Chop: all things good for birdie

Published by emilyatspecklefarm on

The Theory

For the majority of history we have fed parrots as if they were either poultry or humans, or rather very spoiled human children. As the field of avian nutrition and awareness among parrot owners has changed there has been an increasing interest, really excitement, about feeding a diverse diet that helps to provide more complete nutrition but also enrich the lives of parrots living in captivity by giving them interesting, changing meals.
 Chop is one of the many innovations that resulted from the increased desire to better feed captive parrots. Chop is a feeding concept more than anything. You can also say it’s the “everything but the kitchen sink” meal of the parrot world. Essentially, it consists of whatever appropriate ingredients you want to use or have on hand. It can be as simple and cheap or complex and expensive as you desire. Chop is not just for parrots, the chop concept can be applied to all birds and in a broader since to feeding any animal, providing you follow that individual organism’s natural diet/nutritional needs.

However, because chop is an attempt to get as many good things in your parrot as possible there is also a science to it, sort of. Everyone will tell you a different list of must have ingredients and others that they think just shouldn’t be in chop. I think a good chop should include: dark leafy greens, red, purple, orange and green veggies, legumes, grains, pseudograins, seeds, sprouts and herbs. People also add: flowers, nuts, pasta, fruit and pellets, or pellet crumbs.
 You will have to look at the arguments and make your own decisions, but I can give you a place to start and at the bottom of the post are links to some sites with excellent information from people who have been at it for a while.

Things to consider

Your bird’s size

 Smaller birds will need respectively smaller pieces/ eat smaller quantities. Big pieces for bird size create the take-a bite-toss-the-rest syndrome.  Regardless of your bird’s size, larger pieces allow them to pick out their favorite bits and leave the rest. The issue here is that they won’t get the full benefit of eating chop (when they eat only their favorites, that they would already eat) and will waste more.
The rule of thumb I use is to have most things small enough to fit in my bird’s beak. Of course, that won’t be necessarily true of all the things you add to the chop and you shouldn’t stress about having everything a uniform size, it’s just a guideline.

How much chop your birds will eat will change. When you first introduce them to chop they will likely eat only a tiny bit until they get a taste for it.  When our boys have a new batch of chop they eat more, then they must get burned out on that batch because about the time it’s almost gone they stop eating it as well.
To figure out how much to feed start with a tbs for small birds or maybe a 1/8 of a cup for large birds. Adjust the amount until you find what they can eat in two hours, that’s about the window of time for food to be out unrefrigerated and safe.

Your flock composition and number

Do you have a mix of sizes? dietary needs? eating habits? 
You might want to make more than one batch or make one that is a base and add extras for the different needs of your birds.  Depending on the size of your flock, what will last you the recommended maximum of 3 months in the freezer will be different.
It’s a great idea to look into specific nutritional needs of the species in your flock, that way you can tailor ingredients to their needs.
 I have a large silver kitchen bowl, my batch of chop fills that and lasts us about two months with once a day feedings of about two tbsp per bird- we have two cockatiels.

Freezer space

How much space can you an allocate to chop? What shape containers will be most affective?How fast will your bird(s) eat what you have room to freeze so you can plan to make chop on a schedule.

Freezer containers

Plastic bags, vacuum packing, food storage containers, up-cycled yogurt/sour cream type containers, baby food containers, kitchen wraps/papers.
We use up-cycled plastic containers and wax or other kitchen papers. We portion most of our chop out into individual servings wrapped in little bundles.

This is parchment paper/ foil, we bought it and realized we can’t use it in our oven so we are trying to use it up

It’s really important that you remove as much air from the container and make sure it’s airtight before freezing. If you decide to freeze in ice cube trays I highly recommend moving them from the trays into another airtight container. The chop will get freezer burn quickly being uncovered in the trays. Also make sure you have a really nice set of trays, ones that you never have trouble getting ice out of because the one thing you don’t want to have to do is run the trays under hot water to get the chop cubes out. Melting the outer layer will invite freezer burn.  Personally, I used trays in the beginning and quickly decided there had to be a better way. Experiment until you find containers that work for you.
Three days is about the maximum that my chop lasts in the fridge. I go off how it smells; once it smells at all weird it gets tossed. 
I rarely refrigerate our chop at all anymore. I discovered a while back that our birds will eat chop while it’s still frozen/ thawing out. Now their little chop balls go straight from the freezer to their bowls, no thawing at all. I think this allows them the freshest chop I can give without making it every day. Check out this post on flash freezing and this one that’s even more applicable to food for birds. This is how I freeze all our chop now and I will not be going back! It lasts longer, thaws faster and retains better quality and it works better since I can just remove what I need for the day from a large container in the freezer.

