can parrots eat too much?

Can Parrots Get Fat? How To Tell If A Parrot Is Overweight

Parrots are known to be lithe, graceful creatures. However, just like any pet, these birds can become overweight. In fact, it’s common among domestic parrots. It doesn’t help that the signs of obesity in parrots are also more subtle. Fluffy feathers hide any excess weight, so it often goes unnoticed.

Parrots get fat because of an improper diet, a sedentary lifestyle, or a warm climate. In the wild, parrots require a lot of fatty foods to fuel their active lifestyle. Pet parrots are naturally inclined to want fatty foods, despite not exercising as much. The best way to determine if your parrot is overweight is by feeling for the bone located across its chest. If this keel bone is hidden under two bulbous layers of flesh, then your parrot is obese.

A parrot’s weight should be monitored. Obesity leads to a series of health issues that can shorten a parrot’s lifespan. A carefully planned diet and sufficient physical activity can reduce the risk. If your parrot is already prone to overeating, you’ll need to create a feeding schedule.

Can Parrots Eat Too Much?

By default, parrots do not tend to overeat. Instead, they rely on a diet that’s very fatty and calorie-heavy to support their active lifestyles.

If a parrot is kept in a small cage and given limited exercise, this can backfire. The parrot will naturally want to eat the same amount of food. However, when it can’t later burn this off, it will start to gain weight.

Will Parrots Overeat?

Parrots are some of the most active birds in the world. Parrots are smart, so they need to be constantly entertained and stimulated to be happy and contented. In the wild, they:

  • Fly around
  • Forage for food
  • Play with their flock mates
  • Escape the occasional predator

Of course, this requires a lot of energy. This means that parrots have a high metabolic rate and burn through their fatty reserves rather quickly. As such, they are naturally drawn to foods that are high in fat. Between their active lifestyle and not always finding food to eat, wild parrots can keep their weight in check and avoid weight-related illnesses.

Pet parrots aren’t always that lucky. Despite being domesticated, parrots still instinctually eat too much. Wild parrots can’t always successfully forage for food. So, whenever they do find some, they try to eat as much as they possibly can. This will store all those calories in their fatty reserves to be used for energy later.

Pet parrots are still inclined to have this attitude towards food. Of course, they don’t know that they have a consistent food source due to being in your care. Their brain pushes them to overeat as a way to survive.

Things only get worse if the parrot is on a seed-based diet. Many parrots will only eat the seeds that contain the most amount of fat and ignore the rest. Their brain still believes they need all that fuel, even though pet parrots don’t need it as much as wild ones. Since these birds are picky with seeds, a seed-based diet isn’t highly recommended.

Is It Bad To Have An Overweight Parrot?

If your parrot gains a little weight, this isn’t harmful. In fact, a small reserve of extra fat can be healthy for your bird.

Since parrots have such delicate immune systems, an illness can quickly overtax their body. If they lose too much weight during a recovery period, that can lead to more severe illnesses. Fat storage can help prevent this.

However, the issue comes when a fat store escalates into obesity. This is far more severe than just being overweight.

Obesity in Parrots

Obesity can negatively impact your parrot’s day-to-day life. It can also result in serious ailments that harm the lifestyle – and lifespan – of your parrot. According to a study published in Conservation Physiology, obesity in parrot is caused by 3 things:

  • Diet
  • Climate
  • Lifestyle

Diet

The most common diets for a parrot are:

  • Seed-based diets
  • Pellets
  • Formulated diets

What are the pros and cons of each for your parrot’s health?

Seed-Based

As mentioned previously, seed-based diets are not ideal. Parrots will often choose to eat the fatty seeds and ignore the rest.

As such, it’s nearly impossible to prevent obesity in a parrot with a seed-only diet. You can’t exactly force-feed a parrot the other seeds. If you do, this will make the parrot grow to resent and distrust you, causing other behavioral issues. Aside from that, you may receive a nasty bite.

Additionally, seeds will not provide the bird with all the nutrients it needs to live a healthy life. Even if seeds are a primary aspect of the parrot’s diet, it also needs greens, fruits, veggies, and other supplements.

Pellets

Pellets are a common choice for new parrot owners. Pellets are inexpensive and available everywhere. It’s the most convenient option and the most recommended by even avian vets.

With that said, it’s not the best for your parrot. Sure, many pellet brands market themselves as being able to provide a “complete” diet. This isn’t true, though. It’s difficult to simulate the kind of diet that wild parrots have with processed food.

Pellets are high in protein, but they are also high in fat. They are meant to supplement a parrot’s diet, not become the only thing they consume. Aside from that, many pellets contain artificial coloring. This can disrupt the parrot’s digestive system and lead to even more issues with its metabolism. Match that to the high fat content, and we have a recipe for obesity.

Formulated Diets

Formulated diets are the best you can give to your bird. They involve carefully planning a mix of nutritious foods for your parrot to eat, like:

  • Fruits
  • Nuts
  • Vegetables
  • Seeds

It’s the most expensive and time-consuming way to feed your parrot. However, it’s the best diet a pet parrot can have.

