February 1999 Magazine
Does this hypothetical advertisement interest you as a parrot owner?
"Wanted: Live, organic, taste-tempting food crop for parrots; must cost no more than twenty to forty cents per pound and must grow in a very limited space without soil, sunlight, or fertilizer; must be ready to harvest in less than a week; must contain abundant natural vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and protein."
Sprouts are the only food on the planet that meets these seemingly impossible requirements. The germinating seed is in the maximum growth phase of the immature plant. It has been described as "a chemical vitamin factory in high gear, cranking out antioxidants and chlorophyll, and repackaging minerals and trace elements in a more bio-available form." All of the stored food and enzymes needed for the growth of an entire new plant are mobilized as the seed sprouts. Protein, carbohydrates and fats are broken down (predigested) to free up amino acids, simple sugars and soluble compounds. Essential minerals such as calcium and magnesium are supplied by sprouts in chelated form for better assimilation.
If you have put off sprouting seeds, grains and legumes for your birds because you have heard warnings about dangerous fungal and bacterial contamination, it is time to give sprouting a second look. Sprouts are as safe as any other fresh food. There are natural preservatives that can be used to avoid the possibility of contaminated sprouts if you need reassurance of their safety. Detailed information will be included here.
MEDICINAL VALUE OF SPROUTS
Food that requires little or no energy for digestion is the perfect choice for parrots with acute or chronic health challenges. The life energy in fresh sprouts is thought to assist and stimulate the self-healing ability of humans and birds alike. Sprouts supply the body with high-quality nourishment that is used for fuel. Not only do they contain the many trace minerals, vitamins, and enzymes necessary for tissue repair, this "pre-digested food" frees the resources of the body from the task of digestion to speed up the metabolism and to overcome challenges to the immune system.
Sprouted seeds were valued for their healing and rejuvenating effects five thousand years ago by the Chinese Nobles. Today, we are becoming increasingly aware of the feasibility of eating fresh whole unadulterated foods. The trend toward organically-grown living foods is beginning to be recognized by mainstream food retailers. This is good news for all of us, but especially for the owners of only a few pet birds who now have the option of buying ready-to-serve sprouts. In most supermarkets a variety of sprouts are available including Chinese bean sprouts, alfalfa sprouts, and a sprout blend that includes radish, clover, peas, and other sprouts.
The latest ready-to-serve sprout on the market is broccoli. A study recently carried out at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine concluded that "Large quantities of inducers of enzymes that protect against carcinogens can be delivered in the diet by small quantities of young crucifer sprouts, that is, three day old broccoli sprouts that contain as much inducer activity as ten to a hundred times larger quantities of mature vegetables." A parrot could not easily consume the amount of broccoli or other mature Cruciferous vegetables required to deliver the important health benefits of a small quantity of broccoli sprouts. Many parrots also like the taste of these small but powerful anti-cancer plants. Of course, to obtain optimal benefits from sprouts, we need to grow our own. There are no guarantees regarding the length of time that supermarket sprouts have been on the shelf. Sometimes the long white Chinese bean sprouts have been treated with a mold inhibitor that is best avoided by humans and birds alike. Many bird owners who do use ready-to-serve sprouts rinse them in a citrus-based antibacterial solution before feeding them.
I have heard many stories of birds that have enjoyed an immense improvement in health after being given a better diet including sprouts. Here is one account by Donalee Hatfield: "I have been feeding sprouts for about two years. I use two mixes from different companies mixed together. I do this because I want to give my birds as many different types of sprouted items as possible. I have heard some people say that their birds did not like them, but I have yet to find a bird that did not take to them in just a day or two. It is the favored food of all my birds. I love them also because they are very easy to prepare and are a living food unlike anything else that we feed our birds. When I began to feed sprouts, I noticed an improvement in all my birds. They were on a good diet already (pellets, veggies, fruits, etc.) but they seem to have gotten an improved sheen to their feathers.
