Pet Bird Food: Seeds vs. Pellets

Janelle Leeson

Janelle Leeson

. Reviewed by Melissa Witherell, DVM
Updated Feb. 22, 2024
Parrot eating out of bowl

fjdelvalle/iStock / Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

Birds are fantastic companions, with some species being adaptable to various care conditions. However, regardless of the species, prioritizing the nutrition of your pet bird is essential. But what should pet birds eat—bird seed or bird pellets?

We’ve gathered tips on how to handle this issue. Ultimately, it's always best to consult your veterinarian for more specific recommendations based on the type of bird you have, their age, and any of their existing medical conditions.

Are Seeds Good for Pet Birds?

Simply put, seed diets aren’t a healthy choice for companion birds, nor do they offer all the vitamins and minerals your pet bird needs. “Seeds are high in fats and carbohydrates, which can lead to obesity, heart disease, and fatty liver disease,” says Catherine Gwyer, director of Greyhaven Exotic Bird Sanctuary.

If you really want to give your pet bird seeds, Gwyer says a small amount is OK as a treat for small birds like budgies. But bird seed isn’t recommended for larger birds such as African grey parrots, Amazon parrots, cockatoos, or macaws. 

Feeding your pet bird too many seeds doesn’t provide a well-balanced diet and can lead to malnutrition. Signs your bird may be malnourished include:

  • Weight loss

  • Dullness of feather color

  • Malformed feathers

  • Protruding keel bone

  • Lethargy

  • Droppings of unusual color or consistency

What Are Bird Pellets?

Bird pellets are formulated feeds containing nutritious ingredients for pet birds such as:

  • Corn

  • Psyllium

  • Soybeans

  • Peanuts

  • Kelp

  • Spirulina

  • Wheat

  • Ground vegetables and fruits

The exact formula and size of the pellets vary, based on the bird species it's intended for.

Are Bird Pellets Good for Pet Birds?

Pellet bird foods are a good source of vitamins and minerals and can provide your bird with all the nutrition they need. But who likes to eat the same things day after day? Certainly not your bird, says Robert Lewis, co-founder and outreach director for Northeast Avian Rescue in Upstate New York.

“We don’t typically provide supplements unless directed by a veterinarian,” Lewis explains. Instead, the rescue offers its birds fruits, vegetables, and grains in addition to their pellet meal. “We make various kinds of ‘chop,’ which are combinations of all sorts of healthy ingredients, allowing each bird to pick out what they like,” he says.

Gwyer recommends feeding pet birds a diet consisting of:

  • Up to 10% seed

  • 60–70% pellets

  • 20–30% fresh food

Always research any potentially toxic foods before introducing them to your bird's diet.

How to Transition to Bird Pellets

Lewis says some birds readily eat or transition to pellet diets, while others may resist the change for months. "Because they're prey animals, birds are wired to fear anything they don't know," he explains. "So, for many birds, the first time they encounter pellets they think, ‘That’s going to kill me!’”

Dramatic as they may be, Lewis assures that you can successfully transition a bird to a healthy pellet diet by:

  1. Allowing the bird to observe another bird companion in the home eating pellets, which can persuade them to do the same.

  2. Introducing pellets gradually, incorporating them into the bird's diet alongside their usual food.

Over time, as the birds realize the pellets are safe (and tasty), they are more likely to willingly eat them.

If your bird is not eating a complete and balanced diet or is resisting the transition to pellets, talk to your veterinarian about important ways to ensure your bird is getting the nutrition they need.

What's the Best Bird Food?

The best food for your pet bird depends on their species and overall health. It’s always best to consult your vet when choosing the best food for your pet.

Keeping this in mind, Gwyer typically looks for pellet bird foods free from dyes and with minimal or no preservatives, requiring refrigeration for optimal freshness, such as:

Don’t be discouraged if your bird appears to be playing with their food rather than eating it. “Birds have fun with their food and will often toss it,” says Lewis. “This is normal and is no indication that the bird actually dislikes the food.”

Janelle Leeson


Janelle Leeson

Freelance Writer

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