Your Parrot’s Digestive System

 

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.

The Crop:

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.

The Proventriculus:

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.


Photo credit: fernbank.edu

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.

4 comments

W.J.R. Halyn

20 years ago I was given a Goffin’s Cockatoo that had been abandoned at a pet sitter’s. He (Jasper) must have had former owners that kept him in a cage 24/7 and treated him like furniture. He was pretty twitchy and shy, almost neurotic. I made a nice vertical perch for him and kept it in a high-traffic corner of the house where everyone could interact with him, and he came out of his “shell” in a few weeks, and became very friendly and interactive. His nickname is “Mr. Sociable”. I can go to the park on a warm day with him, and people will come up and be curious. He’ll sometimes hop on their shoulders, going from person to person, while some of them take pictures or selfies. As for the “poop” issue, these little guys CAN be trained IF YOU take time to interact and learn a bit of their body language. In the early days, if he pooped somewhere he shouldn’t (usually my shoulder), I would then take him off, put him in his cage or on his perch, admonishing him firmly with my voice, making my disapproval quite clear. No screaming or ranting, just making it clear this was NOT good. After some time, I began to notice that prior to needing to poop, he’d walk a little bit, side or side, or literally peer at me directly in the eye, or sometimes gently stroke my ear with his beak. These all became his little signals, and at any one of them, I’d take him to his perch (that has paper spread out below), say “Go poop” or “Go poop-poop” (sometimes the baby talk still works best) and he’d relieve himself, and then hop back on my hand, while I give him some genuine praise for being such a good bird. Every time. You have to keep reinforcing the praise part so they know they’re being good! Even when we’re at the park and meeting people, I’ll watch for his “side-to-side walk” signal, momentarily take him off someone’s shoulder, hold him over the grass and say “Jasper… poop-poop!”, and he does. Which just amazes people that he seems so nicely house-trained. Then he goes back on someone’s shoulder, posing for a picture or two from their family. Folks, birds CAN be house-trained. It doesn’t take long, it’s not a lot of work, it just requires YOU to be “in tune” a bit, watch signals and behaviour, reinforce the good, and gently but firmly scold when they’ve been bad. They’ll respond like any four-year-old human child in a loving environment.

W.J.R. Halyn
Karin

Goodness! 1st, did Wanda get any help? 2nd, I’m glad I have a better idea of bird digestion now – thank you, Patty. I have an unshakable idea that what a bird species eats in its original wilderness is what we should also be feeding captive birds. They survive on what we hope is healthy but we owe them what is best. There’s an entire market waiting to be born!

Karin
Ken

So feeding parrots with feed pellets is a good idea. I have a cat, also I feed him with feed pellets for cat. My cat love the pellets.

Ken
wanda mccutchen

I have a cockatiel she only poops in one spot,in a corner of her house.Her poops is green and white. It some time be loose,then gets hard.My parakeet stools is black and green.She started bleeding on Wednesday night and I. wipe the blood up.She hops in her house and look as if her wing is broken on the right side,she still eats I’m disabled and in a wheelchair,have no transportation to a vet. ,,

wanda mccutchen

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