The fussy eater
Does your bird eat nothing but seed?
Text and photos by Cher Angelo
Here are some tips and trick to improve his diet.
DOES YOUR PARROT THROW his green beans on the floor? Ignore those expensive pellets? Give broccoli the cold shoulder? In fact, does he thwart your every attempt to feed him well?
|Food puzzlers like this plastic cage can encourage a picky bird to acquire new tastes.|
You're not alone. Getting a parrot to eat nutritiously is one of the biggest challenges most owners face. Stubborn eating preferences can seem just about impossible to change.
Fortunately, there are lots of tricks you can employ to turn a problem diet around. I've used them to improve the eating habits of many birds over the past 11 years, including my own, and so can you.
Why change a diet?
Good reasons abound for switching a parrot to different foods. Perhaps he's a very young bird who was weaned to a limited diet of corn niblets, or a recently acquired older parrot who was fed nothing but sunflower seeds for years. Maybe your vet wants you to improve your bird's nutrition so he can fight illness, or an under- or overweight problem.
You might want to convert your bird to pellets, or maybe he's simply become a fussy eater over the years, refusing to try new things. After all, you can feed the best diet in the world, but if your bird is picking out only what he wants to eat, he's not getting enough nutrition.
Sometimes even normally conscientious owners let their birds slip into bad eating habits. It's easy to do, especially if potato chips and candy bars are part of your own diet.
If you've been feeding your bird any of the following from this banned-substance list, stop doing so immediately: avocado, chocolate, alcohol, caffeine (including tea and coffee), and most fruit pits (with the exception of grape seeds). These items can seriously sicken or kill your bird.
Diets that are unevenly balanced also can hurt your bird, in the long term. Too much protein, for example, can eventually lead to obesity or kidney or liver disease. Too much fat also can cause obesity or fatty liver disease and death. Aside from excessive thirst, too much salt can cause muscle weakness or even paralysis and respiratory distress.
Many natural foods, such as carrots, contain sodium, but they're part of a good diet and acceptable if fed proportionately. Commercially prepared or homemade meals with a lot of salt are not. Did you know that feeding just one salty potato chip to a bird is the equivalent of swallowing a third of a teaspoon yourself!
How many of you make birdie breads for your feathered friends? Consider this: the most popular brand of corn muffin mix in New England, Jiffy, contains over 400 milligrams of sodium. Lesser known brands such as Betty Crocker contain under 200 milligrams. It pays to read labels.
Birds lack the enzyme necessary for digesting lactose. Despite this, most birds, including mine, go nuts over dairy products and seem to be able to digest small amounts without apparent harm. Sometimes it's hard to believe they don't get it in the wild!
That said, birds' love for dairy is the only real reason to feed it to them. You can provide them with other sources of calcium, natural (green leafy vegetables) or not (powdered supplements).
Moreover, some birds do become seriously ill from trying to assimilate lactose, with cramping, diarrhea, vomiting and dehydration.
For this reason, it's probably best to feed dairy-loving parrots low or no-lactose cheeses and milk. Tofu is an excellent choice for home-made birdie meals because it tends to take on the flavors of the food it is combined with.
Make sure food is fresh
You may find you need to change your birdís diet because of the quality of the food you've been feeding him. For instance, some commercial seeds and nuts contain mold, fungi, bacteria and insects. Among the most commonly found undesirable extras are aflatoxins, carcinogenic toxins that can cause liver disease and cancer in birds.
Aflatoxins form in moldy food and once present, they're impossible to destroy - you canít dry seed out, for instance, to make it safe to eat again. Human-grade food and cattle feed are monitored during storage to avoid mold formation, but bird foods are not. In the United States, peanuts are the number-one source of aflatoxins and walnuts are number two.
Commercial peanut butter is monitored for aflatoxins, so it's safe to give to your birds; however, freshly ground peanut butter such as what's found at most health food stores isn't.
