Pumpkin Season!

September 22, 2014 § 4 Comments

Fall is here… which means some of Lola’s very favorite produce is also in season:  cranberries, pomegranates, and squash galore!  I dropped by our wonderful local farmer’s market today to see what I could pick up.  I grabbed a whole bunch of fresh, delicious fruits and veggies, but was also introduced to something new: a cheese pumpkin!  One of the farmers described it as a little creamier than normal pumpkins, and recommended I try it since I really like butternut squash.  (I didn’t mention it was for my parrot!)  I picked up a miniature one to try.

a mini cheese pumpkin

He’s a cute little guy, isn’t he?  I decided I’d roast him up and serve him to Lola for dinner.  One of my favorite ways to serve mini pumpkins to her is as a bowl, stuffed with her nightly mash.  (One of the many wonderful contributors to the forum Avian Avenue, Saroj, shared this awesome idea!)  Lola absolutely loves it.  I like to roast them, then scoop out some of the insides, and replace them with her dinner.  Of course, I save the insides too and especially the seeds, as she loves eating those as well.

roasted, stuffed, and ready to serve

Tonight’s dinner was the Avian Organics Quick Serve, one of Lola’s very combinations.  I added some fresh pomegranate seeds to the finished product, then put it all inside her little cheese pumpkin and into her bowl.

Do you think she liked it?  I absolutely love watching her go after her dinner with gusto!  She actually ate and destroyed a huge amount of the pumpkin, more so than usual.  Of course there is some waste involved as she’d probably burst if she consumed the entire pumpkin, but I think the foraging, enrichment, and nutritional value are worth it.  Pumpkins are extremely high in Vitamin A, and contain others like Vitamin E and B.  Plus, if you scoop out a good amount of pumpkin to save for future meals, you can minimize waste.  It’s such a fun and creative way to serve meals, and even my picky eater goes after this healthy treat quite zealously!

A Colorful Batch of Fresh Veggies

November 21, 2013 § 1 Comment

My latest batch of fresh veggies looked particularly colorful and lovely.  I normally steer clear of things like beets because I personally find them vile, but they are quite healthy and they do add a rich color, so when I saw some gorgeous ones on sale at the farmer’s market, I decided to add them.  I also added another ingredient that normally I’d never buy for myself: radishes.  I think they’re gross but I do think texturally they add a nice variety to the chop.

Otherwise everything was pretty much as usual: kale, broccoli leaves, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, acorn squash, delicata squash (my new favorite squash!), pumpkin, butternut squash, assorted colorful peppers (sweet and spicy), and pomegranates.  At least I think that’s everything looking at the photo.

And that’s the finished product.  Looks nice, doesn’t it?  I think the beets and the turnips really do add some depth, purely visually speaking.  Normally it doesn’t look quite as lovely as this!  I like to chop everything extra finely so that Lola can’t pick out the bits of things that she likes and only eat those.  My arms were aching by the end of this but I think it’s worth it.

That photo of the mix didn’t include the squash, but that’s because I’m still having trouble figuring out how to both cook it and chop it very finely without it simply turning into mush.  So as you can see I have it cubed, but it’s still pretty large.  So I guess Lola can pick those out… thwarting my best attempts.  Anyway, I mix all of this good stuff up with their fresh sprouts and some supplemental foods, and that’s their morning meal.

As some of you might know I don’t freeze any of my veggie mixes because Lola refuses to eat it and because the texture gets disgusting, but I recently read this awesome blog post by Laura Ford and it gives me hope.  I actually feed a lot of different dryer supplemental foods as is, so adding them into the mix is an interesting idea.  I might try to make a big master batch of veggies along with all of the dry stuff and see how it freezes and more importantly what the girls think about it!

