Anything concerning opinions on Parrot husbandry is controversial. In this blog, I shall maintain that set mealtimes have more advantages than food bowls kept filled or filled once a day. Two main strands inform my views. The Parrot’s health and the Parrot’s learning sessions.
Choosing a diet
Vets claim that many Parrot illnesses (sometime fatal) are due to incorrect feeding. Too much fat, too much sugar, too large portions and the lack of essential vitamins and minerals. Sunflower seeds get a bad rap because they have too much fat in them.
Peanuts are to be avoided because of the risk of mould inducing Aspergillosis. Many Parrots were fed almost exclusively on sunflower mixes and many died of arteriosclerosis from thickened arteries.
When Benson a 17-year-old wild caught hen died after 8 months with us, the necropsy revealed thickened arteries. When I told the previous owner that he said sadly that he’d never known that too many sunflowers were bad. Benson had lived principally on sunflower seeds for 12 years before she came here.
However, sunflower seeds are a valuable foodstuff. Excellent for training treats and excellent if you can get into the habit of sprouting them before feeding.
The choices for concerned carers are now pellets and fresh food or seed mixes and pellets with fresh food added. Most vets now recommend pellets as a major part of the diet because they do contain various additives that are not in seed mixes. Do your research and decide what best suits your life style and your birds.
If your Parrot came from a reliable breeder, you will be given a diet sheet. I learn a lot from visiting breeders and friends who keep birds that are bright eyed, fully feathered and are active.
Let’s assume that you’ve chosen what diet to provide and have chosen the proportion of fresh foods to pellets or seeds.
On only one essential is there 100% agreements between all the experts and that is the provision of fresh, clean water which must be available 24 hours a day and must be changed between one and three times - depending on climate and whether your Parrots dunk their food.
There are various methods of cleaning food and water utensils. I prefer stainless steel to plastic or ceramic because of the ease of cleaning. Birds on mainly pellets drink more water. If changing the water constantly is a problem there are good water bottles to the market.
How much food is the correct daily ration? Once again opinions vary. Here are some pictures of amounts of food. The first is a daily ration for a Cockatoo which is fed in morning and evening.
The second picture is Ben Bowden’s ration for a black Cockatoo, most of which is put in a baffle cage for foraging. The third picture is my daily ration for a mixed aviary of 24 birds. Adding fresh green food found in garden or field or grown specially pleases every bird. Dandelions; chickweed, hawthorn berries, rose hips, wheat grass – the list’s endless.
Rosemary Low plants fresh food for her aviaries and I have copied her.
It is worth adding here that some carers provide chop - a mixture of boiled grain and legumes to which fresh produce is added. A quantity is frozen and one bag a day feeds the Parrot. You can find recipes for chop on in the files of feeding feathers.
Amounts are also difficult to gauge correctly. 10% to 15% of the Parrots’ correct weight is considered advisable. So a Cockatiel would get 15 grams and my Benni (Blue and Gold Macaw) at 1.200 kg would get 120 grams.
It is up to you if you subtract the favoured treat items sunflower seeds, pine nuts, or whatever is your Parrot’s favourite. Find treats here.
Certainly, treats can be offered in tiny amount. For Benni and Mina Macaws one walnut makes up to ten treats, slivers of almond are very acceptable. Many carers with smaller birdswill use a quarter peanut (human grade) or a piece of grape.
Pros of feeding once a day
They are obvious. Time saving - specially if you go out to work.
Here are my objections
In the wild, Parrots feed in the morning, rest in the daytime and feed in the late afternoon before roosting. That means they have at least 12 hours with no food available.
Domestic Parrots in cages often have two bowls filled or sometimes the whole diet mixed up in one bowl. This means they might snack all day long.
A typical scenario
You bring the Parrot out in the early evening to do some training. The bird is reluctant to fly to you even though you are holding half a pine nut. It’s pretty clear that she isn’t hungry so why bother to fly. And even if you put her on the perch and ask for any behaviour either one she knows to a new one, she often as not won’t comply.
The handler says sadly, ‘my bird isn’t interested in treats.’
A test case
It is not difficult to change the opinion of a non-treat taking Parrot. Charlie, a six-year old Grey was boarding here for 10 days. He had stayed before so we were not strange to him. His owner complained that Charlie wouldn’t work for treats and although a gentle bird was lacking in basic behaviours.
Once his owner had gone off on his holiday, Charlie was put in large cage with plenty of browse to chew. His breakfast bowl of fresh veggies and fruit was withdrawn at 9 am.
At 5pm, when I took Charlie out of the cage and let fly him around the bird room for a while he soon came down to me because I showed him half a pine nut.
We practised step up and fly to me just a few metres. Only for five minutes. Then Charlie went back into the cage and had his evening meal of pellets. Before I turned out the lights and put my pet birds to bed, food bowls were withdrawn.
Charlie spent the next 9 days in the aviary during the daytime. There were plenty of toys, swings and browse to entertain him but no actual food. I filled the Parakeets’ bowls at 5pm and took the 4 pet birds indoors with Charlie.
We had 2 daily sessions, one before breakfast and one before the evening meal. The sessions lasted 5- 10 minutes with half a grape or have a pine nut as the reward. Also in the aviary, I’d ask all the pet birds to fly to me for a reward and Charlie soon caught onto that dodge.
When Charlie’s owner returned from holiday, he was delighted that Charlie stepped up, flew the distance of the aviary and had even learned to wave. He had had to be persuaded that Charlie would not starve if he was on food management for 10 days. Charlie weighed 420 grams the day he arrived and 433 grams the day he left.
‘Charlie must love you,’ the owner said. ‘No, Charlie doesn’t love me. He’s simply eager for the treats. And he enjoys training sessions.’’
So that’s it. You do NOT need to deprive Parrots of food to reach satisfactory training goals, you just have to manage when you distribute meals so that they are eager to obtain the yummy treats.
Experience also shows that regular meal times without constant snacking can actually increase and maintain correct weight. A pleasing outcome of that is that you won’t have so much Parrot food leftover to clear away.
For lots of delicious food for your Parrot please click here.
Browse lots of feeding dishes here.
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