There was a question following one of my recent posts that I thought would make an interesting topic for a new blog post. I had made a reference to adding crushed egg shells to an omelet I was preparing for my birds. I do this often because of the added calcium provided by the shells of the eggs, which are made mostly of calcium. This is particularly a good idea for parrots producing eggs during breeding season.
It was asked if the shells weren’t harmful to the bird’s throat in swallowing them, and should they be finely crushed or powdered before serving. She also commented that many wild birds use gravel or grit in their diets and wondered if we should be doing the same with our parrots.
To answer both questions, I want to first explain the digestive system of a parrot: a parrot will first break apart their food with their beak, which is then passed along to the crop. It is my understanding that the amount processing the food undergoes in the beak is determined by the intentions of its final destination. If the food is stored in the crop for the purpose of regurgitation to a chick, it is more finely broken down by the beak.
The food is passed from the crop to the proventriculus, which is the first section of their two part stomach. It is in this secreting area that the food is broken down by enzymes before being passed to the ventriculus , the muscular portion of the stomach. The food there is pulverized before being passed further into the bird’s system where nutrients are separated from waste materials and distributed.
Grit or gravel (which is made of from rock, sand, oyster shells etc. in many wild bird’s diets), is there to provide the same service that is accomplished by our parrot’s ventriculus, or muscular stomach. Since parrot’s also hull their seeds and nuts and eat only the soft inner parts, gravel is NOT a requirement in their diet. It is simply an unnecessary aid to breaking down food and can actually cause harm to the digestive system. Unfortunately, it is sold in many pet stores without any warnings as to it’s hazard to parrots.
With regards to adding egg shells to the diet, I can understand how it would be of concern that your bird eat anything that resembles a shard. However, your bird is equipped to properly break down the pieces as necessary before ingesting them. I have never heard of any parrot choking on or becoming impacted by an egg shell. I do want to recommend that you thoroughly clean the shells before introducing them into your parrot’s food. They are porous in texture and tend to grab and hold onto germs.
Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.