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Encouraging Nutrition in Picky Parrot

Expert Question

I adopted a 16 year old Cameroon African Grey on September 26th, 2012 and I would like to learn how to encourage him to eat something other than seeds. He won't eat pellets, cooked grains or vegetables, all fruit except grapes & he even refuses to eat AviCakes or Healthy Bits - a picky eater?

Expert Answer

Dear Donna,

Thank you for your question. Red-tailed grey parrots can be some of the pickiest eaters one can keep, especially if the bird was formerly living wild and free.

That said, it is best to begin modifying a parrot's diet by making changes within the realm of foods that the bird does like to eat eat. As African greys are rather high on the list of medium sized psittacines that need an extra amount of fat and oil in the diet, usually nutmeats fit into this process rather well.

Almonds, brazil nuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, macadamias and such are all fine foods to expand a picky grey's daily nutritional regime. As most Africans species are not noted for overeating habits (unless they are fully deficient  in some nutrients and try very hard on a mono-diet to acquire those things...)one does not usually have to worry about ending up with a fat parrot. Still within reason, try to keep the bird from consuming too much of one item; excess fat can affect liver, heart, kidneys, etc.

Other items we have fed to picky Africans include boiled peanuts, boiled pine nuts, boiled edamame soybeans which are green and often loved by the birds. Germinating mung beans, buckwheat, safflower, and sunflower for 24 to 48 hours makes a great way to reduce the fat content once the seed has "popped," and increase the micro-ingredients not found in the dry seed. Millet sprays may also be germinated and are accepted by some picky eaters.

Getting your grey to eat veggies (fruits, too, though they are less important as nourishment) can be problematic. Start by emphasizing texture. That means crunchy stems only, no wilted leaves,  of watercress, carrot tops, beet greens, parsley, and a variety of herbs or flower tops from safe garden plants--just google safe flowers for parrots and you will get a whole list. We also cut green shoots and buds off of our outdoor vegetables and fruit trees for the birds to nibble.

As parrots go through "phases" of eating greenstuffs depending upon season, weather, hormones, and bodily needs, one has to keep up the crunchy green offerings steadily, watching what the pet prefers or will sample.

Large chunks can be easily thrown out onto the floor, keep things smaller at first so it is more work to rid the bowl of the green. Some picky pets are not real fond of items in the cabbage and broccoli and collards families.In many cases we have just grated beetroot or carrot or turnip or sweet potato or greens onto the bird's dish and allowed the released juices to get into the items that the bird is consuming. There are also some wonderful whole food powders such as alfalfa, barley grass, wheatgrass, spirulina and the like which can be sparingly sprinkled on food items and ingested that way. If your parrot will not touch a mineral block or cuttlebone, just scrape the powder onto his food.

One of our favorite ways of getting fresh fare into our hookbill's tummies is to choose fruits with pips. Pomegranate, passionfruit, papaya, guava, fig, even melon, pear, apple, pumpkin, etc. We will scoop out the seeds--sometimes washing them well to get rid of sticky pulp-- and feed them to our flock.

One last point. In the choice of oil seeds, sunflower seeds are much preferable to safflower seeds for an addicted parrot to consume. Also, persons with warm temperatures in the local climate can find palm fruits in red (like a grey's tail!) or orange which many parrots adore...

Good luck, Donna. Don't give up, get imaginative and remember, VARIETY is your friend in psittacine feeding.

Cheers, EB

EB Cravens
About EB Cravens

“If we TRULY believe our captive-raised hookbills are important to world parrot conservation, we must work ceaselessly to ensure that these same psittacines retain as much of their wild instinctual behavior as is possible,” affirms avicultural writer and hobby breeder EB Cravens, from his small organic farm on the slopes of the Big Island Hawaii.

“Our goal is to birth and raise only a few baby parrots who know that they are parrots, but choose to befriend humans, because humans are nice to them… feed them… and are fun to be with!”

EB has bred, trained, raised, kept and rehabilitated more than 75 species of psittacines during the past twenty plus years both at his home and while managing the notable exotic bird shoppe, Feathered Friends of Santa Fe, New Mexico. His emphasis on natural environments for birds, the urging of babies to fully fledge during the extended weaning process, and the leaving of chicks for many weeks inside the nest box with their parents in order that they may learn the many intangibles of their species, have succeeded in changing for the better the lives of so many captive parrots.

A science writer by training, he was for years a regular contributor for AFA’s Watchbird Magazine and the Companion Parrot Quarterly. EB currently writes a monthly column entitled “The Complete Psittacine” in PARROTS Magazine out of England; and another, “The Hookbill Hobbyist” down under in the well-regarded Australian Birdkeeper. His monthly series of articles “Birdkeeping Naturally,” is sent out to bird clubs and individuals around the U.S.

“As devastating pressures continue upon avian species in the wilds,” he says, “it is critical that those keeping birds in captivity do so with responsibility and foresight.”