Diet Talk (Yes, Again!)

At least once a week, Garuda Aviary is asked to take in another parrot. Usually the requests comes from people that are at their wit’s end with their parrots terrible behavior. The highlights of the undesirable behavior are typical; ear piercing vocalizations, a neurotic need for attention, obsession, etc… And when the owner tries to pacify the parrot by giving it what it wants, the behavior seems to get worse. And the owner may even get bitten in the process, leaving them to wonder, “Well, what in blazes do you want then!?!”
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Garuda Aviary’s first calling is to help parrots that have been so profoundly damaged by prolonged exposure to inhumane conditions that they cannot be placed in private homes, or parrots possessed of extreme behavioral disorders, like hyper-aggression. So when I’m being asked by a frustrated parrot owner to take in their feathered companion, I’m eager to help them get to the root of the problem so the owner will keep that bird, and it doesn’t become another statistic in the massive “unwanted parrot” problem. And in my personal experience, the root of the problem can frequently be found in the parrot’s diet.
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Technically speaking, parrots are undomesticated. That means they are no different from their counterparts in the wild. So one must first understand what a parrot’s diet is without the interference of humans. Any parrot’s natural habitat will have a season when the region’s flora produces bountiful food resources such as fruit, seed, and nuts. That region’s animal life, including parrots, will gorge themselves on these resources to stock up as many calories as they can claim. When this happens, a parrot’s drive to mate becomes much stronger. The parrot’s body is responding to the instinct to bear young when resources are plentiful. For the remainder of the year when fruit, seed and nuts are not available, a parrot will have to rely on the region’s vegetable plant life for sustenance. As food resources become less abundant, a parrot’s body knows that bearing young and keeping them fed will be too difficult. As a result, the parrot’s desire to mate decreases.
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So when a parrot’s diet is too rich in fruit sugars and the oils from seeds and nuts, it’s drive to mate is intensely elevated. These abundant, fast burning calories trick a parrot’s body into believing that it is mating season. The problem is that this hypothetical parrot is not in its natural habitat, fulfilling it’s instinctual needs. It’s in somebody’s home, screaming his head off and focusing all of its surplus neurotic energy on its poor beleaguered owner.
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I will share with you some dietary guidelines that will seem obvious once you understand what a profound impact high-calorie foods, (especially those containing sugars) have on a parrot’s demeanor. But you would be surprised how many parrot owners possess this knowledge, but seem to avoid using it. Why, you may ask? Usually it’s because we make the same mistake with our pet’s diet that we make with our own; we determine cuisine based upon emotional desire, not knowledge and logic. And we often seek to soothe emotional discomfort with food gratification. This is a short-term solution for people, and an utterly futile solution for parrots. The other reason knowledgeable parrot owners avoid feeding their parrots correctly is because it does require some extra work.
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Ultimately, their diet should be mostly vegetable and pellets. A little bit of fruit is ok. But remember, a parrot in its natural habitat won’t see any fruit for half of the year. The presence of fruit means it’s mating season. Put simply; sugars cause mating behavior, (which is usually bad behavior).
We will also talk about beans and grains as a source of protein that is nutritionally superior to seeds and nuts.
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I understand that it can be challenging to provide a variety of fresh veggies on a daily basis, but fresh would be much better then frozen or cooked. Frozen always has extra sodium and cooked has lost many of it’s nutrients.
Raw veggies are the cobblestones on the road to a happy, healthy parrot. Raw broccoli, (for example) has N-acetyl-Cysteine. That’s an amino acid used to treat people afflicted with trichotillomania, which is the human version of feather plucking.
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The problem with fresh vegetables is that they wither and spoil too soon. When someone owns one or two parrots, they don’t want to buy a bunch of lovely vegetables for them, only to throw most of it away in a few days. But there is a solution. As plant material decays, it emits a gas called ethylene. As more ethylene gas accumulates, it causes plant material to ripen and decay faster. Ethylene gas collects in your refrigerator and causes the vegetables inside to decay more quickly. But there is a solution. Now you can find products online or in your grocery store that neutralize ethylene gas. You can buy food storage bags and containers that are made to neutralize ethylene gas. Garuda Aviary’s refrigerator contains only vegetables and a little fruit. So we buy ethylene gas filters, which are packets of a crystallized material that absorbs ethylene gas. Having two or three of those packets in our refrigerator keeps our vegetables in great shape for an entire week. Products that absorb and neutralize ethylene gas make it much easier to store vegetables for longer durations. Make sure to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for best results.
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Recommended veggies; cauliflower, broccoli (crown and stem), yellow squash, zucchini, carrots, radishes, celery, green beans.
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Beans; Add kidney beans, lima beans, lentils for protein. Beans should be served al dente, not mushy.
NO soybeans. They are estrogenic, (promoting or producing estrus). It is difficult to completely eliminate soybeans from a parrot’s diet because they are usually an ingredient in pellets. So we don’t want to increase soybean intake by offering fresh or whole soybeans.
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I generally recommend the reduction of seed and nuts in a parrot’s diet. But if a parrot’s behavior is really bad, I may recommend eliminating seeds and nuts from their diet altogether. Either way, you need to make sure that the bird is still getting sufficient protein. When beans and whole grains are consumed together, they combine to create a complete protein. Adding whole grain brown rice, oats, barley, quinoa, etc. to the beans that I mentioned above offers a source of protein that is nutritionally superior to seeds and nuts. And it is better to depend upon the bean & grain mix for protein because seeds and nuts intensify the mating instinct.
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So as you see, feeding your parrot in a way that improves its disposition is not terribly complicated. It just requires a little extra work and a bit of planning. And the underlying philosophy is simple; feeding a parrot all of the seed, nuts and fruit that it wants in an attempt to make it happy is short-sighted. The gratification  derived from these treats is short-lived. As soon as the treat is gone, so is the fleeting feeling of pleasure it caused. And what the parrot is left with, the long-term result, is elevated anxiety. The result of feeding a parrot a balanced diet is a parrot that is calmer and more emotionally stable… and a relieved owner.
by Christopher Zeoli
Director
Garuda Aviary
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