A Few Improvements

November 15, 2013 § Leave a comment

No big projects being tackled right now, but we’ve made three small improvements this week: a much better grain bake, a softer perching area for Lola, and yet another cool foraging pot for Lola’s cage!

the grain bake ingredients before adding water and going into the oven

After my first failed grain bake, I got some suggestions from friends about how to make the texture of the grain bake a bit more palatable.  This time, I used the same ingredients, but added sweet potato puree rather than chunks of sweet potato, and mixed it into all of the grains.  I was told this would create a more risotto-like texture, which would resemble my birds’ usual nightly mash quite a bit more.  I also sprinkled some Totally Organics pellets on top.

after baking

It doesn’t look pretty (and the pellets got very puffy!), but Lola liked this one a lot, lot more!  The texture is much softer and although still not like my normal mashes, Lola really enjoyed it and even ate the pellets.  Sabrina still wouldn’t touch this, but she also isn’t a big fan of sweet potatoes, so I’m not surprised.  But at least this one won’t go to waste!  I don’t think this will replace my nightly mashes, but I might decide to make some every once in a while and keep some in the freezer since it is a nice option that Lola seems to enjoy.

the new hemp-wrapped cage door

The next mini project was wrapping the top of Lola’s cage door with some extra comfy hemp rope.  I’ve noticed that she has taken a liking to sitting on top of the cage door a lot.  Unlike a lot of cages which have a larger square metal bar on top that provides a more substantial perching surface, Lola’s is just one of the 3/16″ stainless steel bars.  I was worried that it wasn’t comfortable or good for her feet to be perching up there so much, so I wrapped it in thick hemp rope.  It took a while but the rope is very thick and durable and provides a much nicer perching surface for her.

Lola enjoying her new soft, hemp perching space

Lola seems to approve!!  I think it adds a nice touch to the cage as well.  She also likes to chew on it a little but thankfully the rope is very thick and durable.

the coconut foraging pot

Finally, I added yet another foraging pot to her cage, but this one is big!!  It’s the awesome Coconut Foraging Pot from Things for Wings.  It’s awesome.  It’s actually an entire half of a coconut with the husk and everything still in tact.  Because it’s split in half, there is a lot of natural fiber exposed– so it’s both a chew toy and a smooth foraging pot in one.  Lola loves chewing on coconut pieces with the husk still attached.  It’s shreddable, tear-able, and tough, and she loves this pot.  I’m trying to encourage her to use all of the space in her cage more (she typically uses the upper perches and then goes to the ground floor to forage, but doesn’t use the middle to much), and using foraging pots is a great way to do that.  I’ll put a noticeable treat in there for her and she’ll get wandering over.

That’s all from us for today.  More next time 🙂

Learning about Parrot Enrichment

November 6, 2013 § 9 Comments

One of my good friends over at Avian Avenue recently inspired me  by her purchase of the DVD, Enriching Your Parrot’s Life, by Robin Shewokis.  This sent me on another researching spree about all types of parrot enrichment.  I found some awesome articles on the web (all linked below), and also ended up purchasing the DVD too, from Busy Beaks.  I so very highly recommend it for all parrot owners!  It was an excellent resource and a great learning opportunity for me.  This new dose of learning has really provided me with some fantastic enrichment ideas and made me re-commit myself to making sure that Lola and Sabrina lead fulfilling and enriching lives.  I’m going to sum up some of the things I’ve learned in this entry, and then in part two (a separate entry), I’ll talk about actually implementing these ideas and my plans for Lola and Sabrina.

Getting Started: Enrichment as a Process

First I’ll start off with a concept that Robin’s DVD explained: “enrichment is a process.”  I loved how she focused on researching natural behaviors and targeting those evolutionary habits in the enrichment process.  For example, as I mentioned earlier, Lola is more of a ground forager who prefers climbing over flying.  Budgies too like to forage on the ground for germinated seeds and grasses.  One of the things I’m working on for both of them is creating a foraging tray or shelf, where I will put natural materials like wood, vine balls, maybe some dried branches or leaves, etcetera, and also hide some treats in there, like a few sunflower seeds or in shell nuts for Lola, or millet and canary grass seed for Sabrina.  Lola’s wild counterparts also like to carve out cavities in trees.  To reflect that behavior, I’ve been giving her more opportunities to forage in wooden cavities.

