Food Enrichment For Parrots

Get your parrot to try new foods and learn how to forage with these tips.

By Robin Shewokis

What if you had to eat the same food day in and day out, 365 days per year? Would you be satisfied with that scenario? My guess is your answer would be, "Absolutely not!” Variety is very important when it comes to feeding your pet bird.

Seasonal produce offers a wonderful selection of novel food items for your parrot. Locally grown produce is best and only available at certain times. Check out your local farmers market for locally grown food or try your own backyard garden.

If your pet bird is a big fruit eater by nature, find out in which months berries and melons are freshest. If your pet bird enjoys winter squash (such as spaghetti squash), look for those in the autumn. Pomegranates make wonderful treat for your pet bird, but may only be available during holidays.

Woman with kitten
Foraging Tip: Hide your pet bird's food in foraging toys so it has to work to get to its food.

Some of these items can be frozen and used at a later date when unavailable in stores. You can also think about blending fresh fruits to make pastes that can be frozen and mixed in with other food items all year.

Parrots Should Work For Their Food
With a parrot that has never been asked to "work” for its food, start simply by covering the bowl with paper or by switching the food and water bowl placement. (I promise the parrot will not starve!)

You can move food bowls around your pet bird’s cage to create dietary enrichment. As food sources aren’t always in the same place in the wild, make your parrot check all options to see where the food is on a given day. You can even leave one of several food bowls empty or put foot toys in it rather than food.

Increase the hide-and-find complexity as your bird gets used to searching for food. Try these ideas:

1) Offer boxes with stuffing materials with food items buried deep inside. Many items that go out with the recycling can be used to create foraging opportunities.

2) Coffee cup carriers that most shops use can be folded and the cavities stuffed for more foraging fun.

3)  Wrapping items in newspaper can also be enriching and a challenge for some birds. Use newspaper that’s printed with a soy-based ink. Most publications have gone to this type of ink but if in doubt give them a call.

Part of your research around food enrichment should include your parort's wild cousin’s style of foraging. Some parrot species are primarily arboreal foragers, so offer dietary enrichment in the upper regions of the cage or on the top of a playstand. Other parrot species forage on the ground. Offer them dietary enrichment on a clean surface on the bottom of the cage or on a ledge in the cage. 

Food Enrichment For Parrots
In the wild, pet birds are opportunistic feeders. They will eat whatever they find, whenever they find it. There are no set-to-the minute times for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Sometimes consistency gets in the way of creativity when providing enrichment opportunities. Some parrot owners have been taught that pet birds must have consistency and routine to make them "good” pet birds. This is not necessarily the case.

Try changing up the meal times a little bit. You may find that this can also save yourself some parrot screaming when a meal is a few minutes late. In some situations, such as this, enrichment can be used to lessen some unwanted behaviors as well as being stimulating.

Think about how you are going to offer the food enrichment items. Food can be cooked and offered in a mash or warm format to offer enriching new items without the tactile challenges. Mix new food items in with the current foods and see how your pet bird reacts, too.

If your pet bird avoids new things or hesitates with new items, introduce enrichment by mixing new foods in with existing food. For the pet bird that will eat anything and everything in record time, make the presentation a bit more challenging. Offer coconut in the shell or pomegranate still in the rind. Always check whether the shell or skin of fruits and nuts are toxic before trying anything new with your bird.

Try both cooked and raw presentations when offering fruits and vegetables. Kebab holders make a great presentation. The size of produce pieces also matters. Many times, parrot owners cut the items into bite-size pieces. This may not be necessary and can detract from the natural aspect of the dietary enrichment. Cut large chunks of whole fruit and veggies and skewer them so that you can hang them from the top of the cage for arboreal foragers. Try freezing fresh produce in ice cubes and offering it to your bird in that form.

Juices For Parrots
You know that your parrot needs fresh, clean water at all times but you can offer other liquids as part of your dietary enrichment strategies. Give your parrot the best juices by making them yourself. Too often, commercially produced juices contain very little juice and many additives. Stay away from those.

Freeze juices and present them as ice. Don’t hesitate to mix flavors together that you don’t think will be palatable. Remember our taste receptors are quite different from those of our birds.

Your menu of dietary enrichment will meet with rave reviews from your pet bird as long as you remember that variety is the spice of life. Hidden or out in the open, dietary enrichment can keep your parrot engaged for extended periods of time if presented with creativity. When creating dietary enrichment for your parrrot, remember what Mom said: "Try it you’ll like it!” 

Parrot Food Safety
Considering dietary enrichment? Keep in mind a few rules and you will win half the race right out of the gate.

Stay Safe: Is the dietary item a safe food item for your parrot? Look for lists of toxic plants and/or foods. If you are uncertain about a food item, ask your avian veterinarian. As with any enrichment, you should feel comfortable giving it to your bird. If it doesn’t feel right, simply don’t do it!

Start Small: Enrichment should make your parrot’s life more stimulating in captivity. We don’t want to create chubby cockatiels and stout Senegals because we want to try new dietary enrichment. Balance out the amount of food you offer on a daily basis. If you try a novel food item for enrichment remove something from the regular diet for that day.

Act Natural: Do your research on where your bird would come from if it were a wild bird. What kinds of foods would it eat in the wild?  It’s OK to stray from this list of natural food sources occasionally, but it is much better for your parrot if you stick to foods that would commonly be found in a wild diet.

With these guidelines in mind, you can start creating stimulating and engaging dietary enrichment for your pet bird.

Parrot Food Enrichment Calendar
Considering dietary enrichment? Keeping a food calendar will help you keep your bird’s diet varied.

1) Make a list of all the food items you want to offer your parrots. (E.g., Carrots, carrot tops, sweet potatoes, peas, broccoli, spinach, kale, etc.)

2) Decide how many times a month you would like add some diet enrichment. Leave room for other categories, too.

3) Write the food item on a calendar so you known when you offered it to your pet bird. Don’t forget to add it to the shopping list, too! This system will help you not to fall into the "favorite trap,” in which you repeatedly offer a specific item because you get a huge response from your bird.


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Posted: April 30, 2012. 12:00 a.m. PST

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Food Enrichment For Parrots

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Reader Comments
The calendar is a great idea! My birds always get the best from the farmer's market year round. They probably eat better than the humans in this house!
Carol, Silver Spring, MD
Posted: 11/19/2012 2:26:48 PM
thanks like the juice idea...!
stephanie, north smithfield, RI
Posted: 11/19/2012 7:29:38 AM
wonderful article...
Gabby, San Diego, CA
Posted: 11/16/2012 10:25:07 PM
Enrichment....the spice of life
marc, newburgh, NY
Posted: 5/6/2012 10:02:05 PM
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