EPPO Global Database

EPPO Reporting Service no. 06 - 2007 Num. article: 2007/122

Pathway analysis: production and processing of small seeds for birds

Bird seeds have been identified as a pathway for the introduction of invasive alien plants as contaminants. It is estimated that the market for bird seeds is increasing by 4% every year. This is linked to the increase of income and leisure time in industrialized countries. Until recently, the market for bird food was mainly concentrated in the industrialized countries of the northern hemisphere, however sales of bird food in Australia, Brazil, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia and Mexico have increased substantially over the past five years. Bird food statistics are difficult to find as they are grouped under the general heading of “pet food”. In the USA alone, 52 million people spend USD2.5 billion on bird food. The total northern European market has an estimated value of more than USD1 billion, mainly in Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
The global bird food market can roughly be divided into the following sectors: caged and companion birds, wild birds and pigeons.

Feeding of wild birds is predominantly a winter activity in northern Europe and North America and is done around houses. With the increased awareness of nature conservation and outdoor activities such as bird watching, wild bird feeding is now a major hobby and the number of bird food mixes, feeders and other accessories has tremendously increased.
Consumers have become more knowledgeable about which seeds are preferred by certain bird species. In order to attract certain species and discourage others into their gardens or balconies, consumers require more and more different types of seeds. The growing trend to treat companion animals as members of the family who deserve the best possible care may orientate the market towards organically grown food, GMO-free food, special treats and food containing exotic ingredients.

Origin of the production
Although many of the ingredients are of tropical or subtropical origin, most of them are also cultivated as large-scale agricultural crops in North-America. The major bird seed grown in the tropics is Guizotia abyssinica (Asteraceae), produced by order of importance in India, Nepal, Ethiopia and Myanmar.
Most of the grain crops used as ingredients in bird food have their main market in human or animal nutrition. This implies that components of bird food are often rejects from human or animal food or rejects from the seed industry.

There are about 30 different plants whose seeds are used as bird food. Seeds are given to a variety of domestic and caged birds such as: chickens, pigeons, parrots, budgerigars and canaries. Commercial mixtures of bird seed for these birds vary from one producer to another but the basic ingredients are usually the same. Many of the plants imported as seeds are grown in tropical countries for local consumption. Only a small proportion of the total production is used as bird food.
Species used are the following:

Arachis hypogaea (Fabaceae)
It is more popular in Europe, but its use is increasing in the USA. The total volume used is believed to be small.
Avena sativa (Poaceae)

Brassica napus* (Brassicaceae)

Brassica rapa (Brassicaceae)
Seeds are sold in two colour varieties.
Camelina sativa (Brassicaceae)
Produced in Europe
Cannabis sativa (Cannabinaceae) Indian hemp
Grown in warm countries to produce fibre and narcotic resin.
Often sold as sterile seed to prevent misuse of the plant as a narcotic drug.
Capsicum annuum (Solanaceae)
Produced in Spain
Carthamus tinctorius (Asteraceae)
Seeds are used as a bird food because of their high oil content.
Global production is estimated to be 1.1 million tons. Produced in Australia, Argentina, Canada, China, Ethiopia (80;000 ha in this country), India, Mexico, the USA.
Carum carvi (Apiaceae)
Also introduced for culinary use.
Chenopodium quinoa (Chenopodiaceae)
Product of premium choice in health food stores and used in small quantities in bird food mixtures. Produced in South America, imported in the USA, Germany, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.
Cicer arietinum (Fabaceae)
Has also a culinary use in Greek food.
Cichorium intybus (Asteraceae)
Frequent in the wild in the United Kingdom. Also cultivated in gardens and on an agricultural scale.
Cuminum cyminum (Apiaceae)

Cuminum cyminum (Apiaceae)
Produced in Cyprus and other European countries.
Dipsacus sativus (Dipsacaceae)
Also cultivated for textile fibres. Produced in Europe.
Echinochloa crus-galli var. frumentacea (Poaceae)
Widely cultivated in the tropics and subtropics.
There is no data on the production or trade for the bird food industry. However, it is often cited as an ingredient in companion bird food mixes, which indicates a global trading. It is grown in Australia (Queensland), China and USA mainly for grazing or hay.
Echinochloa utilis (Poaceae)

