Supplementing Our Hookbills' Nutrition with Sprouts

Published: January 1995, Caged Bird Hobbyist

Psittacine Breeding & Research Farm
Box 13, Point Arena, CA 95468 USA
PH: (213) 819-1723

We raise macaws, conures, some cockatoos and Amazons. Many bird keepers feed seeds as a major part of their birds' total diet. We annually use about 5,000 pounds of seeds so why not find a way to get the most value from those seeds both nutritionally and monetarily?

We believe that sprouting seeds makes them even healthier for our birds-a sprouted seed is more digestible, less fattening and more nutritious than it was in its dry, dormant stage. We are also adding variety to the bird's diet in this way.

A seed is not unlike an egg-seeds contain nutrients that are stored until they have optimum conditions to germinate and grow into a new plant. Sprouting releases dormant energy and vitamins. The endosperm of a seed contains a supply of oils, proteins and carbohydrates necessary for growth. A see lives on its own nutrients when it is sprouting until its roots are mature enough to absorb nutrients from the soil. If you harvest your sprouts before the plant consumes its own vitamin "storehouse", the birds can use all this extra energy.

Sprouts contain proteins, making them very suitable for nestling food (via the parent birds). Some proteins are converted into amino acids in the sprouting process. Starches are converted into simple sugars which provide quick energy. Enzymes are also created. Enzymes are necessary for good health. Humans get most of their enzymes from fresh vegetables. Where does your bird get them if it won't eat its greens?

A seed contains an endosperm, a plumule, and cotyledons (see illustration). The endosperm contains the nourishment for the embryo and surrounds the embryo of the seed. The plumule, in botanical terms, is the little seed "bud" enclosed by the cotyledons are, in the embryo, a seed leaf. this is the earliest leaf growing from a seed, and it serves to nourish the elementary plant.

Sprouting is simple and can be done by just about anyone, anywhere, anytime, unless you have dead seeds. Seeds are available from health food stores, feed stores, farmers cooperatives, grocery stores, seed catalogs and nurseries. They have a long shelf life if stored properly. Many seeds are viable for three to 10 years-some wheat seeds have been kept up to 30 years and still sprouted. I recently read in National Geographic about some rare melon seeds that were cached in a cave along the Colorado River, here in Arizona, that are being cultivated. It was a common practice for our pre-historic native peoples to store seeds, too.


Use glass jars or heavy plastic containers to store your seeds, and put them in a dark, cool, dry cupboard. Do not store in a hot location. Label the containers with the date and the name of the company where you purchased the seed. If a particular type of seed seems expensive, buy a little and sprout it before investing in a lot. Seeds like alfalfa sprout into a large volume, so there is a price/volume ratio. Before purchasing a lot of any type of seed you will want to make sure the seed is alive. Try sprouting a small amount. If it does not grow, throw it out or return the unused portion of seed to the seller. the exception to this would be hemp seed (also know as cannabis or marijuana) which is grown in India and irradiated before it is allowed into this country.

Equipment you will need for sprouting seed is not necessarily expensive. A couple of wide mouth glass jars, some screen and rubber bands, and a colander or sieve is enough to get started. Rubbermaid or Tupperware dishes (the ones that are shallow with lids) are fine. Do not use metallic dishes, wooden dishes, or clear plastic (sprouts don't need a lot of light). If you use pottery, use a high-fired lead-free glazed container only. Low-fired ceramics use lead in the glazes. Do not use narrow necked jars or tall skinny containers, as seeds swell during sprouting and you will never get them out.


Sprouts are like a lot of other things that grow: They need moisture, proper temperature and air circulation. As sprouts grow, they release carbon dioxide and other gasses and create waste which must be removed by rinsing. Cool water keeps them from getting too hot and self-destructing. If your sprouts ever smell bad or look moldy, get rid of them. Never feed spoiled sprouts to your birds. Keep the sprouts moist-never wt-and warm (between 70 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit). Give the seed room to grow and to breathe. As the seeds are soaking, initially you will see tiny gas bubbles, which means the seeds are beginning to release heat and energy.


Wash and sort your seeds. Mine are pesticide free - yours may not be. Do not use chemically treated (rat repellent) seeds. discard broken or damaged seeds. Soak the seeds for eight hours, longer (up to 16 hours) if it is cold where you are. Use four times the volume of water to seed. After soaking, rinse the seeds and then divide them into as many batches as necessary so they won't crowd each other. The sprouts will have to be rinsed and drained at least three times each day. This keeps them fresh. You can put them into a loosely covered dish, a mason jar with a screen lid, or just a tray that has drain holes in it. I leave mine on the cupboard out of the direct sun. Direct sun will develop the chlorophyll content of the sprouts. You can cover the seed with a damp towel, cloth or paper, or nothing at all. You simply want to keep them moist, well aerated and out of the direct light.

When I use a tray for my wheat sprouts they m make a nice "mat" of wheat, which I cut into squares for feeding. You will see how the roots tangle together. My macaws relish the sweet taste. When your sprouts reach the desired size, you can refrigerate them, or just feed them that day. Bean sprouts, for example, keep in the refrigerator for seven to ten days, depending on the variety. For the first seven days they actually increase in vitamin C content. After that, they lose potency. Before refrigerating sprouts, thoroughly rinse and drain them and then wrap them in wet paper towels. Place your wrapped sprouts into a sealed plastic bag. They can be taken out and rinsed occasionally to keep them fresh. Sprouts can also be dried on a tray in a oven set at a low heat setting or in a dehydrator. Dried sprouted seed is a nice addition to baked goods as well as baby food. Wheat, rye, alfalfa and sesame are good candidates for drying.

After the seeds are sprouted, like alfalfa, you can put them in the sun for a few hours to increase the chlorophyll content. Chlorophyll gives plants their green color, and is equal, chemically, to hemoglobin in human blood. The difference is that chlorophyll contains magnesium and blood contains iron. Many nutritionists recommend chlorophyll to build up our blood, to aid digestion, and stimulate tissue growth. That sounds just like what we try to do for our birds!