Birds current eating habits/ diet

Are you dealing with a seed addict? Do you have special dietary considerations?  Are your birds already familiar with and enjoy eating the things that will go in the chop?Are your birds usually more interested in large or small pieces?
 I am feeding two cockatiels one of which is a recovering seed addict. So I add more sprouted and soaked seeds/legumes/grains then you will need to if your birds aren’t seed addicts.
If your bird has any health conditions you should talk to an avian vet who understands the chop concept about possible modifications.
If you are introducing chop to a bird who has little to no experience with fresh foods you need to first find a few things they like. Offer little bits of different veggies, fruits, greens and grains. When you make their first batch of chop have the things they liked best in higher amounts than the other ingredients so they will recognize some of the ingredients and be more willing to try the chop. Then they have a chance to learn to like the other things as well.

 I also add fruit. Many people advice against adding fruit because it doesn’t freeze well, adds wetness to the chop and makes it spoil faster. I add it because it’s something that gets my boys to eat their chop better. I only add one type and one piece, so either it’s a banana, mango apple or pear. Just enough that the taste is there and only their most favorite fruits.

Wetness of chop 

 Increased wetness from:
The smaller your veggies are chopped,
 the more fruit you add,
 the less dried goodies 
adding hot, not thoroughly drained cooked legumes/grains

These are all home dried

 Make it drier by:
 dried peppers, tomatoes, tomatillos, veggies
 *adding dried fruit is generally not advised since they are so high in sugar and usually treated with sulfate to maintain color. Make sure whatever dried goodies you use haven’t been treated with sulfate*
oatmeal, or other rolled grains
        herbs/ spices
  flax and chia seed ( when these get wet they make a gel, so they work great to soak up liquid)
nuts, they can help but won’t as much as the other ingredients and you have to be careful not to add to much since they generally add a significant amount of fat.

 Methods to make drier chop:

allow your cooked things to fully cool before adding them.
cook the night before you make chop so everything can cool in the fridge- starch -which the things that you will cook are high in- can soak up a lot of water when it’s cooled. Think about how much liquid you have to add to reheat pasta, rice or beans without turning them into dry scorched nastiness- yep, they can help out with wetness issues a lot.
 Drain your ingredients well after washing and/or cooking. Some people also advice draining your chopped veggies but I think you loose a lot of nutrients from that. I try to soak that good juice up with the dried goodies. Concentrate on preventing liquids from the cooked things, sprouts and washing veggies from getting in the chop.
 Dry your ingredients. You can use paper/ real towels to dry things or a blow-drier that you know isn’t coated with none stick, such as this one
. I use a blow drier all the time since I rarely plan ahead enough to cook the night before. I use a salad spinner for any of the veggies that need drying.

  Wet chop is a concern because it will freezer burns faster, spoils faster and some birds aren’t as interested in eating it.

In mine, all the veggies are either minced by hand or with a food processor. You will need to start your sprouts at least two days in advance for them to be nicely sprouted for the chop. As with the cooked goodies, if the sprouts are well drained they will soak up liquids as well.

  The Don’ts of Chop:

Don’t cook anymore of the ingredients then you have to.
Don’t add dry seeds- besides flax and chia- all seeds should be sprouted. BUT if you are trying to convert a seed addict to chop, mixing chop with their seeds can get them starting at least tasting chop.
Don’t add a ton of fruit
Don’t give up if it’s too wet-add more dry stuff! 
Don’t give up if they don’t like it the first time! Try feeding it again; sometimes if you spread it out in a thin layer or mound it up or change the feeding container, that’s all it takes. If all else fails, make it into birdie bread.
Don’t let the seeds/grains/legumes outnumber the veggies, it should at least be equal to a 1:1 ratio by volume.

  Foods You should never feed:

tea- herbal teas without actual tea leaf in it are fine and often beneficial.
pickled/cured foods
human junk food
unfermented dairy products 
All of these are undigestible and or toxic to your bird.

