PART 1: Chia Pet
By @tiellover

We all know that greens are healthy and nutritional for our birds, but how do we get them to eat them?  I have a fun and easy way to do this that I want to share with you!

First, let’s talk about sprouts for a minute.  Many of you have heard that sprouts are a very healthy food to feed your bird, but what are they?  Sprouts, also known as shoots, are the living growth you get when seeds germinate, or start to grow.

Soybean sprouts

Dried seeds, in general, tend to be high in fat and low in nutrients, which is why pure seed diets are so unhealthy for birds.  But when they sprout, the fat is converted to protein, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and a whole host of other healthy nutrients!  In the wild, seed-eating birds like cockatiels, cockatoos, and budgies are actually primarily eating sprouted seeds and young plants, not the dried seeds we give them, as I saw when I watched them browsing vegetation in Australia

Browsing wild cockatiel

So why aren’t most of us giving our birds sprouts all the time?  Well, they’re not the easiest thing to grow, they spoil quickly, and often times our birds turn up their noses (beaks?) at them.  Like many people, I bought an “easy” sprouter that was anything but, in the way that Martha Stewart says that making a 10 course dinner is easy! I know the sprouting gurus will think I’m the laziest person in the world by saying that, so ok, I am, point conceded!  You can buy sprouts from the market, but they spoil very quickly and many people feel that they’re not safe at all for our birds or us due to high levels of bacteria such as Salmonella and E. coli.  Remember that those sprouts are no longer growing, so now have entered the spoilage phase.  So how can we get fresh, nutritious sprouts into our birds?

Two words – Chia Pet!  Yes, I’m talking about that throwback to the 80s with the catchy jingle (Ch…Ch…Ch…Chia!).  These terracotta figurines commonly sold around Christmas time come with packets of chia seeds and quickly grow into decorative plants.  Originally starting as a head and various animals, they now come in an enormous variety, including zombies, political figures, emoji, dinosaurs, trolls, and many others.  When they first came out, few of us had ever heard of chia seeds, so we saw them as just decorations.  I would regularly grow them just for fun.  One day I saw my birds chewing on the greens and a light bulb went off.  I realized I was actually sprouting chia seeds and growing them into healthy greens for my birds to enjoy!

So what is a chia seed?  Chia is just the common name for Salvia hispanica, a species of flowering plant in the mint family.

Salvia plant

Many of us grow other varieties of salvia as annuals or perennials, depending on where we live.  Chia is thought to have been as important as corn as a food crop in pre-Columbian times and is still used commonly as a food in Mexico and South America.  Chia seeds are highly nutritious and are now used as a health food supplement by many people.  There’s no reason to believe they’re not as nutritious for our birds too!

What makes chia seeds so easy to grow on a Chia Pet?  They not only soak up 12 times their weight in liquid, but while soaking, they develop a thick gelatinous coating.  Someone figured out that if you take a clay figurine and put grooves on it, and then soak chia seeds, they stick to the clay and start growing as long as you keep the clay wet.  Hence the Chia Pet!  The seeds that come with it are the same ones you buy in the health food store, so if you have those around, you can use them too!

So what makes a Chia Pet a great alternative to regular sprouting?  Well first, it’s really easy.  As in it really doesn’t get easier than this.  They give Chia Pets to little children for their first plant growing experience.  The seeds quickly grow into sprouts and then into little plants, all while staying fresh and unspoiled.  As long as you keep the Pet full of water, they last for weeks without spoilage, and then gradually wither, which the birds also play with.  At no point have I ever seen a Chia Pet develop the slime associated with bacterial growth.  They’re inexpensive and last for years (I’ve had a couple since the 1980s!).  It’s easy to get replacement seeds.  They’re fun to look at pat with your hands (you know you do it – just admit it).  And best of all, birds love them and they’re healthy for them!

I know what you’re thinking – my bird is afraid of everything and would never go near it, my bird hates greens, what if I plant it and my bird won’t eat it.  Yes, these are all possibilities, but you’ll never know if you don’t try.  Birds are naturally curious creatures, as you all know, and a lot of times the issue with new foods is presentation.  My cockatiels have all taken quickly to Chia Pets, maybe because it more closely resembles wild foods than most things I give them.  If you play with the sprouts, chances are your bird is going to want to check it out.  I leave one of my Chia Pets on the counter all the time, even without plants, and my tiels love to sit on it and chew lightly on the clay, which is probably like a clay lick.  So when I plant it up, they head right over!

I usually wait until the little herb stalks are more mature before I give it to my birds, but you can start them nibbling on the tiniest little sprouts if you want.  The Chia Pet does sprouts and plants all in one!  Those of you following the #ChiaGrowOff hashtag on Twitter have seen a lot of the photos I and @PepperNPals have been posting, and I encourage you to show off your own!

In case you’re wondering, I have tried other seeds on my Chia Pets, without success, which is probably due to the unique nature of the chia seed with its slimy coating, but that’s not to say that other seeds won’t work.  It probably just takes a different amount of water and germination time, so if you have success with other seeds, please let me know!

So now that I’ve sold you on a Chia Pet, where do you get them?  Fortunately they’re very easy to find, especially around Christmas time.  Even after all these years, they still sell ½ million Chia Pets every year!  As with everything, you can always find them on Amazon.  Common places to get them in person in the holiday season are Walmart, Target, and Walgreens, among others.

So get those Chia Pets growing!  Please tag me (@tiellover) if you post photos – I’d love to see them!  And let me know how your birds like them!

Watch the sequence below as I start at the beginning through my birds enjoying the fresh chia growth.  This took only 10 days (though I did put it under a grow light, so full growth could take a few more days normally).  Enjoy!

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*All photos property of @tiellover except as follows:

Salvia plant, Dick Culbert at http://flickr.com/photos/92252798@N07/10461546364, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0

Chia seeds, Magister Mathematicae, Creative Commons Attribution – Share Alike 3.0 Unported

Soybean sprouts, milivanily, https://pixabay.com/photo-1725589/, Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication

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