In our previous post regarding diet, “Diet Talk (Yes, Again!),” we discussed what impact diet has upon a parrot’s demeanor. We observed how an abundance of calories from “fruit season” foods in a parrot’s natural habitat causes mating season behavior, such as heightened aggression, elevated anxiety, obsession, etc. “Mating season behavior” is also one way to categorize most of the behavior that tends to get a parrot evicted from a human home.
Previously, I made my case against feeding your parrot too much fruit sugar. The folly of giving your parrot too much fruit is much the same as feeding a child too much candy. They are hyper. They cannot control themselves. They cannot focus their attention. They can become combative or overly emotional. This is true for parrots and children with inflated glucose levels. And fruit doesn’t really have many valuable nutrients anymore. Vegetables are far better and should be used to replace fruit in a parrot’s diet.
But there’s more to this picture than just blood sugar levels. For a more refined understanding of the influence diet has upon a parrot’s demeanor, one must understand the dynamics of phytoestrogen.
Phytoestrogen occurs in plants, and is chemically similar to estrogen produced by animals. Similar enough to promote estrus in animals, including humans. Foods with high levels of phytoestrogen are known to be estrogenic, (promoting estrus). You’ve probably heard of soy-based supplements used as treatment for low estrogen levels. This helps because soy has tons of phytoestrogen.
Excessive phytoestrogen in a pet parrot’s diet is the most common cause of negative behavioral issues; aggression, anxiety, obsessive/compulsive behavior, etc. And, of course, chronic egg laying.
My case against most fruit in a parrot’s diet is twofold. I’ve already mentioned the undesirable effects of excessive sugar. But most fruits also contain significant levels of phytoestrogen. This combination makes fruit a double-whammy for causing bad behavior. And you shouldn’t assume that a parrot cannot be stimulated and entertained by raw vegetable cuisine. Our birds absolutely love cauliflower, green beans, broccoli, and jalapeno. Yes, jalapeno! Parrots don’t have the taste receptors that make peppers seem hot. Yes, there are many highly entertaining vegetables.
Chronic egg laying is a common problem with pet parrots. Not all female parrots lay eggs. But many female parrots in a domestic setting will lay eggs all year round. I’ve heard quite a few parrot owners say their parrots lay anywhere from 6 to over 12 eggs a year. That is totally unnatural! Most types of parrots in their natural habitat will have a window of time each year for the females to go into estrus and bear young. The rest of the year, they do not lay eggs.
When I started researching estrogenic foods, it dawned on me why pet parrots lay so many eggs. The 3 foods most consumed by pet parrots are estrogenic! Sunflower seeds, walnuts and almonds all have elevated levels of phytoestrogen. These 3 foods are the 3 most common staple foods fed to parrots in the home. After that, the food most frequently fed to pet parrots is fruit. Which means nearly every food in a typical pet parrot’s diet is estrogenic. As a result, these birds spend virtually their entire adult lives with their mating season physiology turned on. This is a problem not only for the owner who must endure the parrot’s worst behavior, but also for the parrot that cannot pacify its own relentless
While this may all sound a bit complicated, fixing the problem is not complicated at all. And you don’t have to remove every source of phytoestrogen in your bird’s diet. You can gradually dial down the phytoestrogen until you get the results you want. A moderate amount of phytoestrogen in the diet is okay, and can have a hormone stabilizing effect. The problem we’re addressing today is excessive phytoestrogen in the diet.
First, you must identify the biggest sources of phytoestrogen and remove them. Fruit was always my first target. The singular, most important step in this process is to remove most of the fruit from your parrot’s diet. You will never get the behavior you want from your bird until you greatly reduce its fruit intake.
Do not feed your parrot soy, unless your avian specialist specifically told you to (but I can’t imagine that actually happening). As I mentioned, soy has lots of phytoestrogen. And you can’t completely avoid soy because it is used as a cheap source of protein in pellets. So you don’t want to add any additional soy to their diet.
