Parrots seem to know by instinct what we are only now discovering–that is, that nuts are one of the most nutritious gifts of nature. Nuts are an excellent source of protein, fiber, vitamin E, magnesium, zinc, selenium, copper, potassium, phosphorus, biotin, riboflavin, niacin, and phytochemicals. Nuts are a food that energize.They are oily kernels within a hard-shelled fruit.
Technically nuts are a few different things. Almonds and pistachios are fruits, peanuts are a legume and pine nuts and Brazil nuts are seeds. Due to high fat content, they are an excellent energy source but should be fed in moderation as not to pack on extra grams.
For captive parrots that are not nearly as active compared to their wild cousins, nuts should be used sparingly. Take into consideration your parrot’s species and also how active each individual parrot is. A large Macaw that is moderately active could probably have up to 6 nuts a day, where as an inactive Amazon that sits on the perch most all day may only get 1/2-1 almond or cashew. If eaten in excess, fats challenge the liver.
WHY BIRDS NEED FATS
Birds need the three essential unsaturated fatty acids (linolenic, linoleic, and arachidonic acids) or EFAs, to keep their skin and feathers healthy, among other benefits. Essential fatty acids require Vitamin E for absorption and nuts provide it in the proper balance. Every living cell in a bird’s body needs essential fatty acids for rebuilding and producing new cells. EFAs are used to produce prostaglandins, hormone-like substances that act as chemical messengers and regulators of various body processes. The two basic categories of EFAs are Omega-3 and Omega-6 which contain linoleic and linolenic acids. These are found primarily in raw nuts, seeds and legumes.
In addition to providing energy, fats act as carriers for the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, all important to the health of parrots. Fats aid in the absorption of vitamin D which helps to make calcium available to body tissues. Fats also are important for the conversion of carotene to vitamin A, a most important vitamin for the health of parrots.
Fats are especially important to parrots housed outside in the cooler northern climates because a layer of fat insulates the body from environmental temperature changes and preserves body heat. Nutrient-dense nuts are the healthiest form of fats to offer birds for the purpose of creating and maintaining body heat in cold weather.
Because of the sedentary lifestyle of captive birds, nuts cannot be offered in unlimited quantities, but it would be a mistake to deprive parrots entirely of this natural food source because of outdated attitudes toward all fats. It is far better to provide our birds a means of exercise in order to work off calories than to avoid feeding foods that contain good fats–remember that all fats are not created equal! Birds were designed to consume high-calorie foods such as nuts and to burn the calories through physical activity, such as flying. In captivity, moderate caloric intake and moderate exercise are far better than low calorie diets and little or no exercise. The lack of exercise is likely to be the cause of many of the physical and psychological problems of captive birds. If given an energy-producing diet, as well as the opportunity to exercise, former “perch potatoes” will become more active, improving their quality of life and perhaps their longevity as well.
SAFE STORAGE OF NUTS
The importance of proper storage of nuts cannot be overemphasized because an extremely potent carcinogen, “aflatoxin”, one of the mycotoxins, is found on improperly stored nuts, corn and grains. According to the authors of AVIAN MEDICINE: PRINCIPLES AND APPLICATION, “Fatty degeneration and the feeding of feeds contaminated with mycotoxins causing aflatoxin hepatosis are likely to be involved in the high incidence of liver disease in birds. Peanuts and Brazil nuts are notorious sources of aflatoxins…”
Humidity is the biggest problem for those of us who stock up on whole nuts in the fall or when they go on sale after the holidays. The best way to store nuts is to leave them in their shells. The shells protect them from light, heat, moisture and exposure to air, all of which cause rancidity in shelled products. Unshelled nuts have a much longer shelf life than do shelled nuts, and will keep for several weeks at room temperature. For longer storage, nuts in the shell should be kept cool and dry to prevent flavor changes due to rancidity of the fat. Keep them below 70 degrees Fahrenheit in airtight, sealed plastic bags or in tightly closed containers. They will remain fresh for about six months in the refrigerator. The lower the storage temperature, the longer the shelf life of nuts will be. Nuts can be frozen if sealed in moisture-proof containers and they can be kept for a year or more.
A special note about peanuts
Peanuts are graded for aflatoxins by the FDA. Human grade peanuts cannot contain more than 20 ppb, but pet grade may possibly be as high as 200-300 ppb. If a person decides to feed the occasional peanut to a parrot, human grade roasted peanuts are suggested, but still discouraged. Parrots are said to be up to 200 times more sensitive to aflatoxins than humans.
For those of you who feed peanuts to your parrots, please be aware:
- Peanuts are often contaminated with aflatoxin, a fungal toxin. Aflatoxin is carcinogenic and causes liver damage in birds and other animals. It is often in the shell as well as in the peanut itself. Roasting peanuts reduces aflatoxin but does not eliminate it entirely.
- Peanuts with dark spots on them should be considered suspect; but even those that look clean and perfect could possibly be contaminated.
- Peanuts in nearly every commercial parrot/seed diet are not human-grade. Even feeding human grade/organic peanuts can be a health hazard to your bird. With better nutrition available to our birds in almonds, walnuts, pine nuts, pistachios, it is recommended that you leave peanuts out of your bird’s diet.
- If you cannot resist giving your parrot a peanut, then feed only out of shell, dry roasted and unsalted peanuts.
The Nutty Facts
- Almonds contain 165 calories and 6 grams of protein per ounce.
- Brazil nuts contain 184 calories and 4.1 grams of protein per ounce.
- Cashews contain 165 calories and 5 grams of protein per ounce.
- Chestnuts contain 70 calories per ounce. They contain 1 gram of protein per ounce.
- Hazelnuts contain 179 calories and 4.2 grams of protein per ounce.
- Hickory nuts contain 187 calories and 3 grams of protein per ounce.
- Macadamia nuts contain 199 calories and 2 grams of protein per ounce.
- Peanuts contain 167 calories and 7 grams of protein per ounce.
- Pecans contain 200 calories and 2.6 grams of protein per ounce.
- Pine nuts contain 146 calories and 3.9 grams of protein.
- Pistachios contain 170 calories and 6 grams of protein per ounce.
- Walnuts contain 180 calories and 4.3 grams of protein per ounce.