A Look at Chewing in Parrot Behavior


Psittacine beaks were designed for chewing. It is one of the things parrots do best. Whether it is shredding newspaper or extracting food from a pea pod or walnut, our pet birds (and breeders) will spend hours each day utilizing their strong beaks.

Not only does this activity keep beaks and nails healthy, but it helps maintain alertness and mental stability in captive and caged parrots.

Accordingly it is our responsibility as conscientious aviculturists to provide for our psittacines' chewing needs.

The primary use of a parrot's chewing habits is in the search for food. From soft buds to crunchies, tropical fruits and flowers, parrots love to eat. A tongue in constant motion delights to the different textures, shapes and tastes. A bird with a varied, interesting food assortment will often spend longer at the feeding dish chewing, exploring and ingesting its nourishment. The need for such interested active behavior by our psittacines is perhaps enough to warrant recommendations against feeding a 100% anything diet. Birds fed the same food day in and day out may become bored with their food dish offerings. Boredom can be a serious detriment to healthy, happy pet and breeder parrots.

Duplicating wild bird foodstuffs such as small seeds, grasses, leaves, soil trays, buds and bugs can do wonders for a psittacine's nutrition and what I call "wild savvy." My best breeders are those with the most active "wild savvy."

Most captive psittacines have a limited range of foodstuff knowledge. Only by training and exposure can we teach our conures to dissect a whole papaya; our Amazons to eat the worm inside a homegrown apple or our cockatoos to chew an unpeeled banana to get at the sweet meat. Some of the interesting (and free) foods we have successfully introduced to our parrot flock are acorns, Pinon nuts, wild green guavas, juniper berries, daisies, clover pods and Russian olive boughs. Pay attention to what the wild birds in your area are eating and offer similar harvest to your pets and breeders. Don't be afraid to make your psittacines work for their food, it will pay off in "wild savvy." I have a Black Lory pet who would never touch fresh peach until I put him out in the peach tree with the Hawk-headed Parrots who demolish peaches. For dinner that night the Black Lory ate nothing but peaches!

A second instinctual chewing behavior common among psittacines involves the nesting season. Many a parrot owner has scars on household woodwork attesting to the sudden appearance of destructive chewing during their parrot's nesting period. This mating time of the year, it is essential we provide our psittacines with branches, bark and chlorophyll greenery to satisfy their needs. In many cases, introduction of chewing material can directly stimulate nesting, mating and laying in breeding pairs. Noted aviculturist Dale Thompson has, for years, sought out tender eucalyptus branches to stimulate his Galahs to nest. Dr. Klaus Peters of Vilsbiburg, Germany notes that the introduction of rotted log material into his flight of Hooded Parakeets promptly set the unproven pair to burrowing and chewing and taking to their nestbox.

We believe in covering and constricting the hole to our psittacines' nestbox prior to the spring breeding season - thus forcing the parrots to work diligently to enter their laying site. Such chewing behavior seems to leave the birds less frantic and more exhausted at the end of the day, lessening the likelihood of one breeder bird picking on its mate due to peak energy and hormone levels unchanneled by natural activity.

For the same reasons, we discourage the use of plastic, metal and screen covered nestboxes for parrot species. Many pairs in the wild will spend weeks excavating a nest site, chewing from dawn to dusk long after the cavity is large enough. To provide captive breeders with nest sites of unchewable materials is both inhumane and unclever. Quelling any instinctual behavior in a captive psittacine for hygiene or convenience reasons only invites abnormal consequences. Most common of these consequences is self mutilation or feather picking. Thousands of high strung or frustrated psittacines across the U.S. are immersed in this abnormal behavior. In some cases, treatment is merely to place a collar upon the parrot and restrict his chewing urges even further - a crude solution at best.

Feather plucking pets and breeders have a missing link in their environment. The most common missing link I have found is excess chewing and preening energy with no channel of healthy outlet. Instead of preventive collaring or bitter topical sprays, a total program to re-channel this excess energy should include:

1. Immediate changes in the parrot's cage environment to stimulate mental response and interest. These may include - light, space, location,