Monday, April 20, 2009

The Parrot Training Diet?

That is such a weird concept to me. It seems to suggest you need a fancy diet to get your parrot into training. This is not my experience. The more parrots I meet, the more I find the strategy of micro managing of diets to be outdated.

I decided to write a blog on this topic because people who have signed up for my mailing list automatically get sent a series of three video clips in which I demonstrate how I trained my Amazon parrot to let me trim his nails. Some of the questions I keep getting are “What are you feeding him that he like so much?” or “What kind of diet is he on to be so motivated?”

It is funny to me because….I really have not done anything too special : ) Here is the lowdown. Every day I feed my parrot about 1/3 cup of pellets, 1/3 cup of mostly veggies and some fruit, a few sprouts and sometimes a small piece of birdie bread.

He usually leaves some behind, drops a few items he may not prefer, and sinks a few things in his water bowl. But essentially he gets a tiny bit more food than he likely needs to be satiated and maintain a healthy weight. Here is a photo of the leftovers in the morning.

For his training session I use sunflower seeds and pine nuts as treats. He only gets these for training, good behavior throughout the day and sometimes in foraging toys. But he pretty much never just gets them dumped in his food bowl.

First thing in the morning I open his cage door and pull out his leftover food. We usually have a training session within the next 30 minutes. After that he hangs out and plays. Usually late morning I offer him the rest of his diet and it stays with him until the next morning when we start all over again.

That is it! No fancy schmancy intricate scheduling or manipulating of diets or weighing of my bird daily to calculate the perfect amounts of food.

I think a few important elements that have made this work in my house is

1. The diet amount is more than he needs, but not excessive
2. I save treats for training and to reinforce good behavior
3. I train when he is likely to be most receptive…right before breakfast

So rather than getting too wrapped up in strict diets and regimens, try these simple strategies and see if they can help your parrot gain some enthusiasm for what you have to offer. Check out the videos  and you will get an idea of what can happen.

Barbara Heidenreich
Copyright Good Bird Inc 2009


Linas Alsenas said...

Thanks for this post--I've always been leery of very complicated feeding advice. These photos say so much!

Ark Lady said...

I am glad to see you discuss this.

Although I am not sure why the concept confuses people--it does.

Over my career I've used part of the regular diet in my training.

Excessive treats or foods that are not beneficial (or part of the normal diet) can create health problems and preferences can also be a nightmare if the animal is allowed to become selective due to saturation.

In the domestic realm (and sometimes the exotic--sad to say) I've seen animals gain weight and suffer from the problems that go with obesity.

Glad that you are also showing what a good diet is too!

Anonymous said...


Thanks so much for your knowledge that you so willingly share, that we may give our feathered loved ones a healthier, happier life.


cynval said...

Thank you so much for this post. I've been feeding my 3-month old Green-cheek waaaay too much food, and in separate containers... no wonder the pellets are always left over!

I'm going to implement the changes right away so that we can move on to positive reinforcement training. Thanks again!

John-Parrot said...

When it comes to parrot food, my Macaws receive a handful of pellets, a handful of seed, half a handful of crushed nuts along with a separate bowl of fresh fruits and veggies. We only give them nuts and peanuts for good behavior and tricks or talking.

Unknown said...

It looks healthy and 1/3 cup is easy

Jan Hayes said...

I have a 6yo African grey. Since his first year he has refused all treats. Guess I'm one of those confused people. What I was doing was Harrison diet pellets and raw or steamed vegetables that were a wide variety and sometimes apple boiled egg and a sweet potato mash(banana with granola cereal and sweet potatoe). 95% of the vegies were in the bottom of the cage - for 6 years (a lot of veggies). He loved his mash and apples and egg. It wasn't until I started limiting the pellets - and weighing him to be sure I wasn't starving him to the point of weight loss- that he began to eat his broccoli and carrot. Still he wouldn't eat a treat. No nuts or sunflower seeds. Apple for two or three bites was it. Now I use his sweet potato mash and he is eager for it. Why didn't I think of it before? I have to let him take bites from a spoon. It is so gooey. Finally I can train him because I have food reward.

Unknown said...

Wow, I way overdo it with my Green cheek conure. He gets fruit pellets, nutra berry, and conure mix, Cockatiel mix, bird bread, sweet potato, fresh veges, crushed nuts, Bee Polen, herb salad,, lol.. He eats better than I do and most of it's wasted. I was always afraid NOT to offer variety!! And I never thought I was spose to let him run out of food,, like that's possible. I can't even list all his groceries, OMG, thank you so much! Loree L

dta51 said...

So happy to hear you comment on some of the diet theories put forward by Bird a bird of food as motivation to perform tricks is just wrong & its way past time for someone who really knows birds to speak up for them!I truly believe that you should make it clear to everyone which trainers you're speaking about so they can avoid all the gimmicks they present! Thanks for addressing this matter as its been very upsetting to me thinking of these birds doing tricks just to get something to eat!!

macwoof said...

Thank you so much!! I have been searching books and online for this information. I have learned more ( watching your webinar ( from FB Amazon ) in that couple of hours and now this gem of info. oh thank you! I have a rehomed white fronted ( or spectacled ) amazon who is about 35 yrs old. He is non-aggressive but very quiet. He doesn't play with his toys much, and isn't fond of attention. I would like to encourage him out of his shell and to explore his world a bit more. I've learned that so much of what I was doing was incorrect and I was being too pushy and he had no motivation to do anything because he had a cage full of treats. I have been feeding him too much bread stuffs. His FAVOURITE food is chicken bones.. Is this bad? I have had many conflicting opinions.

many thanks on behalf of me and the little guy Augie.