In the wild, birds move around from food source to food source, skimming the best of the crops and discarding over half of what they don’t eat. This foraging style makes them enemies of people raising crops and the friend of animals that can’t get up into the trees. What motivates birds to eat one thing and not another?
As a protector of my own flock, I like to see that they get an extra balanced meal a couple times a month. Each bird has an individual idea of what looks good in the cooked food dish. Some love the quinoa, others the apples and carrots, still more like the leafy greens and peas.
Then there’s Maynard. For a while, my double yellow Amazon parrot liked his apple with a dab of caramel sauce on it. I usually eat yogurt with sliced apples and sugar-free caramel sauce. I didn’t think parrots could taste sweet, but apparently, they do.
Of course, lorikeets and fig parrots have a penchant for sweet things, so possibly other parrots do as well. Hummingbirds must like sweet nectar. So why does my turaco attack me when I have an ice cream bar?
The answer is, he’s a fruit eater. Good fruit will have a pretty high level of natural sugar, so liking sweets is a plus for the species. Turacos are related to roadrunners, which, I just learned, will also eat fruit. Probably cactus fruit and the odd citrus fruit.
The turaco is known as a plantain eater in Africa. As a baby, Mort the Turaco loved bananas. These days, he is pickier. He prefers bananas that are slightly green or not at all brown. Which is odd since brown bananas are sweeter. So odd. About the only fruit he can’t have is citrus fruit, his liver can’t tolerate it.
An interesting fact is that fruit eating birds, frugivores, need a low iron diet. I knew that toucans needed this, but I didn’t know all fruit eaters were in the same category. Other birds in the family are mynah birds and many song birds in the United States.
How did birds evolve without the ability to taste sweets? Why did others decide to go back to having a sweet beak? This study reported in National Geographic on August 21, 2014, has some interesting information about that subject. Hummingbirds developed the ability to switch a savory tasting gene into a sweet tasting gene. Now they will sometimes reject flowers that aren’t sweet enough.
Now I want to know more about lorikeets and all the birds that also like sweets. Luckily, according to The Week, “Future research may focus on other nectar-eating birds such as sunbirds and lorikeets, and frugivores like tanagers, and whether they have undergone the same mutations as hummingbirds, or if a different mechanism explains their penchant for sugary foods.”
The danger of artificial sweeteners, especially Xylitol, are extreme in dogs and cats. Should your pet ingest one stick of sugar-free gum, you have about an hour to save his or her life. Seriously. And with that kind of scary poison often kept about in normal households, not under lock and key for safety, I think I better not take any risks with the birds. In this case, Eggbert developed the same side effects to Splenda as humans have!
SO! Only real sweeteners in my birds’ feed and that only in teensy doses. And if they don’t like it, they can go forage for what they like in the bottom of the cage. Thanks for reading, I’ll be back next Sunday.