I’ve written a bit before about our Grey’s diets, and the ways in which we try to introduce new foods. What I haven’t really discussed is just how picky at least my birds can be when it comes to food choices! I’m sure that this behavior derives from eating patterns in the wild—the need to make sure that they do not ingest something that is the least bit spoiled and could cause illness, for example. However, I think we tend to lose sight of that evolutionary rationale when we must deal with that level of fussiness during food preparation time—then the outcomes are sometimes frustrating but can also be extremely amusing.
Parrots’ Opinions on “Fresh” Produce
I’ve mentioned before that Athena loves fresh, organic chard. I’m not sure how much she eats, but she bites off many pieces, plays with the leaves and stems, and obviously clearly enjoys having it around (see Figure 1; in Figure 2, Griffin is intrigued by her behavior and is thinking about trying some). Thus, I was really excited to see organic chard when my local farmers’ market opened one recent Sunday, and I promptly purchased a bunch. After taking it home, I carefully cut off the ends, put it in a jar of freshwater, and put the whole thing in my refrigerator, because I would not be in lab until Wednesday.
Each intervening morning, I repeated the process of trimming the ends and changing the water, and to my eye, the chard looked great. Imagine my dismay when Athena took one glance at it, gave it a single desultory bite, and then completely ignored it (Figure 3). After a moment or two, she actually tossed it from her cage. I guess what looked “fresh” to me definitely didn’t make the grade for her.
Griffin also has some idiosyncrasies. For example, he adores Earth’s Best© baby foods, particularly the one made with lentils…but only if it is at least room-temperature or slightly heated. Giving it to him right out of the refrigerator ensures that he’ll turn up his beak every time. Giving it to him warm means he’ll “glug” it as though he were a chick slurping down baby formula. Go figure….
We also have to buy two different types of crackers as treats, one for each bird. Griffin likes the Norwegian-style ones that are almost all seeds and grains, whereas Athena likes ones in which flax seeds are baked into the dough. And, as I’ve been told that onion is toxic to parrots, we have to make sure to avoid any crackers with that ingredient as well.
Accommodating Individual Meal Preferences
One of my favorite Griffin stories actually involves his food choices. He prefers most fruits compared to most vegetables, so he tends to eat his breakfast in the following order: grapes, banana, apple (known to him as “banerry”), then whatever veggies are at the bottom. Interestingly, that is also the order in terms of ease of food preparation, and one brand-new student made the mistake of working in that order and thus filling his bowl in that order—that is, with the grapes well below things like broccoli. I happened to walk into lab just a few moments after she had presented him with his meal; his response was to toss everything out and onto the floor in search of those precious grapes. Her response, “Griffin! How dare you waste all that food! Think of all the starving parrots in Africa!”, left me speechless with laughter, having grown up with parents who had basically said the same thing to me when I was a young, vegetable-aversive child.
Alex also had a few preferences. Bananas had to be just the “correct” level of ripeness, and he definitely had a preference when it came to the type of grape he was given. One time the grocery store was completely sold out of anything but some green grapes, so we bought those, thinking “a grape is a grape.”’ Right? Well, he kept asking for “grape,” and then tossing the offending fruit back at us. Finally, after a few tries, he said at the top of his lungs, “Wanna grape…URP-UL!”, which was his way of saying “purple.” Duh…
Now, we humans have our own likes and dislikes, and we do not think such behavior is odd or even funny. I guess we shouldn’t be too surprised when our feathered friends act in similar ways!