When I wrote a blog post on cleaning tips, I mentioned the incredible staining ability of a red Dragonfruit. A few people commented wanting to know what a Dragonfruit was. I could relate to those questions as I could remember a time when I had no idea either. The questions have inspired me to share some of the weirder things that end up in my birds’ food bowls.
My favourite vegetable shopping experience was when a cash register operator held up a very long yellow chilli, looked at me blankly and said: “Banana?” in a very hopeful voice. At the time, I was horrified that someone didn’t know what a banana or a chilli was, but if you haven’t been exposed to it, how are you going to know what it is?
Well for those who haven’t noticed, I have a definite evil streak in my personality. It’s a real character flaw but I find it amusing to buy the weirdest vegetables and fruits on the planet and wait and see how creative the cash register person is going to be when they try to work out what it is.
This has led me to spend hours researching the properties of different fruits and vegetables just to see what I can do with these weird and wonderful things when I happen to find them. Naturally, it led me to investigate what was safe or good for my birds too.
The end results? My fruit bowl looks like it escaped from a science fiction movie and cash register operators tend to suddenly decide they’re “on break” when they see me coming. As for my birds, their reactions to my weird food obsession may have inadvertently reinforced my evil streak as they constantly have me laughing.
I’ve compiled a list of some fruits and vegetables that not everyone will be familiar with. I serve them on occasion as an addition to my birds’ core diet; as one more way of adding variety to their daily lives. Like anything, moderation is best – so they’re in addition to the balanced diet that a good natural feeding system provides.
Rambutans, Lychees and Longans are three Asian fruits that my birds love. They vary in sweetness and speaking as an incurable chocoholic – I love sweet things. Longans are therefore my favourite of the three. Like peaches, apricots and other ‘stone fruits’ they come with a warning. I remove the pits, as there are studies that say the pit is slightly toxic. (A small slit with a paring knife and a quick squeeze gets the single seed out of the centre.) The fruits themselves are perfectly safe and a great refreshing treat in the summer months (when they are in season). If you’re lucky you can sometimes even find them for sale still attached to branches, making them an excellent foraging opportunity.
I can still remember my Rainbow lorikeets’ reactions to seeing a Rambutan for the first time. Dori looked in the food bowl and promptly fell off her perch. What followed was excited lorikeet chatter between Dori and Lori on the opposite side of the cage to the scary looking food. I’ll never know exactly what they were saying but it sounded very much like:
“Did you see what the crazy witch put in the food bowl this time?!??”
“I know!!! It has HAIR!!!!”
“Do you think it can eat us?”
“I don’t know – you check it out!”
“Why me? YOU can check it out!!!!”
Then they started head butting each other until Dori finally grabbed Lori by the tail and swung her into the food bowl where she screamed and fell to the ground knocking the weird hairy thing out in the process. They then spent the next 4 hours sneaking up to it, nudging it and then running away again until one finally discovered that a Rambutan can be picked up by the ‘hair’ and thrown at the other bird and a weird game of Rambutan soccer developed from there.
There are some fruits and vegetables that should come with the word MESSY firmly embedded into their skin as a warning. There are two types of Dragonfruit. One has red flesh and the other has white. They’re basically identical from the outside (bright pink). The red flesh variety is the messy one. This stuff can dye anything pink! Dragonfruit reminds me a bit of a kiwi fruit. It has these small seeds throughout its flesh and a similar sort of sweet taste. My eclectus Pepi spends hours picking the seeds out and creating this lovely smeared mess over every possible surface within his cage.
Again they’re usually more easily found in the warmer months and make a great refreshing treat. They contain a lot of water (they come from a cactus plant), so great for keeping a bird hydrated in a heatwave!
If I’m going to talk messy, I should mention beetroot. That’s what we call it in Australia, but some of you may know it as ‘red beet’. It is an absolute nightmare to clean up after the birds have had a go at this stuff. It even turns a bird’s poo pink, which is a definite down side as it can disguise an illness that might be diagnosed through the colour of a bird’s dropping. It’s the root part of this vegetable that I serve (although the foliage is safe) and I usually serve it raw. I’ve read some really interesting research on how beetroot assists with liver problems, particularly in relation to liver disease. From personal experience I’ve found that slightly ill birds have seemed to gain more energy after a round of dying my white tiles a pretty shade of pink and I doubt that’s a coincidence!
