Rosemary Low tells us about good and bad foods for Parrots.
Fact or fiction? True or false? Statements about the foods we offer our birds often get passed on, whether or not they are substantiated. In the end they become accepted “truths”. But we need to think again!
Apple pips are harmful
A typical example is that Parrots should not be allowed to eat apple or pear pips because they contain cyanide. They probably do but in such minute quantities that they have no ill effect.
Over the years I have had several small Parrots that relished pips to the degree that I would save all the cores for just one individual so that they could have all that day’s pips. It never did them any harm!
The same applies to the stones of peaches, for example. The larger Parrots greatly enjoy cracking these open, especially as the surface is rough, therefore easily gripped. Again, it is unlikely that anyone would feed more than the occasional peach stone so let them enjoy the occupation of opening them!
Carrots are more valuable par-boiled than raw
Carrots are sometimes grated and added to soft foods or cut into sticks and pushed through the wire. Much of the water-soluble vitamins in carrots and other vegetables, such as broccoli and courgettes, are destroyed by boiling.
This includes Vitamins B and C. However, in an experiment by researchers at the University of Parma, it was found that vegetables that were boiled for ten minutes had the highest level of carotenoids. This softens the tough fibres and loosens the cell walls, releasing the beneficial antioxidants.
Beta carotene is a carotenoid that is converted to Vitamin A — the vitamin that is most essential to the health of your birds and which is lacking in all-seed diets. Carotenoids are antioxidants that have many health benefits, including strengthening the immune system.
Therefore carrot and some other vegetables are more beneficial for our birds when par-boiled. I always feed carrots like this, not only because of the increased beta-carotene but find that as they are softer than raw carrot they are more readily eaten.
Feeding bananas to birds can be harmful.
Bananas are one of the most common fruits fed to fruit-eating bird species. However, cultivated fruits such as bananas and grapes have a much higher sugar content than the wild fruits and berries on which birds feed.
One well-known zoo stopped offering bananas to monkeys, saying that because of the high sugar content it was the equivalent of feeding them cake or chocolate. They found that giving them more leafy green vegetables instead of bananas resulted in an improvement in their physical health and in their behaviour, as they became calmer.
However, unlike primates, many fruit-eating birds will not readily eat leafy vegetables. Anything can be harmful if fed in excess and banana usually forms only a small part of the diet of our fruit-eating birds. It has many excellent properties including certain minerals and, at about 1%, the highest protein content of any readily available fruit. It will not be eaten in an over-ripe state.
Parrots and mangos
Mangos are readily available in supermarkets yet relatively few people feed fresh mango. Forget the dried form, found in some Parrot mixtures. It is high in sugar and a virtually useless food. In supermarkets many of these fruits come from Peru.
They are green on the exterior and usually it will be necessary to leave them to ripen. (Don’t store them whole in a fridge.) If gentle pressure reveals a degree of softness, they are ripe to eat.
I never cut up fruit and feed as a salad, as many Parrot owners do. I feed it in a manner which allows my birds to forage, usually from a hanger. However, it is difficult to hang up mangos so I take a slice off the side to expose the golden fruit, with skin intact, and put the mango in a hook-on stainless steel dish.
The flesh of the ripe mango is very much like a tinned peach in flavour, consistency and colour. But it is much healthier, having one of the highest Vitamin A content of any food we can offer to our birds. It is also rich in essential minerals such as potassium and magnesium.
My Conures relish mangos but I needed to persevere in offering it before this happened! On one occasion I saw that they were not only eating the flesh. They were gnawing away at the stone (large seed) and had eaten the inner part of the seed – see photo.
Could this be harmful? I went on-line and found that mango seed has various beneficial health advantages for humans, thus it was surely safe for the Conures to eat.
Mango seed oil is a good source of essential fatty acids, minerals and vitamins. The butter obtained from mango seed is used in many lotions to moisturiser the skin; it is non-oily. It is said to be good for human hair. The oil in mango seed may have a beneficial effect on plumage.
We do not know if the other benefits described are equally beneficial to our Parrots but the available information set my mind at rest that eating the seed is not harmful. It surprised me that the Conures did this because the seed is extremely hard. They must work away at it for some time to get to the centre! Good enrichment!
I have seen many mango trees in the tropics where Parrots and other birds have been feeding. My photo shows an Orange-chinned Parakeet (Brotogeris jugularis) mildly squabbling with a woodpecker over a juicy mango. I took this in Panama. Mangos are relished by countless Parrot species in their natural habitat but I have not seen one where the seed has been opened.
Hawthorn berries are highly beneficial
From September to December our wild birds, such as thrushes and waxwings, feast on the glossy red berries of hawthorn. Many members of the Parrot family feed eagerly on these berries, but unlike blackbirds, for example, they are not eating the fleshy exterior but they are cracking the small stones in the middle and swallowing the kernels.
Research on hawthorn berry preparations have shown that in humans they improve blood flow to the heart in patients with angina. In rats fed a high-cholesterol diet a tincture made from the berries reduced the production of harmful cholesterol in the liver.
As the part of hawthorn berries that Parrots eat has almost certainly not been included in scientific experiments, there is no conclusive answer about the beneficial dietary effects. However, as a source of enrichment, certainly regarding natural behaviours, hawthorn berries have few equals.
Many Parrots would consume these berries as a very large part of the diet, if given the opportunity. I always freeze some so that my birds receive them occasionally when the hawthorn branches are bare.
Onions, garlic, shallots and leeks should not be fed to birds
These are all Alliums. They contain sulphur compounds. When chewed they decompose to disulphides which are oxidizing agents that can cause rupture of the red blood cells, resulting in anaemia.
The toxicity of onions varies according to the sulphur content of the soil in which they are grown. According to Margaret Wissman, an avian vet in the US, these sulphur compounds can cause irritation to the mouth, oesophagus and crop.
However, birds, unlike dogs and other mammals, have nucleated red blood cells. This might protect them from becoming anaemic as a result of ingesting these compounds. There are no scientific studies relating to this but Margaret Wissman’s opinion was that the disulphides could cause haemolytic anaemia (a disorder in which red blood cells are destroyed faster than they can be made) in birds.
There are so many other vegetables that birds actually like, why would you feed these anyway? Some people do feed small amounts of cooked onion without any apparently harmful results.
Asparagus is poisonous
There are conflicting views and no scientific evidence. However, Darren Sefton’s White-capped Pionus died after receiving some asparagus on three consecutive days (Cage and Aviary Birds, December 19 2012). I most certainly would not give it to my birds.
Sesame seed is often used in human cuisine, usually in the white form. It also comes in brown and black. It has an extremely high protein content — about 18%. Sesame seed has a host of valuable properties, being a source of essential minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium and phosphorous, and a very good source of copper and manganese.
It is rich in oleic acid which helps to lower the harmful form of cholesterol and increases the “good” cholesterol. However, it should definitely be fed in moderation because of its high fat content — about 49%. It is doubtful whether many people would give an excess because this seed is expensive.
There is lots of delicious food for your Parrot here.