The best way to avoid aflatoxins is to feed your bird human-grade, organically gown nuts and seed.
A word about dried fruit: Because it still contains some moisture, this popular parrot snack also can form mold if kept in the same container as foodstuffs like commercial seed mixes.
What's more, dried fruits often contain concentrated sugars and preservatives such as sulfites, neither of which is desirable in the avian diet.
What makes a nutritious diet
You've recognized the need to improve your birdís diet. Now, just what is the perfect parrot food?
A lot of research has been done in the relatively new field of avian nutrition. However, it's been done mainly on poultry and just a handful of parrot species, so thereís not much of it we can apply to other parrots with any certainty.
For instance, we know that lorikeets require a mainly nectar diet, and that some African species may require more calcium in the diet than most other types of parrots.
We still have a lot to learn about feeding various species of parrots - even individual needs within a species can vary. Without more scientific research to guide us, the ideal diet, pelleted or otherwise, may never be developed.
The good news is it's still possible to feed your bird well. We do this by employing a few hard-and-fast nutritional rules and working with the research we do have.
Getting down to basics
For one, we know that all birds need the basic nutritional elements of protein, carbohydrates, fats, water, vitamins, minerals and essential amino acids (those that must be supplied through diet for protein) every day.
It's important to know which foods are the best sources of these basics, so you'll know which of them to feed. (For instance, we know that corn, a bird favorite, is loaded with sugars and green beans are mostly limited to vitamin K, so these vegetables alone would not make a good diet.)
|A sprout-growing kit like this model from Keimer makes it easy to add nutritious and pleasingly crunchy greens to your bird's diet.|
Two, we can modify our parrots' diets based on which nutrients their wild counterparts eat. For instance, do they eat seeds, vegetation, insects or nectar? Your local bookstore or library should have the Barron species series of books, which discuss what wild birds eat. Your vet can advise how much to feed based on your pet's lower energy requirements. I also highly recommend reading Feeding Your Pet Bird by Petra Burghman.
About 10 years ago I used these principles to develop my own avian diet that I call Casserole of the Week. Each casserole, a bird-healthy version of human recipes such as macaroni and lasagna, contains portions of all the basic nutritional elements. (You can see my recipe for Birdwise Baked Macaroni with Tofu in the Spring 2002 issue of ParrotChronicles.com.)
All the casseroles feature some of the same ingredients all my birds love. They include 16-bean mix, broccoli, butternut squash (or pumpkin or carrot), pasta or rice, sprouts, and either hard-boiled eggs with shell, turkey or lean beef burger or cooked white chicken for protein, and toasted wheat germ or grape nuts cereal as a bottom layer. I provide each bird with a portion of casserole twice daily, along with fresh vegetables, fruits, grains, seed, nuts and other treats.
A word here about pasta. Noodles come in many varieties. Be sure to avoid bleached, unenriched pasta, which has no nutritional value. Bleached but enriched pasta is fine. You can also experiment with flavors and ingredients, such as wheat, spinach, tomatoes and organic grains.
The pellet decision
I also feed my birds pellets. In my opinion, even the most well-rounded soft and fresh food diet cannot provide enough essential nutrients. In the absence of pellets, I use a supplement such as Nekton S or Prime. (Others report good results with Vita Life.)
You'll need to decide what percentage of your bird's diet will be comprised of pellets and whether you want to feed one or several brands, organic or not (the former lacks preservatives so it doesn't last as long), colored or not (some think dyes cause allergic birds to feather pick).
|Food hung on steel kabobs can satisfy a bird's foraging instinct and inspire him to experiment with new foods.|
Personally, I prefer feeding a mix of several types of pellets - organic, plain, colored and flavored. Why? If you compare brands, you'll notice they vary in the type and amount of nutrients included. Using several brands helps to insure that a bird doesn't continually lack - or get too much - of one or more nutrients.