Another concept I really liked, that that almost all of the articles and the DVD explained, is the idea of different types of enrichment.  Robin identifies six herself, but in my research online I’ve found that everybody categorizes them differently.  Of course, a lot of them overlap.  I actually liked the way one of the articles, by David Woolcock, classified them, as I think his umbrella categories capture a lot of what the other articles cover and then some:  social, occupational, physical, sensory, and nutritional.  I’m going to discuss each one in turn, but this discussion is fairly repetitive of the articles linked below, with a few of my own thoughts thrown in.

But as a caveat, importantly, Robin stresses that you don’t need to provide every single type of enrichment every single day.  There is such a thing as “over-enrichment.”  The goal is to offer choices, as every parrot would have in the wild, but not necessarily to overstimulate.  Instead, she suggests maybe assigning one type of enrichment to everyday of the week in particular.  I think that most of us will find that some of the tactics we use will actually enrich in more than one way, so that we are enriching in multiple ways each day inadvertently, but I think it’s important to keep in mind that we don’t need to be running around trying to activate every possible type of enrichment all the time.

The Types of Enrichment

social enrichment: Charles (rest in peace) and Sabrina telling secrets (this is a travel cage, not their regular cage)

Now let’s start discussing each type.  First up is social enrichment.  We all know that our parrots tend to be flock animals.  Cape Parrots, for example, typically travel in smaller flocks of up to 20 parrots, but flocks of 80 can gather at food sites.  Budgies, on the other hand, can be found traveling in flocks of hundreds and even thousands!  And then there are some parrots that tend to stick in pairs.  The important thing, however, is that they all have some sort of social interaction and group dynamic.  For those who have their own flocks, and in particular same-species flocks or parrots in pairs, social enrichment is an easy one to check off the list.  But for those of us who do not, or for those of us with two parrots that are dramatically different in size and originate from completely separate continents, I think we should strive to do a bit more to provide social enrichment for our parrots ourselves.  Some examples are easy: talking to your bird, playing, giving scratches, and other interactions.  But things like training and positive reinforcement, or flight recall practice can also count.  More ideas include reading to your bird, singing with your bird, dancing (if your bird is so inclined, as Lola is!), and more.

Bottom line ideas for social enrichment: same-species friends, other species friends, talking/singing/dancing to or with your parrot, training and positive reinforcement, flight recall, interacting with your parrot in general.

occupational enrichment: exercising the mind through a foraging opportunity

occupational enrichment: exercising the body by climbing

Next is occupational enrichment.  This one is less intuitive by name, but I think the concept is pretty easily understood.   As David Woolcock describes it, occupational enrichment is enrichment that exercises the mind or the body, such as giving your parrot challenges to overcome, and allowing your parrot to fly.  Foraging opportunities probably come directly to mind: giving our parrots foraging opportunities challenges them to work for their food, enriching them and preventing boredom all the same.  Even something as simple as covering the food bowl with some kraft paper and securing it with some tape, or just switching up the positions of the food bowls, would create a foraging opportunity.  Some very talented parrots also seem great at working on puzzle toys or more mechanical toys.  This isn’t Lola or Sabrina’s strong suit, but would definitely count as occupational enrichment.

Exercising the body is, of course, equally important, but I’d like to expand it beyond just flight to also include climbing, swinging, and swaying opportunities.  I am a big proponent of free flight and try to give my parrots plenty of opportunities to fly.  But as I said above, Lola naturally prefers climbing to flying, so I also give her climbing opportunities through vine-like ropes that she can climb and swing from, boings, climbing nets, and swings.  She absolutely loves these types of “perches” and often prefers them to stationary, bolt-on perches.  Sabrina, interestingly, even prefers to sleep on swings rather than stationary perches.

