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PELLETIZED GRAIN Vs. A WELL-BALANCED SEED DIET
All Rights Reserved 1990 & Revised July, 1999
By: G. A. Abbate, Sr.
P.O. Box 122
Elizabeth, NJ 07207-0122

The paranoia/delusion of the Pelletized Grain Diet for cage birds began in the late 80's. Ironically the delusion about pelletized grain as a complete (?) cage bird diet is still eulogized by a few individuals even these days, close to the Millennium.  These few individuals have managed to brain wash some pet bird owners to believe that pelletized grain are the only way to feed a nutritionally complete (?) diet to cage birds.

Unfortunately this controversial issue is the subject  of many bird discussions at bird club meetings, at bird conventions and lately in the bird chat room over the internet.  Let's further analyze in detail the facts about seed eating birds' nutrition.

 Most of the following article was written in the late 80's and early 90's.  Because many new developments have occurred in the last decade, which means the paranoia/delusion have become more intense, I am compelled to revise this  article.

Bird fanciers, bird breeders and pet bird owners should know that birds are divided into three categories: seed eaters; insectivorous and carnivorous. (This is my definition.  Perhaps other bird experts may use different analogy?)  I didn't go to any college to learn about birds.  This is what I learned from my own practical and personal experience which spanned over 60 years.

Seed eaters nourish themselves by  cracking and shelling seed. It is their natural instinct.  This is what they know how to do best and they are very happy cracking and shelling seed. (Seed eaters hate to crack pelletized grain.  If birds are forced to eat pelletized grain, in many cases, they become frustrated, unhappy and most birds in frustration they pluck their own feathers and sometimes they eat their own feathers),  while chickens, turkeys, ducks, etc., swallow the seed as well as pelletized grain whole. 

If pet birds such as parrots, macaws, large and small hook bills,  budgerigars, canaries, finches, or any other seed-eating cage birds would eat and swallow like chickens, or even turkeys, ducks, pigeons, doves or  quails, perhaps properly made pelletized grain containing not only a variety of grain and seed, but also many other ingredients--nutrients consisting of a variety of nuts, fruits, vegetables, plus animal protein in the form of meat and fish, and of course the proper ratio of vitamins and minerals.  Introducing the vitamins and minerals into the diet after the extruding process when everything is cooled off. Then the pelletized or extruded concoction could be used as part of the diet for cage birds.  However the pelletized formula must be heavily supplemented with fresh fruits and fresh vegetables.  Even a pelletized concoction as mentioned above should not be considered as a complete diet. 

Remember, for many years pelletized grain  has been widely used in the poultry industry, as well as in some animal feeds. Poultry and some other animals in general are allowed to have a very short life span, i.e., from the day they hatch from the egg or the day they are born  to the day they reach the consumer's table as food. This process for many species, either chicken or animal,  takes less than a year, and therefore, pelletized grain used as their main diet may have some economical advantages?

Have you ever noticed over the years that some of the better chicken producers in their advertisements have compared the quality of their chicken meat to the quality of the food the chickens are fed?  One specific  sales pitch says more or less, "I FEED MY CHICKENS GRAIN AND NOT CHICKEN SCRATCH." Plus other sales pitches in regard to feeding the chicken whole grains.  I made some inquiries as to how the poultry meat producers feed their chickens and I learned that the better chicken producers feed their chickens grain and not chicken scratch or pelletized grain feed.

Usually, in  some cases many varieties of grain and other food products which are not suitable for human consumption are used to manufacture poultry and other animal feeds and in many cases these rejected raw materials are used to make  pelletized diets. This perhaps is fine for poultry or animals such as pigs, goats, cows, etc., because once again, let me repeat, the life span of poultry and most other animals mentioned is not like that of cage birds who on the contrary can live several decades.

For example, cheap bread crumbs are made from leftover old bread.  In fact I observed in some places in the world old bread  being ground up with the plastic wrapping, as well as paper wrapping on it. I questioned that method of grinding and I asked the person, "What about the plastic and the paper?" He replied, " We grind it very fine; you won't see either the plastic or the paper."  This one particular place was making cage birds' nestling food and hand feeding formula.  I told the person at that time, "I don't think that I would have my birds eat that kind of stuff."  Grains of all kinds which become buggy, moldy or spoiled get ground up and pelletized and in many cases are used for some animal feed?