I keep pellets out for my birds around the clock and they eat as much or as little as they want, along with all the other foods I feed them. However, you might want to get your vet's opinion about the percentage of pellets your particular species should have in its diet.
Before changing your bird's diet, it's important to have him checked by an avian veterinarian, especially if you're also trying to get him to exercise more. Sudden changes in diet and amount of exercise can kill your bird if heís already ill because of malnutrition or liver disease from overweight. Your vet can advise you on how to introduce changes slowly.
Even if your bird is healthy, it's a good idea to monitor her weight before, during and after any dietary changes. Weigh her every two days, preferably at the same time of day, using a gram scale for preciseness. You can find a good gram scale at Staples Office Supplies, Hornbeck's, or Veterinary Specialty Products for $80 or $90.
You'll also need to brush up on your "poopology." Note the number of your birdís droppings per day and their appearance. If they change more than 15 percent after you introduce new foods, report it to your vet. If they turn black, your bird may not be eating enough; if the urates (the white part) become watery, your bird may be dehydrated.
During any dietary conversion or change, your bird should receive a good supplement to insure that it is getting the essential nutrients it needs; once the bird is on a proper diet, you should discontinue the supplement in order to avoid oversupplementation.
Prepare to be patient
As you begin the exciting process of improving your parrot's diet, prepare to exercise lots of patience, perseverance, understanding and imagination.
Did I mention perseverance? A few birds take to new foods right away. Others may need days, weeks, or longer to accept a different cuisine. Why is this? Some birds are afraid of new food items - they've never seen a carrot or spinach leaf before, and now this thing is sitting in their food bowl! At the other end of the spectrum, some birds seem determined to ignore a new food. They may not sample it for weeks, even if you give it to them every day.
If you are persistent and consistent, your bird should eventually accept the food and you will find the effort well worth your time because you'll get to see how healthy and happy your bird can be on a proper diet. Not only will he enjoy a better quality of life, he'll probably live longer, too.
The old switcheroo
When changing a bird's diet, it's best to do it gradually. Never simply replace the old diet with all-new food, even if the former is not especially healthy (exceptions would be poisonous foods such as chocolate and avocado, which should be discontinued immediately). Some birds will starve themselves rather than eat the strange new fare.
This rule is especially important for newly weaned parrots. When you bring your new bird home, be sure you have on hand a large supply of the food it was weaned to that you can mix with transition food.
Got a seed fiend? One way to get these birds to eat more variety is to gradually replace the old mix with more nutritious types of seed, such as those from fresh squash or pumpkins. Once the bird learns to enjoy the new seeds, you can introduce the vegetables and fruits that contain them, including zucchini, cucumber, kiwi and pomegranates. You can also offer him the seeds from foods such as Italian bread, sesame cookies, multi-grain bread and muffins.
Going to pellets
If you're converting a bird to a pelleted diet or want him to eat more pellets, decrease his old food gradually while increasing the pellets. In general, a 20 to 30 percent replacement per month is a good ratio, but keep in mind that each bird is different and may convert at a slightly different pace.
THIS DISH contains an array of foods of various textures, each packed with essential vitamins and minerals. Due to the acidic and gelatinous nature of the base, Spring Salad will keep for weeks refrigerated.
Presoaked 16-bean mix, lentils, chick-peas and cracked corn equal to Ĺ cup
3 packets unflavored gelatin
2 cups pasteurized apple juice
Ĺ medium carrot, blanched and grated
ľ medium sweet potato, blanched and grated
6 red grapes, diced (or 4 apricots, diced)
Ĺ cup shredded broccoli
1/8 cup green peas
1/8 cup shredded spinach (or other dark green leafy vegetable)
Ĺ hard boiled egg, diced
1 tablespoon sunflower seeds
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1 tablespoon pumpkin seeds
1 tablespoon toasted wheat germ
1 tablespoon quartered almonds
Optional, if birds do not receive pellets or mineral supplementation: 1/8 cup of grated cuttle bone
Boil the Ĺ cup of beans and corn in a medium saucepan until tender, drain, cover and refrigerate. Dissolve the gelatin packets in the apple juice and pour into a 5Ē x 8Ē loaf pan and refrigerate. After gelatin and apple juice have partially jelled (usually in about 15 minutes), mix the remaining ingredients into it and refrigerate again until solid.