Eleusine coracana* (Poaceae)

Fagopyrum esculentum (Polygonaceae)
Also used as game rearing. Produced in Europe
Guizotia abyssinica (Asteraceae)
A staple bird food included in many mixtures. Mainly produced in Ethiopia, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Bengladesh and countries of eastern and central Africa (by order of importance).
In Ethiopia, it is mainly used for edible oil. In India, 75% are used for oil extraction, the rest is exported for bird food to USA and Europe. In 2003, the USA imported 49 542 tons having a total value of almost USD27.8 million. For export to the USA, seeds should be heat sterilized (60 °C) before shipment. This is done to eliminate possible contamination by Cuscuta spp.
Helianthus annuus (Asteraceae)
Used for parrots and also incorporated in food for small mammals such as gerbils.
Between 1991 and 1993, the consumption of this species for bird food was 275 000 tons (USD170 million /year). Produced in Argentina, China, France, East African countries (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania), Hungary, India, Romania, Russian Federation, Spain, Ukraine, the USA.
Hordeum distichon* (Poaceae)

Hordeum vulgare (Poaceae)

Lactuca saligna (Asteraceae)
Also grown as a vegetable.
Lactuca sativa* (Asteraceae)
Also grown as a vegetable.
Linum usitatissimum (Linaceae)
Escapes from agricultural cultivation. Produced in the Netherlands.
Oryza sativa (Poaceae)
Used as a bird food with the husk still protecting the seed. Produced in Italy and Argentina.
Panicum miliaceum (Poaceae)
Widely grown as a food crop for man and his livestock. A staple food for birds used in a number of different colour varieties. The global area sown with millets is relatively stable at around 38 million hectares. Only about 1% of world millet production is traded internationally, representing 200 000 to 300 000 tons or approximately 0.1% of the global cereal trade. Out of all the millets, P. miliaceum is the most important species being traded with a volume of 100 000 to 150 000 tons per year. It is predominantly produced in the USA, Australia and Argentina and is exported almost exclusively to other developed countries (European Union, Japan, Switzerland and Canada) for bird food.
Papaver somniferum (Papaveraceae)
Also used as a garden plant.
Phalaris canariensis (Poaceae)
Primarily produced as bird food, rarely grown for human consumption. An important species for cage birds, included in most commercial mixtures.
The market is highly volatile. For example, world production varied from 300 000 tons in 1995 to 167 000 tons in 1997. Produced in Canada (75% of world production), the USA, Argentina (12%), Australia (3%), Hungary (2.5%), Mexico (2.5%), Greece, Turkey, Spain, Morocco, the Netherlands, England, Uruguay, Thailand. Most exports take place as bulk, unprocessed seed shipments and, to a lesser extent, as pre-packaged seed mixtures.
Phaseolus aureus* (Fabaceae)

Pimpinella anisum (Apiaceae)
Also introduced for culinary use.
Pinus edulis* (Pinaceae)

Pisum sativum (Fabaceae)
Sold as a pigeon food.
Poaceae are sold and include: Echinochloa utilis, Zea mays, Hordeum distichon, Hordeum vulgare, Triticum aestivum, Secale cereale.
Developing countries in Africa and Asia account for 94% of the global production of 28 million tonnes. India is the world’s largest producer (40%).
Secale cereale (Poaceae)

Setaria italica (Poaceae)
Widely grown and commonly used for human food, for fodder and brewing beer.
Imported as ears for Budgerigars from Italy, France and China
Loose grain sold under the misleading name “Panicum Millet” from USA, South-Africa, France, Australia and China.
Sorghum bicolor (Poaceae)
Used in wild bird food mixture. Also used for human and animal food. In recent years, its use in bird food seems to have declined.
Triticum aestivum (Poaceae)

Vicia faba (Fabaceae)
Also cultivated in gardens and on agricultural land.
Vicia sativa Fabaceae)

Zea mays (Poaceae)
Used both as bird food and in pet food for small mammals.

Legend: Species are quoted according to Lin, 2005 and to Hanson and Manson, 1985. Species in bold are quoted by both references. Species with an asterisk are only quoted by Hanson and Manson, 1985.

In addition to grain, fruits (banana, mango, papaya, coconut, almonds, pecans, sultanas), vitamin and mineral supplements, vegetable or fish oil and crushed shells are incorporated to bird food mixtures.