Still on the messy side of things, I should mention pomegranate. Most of you will know what a pomegranate is, but just in case you haven’t discovered the joys of scraping it off your ceiling – I thought I’d bring it up. The weird thing for me with pomegranate is its presentation. Kind of like an apple from the outside, it has bright red kernels on the inside that remind me of corn. Weird in presentation for me because my galahs absolutely hate it when I give them a chunk, but if I serve loose kernels they love it. On the flip side, the rest of my birds seem to prefer the fun of digging the kernels out of the fruit themselves. It pays to mix up the presentation if you have picky eaters.
Mangosteens are one of my personal favourites. I think it’s because I used to think they were a fictional fruit. I must admit, I first heard of them in the computer game the “Sims”. Mangosteens seemed to have almost magical properties in that game; if eaten by a character, they restored health and energy and made them that bit stronger. In one version of the game they even made characters glow in the dark. It never even remotely occurred to me that they could be real. Seeing one in the supermarket for the first time was a bit like randomly coming across a unicorn. A few people did look at me a little weirdly when they witnessed my excited reaction. Mum said she hates shopping with me!
Interestingly, there are a lot of peer-reviewed studies out there based on Mangosteen. If even half of the studies are true, they really do have some amazing health benefits. Aside from that, the birds love them. The smaller birds need some help getting past the skin, but the larger birds chew through the skin and get to the flesh inside quite easily. They are a particular favourite of Fid, my Blue and Gold Macaw, who holds them in his claws and munches on them as if they’re an apple. The inside flesh is very soft – so very easy for a small bird to get into.
Star Fruit remind me of capsicum in their texture but they’re way more fun to cut up! High in Vitamin C and antioxidants they definitely have some health benefits in their makeup. The birds seem to love them. There is a lot of water in them, so again they are a nice option to help keep a bird hydrated. Don’t overdo it though, or you’ll end up with some very watery bird poo!
Feijoas are a bit like what I’d imagine a cross between a fig and a melon would be. They’re actually a type of guava and the birds love them. I don’t often even bother chopping them up for my larger birds as they quite happily hold them and chew through the skin (which isn’t that tough). Smaller birds may need help getting through to the pulp though.
Another favourite is the Tamarillo. Every time I’ve tried to buy one of these the cash register operator has looked at me and hopefully said “Tomato???” They look and feel similar but are very sweet to taste. My birds love these almost as much as pomegranate – which is really saying something!!! Again they’re a nice source of vitamins, antioxidants and even a little bit of calcium. The best bit though, they don’t dye the entire environment pink like some of their other favourites!!!!
If you have birds that like to chew and destroy anything wooden (cockatoo owners????) you might want to look into Custard Apples. I personally can’t imagine ever trying to eat one raw, as cutting one in half is a bit like sticking a knife into a boulder. It wouldn’t be that hard to break a tooth! Even so, I cut them in half and remove seeds before giving them to my birds. I then usually skewer them on a stainless steel fruit stick and leave the birds to do the rest. Admittedly I do use a rubber mallet to smack the pin of my fruit sticks through the fruit. It’s not something I recommend doing in front of a guest. (“I asked for coffee?!?? You don’t need to pull out a hammer on me!!!”) My galahs in particular love chipping away at custard apples, but then they’d eat the house if I let them!
This list could be substantially longer, but I’m going to end it with Persimmon, which seems to be the current favourite at my house. It’s another one that gets hopefully labelled as a ‘tomato’ by bemused grocery store staff. I guess it looks similar to yellow-orange tomato, but it’s a lot crunchier when you bite into it. My birds all seem to love sweet things – so that is possibly why persimmons are so popular. It’s a nice mix of crunch (so fun to destroy) with a sweet tang to its taste. The only problem that I have is with sharing them with the birds because I happen to like them too!!!
To learn how to provide a healthy and balanced diet for your bird 365 days a year, click here: Natural Feeding System.
Mel Vincent works as an animal rehabilitator out of Australia.