Birds awaken hungry, so the best time to attempt to introduce any new food is in the morning. Give your bird a bowl of pellets in the morning with no other food. If he doesn't touch them after two hours, offer his regular food. With small birds that need to eat more often, such as budgies and cockatiels, serve regular food after an hour or less. Allow the pellets to remain in the cage at all times, just as you do fresh water.
Alternatively, you can mix a small amount of pellets (or any new food) with the bird's familiar food, increasing the amount over time. If the pellets have holes, you can make toys out of them, or you can soak them in water or unsweetened fruit juice.
For stubborn customers who refuse to go near pellets, buy small sizes or crush them for mixing into mashes, birdie breads or other food.
I want some of that!
Knowing your bird's habits in the wild can help you get him to eat better. One factor with which you may already be familiar is frequency of dining.
Medium and large parrots tend to forage twice a day in the wild, once in the morning and again in the evening. So if your schedule allows, it's best to feed your macaw, cockatoo, Amazon or other similarly sized parrot twice a day to mimic natural rhythms.
Small birds need to eat at least four or more times a day, which - for most of us with busy schedules - means we keep food in their bowls all the times.
Social interaction also may help jumpstart your bird's interest, especially if he feeds in the wild as part of a flock. Let him watch you eat (or pretend to eat) the food you want him to try, while you display all sorts of pleasurable behavior and sounds. Let him sit at the table with you and eat out of your dish.
Quite often, my birds wonít eat their dinner unless I sit down on the couch and eat my food first. On other occasions they will look into their food bowls but just sit there until I place some of my meal into their bowls or hand feed them morsels through the cage bars.
My Timneh African grey, Gwenavere, decided to stop eating pellets for awhile, as he does every now and then. I thought I'd tried everything to get him to resume, including making toys out of them, but nothing seemed to work. One morning, I sat on the couch with a bowl of pellets and Gwenavere in my lap, and he began to eat them. I placed the bowl of pellets in his cage and held my breath; to my astonishment, he continued to eat!
Gwenavere sometimes likes company when eating other types of food, too. He used to remove his peas from their pods, but now he'll only eat them in the morning while sitting on the sink in the kitchen where I'm fixing breakfast for all my birds. In fact, the kitchen sink is a favorite place for the birds to sample whatever foods I am working with - even if they're not eating them out of their bowls yet.
Competitiveness with other birds in the house can be a great motivator. If you have other parrots, let your picky eater watch them eat the food out of their bowls or as you hand it to them. Another idea is to place a variety of foods in a large bowl on a table in the presence of the other birds. Your fussy bird will be so concerned his housemates will get to the grub first, heíll be more than willing to give the new foods a whirl.
Variety is the spice of eating
The various properties of food - its smoothness, crunchiness, color, size, temperature, degree of moistness, taste - keeps eating interesting for us. If you experiment with your bird's food, you may find that he enjoys it prepared in different ways, too.
The answer to winning him over to new foods may lie in something as simple as serving food warm rather than cold, or in smaller rather than larger pieces. Food color can make a difference. Gwenavere, my African grey, prefers lavender, blue and green pellets over other colors; he used to toss out the bright reds, yellows and oranges. Conversely, Camelot, my Senegal, prefers the bright reds, oranges and yellows! Merlin, my rescue cockatiel, was afraid of dark purple pellets and refused to eat them.
You can put a whole new spin on food your bird wonít try or has become bored with by mixing in a tasty sauce. For instance, tomato sauce made without oils or meats can add variety and flavor without adding too much fat or too many extra calories.
