.
Organic shelled pistachios (raw and unsalted) such as those from Braga Organic Farms give bigger beaks a chance to crack open the nut, but because the best pistachios will ripen and start to split open on the tree, when you buy quality shelled pistachio nuts they’ll usually be in a partially opened state.
Raw pistachio kernels can be bought raw and unsalted, like the ones from Fiddyment Farms
Salted pistachios, like all salted nuts and food, are absolutely unsafe and unhealthy for parrots. All salted foods should be out of reach of parrots.
Storing Pistachio Nuts Safely
Like all oily nuts, pistachios will go rancid if stored in hot, humid conditions. Refrigeration or a cool dry cabinet are ideal for nut storage.
Growing your own Pistachios for Parrots
Pistachio trees originally grew in the middle east, which provides some idea as to their preferred climate. This is a plant of the desert, but that doesn’t mean you can’t grow it if you live somewhere that is not desert-like. The basic requirements for growing your own pistachio trees include:
- Pistachio plants like well drained saline soil (soluble salts can be used to water the plants)
- The trees can cope with wide ranging temperatures from -10 °C (14 °F) in winter and 48 °C (118 °F) during summer
- A sunny spot is required for best growth of pistachio plants
- Root rot can set in where the soil doesn’t drain well and if the plants receive too much water in colder weather
- Pistachio trees will perform at their best, and product the best fruit (nuts) in locations that have long and hot summers, as this allows the fruit to ripen well
In the US, pistachios are grown in locations such as California and Utah. In Australia, most pistachio farms are located in the drier and hotter parts of the states of Victoria and South Australia.
By knowing where pistachios grow well and where most farms are located in your country, you can gain some idea of whether you might be able to provide these trees with similar conditions yourself at home.