Getting Your Picky Bird to Eat Right!

Posted by Marsha Maass on

Let's face it, we love them dearly, but they push our buttons! Getting them to try new things can be exhausting to say the least! I have come up with a few tried and true methods that just might help.

Method 1

I call the first method the "Nothing" method. It's really that easy for some birds. Just put the new food in their dish like nothing is new and leave it at that. Let them explore it on their own. Maybe they try it, maybe it hits the floor, but you let them decide. I usually suggest this method first, as it's really non-intrusive and doesn't really disrupt the birds routine at all. We all know just how much they LOVE their routine interrupted!

For some birds, the least amount of fuss made over a switch or change in food, new toy, or other stressful situation can often do the trick. It's when WE, the devoted, totally trained, parrot owning folks make a big deal about things that they feed on our apprehension. And then of course, THEY want nothing to do with it either! 

Something brand new to any bird can be a terrifying ordeal, but only when we feed into it. This is the HEALTHIEST method for ALL birds. Simply make the change (whether it's a new food, or toy, or trip to the store.) and don't coo or fuss over the bird, don't struggle with them, or try to force anything to happen. Just do it, quietly, no muss-no fuss, and walk away. Let THEM decide how they feel about the new item or situation. And give them the time and space to do so.

Here's a real recent example. I had gotten a toy for Wayley at a bird show recently. It's a very large orb type toy and I knew he'd love it once he got used to it. But, it's very large, moves about, and I know it will be a bit intimidating at first.

So I get home with the toy and set it on the floor near his cage and walk away to do the normal "I just got home" things like let the pups out, bring in the things from the show, etc. When I'm done and things in the house have relaxed, I simply open Wayley's cage and hang the toy. I close the cage door and walk away. (Of course he immediately freaks out at this big blue invader in his space! To which I completely ignore him.)

Not 15 minutes later, when I come back to see how he's doing, this is what I find:


He's happily playing on the big scary new thing like it's been there all along. And he's having an absolute blast on it. Why? Because I didn't make a big fuss over it and I let him find out for himself that it was OK. This is how you create a self confident parrot.

Method 2

I call this one "Monkey See, Monkey DO!". This is the easiest, and most FUN of my three methods, by far! Here's how it works. If you have another bird, great! If not, YOU play the part of the other bird! You prepare a dish of food and DO NOT offer the picky bird any! Instead, you offer it to your OTHER bird, and better yet, YOU pretend to eat it too!

The picky bird will be very upset that they aren't being included, and will come investigate what all your fuss is about. Ignore them and go on about how yummy the food is with really exaggerated "mmmmm"s and such. Parrots ALWAYS want what everyone else has! Keep it up, I promise you that this method works 95% of the time! Continue to ignore your Mr. PickyPants while slyly watching from the corner of your eye as he creeps closer, growing more and more curious.

Continue your snacking, and/or sharing with your other bird and wait until PickyPants approaches YOU. Don't make a fuss (hmm, I'm seeing a pattern here, are you?) but have the dish within his reach and if he goes for something from it, let him, but DO NOT push or even offer any to him. Let HIM choose! Let him watch, and pick what HE wants.

When he does (and he WILL!) don't make a big deal (I'm starting to sound like a broken record here!) but say something to him like "Is it good?" or "mmm". Just a basic acknowledging comment. Birds are so intelligent, he will understand your mood and posture, if not your actual words.

Whatever you do, don't throw your arms up and flail around screaming "YAY!! OMG HE'S EATING!" because that will completely deter him from not only enjoying the new snack but probably from you as well! Just keep your tone calm and normal so the new food isn't a huge thing, and he will probably find that he likes it!

Method 3

I lovingly call this method the "Biscuit Method". Biscuit is our rescue umbrella cockatoo. She came to us knowing nothing about real food, and for her first week the ONLY thing I could get her to eat was Cheerios! I worried she would starve herself, but my schooling taught me that they have US trained better than we have THEM trained, and we NEED to be strong! You really need to be tough here. This method works 100% of the time, IF YOU STICK WITH IT! (Note: ONLY use this method if your bird is a vet checked healthy bird!) Here's what you do.

First thing in the morning, remove any previous food and offer the new, healthy food, chop, or whatever it is you want them to eat. Give them NOTHING else besides water. No treats! No people snacks! No matter how they beg, scream, or cry! At the end of the day, about an hour before their bedtime, remove any uneaten "good food" and replace whatever it was that they would previously eat. Leave that with them for the night, and repeat this cycle every day until they are finally eating the "good food" (usually by day 3).

This is the real thing, the Tough Love method, by far. You MUST be the parent here! This is ONLY suggested for the really tough cases. And I mean the cases where it is 100% the BIRD, not the human. (In 90% of "picky parrot" cases, it's most often the owner who the parrot has TRAINED to give in to their cries, not the other way around!) Don't cave, and I promise you that in just a few days you will have a healthy eating bird!

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  • My Cockatoo has to have his peanut butter and orange juice everyday. He says peanut butter when he is hungry for it. It is fun to watch him take a bite of peanut butter and a sip of orange juice.

    Judy Holloway on

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