Once you discover what makes your bird's inner gourmet tick, youíre on your way to improving his diet.
Let's revisit the physical size of food pieces. Watch your bird eat and you may be able to tell whether he would rather manipulate large pieces of food with his beak and feet or pick at small morsels in his dish. I've seen some birds refuse to eat pellets and other food of certain sizes - but eat smaller or larger pieces of the same food with relish!
Don't forget that the smaller the bird, the smaller he probably prefers his pieces of food. Camelot, my Senegal, used to take whole pea pods and deftly remove each pea, but now he won't touch them unless I break them up into individual pieces for him.
Other birds can be enticed by different shapes. If you're having a hard time getting your bird to accept a new fresh vegetable or fruit, try cutting it up another way - chopping, dicing, grating or preparing it julienne (in long thin strips).
Pasta comes in lots of different shapes and sizes that you can use in bird recipes or mix with regular foods. My birds like to play with uncooked pasta - but they treasure it cooked in my Birdie Baked Macaroni, Birdie Lasagna, Birdie Past Fagioli, Birdie Macaroni and Cottage Cheese casseroles.
Providing one type of food in lots of different ways will keep the wheels spinning inside your birdís head. Corn, for instance, which most birds love, can be served on the cob, steamed corn, creamed, niblet style and inside baked goods.
Soft versus crunchy
If your bird strongly prefers mushy food over crispy or vice versa, you can use one to encourage acceptance of the other and expand his diet.
For instance, use your recently weaned baby's preference for soft, cooked foods such as mashes, steamed vegetables, yogurt, and warm cereals to disguise ground pellets.
Applesauce, another favorite of most birds, also handily camouflages other foods your bird should try, such as grated carrot, small peas, small pellets, oatmeal cookies, wheat germ, grape nuts, coconut, or dehydrated veggies and fruits (more about dehydration later).
If there is no way your bird will accept some items in their crunchier conventional form, you can probably find an equivalent baby food. All the food groups are well represented, including combinations such as garden vegetables and turkey and rice.
|An inexpensive dehydrator makes it easy to create crunchy snacks from fruits and vegetables your bird may otherwise refuse to touch. Store dehydrated food in airtight glass jars to prevent mold.|
There is also a variety of consistencies from which to choose. Baby food is labeled from 1, the smoothest, to 3, the thickest, or toddler, which includes soft solid foods such as ravioli and beef noodle.
Here's another idea: If green leafy or fresh vegetables and fruit are too crunchy, try giving your bird canned greens. They're soft enough to be fed alone or can be mixed with regular food or baked birdie treats.
If all else fails, you can instantly turn practically any food, including my casseroles, into a mash by placing it in a blender. Pour the results into ice cube trays for freezing, then pop the cubes into plastic freezer bags and thaw a few for each meal.
Some birds prefer foods that are beyond soft - they like moisture-rich goodies or nectar. For them, you can dunk some foods in water or in unsweetened fruit or vegetable juice. You can even make frappes with your own squeezed fruits and veggies.
While Camelot, my Senegal, has always instinctively known how to dunk bird cookies and crackers in water to make "birdie soup," Gwenavere the African grey hasn't yet caught on, so I do it for him.
Almost all parrots seem to adore crisp, crunchy food. It's probably fun to hold and bite into.
Crackers - whole wheat, rye, Zwiebeck, sesame seed and animal - are fun, healthy snacks for crunch-loving birds. You can also use crackers to introduce other foods by spreading them with mashed veggies, fruit, baby foods, peanut butter, applesauce or cheese.
Want to disguise soft food completely for your crunch lover? Baby food comes to the rescue again - this time incorporated into casseroles, omelettes, birdie breads, muffins and other items.
Many other nutritious soft foods, such as cooked grains like barley oatmeal and kasha, hide well inside foods your bird may find more palatable. Check out your local health store for the full range of possibilities.
An extremely nutritious crunchy food are seed and grain sprouts. You can purchase a sprouter for less than $20, or use a glass jar kept tightly covered.
