Dot Schwarz explains how to incorporate fresh foods into your Parrot’s diet.
How keen are you to incorporate green stuffs into your bird’s feeding regime?
Live green foods form the major part of a wild Parrots’ diet. They use trees to live in, to nest in, forage fruits and berries from, to hide from predators and even as a playground.
Different species have developed relationships with plants, like Lories with nectar or African Greys with palm nuts. We do not have complete information about every plant utilized by wild Parrots for meeting their nutritional needs and to keep them in good health.
Obviously, captive birds don’t have the opportunity to pick and choose their food. However, by offering as many healthful plant foods as possible we can try to provide some of the trace nutrients that they would seek out for themselves in the wild.
We also have loads of healthy foods here.
Some cities, including London, Sydney, Singapore and Hong Kong, play host to flocks of feral Parrots that have adapted their lifestyle to live in parks and gardens. But our captive birds don’t share these advantages of wind, water, trees and plants.
In the worst of cases, a captive bird lives in a metal cage, sometimes with no more than a perch and a single toy; more fortunate Parrots have cages stocked with bright, amusing, interesting, many-coloured toys. But only a few captive Parrots enjoy a green environment.
Living in northern Europe, we can’t transfer rain forests, jungles or savannahs into our environments but we can provide our companions with as much natural material as possible to eat and play with.
Why bother, you may ask, when there is so much commercially produced food available? What reasons are there to incorporate greenery into our Parrots’ lifestyles? For a start, Parrots that live surrounded with greenery look so splendid. And adding more green stuff – not just for nutrition but also for enrichment – confers practical benefits.
Using branches to chew for behaviour problems
A Parrot with natural branches to chew on is automatically discouraged from chewing their feathers. Bobo, an Umbrella, came here badly plucked and brutally wing-trimmed. She was unused to toys or chewing.
The willow branches that had stopped my Timneh plucking a leg wound did not appeal to her at first. Then gradually she began to chew them and leave her feathers alone. As an added bonus, willow contains natural aspirin. Providing plentiful branches and twigs to chew, really does prevent boredom. Wild birds don’t get bored. And destroying branches works out cheaper than replacing toys.
House plants are also beneficial. Plants provide natural air filters and they help keep down humidity when the central heating is on. Objections come thick and fast when house plants are suggested.
Toxic plants are one, birds destroying them another. To take the former objection: the number of truly toxic plants is small: these include yew, foxglove, datura, poinsettia and laburnum. The majority of plants are safe for birds, which appear to have a built-in instinct about what is harmful.
My Cockatoo Perdy will shred anything she can get her nosy beak and claws on. But I notice that she never actually swallows anything of what she tears apart.
What this means in practice is that when the birds have their out time in the sitting room with us, we must cover or put away plants, fruit bowls and flower vases. Once the flowers are wilting, I will let Perdy and now Benni the Macaw shred them.
Aviary trees and plants
I grow a lot of trees and plants in the aviary and my conservatory. Sadly, they don’t always survive. Funnily enough, it’s the smaller birds, like Kakariki and Princess of Wales Parakeets, which do most damage.
One of the bamboos now reaches the roof netting. Morgana, one of the Kakarikis, has reduced several canes to half their size. Bamboo gets a bit of a bashing but covered for a couple of seasons it will survive.
My remedy is to protect young plants with a cover of netting for a couple of years and put a tube around tree bark. Once established, the young trees and plants can resist massive amounts of leaf destruction and still survive.
However, if you plant spiky-leaved trees like mahonia or ilex as aviary plants they will be left alone. My mahonia now reaches the aviary roof. Last summer, I thought Alex the Alexandrine cock had escaped again. He had not.
He was sick. Alex had crawled into the mahonia tree for protection and stayed there for two weeks. I fed him inside the tree and he recovered.
Last winter, the top branches of the Leylandii trees in my garden were storm-toppled. We were inundated with branches. I wedged some across the supports of the conservatory where the pet birds live in winter and sleep at night in summer. The remainder were spaced out in the aviary.
When the fir branches were placed in the aviary, the Regent Parakeets went first to them to chew before they flew to the bowls where the morning seed mix was placed.
Food plants to go
My long-suffering husband has relinquished half of the vegetable plot to Parrot friendly crops. We eat some of them, too, but I do put the birds first. The list of plants, flowers and herbs that you can grow organically is endless. Here are just a few to whet your appetite. All of these grow in garden beds or in pots or window boxes.
Supposed to have anti-cancer properties. It is a perennial but needs either to come inside in the winter or have some protection.
A good source of anti-oxidants, plus anti-bacterial properties.
Anti fungal and calming. You can grow a seed-forming variety or a leaf coriander. Both are relished by the family and the Parrots. Coriander and Basil are annuals so probably easier to grow in pots.
Full of vitamins. I failed the first year I tried to grow them in pots in the conservatory, because Perdy Cockatoo ripped off the fruits too early. The next year I covered the pots under a shroud of black mosquito netting and gathered a reasonable crop.
Is easy to grow. Fresh garlic, rather than concentrated forms such as garlic powder, can be given to Parrots. You are advised not to feed it daily because it can cause anaemia in over-large amounts.
One clove from a regular size bulb of garlic given two or three times a week is sufficient as a preventive food supplement for Parrots, who love the pungent taste. Leave the peel on so that the birds can unwrap Mother Nature’s gift. Don’t forget though if you are in the habit of kissing your bird, you will get a dose of garlic too.
Artha, one of my Greys, positively dances when she sees the red stalks.
Now touted for humans as a super-vegetable. We grow it but sadly, none of us, two legged or two-winged, relish it. I am now going to try a new recipe shredding the kale and flash frying it with a little oil and sesame seeds. Maybe husband and Parrots will accept it.
Our local pigeons have never allowed me to grow satisfactory cauliflowers. So I have been buying them in the supermarket. The florets make excellent foraging receptacles. You can stuff nuts or slices of some other edible treats between the florets and hang them in the cage. The same technique works well with cabbage and broccoli, homegrown or purchased.
I have never managed to grow millet although I believe some people can in UK. Bought in 15 kg sacks it lasts for months and keeps Parakeets and Parrots happy. You can buy millet here.
Flowers and Weeds
Flowers provide the most rewarding Parrot food from my point of view simply because birds are so pretty when they eat them. Lilac, roses, orange blossom, nasturtium, carnations, day lilies, honeysuckle, pansies…. the list is endless.
And please – don’t forget your weeds. At Loro Parque, I was shown whole vegetable beds of dandelions being cultivated for the breeding aviaries. At our home we don’t go that far but find enough dandelions in the lawn.
Chickweed is also relished, as is dock. What I have noticed is that each bird shows individual preferences. Lena the old Amazon adores rosehips. Casper Grey loves shredding a hunk of grass. And Perdy Cockatoo’s favourite is a rose.
There are lots of easily accessible natural foods available or that can be grown as Dot has highlighted. What are your bird’s favourite foods from nature? Let us and Dot know in the comments below.
For loads of tasty fresh foods for your Parrot please click here.