The contested: 

 I won’t take sides on these because I haven’t researched them enough but if you want to feed them please do your own research otherwise just avoid using them.

All the Alliums  leaves/bulbs- garlic, onion, chives, green onions…
peanuts/ peanut butter

Things to use with thought:

spinach, parsley, rhubarb, cranberries, celery, beet root and greens, swiss chard
 These have high levels of oxalate, a compound that binds calcium and other minerals, that are then excreted in the urine. They can contribute to kidney stones, kidney disease and low calcium levels. Their possible ill affects can be easily mitigated by feeding foods high in calcium, such as:
 kale, collard greens, watercress, almonds, okra, chinese cabbage, broccoli, mustard green, beans green or dried, sesame and chia seeds, quinoa.
If your bird already has low calcium levels or kidney issues I would avoid the high oxalate foods until you can talk to an avian vet about a safe level of oxalate consumption for your particular bird. 

sunflower seeds– they are very high in fat, maybe that’s why they are so addictive to pretty much anything. Feed them sparingly and mostly sprouted.
rice– recently, much of it is has been shown to be highly contaminated with arsenic. Try to check current contamination in the variety you are using if you want to feed rice. At the moment humans are advised to limit their consumption of rice; if it’s a high enough contamination to be a concern to humans we should be very concerned about feeding it to our birds. Read this article and this one for more information.

A note about Beans

The only legumes that can be fed just sprouted are:
 lentils    (Lens culinaris)
 mung beans  (Vigna radiata)
 adzuki  (Vigna angularis
chick peas  (Cicer arietinum
and peas   (Pisum sativum)
I include scientific names so that if you are in a country besides the US you might have an easier time figuring out what they are and if you can get them where you are.
All others for the most safety and health benefits should be soaked for 12 hours, then boiled uncovered for a minimum of 15 minutes, then simmering until fully cooked-tender.

This is because legumes contain complex sugars called oligosaccharides and toxic proteins called lectins. Most mammals and birds cannot digest the oligosaccharides, they are part of the reason why you sometimes get gas and bloating when you eat legumes. Your gut bacteria can digest those compounds. Your bacteria get really excited about the feast you just sent them and eat a whole bunch, making an unusually large amount of gas.  Lectins are more of a health concern though; they interfere with normal digestion and metabolism resulting in food poisoning like symptoms. Lectin poisoning does have the potential to be fatal. The “safe five” that can be eaten without cooking still have those compounds but they are able to be deactivated/ digested to safe levels by sprouting. Read my Cooking Legumes post for more information.

My Recipe (this time)

1/2  cup Flaxseed
1/2 cup dried mixed (sulfate free) tomatoes, peppers, tomatillos 
 1/4 cup mixed ginger powder, red pepper flakes and dill , could also include many other herbs!
 1/2 cup oatmeal
1/2 cup each mung bean and lentils
1 cup ( after chopped) mixed greens 
1/2 cup (after chopped) spinach

1 mango’s fruit
 1 inch wide round each of purple and green cabbage
 half a sweet pepper with seeds
one whole jalapeno
1/3 bunch cilantro
1/4 of an average head of broccoli
1 medium carrot
1/4 cup wild rice
 1/2 cup each bean soup mix and quinoa

 what’s in a bean soup mix?
pinto, white,black, kidney  (Phaseolus vulgaris)
peas (Pisum sativum)
lima (Phaseolus lunatus)
black eyed peas (Vigna unguiculata unguiculata)
chick peas (Cicer arietinum)
lentils (Lens culinaris)
 The actual mix differs with brand and what not but these are the ones I see regularly.

Ingredients: What and why

All the veggies in general:

They are a great source for B vitamins, carotenoids, phytonutrients, vitamin C and K and all sorts of minerals.


Such as kale, spinach, swiss chard, lettuce ( not iceberg people!), arugula, cress, mustard, dandelion greens; you can feed any human grade green in moderation.
In the wild parrots eat a large amount of greens. The fiber they provide is important, especially so for some species, for digestion and a strong intestinal tract. In humans, fiber helps remove cholesterol from the body; hopefully it does the same for birds!

mixed organic greens
organic spinach


Sweet and hot, leave the seeds in, some birds love them! 
Many parrots love peppers and they are high in vitamin C, B vitamins and carotinoids.

Orange veggies

such as carrots, sweet potatoes, squash

These are most important for their carotenoids, think vitamin A.