Bottom line ideas for occupational enrichment: foraging opportunities, changed food bowl positions, puzzle toys, training through positive reinforcement, other challenges, flying, climbing, swinging, and other exercise.

physical enrichment: a separate play area, outside of the cage

physical enrichment: getting outside for some natural sunlight

Third is physical enrichment, in relation to the type of enclosures we keep our parrots in and the elements of them.  I think it should also count play areas and play stands (perhaps a more intuitive name for this category might be environmental enrichment).  So your parrot’s physical environment can certainly be a source of enrichment: is the cage big enough for your parrot to spread its wings?  Sabrina’s is even big enough for her to fly (although that’s a lot easier with a tiny bird like her).  What types of elements are in the cage?  Perches, swings, boings, toys, etcetera all fall under this category.  How often do you change the environment?  This is something I am working on doing more of: rearranging the cage setup, even if it’s just switching around a perch and a few toys a week.  Beyond cages, play stands and play areas and gyms are certainly another sort of physical enrichment.  Likewise, those lucky enough to own outdoor aviaries provide an excellent source of physical enrichment.  But even just taking parrots outside for some natural sunlight and a change of scenery is another great way to provide physical enrichment.  Another thing I like to try to do everyday is make sure that Lola visits at least one different room everyday, for a simple change of scenery.

Bottom line ideas for physical enrichment: thinking about cage size and setup, thinking about cage elements, rearranging cage toys and setup, changing orientation or position of the cage, providing play stands and gyms, providing an outdoor aviary or just making trips outdoors, visiting a different room everyday.

sensory enrichment: her first time trying loofah, a new tactile sensation for Sabrina

sensory enrichment: olfactory enrichment through bird-safe essential oils

Next up is sensory enrichment, which I think includes several of Robin’s categories (auditory, visual, olfactory, and tactile).  Auditory enrichment is something that I definitely wasn’t really thinking about before reading these articles and watching this video.  Some suggestions from the DVD included baby toys or bird toys that say phrases or make the sounds of wild birds or other animals.  But even more simply, noisy toys like bells or stainless steel toys (my girls love the ones from Avian Stainless) can provide ample auditory enrichment.  I’ve also found that Lola and Sabrina absolutely love watching YouTube videos of their own species that make their own natural sounds, which also leads me into visual enrichment.  Videos and photos of other birds really get my two’s attention, but even things like moving the level or position of perches in the cage, which will in turn change a parrot’s line of vision and view, will provide visual enrichment.  Changing the toys in the cage too will provide visual enrichment as it will change the “look” of the cage.

Olfactory enrichment is another type of enrichment I really didn’t think about.  I would be very careful about this one, as obviously many fragrances (candles, oils, etcetera) can be very harmful to our parrots.  But essential oils certainly fall under this category, and as I’ve written about before, my two have responded very well to diffusing bird-safe essential oils.  My friend also suggested some natural scents like rosemary, and I would throw in other fragrant plants like eucalyptus or mint.  Even some ceylon cinnamon sticks or other fragrant herbs like star anise would be sources of olfactory enrichment.

Lastly, tactile enrichment is something we’re all probably pretty good at.  This would include many different things we probably already do: a variety of perching surfaces, different textures in toys (hardwood, softwood, natural wood with bark, types of rope/twine, cloth or cotton, plastic for those who use it, metal parts, etc.).  But so many other things can also fall under this category: bathing, foot toys, utilizing feathers in toys, varying the size of the food we provide our parrots (e.g. tiny pieces or big chunks or even whole fruit!), and even giving ice cubes to our parrots.