Of course, it’s not 100% faithful to a wild parrot’s diet. There are still differing aspects between what’s out in nature versus what you can provide. For example, the berries wild parrots eat are less sweet and contain more fiber. The ones you’d buy at the store to feed your birds may be less healthy.

Still, a parrot won’t be as prone to weight gain on a formulated diet that’s done correctly. You just have to understand the nutritional needs of the parrot species you own and monitor its health constantly.

Frequent visits to the vet will ensure the parrot gets everything it needs from the formulated diet. Even though it’s the healthiest, your parrot could still become fat if the diet isn’t done right.

is my parrot overweight?

Climate

Climate may seem like a distant concern when your parrot is gaining weight. However, it directly impacts your parrot’s metabolism and ability to burn through fat.

Parrots have extremely high body temperatures. As such, they need a fast metabolism to maintain that temperature. This consumes a lot of energy, which burns fat in their body.

Parrots in warmer climates don’t need to burn that much fat to keep warm. After all, the environment helps keep their body temperature where it needs to be. In contrast, parrots from colder climates will burn more fat. Their body needs to work harder to maintain the right temperature.

So, if your parrot is a warm-weather species, it’s more likely to retain its weight instead of burning through it. If your otherwise thin parrot starts getting fat after you move from cold-weather areas to a sunny locale, that could be the explanation.

Lifestyle

To fight obesity, all living creatures need to burn more fat than they consume. Wild parrots manage this by living an active lifestyle. They forage for food, fly around for miles at a time, and often eat very little throughout their day.

In contrast, pet parrots get fed every single day and usually can’t exercise away all the calories they consume. A sedentary lifestyle is generally the cause of obesity in parrots, even if they are eating healthy.

That’s true even if you give your parrot ample room to exercise. Gliding from one place to the other can become boring, especially if the parrot is large. Boredom leads to the parrot becoming uninterested in flying or moving around as it should.

It’s even more difficult if the parrot feels lonely or stressed. It may lack the energy or will to do more than moping in its cage. To make sure your parrot stays active, exercise with it. You can try working out together by dancing and playing games.

Parrot Species Most Likely To Be Obese

As mentioned, parrots have a metabolism that fits their climate. If your bird is biologically geared to have a slower metabolism to combat the heat, it’s more likely to gain weight when it overeats.

A hot climate might also discourage the bird from moving around too much, something that can eventually result in a sedentary lifestyle. That’s why the parrot species most prone to obesity are:

  • Amazon parrots
  • Cockatiels
  • African grey parrots
  • Cockatoos

With that said, these birds can remain fit and trim if they’re encouraged to exercise and are given a balanced diet.

How to Tell if Your Parrot Is Fat

It can be difficult to tell if a parrot is fat. We all know what a healthy dog is supposed to look like. However, birds have a different weight distribution from other animals.

Likewise, their feathers can easily hide any extra weight. When it seems too large, you may attribute that to the parrot being fluffy or ruffled. Fortunately, there are ways to circumvent the problem. Try these techniques to see if your parrot is carrying too much weight.

Keel Bone

The most immediate way to tell if a parrot is fat is by touching its chest. Parrots have a bone that runs vertically across the middle of their chest. This is called a keel bone. It’s the parrot equivalent of a sternum in humans. To the sides of the keel bone are the bird’s breast muscles.

Can you feel the keel bone protruding out more than the breast muscles? Then the parrot is underweight. A healthy parrot will have a nicely rounded chest. The keel bone will easily transition into the breast muscles.

An overweight parrot will have breast muscles that protrude past the keel bone. This makes the bird look like there is a divide in the middle of its chest.

Lethargy

You can also tell if a parrot is fat by the way it acts. A fat parrot will:

  • Tire out more easily than a healthy one
  • Breathe heavily if made to move around too much.

Parrots are very energetic and like to move. The excess weight might be making the bird lethargic. Parrots use their breast muscles to fly. When those muscles are surrounded by fat, the parrot finds it more difficult to move around.

Weighing

The exact weight of your bird can also determine if it’s fat. A small scale is a good investment for a parrot owner. If you believe your parrot is overweight, you can perform weekly weigh-ins as a part of its diet and exercise routine.

Average Weight of Parrots

Every parrot has different healthy weight ranges. After you put your bird on a scale, be sure to check the table below for comparison. Parrots are considered obese if they weigh 15% or more beyond their ideal weight.

Parrot SpeciesAverage Chick WeightAverage Adult Weight
Hyacinth macaw25 grams1200 to 1450 grams
Scarlet macaw21 grams900 to 1100 grams
Caninde macaw18 grams750 grams
Cuban Amazon10 grams240 grams
Yellow-crowned Amazon12 grams380 to 480 grams
Blue-fronted Amazon10 grams400 to 430 grams
Goffin’s cockatoo10 grams221 to 386 grams
Moluccan cockatoo20 grams850 grams
Palm cockatoo18 grams900 grams
Umbrella cockatoo18 grams600 to 700 grams
Greater Patagonian conure12 grams315 to 390 grams
Mitred conure11 grams200 grams
Black-headed caiques8 grams145 to 170 grams
White-bellied caiques7 grams165 grams
Dusky lories7 grams155 grams
Plum-headed parakeets5 grams90 grams

Obesity-Related Health Issues In Parrots

Once a parrot is obese, a string of health problems will occur. Some of these weight-related illnesses will cause your bird pain and shorten its life. Once you notice a problem, look for other symptoms and contact your vet.