Flax or chia seed

These little seeds are really high in Omega 3’s. Greens and other veggies also have omega 3’s but the trick is that (with humans at least, I was unable to find a ratio for any avian species) you need a ratio that’s close to equal between the two.  Most
grains contribute more omega 6’s; since grains make up so much of the diet you need a higher concentration of omegas 3’s to balance them out.


Flavor interest for the birds, many have health benefits as well. I only know of one spice that isn’t safe to feed. A lot of the cinnamon sold is actually from cassia bushes, and is not true cinnamon which is from Ceylon trees. They are closely related plants but cassia cinnamon has a much higher content of coumarins, a compound that inhibits blood clotting. Birds cannot afford to loose much blood so feeding cassia cinnamon creates an unnecessary risk. If you want to use cinnamon make sure it’s pure Ceylon. Other than cinnamon, and alliums, I have never read or heard anything about any other herb or spice that makes me think they wouldn’t be safe to feed birds.  Make sure that what you use is salt and MSG free; preservatives, anti-caking agents and really any additives should be avoided.


Seeds are generally high in fat something that makes them a major culprit in fatty liver disease in parrots. By sprouting them much of the fats and sugars are used by the seed in the germination process and proteins are created along the way making sprouted grains and seeds very healthy. 
I don’t know of anything that is safe to sprout for humans that isn’t safe for birds. However,
canavanine, found in alfalfa sprouts can create autoimmune disease like symptoms in humans who have consumed large amounts.  In case that could happen with birds they should be fed in strict moderation.


 Contribute mostly carbs and proteins, respectively, but also important for fiber and minerals.  These are important for a healthy, complete diet but they can be overfed easily.
I want to mention quinoa specifically. This little pseudograin is very high in protein and has an excellent amino acid profile. It cooks fast and is delicious.

cooked beans, quinoa and wild rice
a bean soup mix after soaking for a day

                         Wild rice


Some of the more expensive organic,  and corn/ soy/ GMO free  pellets crumble pretty easily, it’s really a good thing meaning they are processed at a lower temperature but it also means there is a lot of waste. People add the crumbs or dust to chop as a way to use up those expensive pellets and soak up liquids. I prefer to use pellet dust when making birdie bread instead.


Like with greens, these are naturally a large part of a parrot’s diet and share most of the same nutrients as veggies. In some species, flowers, pollen and nectar are actually a large part of their diet.
Some edible flowers: nasturtiums, pansies, roses, Allium flowers, radish, mustard and kale.

Chop Making Procedure:

2+ days before you want to make chop start your sprouts, I like everybody to be showing at least a little radical(seed root) when I use them.
Pick out anything you wouldn’t want to eat: shriveled, moldy, broken, weird little foreign objects.

Then rinse them really well and put them in a container with twice their volume of water and more room to expand.  Changing the water while soaking once helps prevent your sprouts from becoming really compact in the container as they expand which makes them nigh impossible to get out and it helps prevent them from souring. Soaking overnight, 12 or so hours is best. Then poor off the soak water and rinse them really well.
 At this point you can put them in something like a wide bowl, jar, or mesh strainer. There are also these nifty mesh lids
for Mason jars so you can invert a jar of sprouts and even fancier there are gadgets specifically for sprouting.  You will need to rinse your sprouts at least twice a day, five times is better and frankly you can’t really rinse them to much as long as you are gently. If you don’t rinse enough the sprouts can sour, mold, rot and not grow. 

Some people rinse with various things besides water but I really think that’s unnecessary.  Simply using good sprouting practices is your best bet. Early the day you make chop rinse your sprouts one last time and let them dry out as much as possible before you start assembling the chop.

The next thing I do (it’s better to do this the day before) is cook what needs cooking. 
Things to add that should be cooked:
sweet potato/yams
beans beside the safe six
squash also benefits from being cooked but it isn’t necessary 
 You can cook the quinoa and rice called for in my recipe either by boiling in water until tender and then draining or in a rice cooked with a 2:1 water to grain ratio. Unless the quinoa package or bulk bin said specifically that you don’t need to, rinse it vigorously, rub the grains against each other and rinse. Quinoa has a saponin coating that can make it bitter and soapy tasting if not washed thoroughly. You can also sprout, instead of cook, the quinoa and rice.

