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New Year, New Likes

By Laura Doering

Another year already?! Ollie just celebrated his 10th birthday (eight of which have been with me). The cool thing about birds is that they really don’t show their age, unless you’re talking about real senior psittacines, with perhaps visible cataracts or mature plumage (those with double yellow-headed Amazons and the like understand the plumage transformation). Not that Ollie is old, but there is more visible aging in a 10-year-old dog than a 10-year-old conure. Ollie looks the same as when I first took him in. The only thing that’s really changed is his cage (bigger), his diet and his demeanor to a lesser degree.

When we first met, Ollie was cautious about letting me scratch his head. Then we showered together (that might sound awkward in any other community, but, in the world of bird, we all know communal showers are an ideal way to start the day). The main challenge I had with Ollie was his diet. If asked, ”What could you not live without if you were marooned on an island?” safflower seed would likely be Ollie’s reply. Corn was the only vegetable he liked. And pellets were merely objects to toss out of the bowl.

It took a patient course of trial and error to figure out how to tempt Ollie to try new foods. I learned that he’s a social eater. If I held the new food in the palm of my hand, he’d rub his cheek against it, pretend to eat it and then take a bit in his beak and eat it. I stood there like one of those wooden waiter cutouts, with my palm up, as he took a pellet and crumbled it, then another and another until my palm held a heap of finely crumbled pellets. It took about 10 minutes for Ollie to eat five pellets. It was the same with pasta or mashed sweet potato. I’d have to hold it up while he nibbled and then he’d wipe the leftovers on my hand. Ollie’s thinking seemed to be safflower seed, and safflower seed alone, belonged in the food bowl. All other food had to be presented like an offering to the gods. It’s been a long road, but Ollie now eats most items placed in his bowl, as long as safflower seed is out of sight (it’s now treated as a treat).

Apparently, Ollie is not alone in his food fixations. Check out Sally Blanchard’s “Food Play, Food Obsessions” to see what I mean. And by the time I got to the second paragraph of Dr. Gregory Rich’s article, “Good Food Fosters Good Behavior," I was thankful for the success I’ve had in getting Ollie off his safflower addiction. Read what Dr. Rich has to say about the diet-behavior link, and see if it’s time for an intervention within your flock.

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