If your parrot’s diet includes flaxseed, sesame seed, yam, bean sprouts, alfalfa sprouts or wheat germ, I would just go ahead and remove them. They may be relatively nutritious, but not enough to justify their high levels of phytoestrogen.
Removing most fruit and the foods I just mentioned is the first and easiest step. You can gradually do that over the course of 3 months. Most parrot owners will see significant improvement just from that. But if your bird is more sensitive to phytoestrogen, (most chronic egg layers are) then you should move on to step 2; reducing sunflower seed, almond and walnut.
I highly recommend reducing sunflower seed, almond and walnut in any case because they have significant levels of phytoestrogen. But remember, they are sources of protein. So if you remove them, you must replace them with another source of protein. The appropriate replacement is a bean and grain mix. When you mix beans and grains, you get all the amino acids necessary to constitute a complete protein.
Your bean and grain mix does not require exotic ingredients. These are easy to find items. Lima beans, red beans, lentils, quinoa, whole brown rice, whole unprocessed wheat grain, whole barley, whole oats, for example. Sometimes we use a whole grain pasta as the grain. My Amazons eat quinoa and black lentils like it was candy.
Yes, beans and grains have phytoestrogen. But not as much as the seed and nuts that they are replacing. When you replace seed and nuts with beans and grains, you are definitely reducing phytoestrogen.
Here at Garuda Aviary, we feed our flock a mix that is 2/3 vegetable & 1/3 bean/grain 5 days a week. But on Mondays and Thursdays, they get a mix of 50% sunflower seed, 50% ZooPreem Natural, and a couple of almonds &/or walnuts on top.
This diet precludes estrus. This is the anti-breeder diet. Our flock of 53 parrots has not layed an egg in 6 years. This is without Lupron or any other prescription hormone reduction medication. And our flock’s bloodwork results are typically fantastic (via our avian specialist veterinarian).
We have accepted parrots with terrible reputations, displaying insane behavior. After 2 months on our diet, they are calmer and more lucid. They can engage in thoughtful interaction. This vital part of their rehabilitation happens easily and naturally, simply because the excessive phytoestrogen was removed from their diet.
Now let’s say that you’ve done everything I’ve described thus far, but haven’t seen the results I’ve told you to expect. You’ve removed fruit in favor of vegetables, and reduced seed & nuts to replace them with beans and grains. But somehow, your parrot is still laying eggs and acting like a monster. First, if that bird was still laying eggs, I’d say go to the vet for bloodwork. The answer should be there. But if the bloodwork comes back clean, then your parrot is simply very sensitive to phytoestrogen. In which case, I would recommend our aviary diet that I just described. You can also look for the beans and grains that are higher in phytoestrogen, and avoid them. Lentils, mung beans and black eyed peas (for example), could be avoided.
A few things to consider:
The diet I’m describing is suited for over 95% of popular parrot breeds. However, there are a few breeds that require a unique and specific diet due to the conditions of their evolution.
Lorikeet, for example, are specialized fruit eaters that require fruit in their diet. They even have a tongue that is uniquely modified for fruit consumption.
Hyacinth Macaw are another example. In their natural habitat, the fat and protein rich palm nuts from oil palm are their staple food. As a result, Hyacinth require a lot more tree nut in their domestic diet.
So if you have a parrot with unique breed-specific dietary requirements, you should find a reputable source for information regarding that breed’s special needs. Otherwise, the low-phytoestrogen diet that I described in this post is ideal for most parrot breeds.
Also, I am not a veterinarian. I have nearly 30yrs of experience in caring for large numbers of parrots. In that time, I have had countless conversations with every caliber of veterinarian and avian specialist spanning every conceivable topic relating to parrot care. Every day, I see 53 rescued parrots whose quality of life was profoundly improved by (amongst other factors), a low-phytoestrogen diet. If it works for us, I’m sure it will work for you too.
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