Q: Is it safe to feed uncooked pasta to my birds?
-Julie B., Syracuse, NY
A: It is fairly common knowledge that pasta is safe for parrots. However, most people would no sooner think to serve it to their birds uncooked than they would eat it that way themselves.
Dried pasta is has a couple of distinct advantages. It is firm and holds its shape making it ideal as a safe vessel for foraging or as a plaything. Additionally, even though it’s food, it does not collect bacteria while dry making it safe to leave in the cage for longer periods.
The concerns about dry pasta (as well as dried grains) stems from two thoughts:
1) Broken pasta pieces are sharp and might be dangerous to swallow, and
2) Pasta and grains expand in moisture and if a bird ate enough of it, the expansion could kill them
Let’s look at each idea separately…
I have never actually seen a bird eat dried pasta. I wonder if they don’t consider it more of a toy than a food item. My birds will chew it into oblivion and drop it to the cage bottom. But that does not mean that some birds will not eat it understanding that it is food.
Before I began writing this post I went into my pantry and popped a piece of uncooked ziti into my mouth. When I bit into it, it did not break into life threatening shards but into manageable pieces with little effort. I swallowed them without incident.
Given a birds much more powerful bite pressure, I feel pretty certain that they would have no trouble whittling dried pasta into safe pieces. I do not believe this to be an issue because I don’t think a bird would purposely swallow something too sharp any sooner than something that is too large.
(I must add that some bird have been known to do strange things such as swallow nut shell pieces or toy parts. If your bird is known to eat unsafe or inedible things, there are many precautions you need to be taking aside from avoiding dried pasta.)
With regards to the concerns with over-expansion in stomach fluids – it is a myth. This may have roots in the urban legend about the horrific, stomach exploding deaths wild birds supposedly suffered after eating the rice thrown during weddings. It never happened.
For starters, bird have been eating wild dry grains forever, a food that would not have remained in the natural diet of birds if it were dangerous to them.
It is true that grains and pasta expand in moisture, but they do so very, very slowly. When we cook pasta or grains, it is subjected to intense heat that speeds the absorption rate up enormously. A bird’s body will digest these foods long before they could expand to a degree where a bird was in danger.
I can say without any hesitation whatsoever that dried pasta is safe for birds.
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.