What brought me to sprouts in the first place was "Hopper" my cockatiel. He was given to me by a pet shop because his feet were deformed and he was very sick. He was on and off antibiotics for over six months. Even after he had been off antibiotics for a while, he just did not seem to be doing well. More than a few people, vets included, did not think Hopper would live very long. By this time I was in love with this little bird and was determined to find ways to help him. The first thing I found and tried was sprouts. I could see an increase in his activity level within a few days. He just seemed brighter. I had been giving him physical therapy to improve the movement in his legs but he had not improved much. He did not get around well at all. After about six weeks, he began to walk better. Soon after that, he was able to lift his leg to scratch his head for the first time ever! Hopper is now three years old. He is as healthy and happy as can be. He still cannot perch but do not feel bad for him because of this. He has no idea that there is anything imperfect about him and he is very spoiled and loved. He brightens our every day with his many words and sound effects. A day would not be complete without a cheery "Such a good bird" from my sweet Hopper."
FIRST SPROUTING EXPERIENCE
Here is how one parrot owner began making sprouts. Suzi Pilat says, "LJ, my Blue Front Amazon, eats organic fruit and veggies and since I have only had him for ten months and never have owned a parrot before, I read up very quickly on them. While reading a book on Amazons, I read that they love sprouts and that in the wild, they forage for these nutritious nuggets. So, I went to my local health food store and purchased a few different varieties there. The ones that LJ liked the most was a bean mixture of peas, lentils and adzuki beans. The sprouts are only about a quarter inch long. I later tried some sunflower sprouts and he really loved these, also. I read that they do not have to have long sprouts on them, as the nutritional benefits already start taking place when they start germinating. I also noticed that he would snip off the sprout and go for the inside. Seeing his love for the sprouts and knowing how healthy they are, I decided to buy a sprouter. The one I purchased was a very inexpensive one. The sprouting seeds and beans are also very inexpensive and for my Amazon, a real treat. I then purchased several different sprouting seeds to test. Some of the others that he likes are millet and barley. But his favorite is sunflower. I feed him sprouts daily, mostly in his morning breakfast mix of fresh fruits, carrots, sometimes birdy bread or granola, and he always goes for the sprouts first!"
JUST DO IT
Do not be put off by all of the conflicting directions on sprouting! The truth is that seeds will sprout with very little bother. It matters not whether you use sprouting jars, glass jars with mesh lids, sprouting pans, colanders, mesh bags, or elaborate automatic sprouting systems. Many people do prefer glass or stainless steel rather than plastic containers, but I never have had any problem with the plastic colanders that I like to use. The amount of soaking time and sprouting time are other aspects of sprouting that are very forgiving. Sprouts may be harvested in only one day or up to five days after the first tiny tail peeks from the end of the seeds. From a bird's eye view, they are best harvested and fed when the sprout first appears. This is when they are at their peak of nutritional value. After the fifth day of growth, the enzyme level of sprouts declines.
You may want to prove to yourself that your birds really will enjoy sprouts before you start. If so, before you go to bed tonight, place the seeds that you plan to feed your birds tomorrow in a colander and rinse very well. Then place them in a bowl or pan of pure water to soak overnight. The water level should be several inches over the top of the seeds. By morning, the seeds will have absorbed the water and plumped up to have a moist consistency much like fresh seeds. Rinse, drain until dry, and spread over the top of your bird's soft foods. Most birds show a definite preference for soaked seeds.
When you are ready to embark on your sprouting adventure, start with sunflower seeds, mung beans, lentils and wheat berries. Buy the seeds from a health food store and follow these easy directions for sprouting in a colander, a wide pan, or a glass jar with a mesh lid held in place by a rubber band. You may sprout one type of seed per container in order to become familiar with the amount of time that each requires to sprout, or you may sprout them all together.
Sprouts need moisture, proper temperature and adequate air circulation. As they grow, sprouts release carbon dioxide and other gasses and create waste that must be removed by rinsing. If sprouts ever have an objectionable odor or look moldy, discard them, sterilize the equipment, and begin again. Never feed questionable or spoiled sprouts to your birds. Sprouts smell earthy and should not have an objectionable odor. Leftover sprouts will keep for several days if refrigerated. Rinse and drain them daily until they are used.
- SELECT seeds that have been grown organically or that are free of harmful chemicals.
- MEASURE one half cup each of shelled sunflower seeds, mung beans, lentils and wheat berries. Measuring will become unnecessary once you become accustomed to sprouting.
- INSPECT and remove broken and damaged seeds which will not sprout and can cause spoilage.
- RINSE well until the water runs clear.
- SOAK overnight in pure water (and antibacterial solution if desired). Water level should be well above the top of the seeds to allow for swelling. Houseplants can benefit from the nutrients in the soak water.
