Psittacine birds have a more advanced sense of taste than most avian species.
Parrots have taste buds, primarily in the throat and the roof of the mouth. This lets them quickly distinguish between sweet, sour, salty, and bitter flavors.
As wild parrots don’t encounter salty foods, captive birds’ interest can be piqued by this unique flavor.
Spices like cayenne pepper get their taste through capsaicin, which birds (including all parrot species) can’t detect. This means a bird won’t burn its mouth like humans if it eats hot and spicy food.
Food texture also matters at a sensory level, so savory snacks, like meat and fish, can be appealing.
Do Parrots Have Taste Receptors?
Parrots have approximately 300 – 350 taste buds.
While this is significantly fewer than humans, as we have about 9,000, parrots have a more comprehensive array of flavor senses than most other bird species.
Where Are Birds’ Taste Buds Located?
Most of a parrot’s taste buds are found in the oropharynx, the middle of the bird’s throat.
Other taste buds are also found on the roof of the parrot’s mouth. You may find a parrot flicking food toward the top and back of the mouth to savor the delicious flavor.
A veterinarian will examine the oropharynx if a parrot shows unexplained changes in food behavior.
Taste buds can become swollen and blocked or indicate the presence of a digestive disease. Also, refusing to eat or declining preferred foods is a common sign of illness in birds.
How Do Parrots Taste Food?
Parrots explore the world with their beaks. This means that unfamiliar food will be carefully scrutinized.
A parrot’s beak contains many blood vessels and nerves, enabling a bird to determine the texture of the food and decide if the taste is appealing (or otherwise).
A parrot will pick up food with the tip of its hooked upper beak, dropping it into its open mouth. A parrot’s tongue has minimal taste sensation, so food will be transferred to the oropharynx for sampling.
How Do Parrots React To Flavor?
Once food reaches the oropharynx, a parrot will decide how to proceed.
If the food is unappealing – potentially because it is bitter or sour on the palate – the parrot will spit it out. If the bird finds the flavor appealing, it’ll be swallowed.
Parrots aren’t indiscriminate eaters, even when hungry or greedy. If you provide a parrot with various foods, a bird will prioritize what it believes to be safe and enjoys the most.
Usually, a parrot will prioritize sweet and fatty tastes (like sunflower seeds and Brazil nuts) above all else.
Let’s review the core food tastes and how a parrot will likely respond to each of these flavors:
The journal Science explains that most wild birds have lost the ability to detect sweet flavors as they’ve evolved. However, parrots can taste sweet flavors.
Sweetness is enjoyed by most parrots, whether living in the wild or captivity. However, only one parrot species (Pesquet’s Parrot) has an exclusively frugivorous diet.
Parrots have evolved to seek fruits for sustenance, and many pet birds share these taste preferences.
Parrots can process naturally-occurring sugar like fructose but struggle to digest raw sugar. Excessive sweet snacks can also make a parrot fussy, leading to food refusal.
The Journal of the Association of Avian Veterinarians warns that parrots can get pancreatic issues or diabetes. This leads to a drop in white blood cells and increased susceptibility to respiratory infections.
Parrots rarely encounter salty foods in the wild, so a taste for sodium will be a learned behavior.
Smaller birds like budgies are at risk from just one salty pretzel or potato chip. The Journal of Wildlife Diseases explains how 3,000 milligrams of sodium per kilogram of salt can be fatal to a sparrow.
Larger parrots can tolerate more dietary sodium, but a low-salt diet is highly recommended.
Parrots can detect and taste bitterness, avoiding this flavor as a survival mechanism.
Birds associate bitter tastes with toxicity. For example, chocolate can kill parrots due to theobromine (a bitter-tasting alkaloid). Oddly, pet parrots will eat chocolate, perhaps because they see you doing so.
Many trees and plants contain bitter-tasting tannins, a defense mechanism to deter animal consumption.
Parrots can adapt their behavior for survival. The Dutch journal Ardea explains how Amazon parrots in suburban Germany consume bitter-tasting plants to reduce food competition.
Bitterness is also associated with dark, leafy greens, particularly kale, spinach, and broccoli. This is due to oxalic acid, which can bond to calcium and restrict absorption.
Sourness is an extension of bitterness. A bird may associate a sour taste with spoiled and rotten food. Understanding the negative digestive implications, it avoids consumption.
Can parrots taste sour? Many parrots refuse to eat citrus fruits due to their sour acidity, although a pet bird may enjoy tearing into the soft flesh.
Citric acid can improve avian digestion, dissolve kidney stones, enhance immunity, and improve the condition of a bird’s skin and feathers.
Fruits and vegetables in the umami category must be offered in moderation.
Parrots are omnivorous and can occasionally enjoy servings of meat, including bone marrow.
Foods that fall into the umami category will likely offer a unique texture and sensation.
Can Parrots Taste Spices?
Due to capsaicin, a chemical compound found in chili powder and paprika, Cayenne has a hot, fiery flavor. However, parrots can’t detect the taste of capsaicin.
The International Journal of Brain and Cognitive Sciences stated that parrots had developed a sense of smell, meaning that spicy aromas will rouse the interest of a pet bird.
A bird will benefit from cayenne pepper’s anti-inflammatory and painkilling properties.
Teaching A Parrot To Enjoy Different Tastes
Now we have established the answer to the question, “Do parrots taste what they eat?” This means you may need to manage a pet parrot’s food intake.
Eat the desired food before a parrot, demonstrating that you enjoy the flavor. Parrots are social eaters and will grow intrigued by whatever you’re consuming.
You can also steadily adjust a parrot’s taste buds by adding new flavors to its diet. Start with a ratio of 90:10 in favor of the familiar taste sensation, steadily increasing the new taste and texture.