Q: Why won’t MY bird eat fruits and vegetables?
– Peter L., Minneapolis, MN
A: Getting your bird on a proper diet is the single biggest challenge faced by bird owners. The challenge itself is two-fold: 1) getting the owner to understand the meaning of the term “good diet” – to which there are many parts, and 2) getting the bird to cooperate. Neither is easy.
To begin with, the owner, especially the new owner, might only have an awareness of a seed and/or pelleted diet. Most people only learn about the necessity for fresh foods and grains through self education or when a parrot is sold or passed along by a conscientious and knowledgeable prior caretaker. It is still shocking to me how many people today have parrots and are clueless about their dietary needs.
So, once the hurdle of education is overcome with the typical owner, the mountain that is commitment to that diet must be climbed. This is often where even the most well-intentioned owner falls apart when their stubborn parrot simply will not eat the great foods they are providing. It is frustrating and disappointing and causes many to abandon their efforts.
The most important words in this article are: NEVER GIVE UP! You will hear me repeat that over and over in my posts about diet and on Facebook when this subject arises as it inevitably does. Your commitment to improving your bird’s diet (and quality of life) is the most powerful weapon you have in accomplishing this mission. AND IT WORKS. I don’t know of a single person who has diligently and relentlessly pushed a fresh food diet on their bird that has not found some success.
Let’s define the word “success“… My idea of success is when you cross that invisible line that separates the bird that is entirely intolerant of any change to its routine from the one that will at least give something new a try.Your efforts may conclude with your bird only liking a few fruits or veggies. Your bird may never be like your friend’s amazon that would eat a rock if her owner told her it was yummy. But it is a huge development to get a parrot that is set in it’s ways to open it’s mind, and you can be very proud of yourself for this accomplishment. It is the first of many positive changes in your bird’s life.
Now, let’s define what is meant by “diligently and relentlessly“. .. This is where a diet conversion usually fails. It is a huge bummer to throw out bowl after bowl of untouched food day after day, month after month. Believe me, I know this. I’ve lived it. But I also know that because I didn’t stop out of frustration, one of my pickiest birds (Linus, bless his heart) eventually decided to investigate his broccoli. In doing so he accidentally tasted it and decided he kinda liked it. It is one of his favorite foods now (along with yellow squash). It took two years to accomplish this, though. No joke. I simply refused to be defeated.
Now that we have an understanding of what needs to be done, we can move on to different ways to do it. The very best diets are the ones that are most diverse. There is not one single food in our diet that covers all the nutritional bases. There are some foods that have more to offer than others, but even some foods of lesser value will contain things that are needed and might not be available through other sources. ALL foods are important. Additionally, this diet plan offers the benefit of variety, something parrots appreciate.
Variety and diversity is also shown in the ways that you prepare and present new foods. It is preferable to serve raw veggies to your birds because the cooking process destoys many of the nutrients that are available in a vegetable’s raw form. However, if you find your bird is only interested in them when they are cooked and warm, then so be it. This is by far and away preferable to the seed-only diet he may have been on. Some birds may prefer the texture of frozen or canned veggies, which tend to be softer and wetter (some actually like the veggies still frozen in the summer months).You can try a conversion to raw down the road.
Presentation plays an important role in whether or not your bird will be enticed over to investigate what is in his bowl. Cutting the foods into different sizes and shapes may do the trick. Carrots, for instance, can be cut in many different ways: matchsticks, lengthwise, cubes, coins. For the larger birds you can offer a whole carrot, complete with greens still attached. My birds love carrot tops.
Hang foods in the cage on kabob skewers or don’t hang them – put the kabobs on the floor of the cage or right in the food bowl. Weave or jam foods into the cage bars. Wrap a favorite nut inside a spinach leaf and secure it with a toothpick. Punch holes in a dixie cup a put a carrot stick into each hole. Do whatever comes to mind. You know your bird better than anyone else. You are familiar with what inspires play. Use that to your advantage and create things that will cause him to accidentally take new foods into his mouth. This is usually the prelude to eating them intentionally.
I want to reiterate my words from above: NEVER GIVE UP!! Don’t stop out of frustration or the assumption that you will meet failure. It is all down to how much effort YOU put into this battle. If you persevere, you will win. The biggest winner, of course, is your bird, but I can’t tell you how GREAT it feels when you watch your bird willingly and happily eating his green beans at breakfast.
Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.