- RINSE well in the morning.
- SPREAD seeds in colanders, glass jars, or pans and place in a dark, well-ventilated area.
- RINSE well several times a day.
- HARVEST when small tails appear, usually in one or two days.
- DRAIN UNTIL DRY before serving to your birds. Dry sprouts will continue to grow in your birds' dishes during the day instead of spoiling as wet or cooked foods often do.
If you have a surplus of sprouts, they can be dried in a dehydrator or in a warm oven. For the oven method, spread them on a cookie sheet and set the oven temperature at the lowest possible setting. When the sprouts are dehydrated or dry, store them in sealed Ziploc bags until you are ready to rehydrate them by using them in cooked soft food mixes or in birdie bread. Dried sprouts also can be served "as is" to birds.
TIPS FOR VARIOUS SPROUTS
Most seeds, grains and legumes can be soaked overnight but a few require less time as detailed here.
- Amaranth: Soak for only 2-4 hours. The very tiny seeds are likely to flow through the screen in the jar method; line the strainer with cotton cloth or paper towel to retain seeds. Sprouts can be bitter.
- Barley: Use only unhulled barley; "whole" hulled barley and pearled barley will not sprout. Hulls are tough but parrots do not mind.
- Buckwheat: Soak for one half hour only. Use raw buckwheat that is white, green, or light brown; unsproutable toasted buckwheat is medium brown.
- Field corn: Soak for 12-18 hours. Very hard corn and slow to germinate, but a favorite of most parrots.
- Popcorn: Soak for 12-18 hours. Popcorn sprouts are very sweet. The use of popcorn saves washing several times as required to clean most field corn.
- Millet: Unhulled millet is the best sprouter.
- Oats: Must use unhulled oats. So-called "whole oats" or oat groats will not sprout.
- Rice: Only brown, unprocessed rice will sprout.
- Rye: If it molds, discard immediately; (ergot mold possible).
- Triticale: Cross between rye and wheat.
- Wheat, including Kamut and Spelt: Hard Winter wheat sprouts better than soft Spring wheat.
- Almonds: Soak 8-12 hours. Use only unblanched almonds. Sprouting and storage time should not exceed two days or sprouts may turn rancid. Most almonds do not actually develop a sprout as such, but merely swell. One of the tastiest soaked seeds, especially loved by eclectus parrots!
- Cabbage and Kale: Very strong flavored sprouts. Can also be grown into greens.
- Fenugreek: Slightly bitter, fenugreek sprouts are a good digestive aid, good for the liver, and good for clearing up mucus conditions.
- Mucilaginous seeds: flax, psyllium, and chia: Soak 2-4 hours. Can be sprouted alone but require a special clay saucer. Sprouts are not very appealing to most people, but birds do enjoy them.
- Mustard: Available in three forms: black, brown, yellow. Brown seeds are smaller and harder to handle in mixtures; yellow or black recommended for mixtures. Can grow as greens also.
- Teff: Soak 4 hours. Teff is a tiny brown grain usually found at health food stores. If not, ask the store to order them. Specify whole grain. Makes a small sweet sprout that parrots adore.
- Pumpkin: True sprouting (developing a root) by pumpkin seeds is quite rare. Bacterial spoilage and rancidity can be a problem when you try to sprout them. Best to simply soak them and feed.
- Radish: Very hot flavor much loved by parrots!
- Sesame: Soak 2-4 hours. Must use unhulled sesame seeds for sprouting. Sesame sprouts are delicious at one day but continue to grow while refrigerated and start to get bitter by the second day.
- Sunflower: Use hulled or unhulled, black oil or grey striped sunflower seeds. They have an earthy flavor and are very popular in the aviary.
- Quinoa: Soak 2-4 hours. Very fast sprouter. White and black quinoa are available. This has become a favorite sprouting food of many aviculturists. Alan Lipsig says of quinoa: "I usually set it up for sprouting before I go to bed, 1/3 grain to 2/3 water, and by the time I wake up, the water is gone and the container is full of hairs (new sprouts). When I feed, I mix my soak with chopped fresh, and spread some sprouts on each bowl. My birds seem to like it, but they're raised on fresh from the time they start eating on their own."
- Adzuki beans: Easiest to sprout of all beans.
- Alfalfa and Clover: Use cotton cloth, stack trays, jar, or colander with paper towels to avoid tiny seeds falling through. Soak 2-4 hours. Alfalfa and clover are most commonly grown as sprouted greens.
