Tuesday, August 23, 2011


How much fruit, or rather, how much sugar, to feed parrots is a matter of great contention. Some say it is a natural part of their diet, there are those that like only certain kinds of fruit, many feel moderation is the key, others are adamant it is just useless sugar water, and some do not say much at all. I think it is really a rather complicated subject, however it may at first appear, and in some ways all of the above people (particularly those that refrain from entering heated fruit arguments) are right.

Fruit is a natural part of all wild parrot diets. Fruit is the edible (although if it is poisonous it would be a one-time affair) product formed from the flower of a tree or plant. This means that many things we call vegetables, nuts, or grains are actually fruits, such as oats, millet, squash, almonds, and most things besides greens and root vegetables. If, for the purpose of simplicity, I exclude all those and leave fruits as meaning anything that is not a tree-nut but yet grows on a tree or climbing vine, I could still say that fruit is a natural part of most parrot diets. However, there is a big problem with that statement- the fruits we commonly consume and have available to feed our parrots are not found in nature, and have been bred to be as sweet as possible, chock full of sucrose and fructose.

Many animals, including ourselves, are ingrained with a desire to eat sweet things. Historically, this desire served us well, and continues to be useful to other animals- sugars were not easy to come by but would provide an easy source of quick energy. Most wild fruits are not as sweet as those found in the supermarkets of today. Figs are often thought of as a very natural food for many species of parrots. This is true, but wild figs are not nearly as sweet as domesticated fogs, being high in raffinose, a fiber-like sugar (also found in high concentrations in the cabbage family, like broccolli) and I once read their taste is comparable to compressed straw. Sounds lovely!

If you were to plant an apple seed, you would have no idea whether the apples on that tree would taste anything like the apple the seed came from, or whether they would even be edible. If you want to grow a specific type of apple, you must graft part of an already existing apple tree of that variety to an apple tree root. Sweet apple trees, or sweet varieties of wild cousins of apples, are actually quite rare. Whenever one grows, it becomes something of a fruit tree celebrity with all the animals in the area .Still, most of the wild apples they eat will not be very sweet at all. The case of man domesticating fruits and breeding them to be ever sweeter is true in most cases. Even some berries have undergone this process, like strawberries. 

On top of the fact that our food is often far sweeter than food available in the wild, our parrots need far less- even flighted parrots are getting very little exercise in comparison with their wild counterparts. Just about the only fruits you can get that are not (in my opinion) ridiculously sweet are berries, besides some varieties of strawberries, and a few of the apple varieties, like granny smith. The tropical fruits are still quite healthy, even if sweeter than the originals. However, if you are trying to lower the sugar intake of your parrot, be aware that some vegetables, like carrots, are actually extremely high in sugar, as high or higher than some fruits.

My philosophy on fruits and sugar? It varies per bird. I never feed any of the highest sugar/lowest nutrients, like most apples, grapes, etc. I do not feed bananas because of my latex allergy, but I am very interested in feeding some of the cousins of bananas, those that are starchy but much lower in sugar. The ekkies, because they seem to do better with it, get higher amounts of fruit, and the cockatiels and budgies get some berries. The quakers get almost no fruit, or high sugar veggies, because Frank starts acting funny (i.e. high) after too much sugar! I always include berries in my parrot diets, as I feel they are closest to a natural food, and are full of incredible nutrition, being the little superfoods they are. I tend to feed seasonally, though, so what fruit they get besides that depends on what is available. 

I already have lots of wild berries around my new house. I would really like to plant some apple trees from seed, though, in hopes I would get some non-sweet apples in several years. I think I will do that and see what comes up! At the very least it will mean nice apple branches to chew on, right?

Note- If this post seems dis-jointed, blame the Spotsylvania fault. I was in the middle of typing philosophy when it threw its temper-tantrum, and my attention span does not allow for interruption when writing!


phonelady said...

wow I feed my quakers blueberries and I go and taste them and they are not sweet at all but they love them and they seem to do alright with them. I appreciate you letting us know about carrots though . Good thing my birds dont like carrots .

Meg said...

You are right, blueberries are not that sweet, and they have excellent nutrition! All my guys love them, and they are often a part of their diet.

Carrots are not a bad food, they have wonderful nutrition and I see no reason not to feed them. If you are avoiding sugar for a reason, though, yeast infection, etc., their sugar content is something to be aware of. Other than that they are great!