None of the other veggies need to be cooked, other grains you can cook but you can also sprout them instead.


Chop, mince or use your food processor to make your veggies into the right size pieces. I always chop the greens by hand, I think the food processor just turns them into a paste, creating A TON of liquid in the process. Unless you have a really big food processor you will end up doing it in batches. 

I add each batch to the dry ingredients and make sure there is still dry things to soak up liquids from the other batches I will be adding. After the last batch of veggies is added I add the cooked bits and if it’s too wet add more dry goodies, then add the greens.

I Like chopping broccoli by hand but I’m sure it would be fine to chop in a food processor.

And..It’s Done!!! Do a happy dance, give your fids some to see what they think (if you haven’t already) and congratulate yourself for making a delicious healthy meal for your fids!
At this point check your chop wetness one last time, it should be just sticky and start packing it up for the freezer.

My hubby packaging for the freezer.

 A Few last Notes

Just as many people choose to feed themselves organic they are also choosing to feed their birds organic. It is simply not financially feasible for many people to buy all their food or most of their food organic for their fids and themselves. Luckily, there is a great group of people who put out a list of most and least contaminated produce to help you decide which things to buy organic. 

The dirty Dozen, Clean Fifteen list

 For more information about pesticide contaminated foods see the EWG’s website

If organic is simply outside what you can manage, remember by feeding even fully conventional chop you are feeding your birds much much better than the alternative of a diet comprised primarily of pellet and/or seed and little fresh foods.


 These resources have all sorts of information and ideas about chop and other crazy awesome ideas for things you can make for your fids!

 Further Resources

Parrot Nation
The Happy Cockatoo
Nourish to Flourish 
 The Parrot’s Pantry
Nourish to Flourish, A Healthy Cookbook for Parrots *affiliate link*

Last but not least, this post is by no means a complete list of ingredients, opinions, knowledge, methods or concepts about chop ( what’s here will become outdated knowledge but I do plan to change things as the knowledge changes). So, here’s where you come in! Share what’s worked for you; share what you disagree with me about, leave links to other resources and ask and answer each others questions! Widgets

This post is participating in The Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways Wednesday Blog Hop
Go check out all sorts of other blogs like ours!

I hope you found information and inspiration, come back soon!
Kindest regards,


thehappycockatoo · July 6, 2013 at 11:40 pm

Wonderful Job, Emily!

Sue Irwin · July 14, 2013 at 7:31 pm

Thank you. I really learned a lot…very informative 🙂

    Emily Swezey · July 15, 2013 at 12:47 am

    I’m so glad you found it useful! If there is anything you think I should add let me know.

Heidi + Eric Bennett · July 22, 2013 at 8:04 pm

Thank you for your great ideas!

    Emily Swezey · July 22, 2013 at 10:33 pm

    I’m Glad it inspired you and Thank You for leaving a comment!

Melissa Normandin · May 21, 2014 at 8:32 pm

Great combo of food!! Gonna try it for my 6yr yellow sided green cheek and almost 2m old. Will try adding some fresh/dried friut & some chopped up nuts (all in moderation of course)!

dawn a · May 23, 2014 at 12:48 am

Hia ive recently bought myself a much wanted 1st feather friend, my popeye (african grey) loves his seed but i would like to give him something other than parrot seed mix, i have been introducing him to apple,banana,grapes and pasta, im so scared to give him other foods incase i make him poorly, can i give him cauliflower,cabbage,carrot,broccoli,red/green peppers, if so do i give it raw or cooked, i was reading some of your ingrediants and tbh im a bit thick and havnt heard of some of the seeds and wouldnt no were to start looking for them but it does look yummy thanks for reading and any advice appreciated Dawn x

    Emily Swezey · May 31, 2014 at 6:34 pm

    Hi Dawn! I would recommend you find the Parrot’s Pantry on facebook to get support with healthy feeding and this awesome stuff. Hope to see you around again!

Patrick Bowen · February 18, 2017 at 10:15 am

Hi Emily – it was a thorough presentation indeed. Thank you for that. I do have one question and that has to do with Carrots. I have read that it is best to cook Carrots as It increases the nutritive value of this vegetable. There also seems to be a conflict regarding Swiss chard in your article, so I’m not sure if it is good to use or not.
Hope to hear from you.

Lisa · May 22, 2018 at 9:38 am

Is thete anywhere to buy this pre made online?

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