- Garbanzo beans or chick peas: Make enough to feed birds only one day at a time as they spoil quickly. Many birds prefer mung bean sprouts but most Eclectus parrots have a definite preference for sprouted Garbanzo beans or chick peas.
- Lentils, brown, green and red: The brown and green lentils come in a variety of sizes; the smaller sizes generally sprout faster. Red lentils are usually sold in split form and for sprouting you must buy whole lentils. Lentil sprouts have a spicy flavor and are relished by parrots.
- Mung beans: This is a favorite sprout of most parrots and people too.
NOTE: Many people have fed all of the beans in their sprouted form without problem. However, large raw beans such as Anasazi, Black, Fava, Kidney, Lima, Navy, Pinto, and Soy can cause problems of toxicity and digestive upsets for people and perhaps for birds. Except for soy sprouts (edible raw if grown long enough), these beans should be cooked to be digestible and are not recommended for general sprouting purposes. Soy sprouts, however, are high in isoflavones, SOD (superoxide dismutase), a very powerful and important antioxidant with essential fatty acids and lecithin.
With ordinary measures of safe food handling and hygiene, sprouts will grow without the risk of fungal contamination. If this is of concern to you though, Grapefruit Seed Extract (Citricidal by Nutribiotic or Agrisept) can be used to prevent fungal contamination. To make a solution for soaking seeds and beans before sprouting, use one tablespoon of GSE per gallon of pure water. To rinse sprouts, soak them briefly in a GSE solution and drain.
Sprouting in soil will produce sunflower "greens," buckwheat greens, fresh pea shoots, or wheat and barley greens. These greens provide variety and a good change from the usual supermarket variety of greens. They sometimes are available in health food stores ready-to-serve. Here are the easy directions for growing nutritious greens in a limited space:
Fill large trays with drainage holes two thirds full of pesticide and chemical-free potting soil. Soak wheat berries for eight hours, peas, buckwheat or sunflower seeds for twelve to eighteen hours and spread loosely over the surface of the soil. Water well and cover with plastic with one side unsealed for ventilation. Water daily with a fine mist. After three days uncover the trays and place them in indirect sunlight or bright indoor light for five to eight days. The crop will be five or six inches tall. Keep the soil moist and cut as needed while the plants are young and tender.
Besides sunflower, buckwheat, pea, wheat, and barley greens, soil sprouting lends itself well to oats, rye, kamut, spelt, triticale, kale, snow peas, cabbage, fennel, mustard and amaranth. Just as regular sprouting can be done indoors in very little space, so can soil sprouting. With a series of shelves and a source of light, crops can be rotated to give parrots a smorgasbord of the most neglected component of the diet they would enjoy in the wild--fresh greens!
Whether we sprout in the traditional manner or grow sprouted greens by using small amounts of soil, our birds will display the benefits in shinier feathers, brighter eyes, more energy, and higher production in breeding birds. There is no doubt that healthier parrots are more likely to be successful breeders. Fruits and vegetables certainly are an important component of the diet of parrots, but once they are harvested, they start to lose nutritional value. By the time they reach our grocer's shelves, they may have traveled half a continent or more and their freshness and nutritional value is questionable. However, sprouts can be fed as they continue to grow and maintain their high level of nutritional value until they are eaten. If you want to add just one powerful food to the diet of your parrots, sprouts are without a doubt your best choice. There is no good reason not to provide your birds this powerhouse of nutrition that is so natural to their diet in the wild. Sprouting is easy--JUST DO IT!
Winged Wisdom Note: Carolyn Swicegood is a devoted fan of Eclectus parrots. Her aviary, The Land of Vos, specializes in the Vosmaeri subspecies. Carolyn has written for a variety of magazines and currently serves as Associate Editor of "Watchbird" magazine published by the American Federation of Aviculture.
A pet bird ezine, pet bird e-zine, for pet parrots & exotic birds. Cockatoo Parrot picture courtesy of Glasgow Enterprises
Articles on the care & breeding of pet birds, pet parrots & exotic birds
Birds n Ways Home Winged Wisdom Home
Copyright © 1999 Birds n Ways All rights reserved.
Page design: Carol Highfill ---- Last update: February 1, 1999
Cockatoo Parrot picture courtesy of Glasgow Enterprises