Birds eat…and they poop…and then they poop some more. A cockatiel might relieve himself every 15-30 minutes – that’s a lot of relief. Have you ever wondered about the journey your bird’s food takes before it becomes an embarrassing stain on your shoulder?
Let’s go through each step…
The Beak and Esophagus:
It all begins in the parrot’s mouth. The tongue and the inside of the beak are dry – a fact which your fingers may have discovered in an unfortunate way. Deeper into your bird’s digestive system, where the mouth meets the esophagus, saliva is present to assist with the swallowing of dry foods that are bitten off in digestible pieces.
Because birds don’t have hands and nature doesn’t supply shopping bags, parrots have a crop which is essentially a storage area for food. It serves two purposes: 1) it keeps birds safer because it allows them to gorge at a food source. By quickly collecting as much food as their crop can hold, it keeps them from having to risk going out in the open often during the day to eat. The stuffed crop will slowly dispense food to the stomach at a rate that will not overwhelm it. 2) The position of the crop makes it easy to regurgitate this food for their young. You may also have been the recipient of this gift of food during breeding season.
This is the first of a bird’s two part stomach. A series of contractions directs food from the crop to the proventriculus where digestive acids are secreted to begin the breakdown of the food before it is passed along to the next stage. In birds with PDD (Proventricular Dilation Disease), food is not processed properly and it sits in the proventriculus emitting gases and causing uncomfortable bloating in this area.
The Ventriculus (aka the gizzard):
This is the tough, muscular portion of the stomach where food is literally pulverized before moving on. Because parrots hull their seed before eating it, and because other parts of the captive diet are soft and easily digestible, our parrots DO NOT require the addition of grit in their diet to break down their food.
The Intestines and Cloaca:
Parrots have large and small intestines. In their small intestine, food is further processed to separate the nutrients from what will become waste matter. Nutrients are disbursed into the blood stream through the membranes of the small intestine. The large intestine connects the small intestine to the cloaca, the area where your bird’s droppings are collected and expelled – an event we witness all too often in the course of a day.
That is your bird’s digestive system – from beginning to end. This past week we’ve had a lot of discussion on our Facebook page about surgeries performed on parrots that bite off and swallow the cotton fibers from fabric accessories, toys and cotton rope perches.
Cotton fibers, in particular, present the biggest problems since they can become a tightly compacted wad in any area of the digestive system. From the diagram included in this article, it is easy to see how many different places a wad of cotton (or any other non-food item) might cause a blockage. Please remain acutely aware of this possibility with your bird.
As much as your furniture might disagree, an often pooping bird is a good thing. It’s a sign of proper digestive health and it simply comes with the territory when you take a bird into your home.
Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.