The Picky Parrot
Retailers can guide customers through the process of getting finicky parrots on a balanced diet.
For the most part, parrots do not think or behave exactly like people do. But one thing parrots have in common with many humans–particularly kids–is that they don’t like to eat things they haven’t seen before. They can be unyieldingly stubborn when it comes to changing their diet. Birds will literally throw food they don’t want on the cage floor. Sounds like some kids you know?
Retailers can serve as a great source of information and support for parrot owners looking to offer their birds the most nutritious, balanced diet possible. But first, retailers need to understand how to work with these notoriously finicky eaters.
Larger parrot species have shown they have the mentality of a child between two-and-a-half and three years old. Unlike kids, however, parrots never grow out of this stage and that can prove frustrating to a bird owner trying to get their parrot to eat something new to them. Whether giving a bird a vegetable it has not seen before or trying to get a bird to change from a mainly seed mix to a pellet diet, bird owners need lots of patience.
A parrot can and will literally starve to death if abruptly changed to a completely new diet, so pet stores and bird owners need to make changes gradually. For instance, the best way for a bird owner to transition a bird from a seed diet to a pellet diet is to mix some pellets in the seeds to start with, or even better, to make a mash by adding water and seeds to the pellets, using less and less seed over time. Once the bird is eating the mash freely, then the owner can start offering dry pellets.
The process of changing a bird over to a new main diet can take anywhere from two weeks to two months or more, depending on the age of the bird, how long it’s been on a specific diet and its stubbornness level. The longer a bird sees any food, the more likely it will begin to eat it. Generally it is best for most parrot species to eat a diet made up of species- or group-specific pellets (approximately 60 percent); dark-colored vegetables (around 30 percent); and some fruits (not too much citrus, however, and no avocado), nuts, grains, treats and seeds to make up the last 10 percent.
When introducing vegetables, fruits and other foods, bird owners should offer the same foods every day cut into pieces around the size or slightly smaller than the parrot’s bill. New foods should be spread on top of the bird’s regular diet so that, at the very least, it must pick through the unfamiliar food to get to the diet they are used to eating. It can take weeks for a bird to finally try something new, but consistency and patience will win out over time.
Seed mixes that include high-fat seeds such as sunflower and safflower seeds are like candy to birds, so they will always pick the seeds over the pellets or any other new food. Owners assume that a bird knows what it “needs” to live and survive, but this is not the case. If a bird was brought up on seeds alone, then that is what the bird will prefer to eat until pushed to change to another diet.
The owner must start to slowly cut back on feeding the favored but “bad” diet and replace it with the “good” one. Offering the bird both the new and more familiar or favored foods in equal measure and then letting the bird choose what it wants to eat, simply will not work. A parrot, like a child, will go for the “junk” food.
Retailers should be sure to give their birds a variety of healthy foods and explain to a new owner how to get the bird to try new foods at home. Retailers can advise an owner who already has a bird that is being stubborn to start weaning it off the familiar and to keep offering it the new foods every day for as long as it takes until their pet begins to eat it. In other words, the owner needs to be more stubborn than their bird.
Robyn Bright has a master’s degree in parrot biology and more than 35 years of pet retailing experience.