Quinoa is an excellent source of protein and a staple for those trying to eat a plant-based diet. It is one of the few vegan foods that provides a complete protein source since it contains 18 amino acids, including the essential nine that comprise a “complete protein source.”
If you eat it yourself, you might also wonder “can birds eat quinoa?”
In this guide, we’ll talk about whether birds eat quinoa and whether it is as good for them as it is for us. We’ll also walk you through how you might serve birds quinoa and whether you might even be able to grow this nutritious food at home for yourself and your pet birds or avian garden visitors.
Do Birds Eat Quinoa?
Birds do not tend to eat quinoa seeds in the wild or from agricultural fields outside of their native range because raw wild quinoa varieties contain saponins, which give them a bitter taste. While eating this in small quantities is unlikely to do much harm, and some Andean farmers may have issues with native birds eating their crops, wild birds usually won’t tend to do so.
Quinoa is a seed grown as a grain crop in Chile, Peru, and elsewhere. It has the Latin name Chenopodium quinoa but is also known as goosefoot, pigweed, or Inca wheat and is related to common weeds in the Chenopodium genus.
When we eat quinoa, the seeds must be soaked and rinsed first to remove the coating of saponins on their surface. Once processed, humans can eat them – and many birds will love to eat them too.
Which Birds Eat Quinoa?
Many seed-eating garden birds, such as finches, pet birds like budgies, parrots, parakeets, cockatiels, and domestic livestock like chickens and ducks, will typically eat quinoa when offered. (Though read on to make sure that you provide the quinoa in the right way.)
Though uncooked quinoa is not a part of the natural diet of any of these birds, they will often appreciate it as a nutritious food source and be very happy to consume it.
Is Quinoa Good for Birds?
Quinoa is an excellent source of protein for birds, just as it is for us. The lysine present in quinoa helps with protein synthesis and fatigue, anemia, and calcium absorption.
This seed is also a good source of B-Complex vitamins and vitamin E, aiding egg production and reproductive systems.
Quinoa also contains calcium, phosphorus, and potassium and is rich in other minerals such as copper, iron, zinc, iodine, manganese, and selenium. It also contains the essential flavonoids quercetin and kaempferol, which help improve bird immunity.
The high dietary fiber content, and omega-3 fatty acid content, also make this a healthy food source for birds, as well as for us.
However, if you plan on feeding this nutritious grain to the wild birds that share your space or pet birds, it is vital to prepare it correctly.
Can Birds Eat Quinoa Raw?
It is best not to feed quinoa to birds without processing it first since, as mentioned above, it has a coating of saponin on its surface, which can potentially cause health problems and be toxic in large enough doses.
While raw quinoa only contains this in small amounts, soaking it for a few minutes in cold water is best to remove this outer coating.
Can Birds Eat Sprouted Quinoa?
Serving sprouted quinoa is a great idea. Sprouting quinoa involves soaking the quinoa in water until the seeds form tiny sprouts.
Sprouting alters the quinoa’s nutritional profile and can make it an even healthier food source for humans and birds.
Can Birds Eat Quinoa Cooked?
Cooked quinoa is also extremely healthy – not only good for us to eat but also for wild birds, garden birds, or pet birds. Boiled quinoa won’t take long to prepare and can make a good meal for birds and you.
You might be wondering whether you can serve the leftovers of a meal with quinoa to the birds in your garden to reduce food waste.
If the quinoa is plain, then the answer is undoubtedly yes. However, if the meal contains salt or other ingredients, it might be best to avoid feeding this to birds, and leftovers should be composted instead.
Salt can harm birds, even in small quantities. And you should check all the other ingredients in a dish before placing your leftovers to help the birds in your garden.
Serving Birds Quinoa
If you plan to serve quinoa to birds, either soaked, sprouted or cooked, then you might serve quinoa that you have sourced from a store or potentially even quinoa that you have grown yourself at home.
If you plan to purchase quinoa to feed to birds, you will find that there are three color options: red, white, and black. There are actually over 3,000 varieties of quinoa, but these three are the most commonly grown types. It is also possible to purchase a tricolor option, which mixes all three.
Which Color of Quinoa Is Better?
While all three colors of quinoa share some characteristics, studies have shown that the different types have different nutrient profiles.
Black quinoa has the lowest fat content, the highest omega-3 fatty acid and carotenoid content, and the highest protein content. White quinoa has around 2% more protein than the red variety. And red and black quinoa also have nearly twice the vitamin E content of white quinoa. The darker the color of the seed, the higher the antioxidant capacity.
Therefore, a bird seed mix combining all three colors could be the best option if you are looking to buy quinoa for birds. You will get the different nutritional benefits of all three and can mix this with other seeds to create a full, diverse, and well-balanced diet for the birds you wish to feed.
However, if you are buying quinoa, it is important to note that some kinds may be more difficult to source than others. And you may be limited in what you can find. Remember, whichever type you buy, buy organic.
Choosing organic options is always far more important than the color since non-organic options could potentially be contaminated with harmful substances. And of course, choosing organic options is always the most ethical and eco-friendly choice.
Can You Grow Quinoa at Home?
Chenopodium quinoa can be grown outdoors in USDA zones 10-12. However, cultivars of this popular grain are now successfully grown even in cooler temperate climates. For example, quinoa is now grown in the UK, in much of the US, and as far north as southern Canada.
Quinoa is a warm-season crop that requires full sun. Best germination occurs when soil temperatures range from 65 to 75°F, which usually means a late May or early June planting for southern Canada and the northern US.
Growing quinoa as a summer crop can be an exciting option if you want to save money and become more self-sufficient in feeding yourself, the birds you keep, and those with whom you share your space. Quinoa (along with amaranth) can be a great choice if you want to grow ‘grains’ in smaller gardens.
Can You Put Quinoa in a Bird Feeder?
Since the best ways to serve quinoa to birds are soaked, sprouted, or cooked, you might not wish to mix these in with dry seeds in a bird feeder – but you can certainly do so as long as you keep the feeder clean and do not let the mix go moldy, since this could pose a health risk.
Quinoa seeds are often added to other seeds and grains in a feeder to provide a balanced bird diet or can simply be spread on a bird table or another bird feeding station in your garden as a healthy treat for your feathered friend.