Bottom line ideas for sensory enrichment: (auditory) noisy toys, sounds of wild birds, youtube videos, music for parrots; (visual) videos or photos of other birds, shifting perch levels, changing toys; (olfactory) bird-safe essential oils, fragrant plants and herbs; (tactile) varying perching surfaces, varying toy textures and parts, bathing, providing foot toys, utilizing feathers, varying the size of food, providing whole fruits, creating foraging trays, giving ice cubes to our parrots.

nutritional enrichment: Lola foraging for some fresh veggies

nutritional enrichment: an ugly but simple and effective homemade foraging toy

Last one: phew!  Nutritional enrichment.  Like sensory enrichment, a lot can fall under here!  Of course, I think there is a lot of overlap with this one and occupational enrichment, at least as far as foraging goes.  I think that encouraging our parrots to forage for their food is such an important part of keeping them happy, “busy,” and enriched.  Although I still haven’t figured out a really good way to get Lola to forage for her fresh food, aside from covering her food bowls, she does have to work for her dry food and her treats.  I skewer a lot of foods, put them in foraging toys or boxes, wrap them in dixie cups or cupcake liners, etcetera.  She’s not a brain surgeon, and hasn’t figured out those really complicated foraging toys.  But that’s okay with me.  In the wild, parrots might just be flying to another branch on a tree and picking a fruit off of it– that’s still foraging.  Something as simple as sticking fresh veggies in the hole of a foraging toy, but with the veggie still easily accessible (see above), counts as foraging– the toy will swing as the parrot tries to pick at the vegetable, requiring a bit more maneuvering than simply picking food out of a bowl or being spoon fed.  Foraging can be simple!

But there’s a second aspect of nutritional enrichment, which is the source of the nutrition, or the food itself.  Robin talks about how important it is to keep diet choices novel and exciting: if you read my previous post containing my ponderings about variety, you’ll know this is something I’m thinking a lot about lately, and I still haven’t come to a conclusion.  But Robin believes that we can prevent food boredom by offering variety and saving favorites to encourage foraging or reinforce training.  (The logic is, ice cream sundaes might be your favorite food.  But you’d probably get tired of them too if you were fed one every single day.)  Another idea is to make sure we are utilizing seasonal produce, which will naturally force us to keep the diet more novel and exciting as the months change.

Finally, we should also be thinking about food presentation or size.  In the wild, our parrots aren’t getting all their fruits and veggies pre-chopped.  Lola loves diving into and destroying a whole fruit, or most recently, a whole mini pumpkin.  Obviously, there is more waste involved with this, so I don’t do it all the time, but she really loves it when I do.  I think Sabrina might have a heart attack if suddenly an entire apple showed up in her cage, but she does love it when I stick an entire huge leaf of chard or kale in there.

Bottom line ideas for nutritional enrichment: foraging, foraging, foraging!, keeping dietary choices novel and exciting, offering a variety of foods, keeping food seasonal, offering food in different sizes, offering whole fruits or veggies.

What’s Next and Resources

As you can see, I really learned a lot.  (As a side note, there is even more in the DVD!!)  And I feel like this research really invigorated my desire to “do right” by my parrots, and make sure that they are being enriched everyday– maybe not in every single possible way, but making sure to keep things fresh and interesting for them.  Like I said above, as I begin to implement all of these types of enrichment, I hope to write a second entry that discusses practical and easy tips to help you enrich your parrots too.  There are tons of fabulous resources out there already (Kris Porter’s enrichment books come to mind) to get you started, and I’ll throw in a few of my own tips.  Until then, enjoy the excellent resources below!

  1. Laura Ford, “Go Outside!” available at http://www.phoenixlanding.org/blog/2012/06/go-outside/
  2. Peggy’s Parrot Place blog post, “Enriching your parrot’s life,” available at http://zoologica.wordpress.com/2011/07/07/1186/
  3. Robin Shewokis, Enriching Your Parrot’s Life (DVD)
  4. Kathleen Snipes, “Natural State Aspects of Avian Foraging,” available at http://www.phoenixlanding.org/blog/2009/07/avian-foraging/
  5. Liz Wilson, “Enrichment for your Parrot,” available at http://www.northernparrots.com/enrichment-for-your-parrot-blog75/
  6. Karen Windsor, “Not doing enough for your parrot?  Get creative!” available at http://www.parrots.org/pdfs/all_about_parrots/reference_library/behaviour_and_environmental_enrichment/PS%2018%204%20Nov%2006%20KW.pdf
  7. David Woolcock, “Enriching lives:  One parrot at a time,” available at http://www.parrots.org/pdfs/all_about_parrots/reference_library/behaviour_and_environmental_enrichment/Enrich_PS19_4.pdf

