Polly wants a cracker – but is he really going to eat the whole thing?
If Polly’s a human, there’s a good chance he’s going to eat the entire cracker.
If Polly’s a parrot, there’s a good chance he won’t.
This is because parrots waste food.
This is true across species of parrots and whether they live in the wild or in captivity.
It’s also true regardless of how delicious the meal.
Whether you are feeding your parrot fresh fruit, veggies, seeds, or some other delicious snack, there’s a good chance a portion of it will be left behind.
While this strange behavior is completely normal for parrots, it makes a lot of owners wonder – why is my parrot doing that?
The truth is, we don’t actually know why parrots waste their food. Many people just put the behavior down to “a parrot being a parrot”. But animal behaviorists have developed a few different theories as to why parrots waste so much. The first theory is simply that parrots waste food on accident. They don’t mean to drop it, it just happens. The second theory is that food waste by parrots is intentional, holding the purpose of producing sweeter, juicier fruit or crop in the future.
Today we’ll take a deeper look into the subject and further discuss why parrots might waste food.
We’ll also take a look at some studies that have been done on the subject, and learn why this odd behavior is actually very beneficial to the ecosystem.
Let’s start by diving a little deeper into the question “why do parrots waste food?”
Why do Parrots Waste Food?
Again, there are opposing theories on the subject. The first theory is that parrots are just sloppy eaters and aren’t purposely dropping their food – it just happens. That theory is pretty simple and doesn’t require much elaboration. But what about the second theory?
The second theory is that parrots actually drop their food intentionally. In the wild, patterned behaviors are rarely random and usually have some type of evolutionary purpose. And for bird behaviorists, the idea of leaving behind food has long been quite intriguing. This is especially true because in the wild you would think the exact opposite to be true. In other words, you would think that parrots would want to salvage as much food as they can, especially during times when food is scarce. But for some reason this just isn’t the case.
In fact, research has shown that parrots are likely to leave behind as much as 80% of the food that they picked. But what would be the benefit of this in a world where parrots have to search and compete for food? Behaviorists believe that it may have something to do with crop generation.
Parrots and Crop Generation
As we all know, parrots are an extremely intelligent species and many of them have shown capabilities of forward thinking. These capabilities have been shown in studies where parrots have displayed delayed gratification. One such study found that parrots were willing to forgo a dry corn snack for tokens that would buy them tastier snacks later down the road.
This finding leads researchers to question whether wasting behaviors may be related to their ability to think into the future. If this was the case, parrots may be dropping food as an attempt to create sweeter, juicier crop later down the road.
When humans make crop, we cut the crop to make it better. At some point in time parrots may have learned that crops can be made better this way, and may be doing the same thing. This would mean less food for the parrot now, but tastier food for the parrot down the road. Studies that have found that parrots often waste unripe or low quality fruits may support this theory.
But not everyone is convinced.
Some scientists feel that parrots may not only be sloppy but also downright picky. And because most parrots live in lush environments where they have plenty of food to choose from, being picky isn’t really a problem. Pickiness may also allow them to save room for a variety of different foods, which would provide them with a more balanced and nutritious diet.
So whether parrots are being picky or thinking forward to their future, it seems as though the behavior of wasting food is probably completely intentional.
What does the research say?
Again, research hasn’t provided us with any definitive answers as to why parrots waste so much food, but studies have been conducted to further our knowledge on the topic.
One group of ornithologists tracked the behavior of both parrots in the wild and parrots in a controlled setting over the span of several years. Altogether they tracked over 103 different varieties of parrot. Through their observations it was made evident that did indeed engage in wasteful behavior. Sometimes they would only take 1-2 bites of their food before throwing away the rest. Other times they wouldn’t even take a bite at all, they would simply cut it. This was true regardless of species and regardless of individual parrot. In other words, every single parrot did it.
The research showed that the parrots were more likely to drop fruits that were not ripe, and that they were more careful with their droppings when they were raising their babies. But aside from changes during breeding season, no other factor seemed to matter when it came to wasteful behavior. Parrots wasted regardless of their size, how many birds were present, where they living, and whether or not they have eaten recently.
The fact that parrots did this no matter what the situation or environment says that it probably is intentional. And the best theory remains that it is to produce a better crop for their future.
Why is this behavior beneficial for the ecosystem?
Parrots wasteful behavior is not only beneficial to their own species, but also plays an important role in the ecosystem itself. How? Because parrots aren’t the only ones that eat their leftover droppings. Many other species of bird have been noted to eat food leftover from parrot droppings. Which may lead us to ask – are parrots trying to help out other members of their flock or other species of bird by leaving droppings behind? Perhaps. But that question will require much more research to answer.
Birds, however, are not the only species that eat droppings left behind by parrots. In fact, researchers have found that over 86 different species of animal eat the food that parrots drop. These include everything from ants, to cattle, to zebras! And as word has it, plants may benefit from the droppings as well.
How can I prevent my parrot from being so wasteful?
The truthful answer here is – you can’t. Wasteful behavior seems to be engrained into a parrots evolutionary behavior and this is true regardless of whether they are in the wild or in your home.
With that being said, there are some things you can do to help contain the mess that they leave behind:
Try to keep your parrots cage away from walls and carpets. This way when the food goes flying it will be easy to clean up.
Invest in a cage skirt to help collect and contain the mess like this one on Amazon
Use bowls that are covered
Always remember to use cleaners that are safe for your parrot! Regular cleaning chemicals can be harmful to your parrot’s health, so always be sure that you are using a cleaning agent that is parrot-friendly.
In conclusion, parrots are an extremely wasteful species – but they might be wasting their food with a greater purpose. Though researchers have yet to find an answer to the question, “why do parrots waste so much food?” we can all be thankful that they do. The wasteful behavior of parrots in the wild plays an important role in our ecosystem, ensuring that other species of bird and animal can eat too – thank you parrots!