Photo: Obese blue fronted amazon, Storm, carrying about 30% more than his species' average weight.
Companion parrots experience both advantage and disadvantage with the humans in their lives. To their advantage is the human who loves them and provides them with all their needs – feeds them the healthiest diet, offers enrichment and vet care as needed.
To their disadvantage is the human who loves them and provides them with all their wants – rushes to release them when they insist on coming out of the cage, makes excuses for unwanted behaviors and shares their food.
This is where a parenting guide would tell you that a “good parent knows how to say no”. If we were here talking about children, that might be appropriate. But with parrots, the fact of the matter is, the word “no” has little meaning.
Sure, your parrot might hesitate from biting into the windowsill when you say no. And he might even understand that you disapprove of his action. But his hesitation is only to gauge your distance so he can measure how fast he needs to proceed before you can stop him.
Parrots are not plagued by issues of right or wrong, these things do not exist in their world. To them, things, situations, opportunities simply are. If there is something that interests a parrot – it goes for it without a second thought.
It’s when you refuse them access to it that the trouble begins. They can be most persistent – we’ve all felt the pressure of that. But this can be particularly problematic when the object of desire is food.
Did you know that human junk food is the highest contributing factor in parrot obesity? Without ever speaking to the owner of an obese parrot, I could tell them, with certainty, the precise origin of the problem: it started on the very day their parrot tasted his first ___________ (fill in potato chip/french fry/other here).
Your parrot sees (and hears) everything that goes on in your house, make no mistake about it. If you were to walk past your bird’s cage holding a cookie, he would certainly notice, but you might as well be carrying a wrench. Having never experienced a cookie, he might think: “That’s a cool round thing. Maybe it will still be around when I come out to play later.” And he would go on about his business of destroying his toys.
The bird that has tasted the cookie before will, in no uncertain terms, let you know that he wants it, and will be relentless until you give in. The point is, if you want to keep your bird healthy and don’t want to deal with the nightmare that will ensue every time you get a snack and refuse your parrot any, don’t ever let him have that first taste!
If that isn’t enough motivation, let me tell you what happens to the body of an obese parrot:
- Obesity begins when the body takes in more calories than it burns. As fat begins to accumulate, energy levels drop, lessening activity and the expenditure of calories. It becomes the proverbial vicious cycle.
- With obesity comes high blood pressure and high cholesterol. With those comes heart disease, as it struggles to pump blood through thickening veins. Eventually, the heart weakens and fails.
- As the liver becomes inundated with fat, it swells and develops scar tissue that inhibits its function. Fatty Liver Disease. It begins to fail in its efforts to filter toxins and metabolize fats.
- As weight continues to increase, it begins stressing joints. The risk of stroke and heart attack continues to increase….
- At this point, your bird is in dire need of a specialized diet and exercise. However, its body is so taxed with the excess weight it has no energy to move – climbing is difficult and flight is nearly impossible. As fat builds up inside the body, it claims any room available for the expansion of the air sacs that takes place during flight. The body is unable to fulfill the need for increased oxygen during exercise, severely restricting movement.
The fatter your birds gets, the more difficult it is to rebound from the affliction and drastic measures need to be taken.
A healthy parrot naturally gravitates towards a healthy diet. It’s what they do in the wild, and the reason they have been around for so many millions of years. They’ve had it right all along. We should encourage a natural diet that does not include human snacks and restricts high-fat parrot snacks.
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.