Some people believe that birds are picky eaters; that they prefer one or two food items and that’s it. Of course, there are many pet birds that do only eat one or two types of foods, but that’s because they haven’t been offered much else or the foods offered don’t appeal to them. Here are four ways we can sabotage our birds’ appetite and how to avoid them.
1. Serving leftovers you wouldn’t eat.
Unlike dogs, which seem to have no aversion to foraging through the trash for yesterday’s leftovers (which can make them sick!), most pet birds prefer their food fresh. Wilted produce, for example, simply will not do. Many birds like to suck the juice from their fruits and veggies or thoroughly enjoy chomping into crisp food and shredding it apart. If the food is not fresh enough for you, it is not fresh enough for your bird.
2. Serving food the wrong way.
Don’t make the mistake of giving up on your bird eating a healthy food too soon. With some birds, food is equal parts location and equal parts presentation. You might offer your budgie or cockatiel a broccoli floret in his bowl every day for a week only to throw it out untouched each day. But have you tried pushing the broccoli halfway in through the cage bars, slivering it up, slicing it in half or placing it high in the cage or on the cage floor, etc. There is no set formula for maximum appeal — location and presentation preferences can vary by individual bird, and some birds might ignore the food for days, weeks, or months before finally giving it a try. Resist the “one-and-done” attempt and keep trying. You can also up the appeal of fresh fruits and veggies by lightly spritzing them with water. Some birds even like to bathe in a wet produce leaf and nibble on it as they do so.
3. Serving your bird the wrong food at the right time.
You can spoil your bird’s appetite for healthy, nutritionally balanced food if you offer a less nutritious treat as his first meal. Birds tend to wake up with a hearty appetite, so morning is a good time to feed nutritionally balanced food. Better yet, pellets and other manufactured diets are less perishable and can stay in the cage for most of the day, so if you are an especially late riser, consider leaving some pellets or other nutritionally balanced food for your bird to wake up to so he doesn’t have to wait hours for breakfast to arrive.
4. Serving a side of stress.
Parrots are social eaters by nature; in the wild, they forage for food alongside their flock members. Being prey animals, the flock waits to eat until they’re sure the environment is free of predators. It makes sense that your pet bird will have a better appetite when his home environment is stress-free. If your bird is unnerved by the household cat, make sure your feline isn’t sitting just outside the cage during mealtime or that the dog isn’t barking at your bird for a bite of his food. If you have a bustling household and a people-shy bird, consider feeding him just before the commotion of your children arriving home or after everyone has settled down. That’s not to say that your bird will not enjoy joining his people at the dinner table. This is a good way to have him try a new healthy food, and offering it by hand is one way to bond with your bird. Many pet parrots show their dining delight with a shrill, a honk, or a beep; some might even say “Yum!” Or you might just hear crumbs falling off as your bird concentrates all his efforts to the task at hand. If he shows delight in consuming a healthy food, it will be music to your ears!
Don’t be a lazy feeder by dumping more food on top of yesterdays’ serving and so on until you have a little tower of food that is then dumped every few days. Keep servings to just that; one serving at a time. If the food is prone to spoilage, such as cooked food or produce, remove it from the cage within a reasonable time frame. (Think of food that’s been sitting out at a picnic or on a reception table all day; it loses its appeal after a few hours and can start to become bacteria-laden.)
Foods like seed, pellets, and other manufactured diets can generally be left in the cage throughout the day. A concern with seed-only diets, aside from being high in fat and low in essential vitamin and minerals, is that the food bowl can look full but is in fact filled with empty seed hulls. Some birds, especially those typically fed a seed-based diet, such as budgies (parakeets), cockatiels, and lovebirds, have suffered severe malnutrition due to not having been fed for days because their caretaker mistook empty seed hulls for actual food.