Our Parrots’ Wild Habits
October 31, 2013 § 2 Comments
I’m on a research kick. This is nothing new, but a few thought-provoking posts and comments I’ve read lately have gotten me really interested in the wild habits of our parrots. It started with diet, but then I just found out a lot of fascinating things. As usual, as I found more answers, they led to even more questions. Although my research pertained to Cape Parrots and Budgerigars in particular, I think what I found might be quite interesting to all parrot owners.
First, I’ve often wondered if Lola was just a little bit chubby and clumsy and therefore not the greatest flyer. I’ve noticed that in comparison to my budgies (Charles in particular, who was a spectacularly graceful flyer) as well as my mom’s Hahn’s Macaw, who is another beautiful flyer, Lola is … well, she’s a little slow and labored. She likes to fly, but unlike my mom’s Hahn’s who takes joy in doing laps around the open floor plan of her home, Lola likes to go shorter distances and sometimes opts to waddle over when she can. Obviously I think part of this is influenced by the fact that as an apartment dweller she simply doesn’t have as much space to fly and therefore gets less practice, but I also read recently that Capes in comparison to other birds actually have shorter wings, evolved for maneuvering in the forest canopy while feeding, rather than for long distance flight. In fact, I read that it can take Cape Parrots twenty-five times as much energy to fly than other birds! This was really astounding and fascinating to me and explained a lot about Lola’s flying efforts.
On the other hand, budgies seem to be wonderful, graceful, and rapid flyers. Sabrina is an exception because she had a lot of trouble with breaking her wing feathers as a baby and as a result is a bit of a shaky flyer, but Charles was magnificent in flight. Which makes sense, because in the wild, budgerigars can travel dozens and even hundreds of miles in a single day looking for food. So although they are often described as ground feeders and foragers, their long tails reflect that they are also spectacular flyers. (Lola’s short little tail, on the other hand, gives her away as a ground feeder who is not meant for long distance flight.)
I also started thinking about what Lola would eat in the wild. Cape Parrots feed almost exclusively off of the fruit of the yellowwood tree. Nowadays, due to the destruction of the yellowwood forests in South Africa and other regions of the African continent, they have turned to other sources of food, including plums, pecans, cherries, acorns, and others. However, this has also coincided with a widespread outbreak of PBFD (Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease), which has been rapidly decreasing wild populations. Many researchers believe that the PBFD outbreaks are linked to the Cape Parrots’ inability to find adequate food sources. (The Cape Parrot Project is dedicated to saving the wild Cape Parrot. They are an excellent organization and I highly recommend giving their site a visit, and donating to their cause if you are so inclined.)
Anyway, all that aside, these simple facts got me thinking: why do we think variety is so crucial to a healthy diet? Don’t get me wrong– I’m by no means saying it isn’t– in fact, I am fairly certain I have said in this blog that variety is key, and I still believe that. Let me be clear that I think there are often two arguments for variety: first, for health purposes (e.g. to get a variety of vitamin/minerals/nutrients), and second, for boredom/enrichment purposes. I still believe in the first reason, that variety is necessary for health purposes. Obviously we do not have access to these yellowwood fruits, and thus we cannot replicate the wild diet– so, we should do our best to give a variety of nutrients that will mimic a complete diet or attempt to do so, at least. I still do this and think it’s important to do.
But, I think that maybe we obsess over the second argument for variety too much: the boredom/enrichment argument. Again, of course I believe enrichment is important! (In fact, this has been another research kick of mine, and I am working on a large write up on it.) But why do we assume that parrots get bored eating the same thing everyday, when that’s exactly what some of them do (and is healthiest for them to do) in the wild? And although Capes are somewhat unique in that regard, they aren’t the only ones. The vast majority of the diet of wild Hyacinth Macaws, for example, is made up of palm nuts. Just thinking of the way that I feed Lola, however, I often obsess over giving her a variety of foods from sprouts to fresh veggies (from chopped to sliced to steamed to whole to stuffed) to dry mixes to fruits to breads to mashes to endless variations upon variations. I’m wondering if these things really matter to her at all, being that she’d be perfectly happy and healthy eating yellowwood fruits all day everyday for the rest of her life. (One important distinction: the question of dietary enrichment in terms of presentation or foraging, I think, is a separate one. I absolutely believe in variety of presentation and encouragement of foraging. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t try to make food presentation less “boring” by hiding food or creating foraging opportunities– I think that’s super important! I’m talking about boredom, referring to the make up of the food itself.)
Maybe this is all just very obscure and doesn’t make sense. I mean, I’m still confused about it. And I’m not sure I will necessarily be doing anything differently. I think maybe I will not obsess so much over giving Lola a different fresh fruit/veggie mix every morning, so long as she’s getting a good mix in there. (I used to be afraid that she’d get bored of eating the same meal three days in a row. Now I feel silly thinking that.) But again, as usual, my research leaves me with more questions than answers. Just something to ponder!
Oh: and Happy Halloween! 🙂