What We DON’T Know About Parrots

I was listening to the Ask The Bird Experts weekly webcast the other night.  Liz Wilson was speaking about how little we actually know about parrots.  After so much research has been done about parrots in the wild, there are very few questions that can be answered with absolute certainty.

I have complained in past posts about the fact that there isn’t a formulated diet that can duplicate a parrot’s natural one. This is because we really don’t know what they eat.  A field researcher can spend months observing the foraging habits of a certain species and come up with diddly for his efforts.  He can see which foods are selected, but when a parrot’s beak is done with it, the remains are hard to inspect.  We don’t know what layers on the food are being sought after, which are being eaten, or how much is actually ingested.  For instance,  in fruits and veggies, the layer nearest the outer rind or skin is usually the highest in nutrients. But we don’t know if that is what the parrot went after, we can only guess because that makes sense. After a parrot decimates and scatters it’s food, it is nearly impossible to analyze what or how much has been eaten. The bird, of course, is long gone…to somewhere.

That is another dead end.  We really don’t know where many of the species live or roost.  Liz  made a really good point in that in South America, the macaws have been observed at the clay licks for years. We know that they go there – for about 15 minutes a day.  After that they vanish into the canopies and are lost to us.  I remember doing my research in cockatoos years ago.  I was shocked at how little information about their wild habitats was available then, and there is not much more known now.

Avian medicine forges on. There have been some huge advances over the years. One of the most exciting is research in PDD (Proventricular Dialation Disease).  A couple of years ago, a veterinarian at Texas A&M isolated a brain enzyme in parrots with PDD, making it possible to detect the disease with a simple blood test instead of a very invasive crop biopsy.  To my knowledge, though, this test is not yet available, but it is a very hopeful sign of things to come.

As parrots rise in popularity all over the world, now the third most popular household “pet”, the need for information increases. Half of me hopes that this elusive wild parrot will find a way to remain hidden from humans, the other half wants to know more to benefit the parrots in my living room.

Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.

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