Many times over the years I visited feed mills in many parts of the world. The primary reason for visiting these mills was to learn what they do; sort of snooping around.  In many of the mills I visited they manufactured, among other things, well-known brand names of chicken feed and pelletized grain feed.  Some of the ingredients that I saw in some of these mills that make pelletized grain feed  were simply disgusting. In my opinion, some of those ingredients were only good for making garden compost.  I would not want to go into detail as to what else I saw in some of these places because the details could make your stomach turn.  However, keep in mind that throughout the world, and especially in North America, there are many good mills that are clean and use genuine ingredients.

Now, I must ask the question, "Do the pelletized grain diets assure cage birds the long life span they deserve to live??? 

Over the years numerous articles dealing with the negative effect of pelletized grain have appeared in cage bird magazines and lately even on the internet.  I would like to quote from a few of the numerous articles that I read over the years on the subject of cage bird diets, but it will take a tremendous number of pages so therefore I am limited to make just a few quotes that make a lot of sense and straight to the point.  Alicia McWatters, Ph.D, who wrote in the AFA Watchbird magazine, "Synthetic Bird Feeds: Do they Promote Health or Disease?" I suggest anyone who cares about birds to read that article.  Among other things she said, "Today a bird owner can go to any bird or pet shop in town and purchase a dry convenience diet out of a bag or canister. It is that easy. The majority of bird owners feed these diets to their birds either as a portion of the diet or as a total diet on a daily basis.  The sad part of this is that bird owners are taught to believe that this is the proper diet to feed their birds and that these diets are actually superior to a diet made up of natural whole foods.  GASP!"

Another article published on the internet by Katheleen M. Greaser entitled "The Problem With Pellets".  Ms. Greaser, among other things, states: "In the last two years I have lost 17 adult breeder birds and two of my own babies (6 Lovebirds and 13 Cockatiels).  They all died from the same thing, crystallized kidneys and Vitamin D toxicity.  The pathology reports consistently sited diet as the most likely root cause."

Another lengthy article, again published on the internet by Dr. Alicia McWatters is: "Avian Nutrition with Dr. Alicia McWatters. Why Food is Better Than Pellets." I suggest everyone who reads this article to retrieve Dr. McWatters article and read it very carefully.  Following is an excerpt from her article:

  "Provide complete, balanced nutrition to all of your feathered friends by serving a pelleted bird feed." This is what many of the advertisements are saying. We are told that all the essential nutrients our birds will ever need are to be found in a bag or canister and by simply pouring these crunchy morsels into our birds' feed bowl we have done our job as good bird owners. We are happy because we think we have just provided our pet bird with 100% nutrition.  Sadly, we have been deceived.  These days, many birds have been weaned onto a pelleted feed and so they think that these dry fabricated diets are a natural food for them. Sadly, they have been deceived.  These diets consist of a few fractionated grains and seeds, followed by a very long list of synthetic enrichment nutrients which enables these diets to provide the minimum levels of nutrients to maintain health for some birds."

I fully agree with Dr. McWatters.  Let me also state that the natural seed that the seed eaters eat in their natural habitat, either in the milky stage or fallen on the ground partially swollen by moisture, are  loaded with nutrients, including vitamins and minerals.  When the seeds are fractionated with the addition of synthetic vitamins and minerals the heat during the pelletizing or extruding process nearly destroys not only a good percentage of the natural nutrients, including the vitamins and minerals that the natural food contain, but also the added synthetic vitamins and minerals. A good percentage of the above are lost during the pelletized or extruding process. 

Let me repeat again that pelletized grains during manufacturization go through an extruding process which generates very high heat thus possibly destroying many of the added vitamins and other nutrients.  If you were to read any vitamin label, among other things, the label always says, "Store in a cool, dry place."  Now imagine the same vitamins going through steam/moisture in the extruder where the temperature in some  cases is well over the boiling point. At this point, I am asking, "Do pelletized grain feed really fully deliver all the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that some manufacturers and some experts suggest?"

