Q: I was on another bird site and someone said that potato chips were toxic to birds. I have given chips to my african grey many times and he has never gotten sick. He loves chips and I don’t want to have to take them away from him unless they really are bad for him. Are they safe or not?
-Michelle B., St. Petersburg, FL
A: There is a big difference between something being toxic and being bad for you. If you look up the word toxic, it is defined as something poisonous, so in that regard, potato chips or other humans snacks are not toxic. However, they are far from being good for your parrot either.
Snack foods, by nature, are all about indulgence and play no role at all in delivering nutrition. In fact, many of our snack foods really shouldn’t be called food at all as they are concocted in a laboratory and made from ingredients that we can technically ingest without causing immediate harm. Their excessive use of processed sugars, fats and salts are, instead, slowly killing anyone who eats them regularly. They are something that we supposed to “allow” ourselves only on occasion for a very good reason, but they taste so good that it is hard to deny yourself.
Parrots are not unlike humans in their eating habits. The “wisdom of the wild” that should be evident in every parrot is nowhere to be found when it comes to the eating tendencies of a captive parrot. If you gave most birds the choice between a potato chip and a green bean, they would choose the chip. However, if you offered that choice to a parrot that had never tasted a potato chip, he would naturally be inclined towards the healthy food.
Is a potato chip going to kill your parrot? No…not today. The risk lies in a lifetime of chips – and that process has already begun with your bird.
Some birds who are allowed human snack foods reach a place where they lose interest in their healthy foods and will only accept the better tasting junk food. Every time you give your bird another chip, you are running the risk that this will be the result for your bird and then you will have to do what needs to be done to get him back on track with a proper diet. Indulging your parrot today will definitely not have been worth it if your bird tests positive for fatty liver disease in the future.
If your bird have never tasted a potato chip, or any other human treat, don’t set a precedent by offering it. If you have a bird that is all about the snack foods, our cookbooks include recipes for parrot safe “french fries” and other healthy snacks that are designed to help get your bird off the junk food without them even realizing it.