Some of these may require a simple diet change or medical intervention. The most common weight-related health issues in parrots are:

Fatty Liver Disease

This is perhaps the most dangerous weight-related issue of them all. Fatty liver disease occurs when there is so much fat in a parrot’s body. It infiltrates the liver until it can’t function.

This disease is most common in Amazon parrots. It’s caused by diets that are too high in fat, such as seed-based and pelleted diets. A parrot with fatty liver disease is unable to handle any stress. It may die suddenly due to liver malfunction.

Lipomas

Lipomas are balls of concentrated fat. They grow out of and hang from parrot’s bodies, but they are not fatal. The area around the growth is completely featherless. Once they develop, lipomas cannot go away with a healthier diet or exercise. Surgery is the only way to remove them.

Pododermatitis

In humans, this is called gout. In parrots, it’s called bumblefoot. The fatter the bird, the more weight it has to carry on its legs. This strain on the feet is what causes pododermatitis.

Right away, you’ll notice that your parrot’s feet are swollen. As time goes on, some of the skin will begin to peel off until the feet are red and inflamed. Eventually, it will be too much, and the bird will become lame.

average weight of parrot

Atherosclerosis

Atherosclerosis will target the arteries. When fat lines up the walls of a bird’s arteries, they become less elastic and narrow. This could end up rupturing and killing the parrot.

Parrots with atherosclerosis often bite at their feet due to the discomfort it brings in their legs. Arteries deliver blood from the heart to the tissues in the body. Narrower arteries could cause lameness in the legs of parrots because of the lack of blood traveling to those parts. This condition is most common in medium to large parrot species.

Unfortunately, one of the most common signs is sudden death. That’s according to a study in Veterinary Quarterly. This makes it very important to keep your parrot’s weight in check long before it reaches this point.

Xanthomatosis

The symptoms of this condition appear in the tip of a parrot’s wings. Cholesterol crystals form under the skin and make the tip of the wings swell, sometimes until they bleed. In severe cases, the tips of the wings need to be amputated.

How to Make a Parrot Lose Weight

If you’re dealing with a fat parrot, how can you reverse the problem? Here are ways to help the bird drop those extra pounds.

Diet Change

For parrots, a diet helped them gain weight, and it’ll help them lose it. As mentioned previously, formulated diets are best for parrots. It will help balance out their metabolism and reduce their pure fat intake.

What if you can’t afford a formulated diet full-time? Then you can always go with a mix of a seed-based, pelleted, and formulated diet. Remember, pellets and seeds work best when used as supplements, not the main course.

Keep in mind that any drastic change in a parrot’s diet shouldn’t be done immediately. Parrots are picky and don’t adjust well to sudden change. It’s best to sneak in the new food by mixing it with the regular one until your bird gets used to it. If you change out the food too quickly, the parrot might refuse to eat it. This will only make it more difficult to feed it healthy things.

Feeding Times

Make sure to be strict about feeding times. Some parrots, especially those that have been hand-reared, are very needy. They will demand food more often than they should.

Talk to the other members of the household. Make sure they aren’t giving the parrot a treat outside the feeding hours.

Exercise

Along with a healthy diet and a strict feeding schedule, a proper amount of exercise and fat-burning is necessary. Here are some ways you can help your parrot lose weight:

Dancing

Parrots like to dance. Putting on some music and teaching them to groove (if they don’t know already) will not only keep them lean. It will also a good bonding time.

Playing With Other Birds

Schedule play dates with other parrot owners, so your bird can get active with them. Parrots are very social. Yours could be more motivated to exercise with another parrot rather than alone.

Making The Room Colder

If it’s summer or you live someplace with a hot climate, try making the room colder. This will encourage the parrot’s metabolism to work harder and burn some fat. The cold might even motivate a lethargic parrot to move more to keep warm.

Toys

Parrots have a destructive side, especially the larger ones. They burn a lot of fat when biting and clawing into things. Make sure they always have something they can destroy nearby.

If your parrot isn’t paying attention to the toys it has, try getting new ones. It might be bored of playing with the same things.

Baths

After giving parrots a bath, they will often groom themselves. This process is called preening. It’s how parrots keep their feathers looking so colorful and beautiful.

By giving your parrot more baths, you can activate the preening process. This activity will help them burn some fat. This is especially good for birds that are too fat to do anything more strenuous, like flying or dancing.

Outdoor Cages

If you have access to outdoor cages, use them. Parrots need to fly to be healthy, and they need to do so often. If there’s no outdoor cage available, you could always bird-proof your house, so your parrot can fly as much as it wants.

Parrots can get fat. As long as you evaluate its diet and exercise, your overweight or obese bird will return to peak health in a few months.