In my opinion, pelletized grain feed are also more subject to spoilage and deterioration than well-balanced seed diets because the pelletized or extruded grain contains a higher percentage of moisture and also the surface of the extruded morsel are porous, i.e., absorbing humidity like a sponge.  Fungus and other deteriorating factors occur very quickly, even more so in areas where the humidity tends to be high at all times.  Remember, feeding spoiled pelletized grain feed to cage birds may be very detrimental to their health. Cage birds who receive a well-balanced seed diet often retain a more beautiful looking healthy plumage and when bred will reproduce themselves very well. On the contrary, cage birds which are fed exclusively a pelletized grain feed usually retain very poor plumage and always look unhealthy, sluggish, very inactive and very unhappy. Again, I would like to ask, "Are the many 'Synthetic Cage Bird Diets' responsible for the many fancy named diseases that have popped up in the last decade that the experts have been working very hard in trying to cure?" A good balanced seed diet composed of whole wholesome fresh seed blended with well made nuggets and other morsels, including dry fruits and vegetables, assure the birds in captivity a healthy, happy life. Birds that eat well stay healthy!  Remember prevention of diseases can be achieved by providing the birds with a well balanced diet.

Since the late 80's to even the days approaching the Millennium the cage bird diet market has become even more saturated with  lots of  new name brands of pelletized or extruded bird  feeds.  By  reading the labels accompanying these pelletized diets; many of them list the following basic ingredients: GROUND CORN, GROUND OATS GROATS, and WHEAT MIDDLING.  Some labels also mention ALFALFA MEAL, CORN GLUTEN MEAL, SOY BEAN MEAL, plus some other minor ingredients, and of course the  usual ceremonial list of vitamins and minerals.


In my opinion, most of these so-called pelletized grain diets are not suitable as complete nutritional diets for most seed-eating cage birds.  Through my personal experiences and in the many years I have spent thousands of hours observing most of the above mentioned species in their wild habitat, I have learned that the diet of seed eaters in general, is in no way near the one composed in many of the so-called "Pelleted Grain  Diets." No cage bird pelletized grain diet is nutritionally complete if same requires to be heavily supplemented with other nutrients such as fruits and vegetables, etc.

All birds in their wild habitat eat a  variety of seeds and grains including, wild seed in the milky stage.  Practically all of the previously mentioned birds plus others in their wild habitat feed on insects and their larvae, grubs, a variety of wild berries, wild fruits, wild nuts, plus other natural foods available in nature.  I haven't seen in any bird wild habitat any pelletizing and extruding tree or plant.

In no way can ground corn, wheat middling, corn gluten, alfalfa meal and sometimes fish meal substitute what mother nature offers them in their wild habitat.


Again, in my opinion, and I am talking about over  60 years of personal and practical experience with cage birds of all kinds that seed eating birds live happier in captivity with a complete well-balanced seed diet.  A seed diet not only composed of various dry seeds and grains but also with the addition of pelleted nutrients and kibbled biscuits composed with ingredients such as animal protein derived from fresh meat, fresh poultry meat, fresh fish, a wide variety of edible fruits and vegetables, plus of course, vitamins and minerals in the proper ratio with the proper percentage of protein. A complete well-balanced diet as mentioned above will assure the cage bird in captivity a happier, healthier, disease free life.

Remember also, that some vitamins if not properly integrated with the proper percentage of protein, will not be properly assimilated by the cage bird's delicate digestive system.

It is frustrating for many seed eaters to accept pellets as their complete diet; no matter how good the pelletized diet may  be.  You might force a parrot to eat the pellets and he might in fact eat the pellets for a whole year, but in many cases the poor creature will become frustrated by being forced to eat what he doesn't want to eat. Perhaps, even more so with a pelletized diet because pellets offer no satisfaction to many species of seed-eating birds who have a natural tendency to crack and shell seed.

Anyone can be a witness to the above by trying a little experiment.  Before you start any bird on pellets, take a sharp color photograph of the bird.  Choose any of the pelletized diets on today's market.  Feed ONLY these pellets to a bird for a week, month, or even a year, then take another sharp color photograph of the same bird, if the same bird is alive, and compare the difference in the plumage, health and vigor. You will be shocked by the negative results.  If the bird is unhappy, unhealthy and sluggish and you are also unhappy with the results, then, put a good seed diet before the same bird-you will witness the bird devour the mixture.  His eyes will look at you with a sense of appreciation and gratitude.

