Add a Little Garnish: Variety in Parrot Diets to Encourage Natural Behavior
Many people often question what keepers do here at the Houston Zoo to interact with their animals to provide for their mental well-being. This issue is particularly important with our more intelligent animals; as parrots are some of the most intelligent animals housed at the zoo, it’s important to find a wide array of options for these animals to interact with their environment. One of the easiest things we can do is change the presentation of a diet to encourage different reactions –it’s particularly useful since the majority of a bird’s time in the wild is spent finding food.
A normal diet consists of a variety of pellets, seed and fruit. These items are chopped to an appropriate size for the animal. In this way the animals get a variety of food items, but have options on how to deal with them. Say the sweet potato isn’t steamed to the correct texture (at least in the mind of the bird); a parrot can easily pick up these pieces and throw them to the ground. A negative interaction with a food item is still a way for the animal to interact with their environment, albeit a messy and wasteful means.
One way we can change the interaction with the diet is to dice the food items to be much smaller. Many of the parrots react to the finely diced fruits as if they are completely different food items. Furthermore, it’s much harder for a bird to pick out specific food items… all of it stimulates the bird.
This is a normal diet hidden beneath pieces of lettuce. In spite of this being the SAME diet as the normal diet, many of the birds exhibit a stronger reaction to the ability to “find” their own food.
One of the easiest ways to make the bird feel as though it has total control in its environment is to have food items placed in multiple locations. In this setup we have a bowl containing the nutritionally-fortified pellets and seed, with fruit items in the cage. Due to the nature of the cage feeder, much larger food pieces can be given for the animals to interact with; however, because they are in the cage it is impossible for a bird to throw the entire chunk of food to the ground.
These are but a few of the ways we work with our animals to provide them a bit more variety and control in their own environment. While this doesn’t begin to cover the wide spectrum of things done to enrich our animals (encouraging natural behavior), it does show how even things as simple as diet presentation need to be taken into account when preparing the food for a captive animal. Besides, who doesn’t like a bit of garnish to accompany their dinner?
It takes $600,000 a year to feed our over 6,000 animals at the Houston Zoo. That’s a big bill!
Please consider gifting your furry, feathered and fanged friends this holiday with a tax-deductible donation during our Gift of Grub campaign at: https://www.houstonzoo.org/gift-of-grub/ or click the Contribute button on Facebook!
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