This is not a lengthy topic, but one that requires discussion. It is usually something that comes up only rarely, but two separate people made inquiries about this just this past week. Time for a blog post…
Parrots love nuts. They are an important part of the diet, an essential part with some species. They are very high in protein and minerals and are huge in delivering the essential fatty acids Omega 3 and 6. They are also very high in saturated fats and have to be fed keeping this in mind.
One of the best things about nuts is that they come in their own foraging containers. For the larger parrots, the challenge of opening the shell is as fun as eating what’s inside and it is an easy way for bird owners to provide enrichment in conjunction with food.
Normally, a parrot will crack open the shell and cast it aside – it has done its job and is no longer required. Sometimes, a parrot will use the pieces as a toy. I watched in amazement one day as my goffins cockatoo dipped a walnut shell half into her water bowl and drank from it.
Sometimes, though, for reasons that are their own, a parrot will eat the shell pieces. I have heard about this more often with cockatoos than with the other large species. Cockatoos are the parrot most associated with eating inedible items. It would seem that there is no end to cockatoo weirdness.
The danger of eating shell pieces lies in the fact that they are not digestible. Once swallowed, they can sit in an area of the digestive system and cause blockage. Death can come surprisingly quickly, before you ever see any of the obvious signs of illness.
I am not suggesting that you avoid feeding your bird nuts in the shell, they are a healthy and emotionally satisfying food for a parrot. Instead, I want you to be watchful for any signs that yours may be eating the shell. This could be evident if they break the shell down into very small pieces, or show too much interest in the shells after to nut has been eaten.
I would imagine that this is a parrot that would also be at risk of swallowing toy parts and other small objects in the environment and owners should be cautious about toy selection and the bird’s access to small things, or things that can be broken into small pieces.
Don’t be afraid to serve nuts – but, as always, be watchful!
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.