Purchase human-grade seeds at your local health food store - they are more likely to be free of contaminants. But you must be extremely careful when growing them or else you run the risk of your bird ingesting aflatoxins, which can cause liver disease. If any fuzz appears while sprouting, toss them, adjust the temperature and try again.
Once harvested, sprouts should be thoroughly rinsed, and thrown out after a couple of days if necessary. Some people use grapeseed oil or bleach to rinse sprouts, but I don't recommend this. A bit of vinegar in the water for the first rinse should help retard spoilage.
I often use sprouts as the top layer in a casserole, but they also go great mixed with any soft food or baked item. My birds have learned to think of them as treats.
Another great way to get your bird to eat new foods is to place a large bowl of air-popped corn on the table and let him go for it. I've never known a bird to refuse to eat popped corn, and it is easy to add grated veggies or cheese to it. If you want to share, you can add a little Smart Balance, a low-calorie vegetable spread that tastes like butter.
Dehydrated foods make a great crunchy addition to any diet and are particularly good for getting stubborn seed eaters to try new foods. You can buy a good dehydrator for $20 and dehydrate most foods. You can also dehydrate in your oven at 200 degrees F, but you must leave the door ajar to allow air to circulate.
I like to add a different food to each tray of the dehydrator. For example: thinly sliced Granny Smith apples, banana slices, carrot strips, thawed out frozen peas, corn niblets, lima beans, mixed veggies, thinly sliced sweet potato. Birdie Sweet Potato Chips are sure to be a big hit!
Place cheesecloth beneath the small pieces of food on each tray to prevent them from falling through to the heating mechanism as they dehydrate. Store dehydrated foods in a glass jar tightly sealed to keep out mold-forming moisture.
And remember: Dehydrated foods do not lose any of their nutrients or calories, only moisture as they "shrink", so feed only very small portions. If you feed the same amount as you would a piece of fresh food, you'll be providing way too many calories.
Often I will crush dehydrated veggies or fruit onto seeds so a bird can get used to the flavor of new foods without losing the crunchy texture it loves. Over time, I add larger pieces of the dehydrated food and start introducing other types of foods into the seed.
Another tactic: crumble dehydrated and other crunchy items over the soft food you want your bird to sample. This worked with my cockatiel, Merlin, who had never eaten soft foods before I got her. I decided to crumble sesame seed and crisp, dehydrated lima beans, peas, and corn onto the cooked pasta, broccoli and other soft foods to entice her.
After only about a week, Merlin was eating "something" several times a day from that soft food dish. Now I've stopped adding seed and dehydrated veggies, and she's eating the same casseroles and fresh fruits as my other parrots, only mashed, alternating with pellets. Success!
Location, location, location
Fancy restaurants work hard at presentation to make food look more appealing (and help justify those high prices). Believe it or not, where you put your bird's food and how you arrange it can whet his appetite, too.
Patterning food placement after your bird's natural habitat can help satisfy his natural need to forage. Is he a ground, shrub, tree, or grassland feeder? Some birds who eat high in the trees in the wild might like their bowls placed high in the cage, while others, such as cockatiels, enjoy eating from the cage bottom.
Many birds that won't eat certain foods such as green leafy vegetables will partake if you put the food in a water bowl they can play in, or skewer it on hanging kabobs that mimic food hanging in trees.
You can get stainless-steel kabobs in various sizes. I place all sorts of foods on kabobs, including toasted whole wheat bread, English muffins, all types of greens, carrots, corn, apples, mango, lemons, limes, banana, peppers, mini potatoes and many, many other types of fruits and vegetables.
You can even sandwich pieces of leather, wood or plastic between the food items; once your bird starts to play with this great new toy, he's likely to sample the groceries as well.
Another easy way to encourage foraging for food is threading greens, blanched carrot strips, or string beans through the cage bars.