My Attempt at a Grain Bake

November 4, 2013 § Leave a comment

Patricia Sund’s blog post on her grain bake has been spreading like wildfire.  I decided to give it a try and see if it was something that my girls would like, too. Normally, their dinnertime meal is a cooked mash that I make fresh every night. My little princesses have never taken well to eating anything that has been previously frozen and reheated, with the one exception of bird bread. But I figured I’d give it a shot, at least a miniature one in case it wasn’t a hit. I made mine in a small (about five inch) pie plate, rather than one of the larger baking dishes, just to test it out.

the organic grain and legume base

I used a base of several organic and GMO-free grains and legumes.  I think all in all there was tricolor sprouted quinoa, three kinds of sprouted lentils, wheat berries, brown rice, rye berries, spelt, pearled barley, bulgur, and buckwheat groats.

topped off with fresh, organic butternut squash, carrots, cranberries, and pomegranate

Next, I threw in a variety of fresh, organic, and seasonal fruits and vegetables, including several of Lola’s favorites: butternut squash, carrots, cranberries, and pomegranate arils.  I filled it up with water and into the oven it went at 350 degrees.

the finished product, right out of the oven

It cooked more quickly than I’d expected, but then again it was a very small portion.  I just let it bake until all of the water had been soaked up by the grains and legumes, which probably took no more than 30 or 35 minutes.  I’m not sure why, but I thought that when it came out of the oven, it would be solid in texture like a bird bread or like a baked cracker, but instead everything keeps its own independent consistency.  (It makes sense; there is no agent to stick any of it together.  Not sure why I was expecting any different.)  It is actually somewhat similar to their normal mash, but the grains are harder and less mushy than I typically got on the stovetop.

The bad news is, my girls haven’t taken to it.  I knew Sabrina wouldn’t go for any of the veggies but she snubbed the grains too.  I think they are a bit al dente for her tastes.  Lola, too, wasn’t impressed, which surprised me, because she is generally a pretty good eater.  She completely ignored all the veggies and fruits with the exception of the squash.  That one threw me for a loop because she loves them all fresh.  And she isn’t a huge fan of the grains, but she does love the baked lentils.  Not sure why she is being so picky about the rest.

The good news is, I made very little, so there isn’t too much waste, and I’m letting Lola pick the lentils out of it since she does like those.  All in all, it’s a great recipe and it’s very easy to make, but my guys wouldn’t eat it.  I might try again with more water to see if maybe a mushier consistency is more palatable to them, but until then, I guess I’m cooking them a fresh mash every night!

Sprouting, Step by Step

November 2, 2013 § 3 Comments

I was asked by a friend to help her out with how to get started sprouting.  As a big believer in sprouting, I am more than happy to help!  It’s intimidating at the outset, but with the right sprouter, it can be really simple.  These photos are admittedly pretty boring but I figured they would help with the exposition.

To get started, this is all you need.  A sprouter of your choice, and some seeds or grains to sprout.  I use the BioSnacky glass jar sprouter, but another easy option is the Easy Sprouter.  (I did a comparison of the two sprouters here.)  My sprouting mix of choice for convenience purposes is Totally Organics All-in-One Seed Mix, which I like (and think is particularly good for beginners) because it contains only seeds and grains, and no legumes.  This is important because with seeds and grains, you can feed them simply soaked before they are fully sprouted, whereas with legumes, you need to actually sprout them before they are safe to feed.  For this reason, I always sprout my legumes separately.

Now that you’ve got your supplies, the first step is to portion out how much you want to sprout.  I have a small flock, so I don’t sprout all that much.  This is probably about half a cup or so?  Remember that once you soak and sprout, the portion will at least double in size, if not more.

