As I get to know more non-bird people as I move through life, or as they get to know me, they quickly learn about my passion for parrots. I am almost always referred to as “the bird lady”.This is not a term I relish because I wonder if, when out of earshot, the word “crazy” doesn’t get added to that phrase. I’m pretty used to it and I don’t expect most people to understand my “thing” for birds.
When I do happen upon another bird owner I get very excited and could talk forever. Sometimes, though, I meet an owner that just doesn’t get it, doesn’t understand birds and is clueless about their needs. I have to try hard not to lecture about the error of their ways. It serves no one if they walk away feeling reprimanded, having learned nothing.
I met one such person the other day. She has a young cockatiel, one of my favorite species. I have two that I cherish. We talked for a while about their wonderful personalities and trusting natures.
We got on the subject of feeding and she was shocked to learn that I prepare fresh foods for my birds everyday. Her bird is on a seed only diet. I explained to her why a bird requires more than seed to sustain good health and offered her assistance in converting her bird to a fresh food diet. Her response was: “Thanks, but he’s fine on the seeds. He’s healthy.” An opinion reached based on the fact he isn’t dead, I guess.
As we continued talking she mentioned that his favorite food is chocolate. I felt my jaw drop – feeding a bad diet is one thing, feeding your bird a toxic substance is quite another. I told her that chocolate ranked high on the list of most toxic substances to birds. I explained that it contains theobromine, which causes vomiting and diarrhea, and can progress to cardiac arrhythmias, heart attacks, seizures, internal bleeding and eventual death. The darker chocolates, with the higher the percentage of cacao, are the most dangerous.
She snapped at me: “Well, you’re wrong! My bird has been eating chocolate for months now since he’s been with me!” I suggested that she google unsafe parrot foods where she would find chocolate listed right below avocado. She rolled her eyes and said: “My bird is totally fine eating chocolate.” All I could do at this point was issue a stern warning: “You are going to kill your bird if you don’t educate yourself on how to take care of him.” I felt bad that she walked away angry, but I felt worse knowing that her poor bird would suffer because of her ignorance.
I feel certain that most everyone reading this is aware that chocolate is very dangerous for birds, and I thought you might be interested in reading this article: “Death By Chocolate” written for the New Zealand Veterinary Journal about the demise of a wild kea, an extraordinary species of parrot native to New Zealand, who managed to come across chocolate one day in his search for food. It is a bit technical in its terminology, but very interesting and gives some history on this fascinating and sometimes problematic bird.
Chocolate is unsafe. Unfortunately, it is sweet and yummy, and most birds, given the opportunity, would eat it all day long. The cockatiel owner I met has gotten lucky so far, but I’m betting that it’s only because she buys cheap chocolate that has a low cacao percentage. Her, or more precisely, her bird’s luck will run out. Resist the urge to share any junk foods with your birds and don’t eat them in their presence if they are persistent in wanting to share.
Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.