I have done many such experiments in our own research laboratory.  I won't mention any brand names; however, a few years ago one reputable company came up with something in the form of pellets. Because of the highly appealing sales pitch in the advertising I too was fooled. I switched a beautiful, almost 4 foot long green wing macaw to their pelletized grain feed.  I literally forced the bird to eat this food. Nearly facing starvation, he finally accepted these pellets.  He frantically ground them in the seed cup until finally he reduced the pellets to dust.  Continuously, he would pick them up and place them in the water cup, thus creating a big mess. I don't know why he tried to saturate them with water.  Perhaps it was a way to release his frustration or maybe in a hopeless effort to make them taste better?

After I forced this bird to eat these pellets for about a week, the room where the bird was kept smelled like a railroad station latrine.  He developed a form of diarrhea and the smell of the excretion was simply unbearable. Under the impression these pellets would eventually be a good diet, I skeptically continued this experiment despite the first negative results.

Within a month or so, the poor bird chewed the feathers from his wings and tail, probably due to frustration?  Or perhaps, even for food?  In less than a month, his plumage looked like a dust mop. At times he was even bleeding from his own chewed up feathers.


After  a couple of months of feeding this supposedly well-balanced pelletized feed diet, I said to myself, "This is enough of this stupid experiment."  I began to feed the green wing the GOOD SEED DIET which he was fed before the experiment began. You should have seen this bird devour the seed!  The sight was simply indescribable. He ate and ate non-stop for days.  It took over two years for the bird to recuperate and regain his original beauty and health.  I tried other pelletized diets which I have received many free samples of.  Needless to say, the results were similar or even worse.

This is just one of my personal experiences. However, I can certainly turn your head with stories from other bird fanciers throughout the United States who have had similar disastrous situations.  In fact, I know of a couple of bird fanciers that by feeding these pelleted feeds actually lost tens of thousands of dollars in birds (actually the birds would die or just stop breeding).

During the same year that I experimented with pellets on my macaw, I also fed my offspring canaries the same brand name pelletized feed.  Unlike the large hook bill, the canaries accepted them very readily  (canaries will eat almost anything).  Guess what? I lost half of that year's production. The baby canaries simply dropped dead -a few every day. Due to the fact that someone else was feeding my birds, the man didn't realize that the pellets were the cause of the problem.  Upon my investigation as to what was the cause of so many dead baby canaries, I pin pointed the problem to the pellets.  This was occurring during the hot, muggy months of July and August. The cause was obvious-the pellets absorbed humidity like a sponge. They were soggy, almost wet, actually spoiled. As a result, when the baby canaries ate them, within a few days they simply died. The pellets were practically poison to them.

To make a long story short, I had the pellets removed from the canary cages and replaced them with a good seed diet.  Believe it or not, the mortality simply stopped.  It was just like a light switch-turned on and turned off.

I have talked to hundreds of bird fanciers as well as breeders throughout the world and I have yet to hear anyone admit they are achieving good results by feeding ONLY a Pelletized Grain Feed. However, some breeders that I have spoken to do feed some brand name pelletized grain feed and they achieved results, but they heavily supplemented the pelletized grain feed with a buffet of other nutrients including fruits, vegetables, vitamins, minerals, etc., etc.

On the contrary, fanciers and breeders who have used ONLY PELLETS have expressed negative feeling. Ironically, one fancier remarked, "When I say my birds are on pellets, I mean it is their basic food.  I give them extras everyday. In fact, for everyday of the week, I feed something to the birds OTHER THAN PELLETS."  He feeds milk sop, egg food mix, a variety of greens, a variety of fruits, a variety of cereal, and on Sunday the birds get all the seed they want to eat.

Obviously, PELLETS ALONE do not fit the fill.  I happen to agree with all the successful bird fanciers and breeders who feed their birds a complete well-balanced seed diet.  In fact, the ones that use a  well-balanced seed diet are the more successful ones! I am ever more convinced that CAGE BIRDS THAT ARE KNOWN AS SEED EATERS NEED SEED - THEY ARE SEED-EATERS!  AREN'T THEY?