Next, you have to rinse them a few times.  I fill up the sprouter with water, put the cap on, swirl it around a few times, shake it up as vigorously as I can, and drain.  Repeat that two times.  This is to clean off the seeds/legumes initially (notice that the water is a little bit cloudy the first time).

Then, you can fill it up with water one last time, put the cap on, and set it on the counter to let it soak overnight (or 8-10 hours).

Here they are the next morning– the photo doesn’t show it that well, but the sprouts really expand and soak up a ton of water.

Drain one more time, and now you’re ready to feed!  At least, the initial feeding is good to go.  I only fed a small portion, so what’s left you can leave on the counter to continue draining.  Make sure that two to three times a day, you are doing one more rinse and drain, just to make sure that the sprouts stay damp and the atmosphere in the jar stays humid.

And that’s it!!  So easy, and your parrots will thank you for it!

Is Any Pellet Better Than No Pellet?

October 23, 2013 § 17 Comments

I very frequently get requests to continue working on the Pellet Project, which I discontinued a while back due to just getting very busy.  (You can read the only page I left standing from the Pellet Project, on Totally Organics Pellets, here.)  I had only gotten through a few pellets anyway, and the work ahead of me was quite staggering.  Well, I am toying with the idea of continuing it.  Slowly.  If you feel strongly that I should or should not, I would appreciate your feedback.

However, today, I wanted to tackle a slightly different question, raised in the title of this post.  (It could also be titled, how do I know if my pellet is any good?  If any of you remember my work on the Pellet Project, you will notice that this entry is almost a DIY-version of it.)  One of the most common and confusing mind sets that I see as quite a pervasive and dominant philosophy in the parrot world is that any pellet must be better than no pellet at all.  I’m not quite sure how this started or how people came to believe this so widely and so surely, as if it is fact.  But I’d like to question that belief.

If you’re a frequent reader of my blog, you’ve probably already read my entry on my philosophy on pellets, so this discussion will probably be somewhat repetitive.  But if you haven’t read it, or if you’re anybody that’s interested in parrots’ diets, or pellets in particular, please do keep reading.

Back on topic: where do we get this notion, that any pellet is better than no pellet?  Why do we inherently believe that pellets have some sort of secret, magical nutrition locked away in them?  First of all, wildlife researchers and ornithologists or even researchers specializing in avians and exotics don’t know what the daily nutritional profile of most parrot species looks like.  We have very little idea of exactly what kind of nutritional breakdown parrots are getting in the wild, so the notion that a pellet company can formulate a diet tailored specifically to pet birds’ needs is a bit ludicrous to me.

And then there’s the fact that these diets are specifically “tailored” to pet birds’ needs, yet the ingredients list of a macaw pellet is so often the same as a budgerigar pellet — that’s right, macaws, a type of parrot that is native to the rain forests of Central and South America, are being fed the same formula as budgies, a type of parrot that is native to the arid lands of Australia.  The only difference, in most cases, is size.  Something fishy, isn’t there?

I certainly think there is, and I think more parrot owners should, too.  I think that one of the most important things we can do as parrot owners is to educate ourselves about diet and nutrition for our birds’ sake.  And although I encourage everybody to research the wild diet of their parrots, this information is unavailable in a lot of cases, or rather unhelpful to the captive bird owner in terms of finding readily available local equivalents and substitutes– so at least research the diets that are available to you, and start by reading the ingredients in your pellets.

Pellet ingredient lists are very long and thus can seem quite daunting.  But if you know how to pull them apart, and what to look for, you can discern a lot about quality.

Getting Started: Base Ingredients

I like to look at the first five ingredients to get started.  These will be what I call the “base” ingredients of the pellet (it may differ from pellet to pellet; some pellets might only have 3 whereas others might have 7 or 8).  But usually, the first five or so ingredients will make up the majority of the content of the pellet, since manufacturers must list ingredients ranked in order of how much of the product each ingredient constitutes.  Usually, you will see something like wheat, corn, rice, or soy.  Because these ingredients will make up most of the pellet, these are very important in revealing the quality of the pellet.  As such, you want to see a good variety of healthy grains or seeds.  With the pervasiveness of GMO wheat, corn, and soy, I really don’t like to see those three ingredients in a pellet unless they are certified organic.  Some parrot owners actually don’t like to see those ingredients all together, because they are three of the most common allergens in birds.  Rice tends to be a healthier choice, but brown rice is an even better one.  But as someone actually wisely pointed out to me today, even rice has its problems, as it is often found to contain high levels of arsenic.

