Parrots are in a class of their own—they’re starting to gain more respect and assume elevated roles as prominent family members, and they’re distinguishable from other pet birds due to their advanced intelligence. This requires retailers to craft an exhaustive selection of products for these animals that’s backed by a sound knowledge of them. With an array of topics to cover, the first one to brush up on—and the building block for the rest—is mental stimulation.
"Parrots require more enrichment than most other pet birds," says Emily Freeman, associate brand manager at Kaytee, headquartered in Chilton, Wis. "Parrots need to be challenged. Whether it’s something to tear apart to keep their beak entertained or a forage opportunity to keep their mind entertained, they need enrichment."
Discussing the clever tendencies of parrots, Tom Roudybush, founder of Roudybush in Woodland, Calif., adds that parrots are active creatures and always need some sort of outlet to alleviate boredom. If those channels aren’t provided, parrots will take matters into their own hands—or, more accurately, feet.
"I had a pair of parrots in a cage and they would take the water bowl that was too heavy for them to move by themselves," explains Roudybush. "They would team up and move it. They’ll play with anything you give them."
That strong mental aptitude is often taken into consideration by manufacturers when creating parrot food formulas. For Vitakraft Sun Seed, Inc., the company researches how different ingredients will not only nourish the bodies of parrots, but encourage behaviors that will enrich their minds and increase activity, such as foraging.
"The act of feeding, to a parrot, is not simply a way to satisfy hunger but it also stimulates them mentally and provides a source of entertainment," explains Tim Norsen, national sales manager of the Bowling Green, Ohio-based company. "Ingredients also have to be very consistent in quality and production, or the animals may notice the changes and alter their feeding behavior."
Citing the increased humanization of parrots, Gail Shepard, director of marketing for Shawnee, Kan.-based ZuPreem, notes that consumers who are shopping for food to nourish their parrots are searching for the same high-quality ingredients that they’re investing in for themselves.
"Birds are a member of the family with emotions, many with big personalities, loud sounds and even some ability to talk and interact," she says. "Manufacturers need to continue to develop products that meet the nutritional needs, as well as provide [the] stimulation and enrichment that accompany a bird’s food program."
Recently, Fran Sturms, owner of Cypress, Calif.-based brick-and-mortar Exotic Birds, has seen a movement toward mindful decision making, whether that’s through stocking low-fat formulas or reminding customers that a bird’s diet in the wild isn’t always consistent—it’s contingent upon seasonal availability.
To ensure comprehensive nutrition, Sturms feels fresh-cut fruit and vegetables are helpful, but seeds and pellets can’t be overlooked—they are convenient and nutritious on their own. She advises retailers to remain well-versed in all aspect of a parrot’s diet, even the nuances.
As an example, "don’t mix seeds and pellets together, because the bird will throw out the pellets," she advises. Instead, put two dishes—one filled with seeds, the other pellets—right next to each other.
Using the multiple-bowl approach will not only help parrots enjoy a well-rounded, nutritious diet, but it can also increase activity levels. For animals that are confined to a limited area for extended periods of time, increasing movement is important to supporting overall physical health and mental wellness.
"Placing multiple food bowls around the cage so that the parrot must work for their full meal is an easy way to get them moving," explains Freeman. "The more they can move about, the better they will be as a pet."
As more consumers seek to provide a nurturing environment for their birds, retailers must keep in mind that their customers are actively trying to promote and increase the owner-animal relationship outside a parrot’s cage or captivity area. Sturms has noticed an increased demand for accessories that will help maintain more inclusive familial bonds.
"A lot of people are getting into the flight suits and birdie harnesses," she says. "They are hard for birds to learn to wear if they’re older animals. I encourage people to start it with younger birds to start practicing—put it on, take it off, leave it on for a few minutes, keep the bird busy and only wear it when going out or doing something."
Additionally, smaller members of the parrot family, including conures, cockatiels and parakeets, have been growing in popularity.
"These medium-to-smaller birds provide a lower cost of entry into bird ownership, are easier to care for and are more appropriate when there are children in the home," adds Sturms. "The supply for these birds is probably more readily available, as well. Food trends are for slightly smaller package sizes, food that looks tasty and colorful and interesting shapes."
Although there seems to be little movement within the parrot products market, manufacturers are creating solutions that pet parents will want to invest in as the demand for products that optimize wellness increases.
"Healthy and stimulating products that promote overall well being have now become the standard of excellence in parrot-targeted items," explains Freeman. "Products that don’t enhance the parrot’s lives are no longer in favor with the pet enthusiast." PB