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Using Flowers as Food for Parrots, Finches and other Birds

Plain-throated SunbirdSending flowers is a time-honored way of showing affection and concern, but did you know that your parrots and other feathered pets might appreciate a bouquet as well?  I’m not suggesting actually having flowers delivered to your parrot (although I know several who have done that!), but rather that you consider edible flowers as a source of bird food and behavioral enrichment.

The Role of Flowers in Bird Diets

Flowers, buds and nectar figure heavily in the natural diets of many parrots, finches and softbills.  In fact, lories and lorikeets are actually “floral specialists” (please see drawing of lorikeet tongue, adapted for nectar feeding).  However, with the exception of nectar-mixes, flowers have largely been ignored by most pet keepers.

Flowers are also a major food item of several less commonly-kept softbills, including hummingbirds, sunbirds and the aptly-named flower-peckers. Ornithologists speculate that the brilliant colors of some species may have evolved to provide camouflage during feeding sessions in flowering trees.

Behavioral Stimulation

In addition to their nutritional value, flowers can provide important behavioral stimulation for parrots and other birds.  Most parrots delight in tearing them to bits, and bud-covered fruit tree branches (apple, pear, plum etc.) will provide hours of entertainment for both pet and pet-owner.  Finches, White-Eyes, Pekin Robins and other small birds will also poke about in flowers for insect treats, real or “imagined”, and may consume petals and nectar as well.

Purchasing Flowers

Lorikeet tongueFortunately, it’s quite simple to incorporate flowers into your birds’ diets.  Many bird-safe flowers are relished by people, and are available in food stores.  In NYC markets, I’ve come across squash, zucchini, rose and daylily flowers (note: not all daylilies are safe for people or birds, so do not pick your own), as well as a number that I did not recognize.  Korean, Chinese and Indian neighborhoods have proven especially rich flower-hunting grounds.

Do not buy edible flowers from garden supply outlets or florists, as these will not have been slated for human consumption and would likely have been exposed to toxic chemicals.

Dried flowers specifically marketed as bird food are also a useful option.  Goldenfeast’s Hibiscus and Chamomile

may be offered to a variety of parrots, finches and softbills.

Growing and Collecting Flowers for Your Birds

If the option is available to you, growing your own edible flowers is a great alternative to shopping.

Harvesting wild flowers is also possible, but you must be confident in your ability to identify the various species and have access to a pesticide-free collecting site.  A field guide will be useful in this regard.

Common, Easy-to-Grow Edible Flowers

The following common flowers are readily accepted by many birds and can easily be grown or, in some cases, purchased at food markets.  Do not buy flowers intended as food anywhere other than at a food market; please see above.


Daisy                                                   Marigold

LorikeetsDandelion                                           Rose

Carnation                                            Sunflower

Violet                                                  Zucchini Blossoms

Tulip                                                    Squash Blossoms

Elderberry                                           Hibiscus

Impatiens                                            Apple,Plum and Pear Blossoms




Further Reading

Further information on edible and poisonous flowers; written with people in mind but applicable to birds.

Gardening for Pet Birds

Eat Your Roses: a guide to 50+ edible flowers



Lorikeets image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Tatiana Gerus

Plain-Throated Sunbird image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Ltshears



Pet Birds: Tips for Monitoring & Regulating Body Temperature

Java SparrowMost parrots, finches and other pet birds are native to tropical habitats, but summer weather can still be a threat to their health.  Wild birds have numerous ways to regulate their exposure to extreme temperatures, but caged pets must rely upon us to take action on their behalf.

Heat Metabolism in Birds

A basic understanding of avian heat metabolism will help you to evaluate the risks presented by the local weather conditions.  Birds maintain higher internal temperatures than do people – 105 F for most species, and up to 108 F in some.  So, if you are uncomfortable with the temperature, your bird will likely will be so as well.  Read More »

Clean Air for You and Your Birds – Ozone Generators, Ionizers or Air Purifiers?

Umbrella CockatooWhen I first began working with birds in zoo collections, older keepers warned me about respiratory ailments such as “Bird Breeder’s Lung” and “Poultry Worker’s Disease”.  Several of my co-workers were always short of breath and coughed frequently.  Eventually, some were diagnosed with Hypersensitivity Pneumonitis (a/k/a Extrinsic Allergic Alveolitis), which results from inhaling organic dust and other irritating substances.  Private bird owners are also sometimes afflicted with this condition, and birds themselves may sicken and die when exposed to certain common airborne particles and chemicals.  Unfortunately, advertisements for air-cleaning devices have confused rather than clarified the options available to us; some are actually harmful (yet still on the market!) while others are highly effective. Read More »

The Great Crane Escape or “Should I Trim My Bird’s Flight Feathers?” – Part 2

Sarus CraneIn Part 1 of this article I mentioned some general considerations regarding the trimming of flight feathers, and then launched into a story about a huge Saurus Crane (Grus antigone) that, while under my care at the Bronx Zoo, launched itself into the air and went sailing out over the South Bronx (its previously trimmed flight feathers had grown back in with astonishing rapidity).  I continue with the story here….

Brave Young Bird Keeper to the Rescue

Amazingly, while I was out searching for the nearly 6-foot-tall Saurus Crane, a 13-year-old boy of slight stature showed up at the zoo with the huge bird in tow.  He had its rapier-like bill, which had sent one keeper to the hospital for stitches in the past, tucked beneath his arm, exactly as should be done with potentially dangerous birds.  Read More »

The Great Crane Escape, or “Should I Trim My Bird’s Flight Feathers”? – Part 1

The trimming of flight feathers is often touted as an important first step in training parrots and other birds, but the process has many other important implications that should not be overlooked.  Parrots, finches, softbills, quails – and, as you’ll see, Saurus Cranes – each present different considerations, as do your reasons for keeping the birds and the situations in which they are housed.

Age Considerations

It is true that, in general, birds with clipped wings are easier to work with and train than are those capable of flight.  This is the most common reason that owners trim flight feathers, and the fact that the feathers will grow back does seem to provide an “insurance policy” of sorts, in case all does not go as planned.  Read More »

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