Furthermore, pay attention to how these ingredients appear.  Does it say “whole soybeans,” or does it say “ground soybean meal”?  Grain “meals” are often indicators of far lower quality ingredients, often reserved for pet foods only and in some cases not fit for human grade foods.

Remember, these first ingredients will make up the bulk of the pellet, and the rest of the ingredients will typically be flavor enhancers, preservatives, and vitamins.  So if you are feeding a majority-pellet diet, think to yourself: would you want to eat corn/wheat/soy/rice every single day, along with a multivitamin?  Do you think that’d be healthy?  Do you think you’d like it… everyday?  What if you had evolved to eat fruits and seeds normally, as many parrots have?  Do you think that some “ground corn meal” with a vitamin would be your ideal diet?

Step Two: Look at the  Vitamins

After tackling the base ingredients, the next step is  to try to discern where the vitamins are coming from.  Most of these will be listed under obvious names, like “Vitamin D3 Supplement,” Vitamin E Supplement,” “Calcium Carbonate,” etcetera.  Some will be less obvious, such as “Menadione Sodium Bisulfate Complex,” which is a type of Vitamin K.  And some will be even less obvious, because they’ll be embedded in other ingredients like carrot powder as a source of all natural Vitamin A.  But these are also important to think about.  For one, some vitamins are downright dangerous– menadione, for example, is banned from human food and I would not feed it to my birds under any circumstances.  (I wrote an entry on it here.)  Another thing to consider is that while in synthetic form, some vitamins can be overdosed on.  All natural sources of vitamins, however, from whole foods (like carrots, to use the example above) cannot be overdosed on, as the body will use that which it needs and excrete the rest naturally.  And finally, some consider the addition of Vitamin D3 to be extremely important for bone density and calcium absorption, in particular for parrots that do not get a lot of exposure to natural sunlight.

Step Three: Everything Else

The rest of the ingredients will likely fall under additives, flavor enhancers, or preservatives.  Take a good look at these and make sure you are comfortable with them.  Some are positive and/or benign, like fruit juices to add flavor and sometimes even natural color, or herbs to add flavor and health benefits.  Some are relatively uncontroversial preservatives like Mixed Tocopherols (unless your parrot has a soy allergy).  Some are things you’ve never heard of, and if you looked into, would probably not be happy about.  So don’t be complacent, and look into them!  Why should your parrot eat Canthaxanthin when you don’t know what it is?  Another consideration is peanuts.  Many of us also choose not to feed peanuts– but several pellets also contain peanuts.

Step Four: The Labeling

One last thing: is the product certified organic?  If so, then you know its ingredients are non-GMO, which for me means a lot.  What about human grade?  This is another indicator of quality.

Of course, this entire process will likely involve looking up a few things you’ve never heard of, but what’s an hour of research on the internet in comparison to the health of your companion parrot?  Once you know the ingredients in your pellet and can understand where the base of the pellet is coming from, what kinds of vitamins it contains, as well as what additives or preservatives, you will be able to develop an informed opinion on the quality of the pellet as well as develop your own opinion as to how comfortable you feel about feeding it.  I think that many of us will be surprised to learn that we are not comfortable with many of the pellets on the market.  As I’m sure you can tell, I have very strong opinions about food, diet, and nutrition.  But I hope that this entry will teach other parrot owners to arrive at their own conclusions, based on educated decisions.

So back to our original question: is any pellet better than no pellet?  That’s up for you to decide, but I think that in more cases than not, the answer is no.

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