In the wild, parrots, with the help and guidance of their parents and other flock members, learn their way around the plant life in their native lands. The day may begin with a visit to their local clay lick to help them ward off the toxins produced by the plants they forage on. They manage to provide themselves with a healthy and well balanced diet without human intervention.
In a captive setting, I always make sure to vary fruits, vegetables and the other foods I serve to my parrots as much as possible. This way, I can feel more certain that they are getting that balance, since different foods provide for the body’s different needs at that time. They may not touch the green beans this week, but next week they will be a favorite. While there are days when they don’t eat some of what I serve, I leave this decision up to them, believing that they naturally know what they need to eat.
I have always paid a great deal of attention to the cravings that I get and I act on them. There are times when I just HAVE to have some broccoli, and it is always the case that when I look back on my diet over that prior week, I haven’t eaten as many veggies as usual. I believe cravings are my body’s way of telling me what it requires. I have to assume that a bird’s body will send those same signals as well.
Still, if you put a bowl of fresh veggies and a bowl of snacks into the cage at the same time, most parrots will go for the snacks. Most captive parrots do not seem to follow the example of of their more experienced and wiser wild counterparts. I don’t feel confident that, given the choice between greens and sunflower seeds, that our parrots would make the right choice. When lunch time rolls around, and I have to decide between a sandwich and a cupcake, I don’t always do the right thing.
In the movie Home Alone, McCauley Culkin’s young character finds himself stranded by himself in his home while his family is en route to Europe for the holidays. His first inclination is to dine on microwave popcorn and other assorted snacks, but after a while, realizing that he was responsible for his own well being, he starts making himself healthier meals. Would our parrots make the right decisions?
Perhaps a parrot’s inclination toward snack foods is because WE are responsible for their diet and since we aren’t able to provide them with a forest of choices to select from, they no longer feel that responsibility to themselves when it comes to fulfilling their dietary needs. The bottom line seems to be that we can’t expect them to take the high road like McCauley Culkin’s character in the movie.
Since we have to put so much effort into getting our parrots to eat that which is best for them, it makes sense that we should offer those foods when they are the hungriest and give the snack foods once we are satisfied with their healthy food intake that day.
Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.