Junk Food Junkie
By Rebecca Sweat
Many people share some portion of their breakfast and dinner with their birds each day, and that works great--as long as the entrees are healthy and nutritious. Just about any kind of table food--other than foods that have potential toxic value like avocado, chocolate, or extremely salty foods--can be given to pet birds as a way to supplement their diet.
But what about between-meals snacks and late-night munchies? Is it OK to share cookies, popcorn, potato chips, corn chips, taquitoes, nachos, snack cakes and other “junk foods” with your parrot? “In moderation, yes,” said avian veterinarian, Brian Speer, DVM. But rather than just drop these snack foods into your bird’s food bowl to eat ad lib, he suggests you make it part of your bird’s behavioral modification or trick training program. In other words, your bird has to do something to earn these restricted foods.
For instance, you might be teaching your parrot the Step-up command, to stay still during wing, feather or nail trimming, do a “high-four” with his feet, or to spread his wings out on cue. He would only be given these special foods when he does what you are teaching him, and then, it would only be a very small taste of the desired food (ie: a small piece of a corn chip or tiny bite of a taquito, rather than the whole thing).
To do this you have to know what special food your bird really values and then assign ways for that food to be earned. “The food is no longer the bird’s God-given right,” Dr. Speer said. “If the bird’s going to get his favorite foods, he’s going to have to work for it.” The only food the bird gets to have in his cage all the time--without having to work for it--would be his formulated diet.
But is it really OK to give your bird potato chips, cookies and other high-fat foods for rewards? “ [Usually] they’re not going to eat so much of the treat food that it messes them up nutritionally, especially if you’re only giving small pieces of the food.”
What you will have is a happy, well-socialized bird that gets to work for treats and have a lot of mental stimulation as well as a lot of interaction with his human flock. Parrots really enjoy that. “The birds are mentally far more sound because their lives are really fun, and it’s fun for the owners to have a well-trained bird that can perform tricks for everyone,” Speer said. “The bird is happy, the owners are happy, and the whole bird-human relationship is a lot better.”