Processing and storage
Cleaning of seeds
Seed shipments first arrive in the importing country in sacks containing a large proportion of unwanted material such as husks, stalks, soil, stones, fragments of insects, weed seeds harvested with the crop, etc. The condition of seeds on arrival depends on the type of crop and the country of origin. Seeds are cleaned first by sieving to remove stones, soil and other large contaminants, and by blowing to remove dust and chaff. Seeds are then sorted using a revolving drum which is lined with indentations of the size and shape of the desired seed. This results in a fairly pure seed supply; the few contaminating seeds that escape the cleaning process are those that resemble the main seed most closely in size and shape.

Most of the birdseeds mentioned above can be cleaned by means of simple air/screen cleaners or by traditional methods such as hand threshing and winnowing. For most seeds, 98-99% purity is standard. It is also essential that bird seeds be shiny, look and smell fresh, be free of dead or live insects and noxious weeds and that the moisture content should not exceed 8-12%.
Guizotia abyssinica (Asteraceae) exported to the USA must undergo a heat treatment (60°C) before shipping to kill Cuscuta seeds that may be present.
The Birdcare Standards Association (BSA) in the United Kingdom has produced standards for wild bird feeding. Complying companies can carry the BSA logo.

Major players
Besides producers, others actors such as brokers, packers, and sellers participate in the bird seed pathway.
Brokers: commodity brokers are the link between producers and packagers or wholesalers. Major brokers are located in the USA (7) (in the High Plains, especially in Nebraska and Dakota, which are the main sunflower and millet growing areas), Australia (1), Belgium (1) and France (1).
Packers/wholesalers: they buy bird food ingredients from brokers or import them independently. The multi-national companies such as Nestlé, Proctor ; Gamble, Mars, Heinz and Colgate-Palmolive are large players in the pet food industry. Major packers and wholesalers are based in the USA (7), the Netherlands (3), the United Kingdom (2), Belgium (2), Germany (1) and France (1).
Retailers: in the USA, large supermarket chains (Walmart, Winn Dixie, Kroger) retail large volumes of bird food. It is a high value/margin product and supermarkets account for about 50% of all bird food sales in the USA. The situation is different in Europe as bird food is retailed through garden centres and specialized pet shops rather than through large supermarket chains. During last years, the number of Internet-based bird food retailers has largely increased.

Cover crops for the creation of hunting and wildlife habitats
The use of cover crops to create wildlife habitats for hunting or conservation/observation is increasing in the USA and in Europe. Cover crop mixtures may contain: Borago officinalis (Borraginaceae), Carthamus tinctorius (Asteraceae), Chamaecrista fasciculata (Fabaceae), Chenopodium quinoa (Chenopodiaceae), Cyperus esculentus (Cyperaceae, EPPO List of IAP), Dolichos lablab (Fabaceae), Echinochloa crus-galli var. frumentacea (Poaceae), Helianthus annuus (Asteraceae), Lespedeza cuneata (Fabaceae), Panicum miliaceum (Poaceae), Panicum ramosum (Poaceae), Paspalum notatum (Poaceae), Phalaris canariensis (Poaceae), Sesbania grandiflora (Fabaceae), Sorghum spp. (Poaceae), Sorghum vulgare rosburghii (Poaceae), Vicia faba (Fanaceae), Vigna spp. (Vitaceae) and Zea mays (Poaceae).

Market trends
The bird seed market is very competitive and tries to be innovative by continuously finding new mixtures. For instance, a company added Salvia columbariae (Fabaceae) to its organic bird food as it is a “mythical” energy food of the Native American Indians. Most bird seed packagers are constantly seeking new sources or suppliers of raw material, both to diversify their product lines and to maintain a competitive price.


BSA Birdcare Standards Association. http://www.birdcare.org.uk/whatisthebsa.htm
Edo Lin (2005) Production and processing of small seeds for birds. Food and agriculture organization of the United Nations, Rome. http://www.fao.org/docrep/008/y5831e/y5831e00.htm
Hanson CG, Mason JL (1985) Bird seed aliens in Britain. Watsonia 15, 237-252. http://www.watsonia.org.uk/html/watsonia_15.html