For birds that love to tear and shred things, try wrapping a snack inside some crumpled tissue or newspaper, or fold a tortilla inside a cardboard toilet paper roll. A sneaky way to get nut-loving birds to expand their diets is to fill the empty shells with other types of foods.
I also use a treat carousel, which really gives your bird a workout to reach the foods inside. I not only place treats such as nuts, crackers or cookies in the carousel, but also lace it with leafy greens and string beans.
Some birds defy any reproducible pattern in their dining preferences. For these you will just have to go with the flow. For instance, my Senegal likes to carry his food up to the top of his cage and eat it there. Other times, he tosses most or all of the food out of his bowl onto the floor.
I put his pellet bowl near the bottom of the cage, so I no longer have pellets all over my floor. For other food, I just pick it up off the bottom of the cage and put it back in the bowl if itís still clean. After that he happily eats it!
Take setbacks in stride
Sometimes birds take a break from eating certain foods. I don't know whether it's because they get bored, donít require that particular food for a time, or they detect something not quite right about the food.
At times like this, I try to defer to their instincts. For instance, my birds get green and red grapes daily, but sometimes during the off-season they refuse to eat them, tossing them to the cage bottom. The grapes are being shipped from a different region during this time, so perhaps there is something my birds detect - additives or preservatives - that they don't like. Once I begin providing their usual grapes, they eat them readily once again.
I think other times birds just get bored with certain foods, but that doesn't mean you should stop providing them or an equivalent substitute. Every now and then my birds stop eating green or yellow string beans, but their appetite for them returns after a month or less.
Remember when you looked forward all day to getting a special dessert after dinner, or saved your pennies for your favorite candy bar? (Maybe you still do!)
Treats are great motivators for our birds, too. However, when it comes to adjusting your birdís diet, it's a good idea to keep a couple of things in mind.
One is that if you feed your bird nuts as treats, it might be wise to cut them out entirely during a dietary change. I think that organically grown seed, grains and nuts of human grade quality serve an important role in the avian diet, not only for the nutrients and healthy fats they contain, but to fulfill foraging instincts as well. However, given the opportunity most birds will fill up on these items, leaving other food untouched in the bowl.
Once a new diet is in place, you can always bring back high-calorie treats in the evening, after your birds have had a good dayís nutrition.
I use the evening-treat schedule with my birds. They look forward to their nightly nuts and seeds so much, each bird has a different way of telling me when it's time to dole out the treats. Merlin the cockatiel, for instance, sounds his alarm at precisely 7 p.m. every night. Camelot yells, "TAREET, TAREET, TAREET," and Gwenavere whispers in rapid succession, "Treat, treat, treat, good treat!"
Another thing to keep in mind is that treats don't necessarily have to be high in fats or calories. Remember: youíre the one who gets to define what a treat is. This works especially well with newly weaned birds who don't yet have a taste for nuts.
If you play your cards right, you can convince your bird that a treat is a piece of multigrain bread, a home-grown sprout, fruit or cheese - use your imagination!
New angles out of dead ends
When you compare feeding a parrot to feeding a dog, cat or other pet, it can seem like a lot of trouble. There are still so many questions about what constitutes a good bird diet, we have to work harder to make sure they eat properly.
When you think you've tried everything possible to get your bird to eat more nutritiously and nothing seems to be working, take a break in order to clear your head, and try to view the problem in a positive light. Chances are you will think of an idea that finally works. This has happened to me time and again.
Use your imagination, try to make things fun, and above all, maintain a positive attitude. Your birds will pick up on this and before you know it, they'll be eating better than you ever thought possible.
About the author
Cher Angelo has worked as an avian health consultant and lecturer for 10 years. She writes for the African Ark, a quarterly magazine published by the African Parrot Society, and advises on multiple avian mailing lists. She has an associate's degree in medical laboratory science and diagnosing and a BS in health science. She owns several parrots.
ParrotChronicles.com. Published 2002.