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Home » 2009 - Issue 3, Companion Parrots, Issue, Nutrition

Intuitive Parrot Feeding

By Gudrun Maybaum


Between all the different diets that we can find these days, there is one called intuitive eating. It teaches us how to get in touch with our body and recognize the messages it gives us.

Now many of our pet birds can speak. But not enough to tell us: “Hey I need some beta carotene.” We don’t really know what parrots eat in the wild, but we do know wild animals self medicate. And there is a good probability that this is true for parrots. Though they have been pets for quite a while, they still are wild animals, with most of their instincts still in place.

Some health issues start with a lack of certain nutrition. The body tries to balance this problem. But if a bird is on a limited diet and there is nothing it can pick out to solve this lack, it will eventually develop into something more serious, which needs a visit to the vet.

Many people want to do it right and ask what would be the proper ration of different daily foods to feed. To really answer this, we have to know what our birds would eat when they would live in the wild, their genetics, the food they ate in the past and probably much more.

The best thing to do is to get our birds used to a diet that includes a great variety of nutrients. If they are used to eating vegetables, fruits, pellets, seeds, grains and nuts, they know how to make good choices. To get them to accept many different foods, we need some patience, time and most of all, we have to be inventive.

With most birds it does not work if you just offer a new food. In the wild the parents and flock show the parrot what is safe to eat. So if a bird is used to a limited variety, it does not know that the new food is safe to eat. One way to get them to eat something unknown is to eat it yourself in the parrot’s presence. When they see the flock (the owner) eat it, they know it is safe. Better even when we don’t want to give it to them. I have seen parrots not wanting to eat something until I ate it. Then they even steal it from me.

I have also observed that my attitude towards a food is important. If I eat something with gusto, they seem to pick up on my emotion about it. Here comes the instinct into play again. They pick up things, we are not aware of. Which means if you don’t like broccoli and tell them it’s good, they know you don’t mean it. But we don’t have to eat everything we offer. If we keep serving different foods they will try them sooner or later. Or we can hang big chunks or whole vegetables or fruits in their cage or on the play stand. They will start playing with it, ripping it apart and eventually start eating it.

After getting our birds to accept many different foods, the next part is paying attention to what they pick out on any given day; for example, if a bird starts to pick out one thing and eat mainly or only that, you can be sure it needs it.

Here is a little story, what can happen, when you don’t pay attention:

A friend of mine from Italy called me one evening (4 am in Italy). His bird had difficulties breathing and was sneezing.  It was Saturday morning and there was no way to find a vet until Monday. After talking a while to him, I told him one of the things I would do is to offer food high on beta-carotene. It could just be a seed in the nose. But problems of the upper respiratory system are sometimes caused by a lack of vitamin A. So, I suggested giving beta-carotene rich foods and juice.

He said: you know, the birds usually aren’t very fond of carrots. But lately, whenever we have carrots as part of our meal, they steal them and can’t get enough. So, first thing in the morning, when the shops opened, he got some carrot juice. He also offered food rich on beta-carotene, and by Monday the birds did not show any signs of the problem anymore. This was several weeks ago and the birds are doing very well.

I always check when I pull the bowls what each of my birds ate. If I see one has picked out only one vegetable or fruit and left the rest, I offer more of it. After a while, sometimes a few days, they stop eating it and go back to normal.

We have to give our birds credit for knowing things that we just don’t, especially when it comes to food. Did you ever eat a bitter almond or bad nut? Your bird wouldn’t. It would drop it.

The conclusion is that if a bird is used to a great variety of foods, it can balance its nutritional needs to a certain degree. We as their caretakers have to pay attention and provide them what they show us they need.

Gudrun Maybaum lives with her 10 parrots, cat Miccio and dog Deva in Portland, Oregon. She started working with parrots in 1993 and began applying nutritional and herbal knowledge to her flock shortly thereafter. Eventually she started writing articles on the subject and speaking at parrot conferences and other parrot related events. 2005 she became the owner of and in June 2009 she started an educational blog called

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