Pine nuts are a sweet, subtle flavored food for human consumption. They are also a favorite for birds. These are in actual sense not nuts but seeds… the edible seeds of pines. There are many species of pine which produce seeds of varying sizes. Only about 20 species produce seeds which are big enough to make harvesting a worthwhile investment. Other pine species produce edible seeds but they are so small, it is not worth the time and energy it takes to harvest them.
Pine nuts are a good choice of nuts for your parrot or any other bird, but they must be fed with caution to avoid ill health. Read on to find out how so many parrot owners go wrong.
Different Types of Pine Nuts
In the US, there are two main types of edible pine nuts available. Hard shells (such as the New Mexico hard shell pine nuts) and soft shells (such as Nevada soft shell pine nuts). In other parts of the world, you will likely come across the Italian pignolia which comes from the stone pine in Europe. In Asia, you will find the Chinse pine nut.
Pine nuts from different parts of the world have varying characteristics. European pine nuts are long and narrow. Asian pine nuts are stubby and look something like long corn kernels.
How pine nuts come to be
Most pine nuts take about 18 months to mature. A few species take longer, some up to 3 years. Generally, budding happens at the beginning of spring and they continue to grow until the end of summer. In the fall and winter, the cone is dormant but continues to grow after that. It then reaches full maturity the following spring or summer.
Pine nuts can be harvested roughly 10 days before the cone opens. To make the cones open faster, they are dried in a burlap bag for about 3 weeks. After that the cones are smashed (to make seed removal easier). From here the seeds have to be separated from the cone fragments by hand. To say that this is a long and laborious process is an understatement.
Can Parrots Eat Pine Nuts?
Large and medium sized parrots enjoy pine nuts not only because of their flavor, but also because of the challenge of cracking open their shells. Pine nuts are a very healthy food for parrots so it works well that they love them too. They are rich in magnesium, iron and amino acids which are great for the bird’s overall health and energy.
However, caution must be observed to ensure that you don’t overfeed your parrot with pine nuts. Why so? Well these nuts are significantly high in calories and can be fattening for the bird. For this reason, it is best to feed pine nuts to your parrot as a treat and not as part of his daily diet. When such fatty foods are consumed in excess, they can cause liver problems in the bird.
Another very important detail to be cautious about is the fact that unshelled pine nuts can be dangerous for your bird if they are not stored properly. Improper storage could be from the point of the seller who packs and distributes packets of pine nuts. It could also be on your end. How do you store your pine nuts at home?
Unshelled pine nuts, especially those stored in warm, humid conditions easily develop mold and yeast which could make your bird sick. It is best to give your bird shelled nuts to make sure they are completely safe. If you really want to give him the joy of cracking open the nut, pick a few nuts from every batch or packet of nuts and crack them open yourself. Carefully examine the inside. The assumption here is that if a few nuts in the batch are fine then the rest are also safe for consumption.
Other Great Foods for Parrots
Just like us, parrots also need variety in their diet. This ensures a variety of nutrients and gives the pleasure of varied flavors and textures. These are some foods, besides pine nuts, to consider.
Nuts: All nuts fed to a parrot should be fit for human consumption and should not be salted. Some common nut types available are walnuts, almonds, cashew nuts, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pistachios and coconut sheds.
Avoid fresh walnuts, macadamia or cashew nuts. The shells contain toxins when fresh.
Vegetables: A parrot’s diet should, ideally be made up of a lot of vegetable and a little of everything else. Use a ratio of 10:1 as a guide. Which vegetables are best? Use color as your guide. For vegetables, the darker the better. Dark green vegetables like broccoli, kale and dandelion leaves are great because they are rich in vitamin B, antioxidants and minerals. Other nutritious vegetables you could include are carrots, pumpkins, peas (in the pod) and potato (cooked).
Fruits: Here, you have a wide variety to choose from. Fruits such as bananas, kiwi, guavas, papaya, figs, pineapples, plums and cranberries will do your parrot very well. Be careful with certain fruits because seeds, stones and skin form some fruits should not be eaten. Apples and oranges should be seedless and stones in apricots, nectarines and peaches should be removed. If you are feeding him mango, remove the skin first.
Do Not Feed Your Parrot with These Foods
The list of foods to avoid varies slightly depending on the specific breed of parrot you have. However there are some which should be avoided for all breeds. These are:
- Highly salted foods
- Processed sugars
Pine nuts are a great treat for parrots because they love the taste and flavor and they are highly nutritious. They should, however, remain as just that… treats and not part of his everyday diet.
Apart from pine nuts, there are many other foods you could use to infuse variety into your bird’s diet. For fruits and vegetables, the same old rule applies. The darker the vegetable and the brighter the fruit, the more nutritious it is.
Look out for moldy pine nuts which are often as a result of poorly stored nuts in warm and moist weather.