Donít neglect soft foods!

By Rosemary Low

New parrot owners do not always seek help and advice from the right sources Ė and there is no subject more urgent than the care of a recently acquired hand-reared parrot. A telephone call I received from someone who had purchased a Grey Parrot "a few weeks" previously is typical of what can happen to a parrot in inexperienced hands.

The caller complained that his Grey was "squawking all the time". As Greys do not "squawk" I asked him how old it was. My first suspicion was that the "squawking" sounds were food-soliciting calls. When the owner said: "It even squawks when it eats", my suspicion was confirmed. I asked what it was feeding on. The reply was on seed and apple but it ate the apple first and was not too interested in the seed. I explained that this bird was too young, or improperly weaned, to eat seed, and that it must be given soft items such as banana and other soft fruits, wholemeal bread moistened with honey and water, and frozen sweetcorn that had been thawed. A very hungry parrot might also be offered hand-rearing food or human baby cereal, warm, from a spoon.

Unfortunately, the seller had sold many hand-reared Greys from his shop. They had only been offered seed without understanding of the importance of providing soft foods. Even many breeders are ignorant of a fact of such vital importance: that young birds should not be weaned immediately on to hard foods.

Many breeders treat Grey Parrots as weaned as early as 12 weeks. While they might be independent of humans for food at 14 or 16 weeks (very seldom as early as 12 weeks), this does not mean that they can be fed like adults. Countless young parrots die because owners make this mistake. In the wild they would be fed by their parents for some months while they were learning to manipulate and open different food items. The weaning period is gradual and during this period young parrots eat, at first, soft items. As their parents regurgitate food to them less often over a period of many weeks, they become proficient at opening seeds and consuming harder foods. Yet most people expect young parrots to eat hard seeds or pellets within days of being weaned. Breeders of finches and canaries know the importance of offering soaked seeds for a period after the young fledge. If these soft and easily digested items are not available, the young ones lose weight and die. This happens to countless parrots in "unexplained" deaths.

Come on, breeders! Educate the people to whom you sell your young parrots, whether they are pet owners or pet shops! Give them a leaflet with recommended soft foods that are crucial to their welfare before the age of six months. Furthermore, encourage them to continue spoon-feeding for as long as the parrot requests it. A hungry parrot is anxious and nippy Ė not the happy, gentle bird that owners are expecting. This behaviour starts a downward spiral in the relationship between human and parrot. Donít let it happen to your bird!

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