Over the years my wife April and I have worked with quite a few psittacines that were also "picky" eaters. Sometimes it would take months to change the diet habits of birds kept in mundane, every-day-the-same-food environments.
As we continued to read more about natural nutritional items, we began experimenting to try and get our pets and breeders sampling healthy new foods, herbs, green plants, etc. in order to break them out of eating ruts. It was surprising how many times a new kind of morsel turned out to be a satisfying 'hit' with our hookbills.
Here are some of the more unique foodstuffs and peculiar treats we offer our Parrots during the course of each year.
Root crops: Certainly most conscientious owners offer carrot and occasionally beetroot to their Parrots. But periodically every few months or so we will feed our birds some turnip, garlic, ginger, onion, radish, burdock and leeks. Most are chopped or grated to release the anti-oxidant juices. Others are diced very thin so birds cannot throw them all out of the bowl. You can also grate cucumber, chayote squash, etc.
Herbs: When mixing our morning cooked food, I will often cruise the farm cutting herbs to scissors up into the meal. Oregano, rosemary, thyme, parsley, mint, dill, anise, cinnamon, bay, basil, lemongrass and the like, limited to two-herb combinations, will place a unique flavouring along with positive nutritional properties in some days’ breakfast fare.
Tiny seeds: Moist chunks of fruit or vegetables will be more enticing to picky Parrots if they are sprinkled with tiny seeds from the health food store: amaranth, sesame, poppy, millet and our staple canary/rapeseed (roller mix). Birds often pick up the chunks to nibble the grains and then end up learning to sample the veggie.
Flowers: Whenever the dandelions or the sunflowers or the hibiscus or impatiens or begonias or snapdragons or marigolds, or geraniums, etc. are blooming out here, we love to cut blossoms and give them to our Parrots.
Some birds will dabble with them, some will chew them up, and some go crazy for the petals and the stamen with pollen and every edible part.
Flowers are the first thing that our chicks receive in a nursery basket to entice them to chew and sample prior to introducing real food cups. We even let some of our veggies go to seed so there are broccoli, asparagus, arugula flowers around. Fruit trees in blossom, or elm and maple trees going to seed - yummy!
I shudder at the psittacine cages I have seen where the occupants are forced to spend spring and summer looking at beds of blooms outside their wire enclosures or the household picture window, but they can only wonder at what those pretty coloured things taste like? Show them!
Raw Seeds: Parrots are seed eaters, and a lot of what they eat is fruit pips. They even covet some of them green and unripe. Guava, papaya, passion fruit, fig, pomegranate, watermelon, cantaloupe, currents, apple, pear, huckleberries, whatever fruit you can find—preferably organic as those have much better, fatter seeds. These are favourites of our Australian Parakeets and other species when hens are feeding chicks!
Millet sprays: Lots of pet owners buy these for their small Parakeets, but did you know that large Parrots, Greys, Macaws, Cockatoos, etc. love to sit there stoically eating from a fist-sized, two-inch section of top quality millet spray. It provides a unique tiny-seed foraging experience for birds that under normal conditions never touch millet in the bottom of a seed dish. You can even soak the sprays 24 hours from morning to morning, rinsing well three or four times, and serve them next day as little 'sprouts on a stick'!
Macadamia nut husks: The green outer husk of the new-fallen macnut is a pucker-the-mouth, tannin-rich item that my Parrots really love. They chew it off, nibble on small morsels, sometimes hold and consume an entire half
I believe that tannins are a necessary part of many wild Parrot diets. They find them in tiny fruit and nut buds, in green twigs, in unripe crabapples, tiny plum or pear fruit set, or vivee guavas. Parrots ingest tannins, and most likely they help maintain a healthy digestive tract, repel parasites, even neutralize possible toxins.
Don’t be afraid to taste the greenery you offer to your birds. Bitter items are healthy for most gastrointestinal tracts - just ask the Swedes
Palm fruits: This spring we harvested tens of pounds of neighbourhood ripe red (as in African Grey tail red!) palm fruits, cutting them at their peak and bringing them home for our Amazons, Macaws, Conures, and such. Not all, but some of the captive raised Parrots we keep, went crazy for the oily outer flesh, eating five to eight per day for days.
Some avoided them when feeding young chicks, then began gorging on them when chicks reached four weeks in the nest. If I had a psittacine with a known wild diet of oily fruits, I would certainly go online and obtain a few fresh palm fruits just for the chance to feed something truly natural. We have heard stories of Large Macaws especially who have never even seen such an item, but their eyes light up and they begin to crave as many as they can get the first time they taste one.
Coffee cherry: Now I gotta’ admit, this one is a bit weird. As we grow coffee trees in the orchard margins out here, when the 'cherry' begins to ripen, I like to pick a few handfuls every half month or so and throw them into the hookbill dishes. These are not anything like the final coffee bean we humans toast and drink but are more like mini-pulpy berries that turn bright red on the tree. Some of my Parrots really like to chew off the fleshy pulp.
None of the birds pay any attention to the inner two bean halves of coffee. Interesting, but uniquely this shows how ripening fruits of lesser food sources can be available for birds when the normal fruiting trees are without foods. Only during long dry periods do wild birds seek out coffee cherry as an alternative diet source.
Aloe Vera: Gads but this one I have tasted and I use regularly as a homeopathic healer, but it is the most 'bitterest' item I have ever tasted and I taste a lot of the items I offer my grown up Parrots. I know health food stores stock aloe juice and I know if I could develop a taste for it, that it could cure stomach ills and colon ills and all sorts of other maladies. Thanks, but no thanks. I only harvest it to cut into chunks for my Parrots once a month or so. They love it. I almost never see a cube left in a dish at the end of the day. It’s bitter, so for many psittacines, it’s tasty! Aloe vera plant. Read up on it - incredible.
So, as you can see, we are always searching out new wildcrafted and cultivated raw items for our psittacines to explore.
If you become familiar with plant and herb and vegetable oddities, you too will be able to augment your bird’s diet once or twice monthly with something nutritional and healthy that other birdkeepers may have missed out on.
And keep an eye on what the wild birds are eating in your vicinity. These savvy avian creatures can teach us much about dietary items that may be added for our birds in captivity.
This article was originally published in Parrots Magazine in October 2008.
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