Grit is a type of fine sand, rock, or gravel that’s consumed to assist with the breakdown of food. Birds use grit and the gizzard. Together, these work to grind up seeds or grains so that the stomach can process them.
Parrots don’t need grit to digest their food. They have strong and muscular gizzards so that they can grind up food. Giving your parrot grit can cause blockages in the digestive tract. Grit also isn’t needed to break down indigestible items, such as seed husks, because the hull is removed by parrots prior to consumption.
Parrots have smaller intestinal openings than other birds. So, passing grit is far more difficult. In the wild, some species of parrots eat dirt and clay to aid digestion. However, this is only to filter out toxins, not to grind up food. Domesticated parrots will only crave grit when they have a mineral deficiency.
Do All Birds Need Gravel to Digest Food?
Not all birds need gravel, sand, or rocks to digest their food. According to BioOne Complete, wild birds ingest grit to enhance the efficiency of the mechanical breakdown of their food.
They don’t have teeth to break down food. Instead, when a bird ingests food, this food slides down the throat and enters the gizzard. The gizzard is a muscular organ that presses in and grinds up whatever they eat.
This transports the smaller pieces to their stomach, where acids break them down and digest them. When grit is consumed, it sits in the gizzard. The muscles press in on the sand or rock, and the rock or sand presses in on the food. This grinds up food and aids digestion.
Why Do Some Birds Need Grit?
While there are benefits, not all birds need grit. Chickens, for instance, only need grit because their:
- Gizzard is smaller or weaker
- Intestinal openings are larger
If a bird’s gizzard is not as strong, grit adds strength and rigidness to the gizzard. This is important for grinding down large seeds or grains. Stomach acid alone is not enough to digest these foods, so they would normally pass through undigested. By using the right amount of grit, birds can glean more nutrients from their meals.
Of course, rocks and sand can’t be digested. To contend with that, birds don’t keep grit inside of their bodies. Instead, certain birds have larger intestinal openings. This allows the grit to pass through their digestive system rather than remaining trapped. For such birds, consuming grit has no consequences.
Do Parrots Eat Grit?
While grit can be beneficial for a bird’s digestion, that’s not the case for parrots.
Parrots have a strong gizzard compared to other birds. The muscular composition of this organ works to grind back and forth, mashing up their food. Putting random items in the gizzard would block up their intestines.
That’s partly because parrots have small intestinal openings. Anything that passes through the gizzard and to the rest of the digestive system will travel slower. This allows grit to remain inside the bird instead of passing on.
When it accumulates, and the parrot consumes more grit than it can expel, this can lead to digestive blockages.
Do Parrots Need Gravel?
Wild parrots eat dirt, soil, or clay to aid digestion. According to the University of California Medical School, a study performed on Peruvian Amazon rainforest parrots found that eating grit was a frequent occurrence. However, researchers concluded that this species doesn’t grind food in their gizzards. It’s used to remove toxins.
Much of the Peruvian parrot’s diet consists of seeds and fruits that contain dangerous toxins. The clay found in their chosen soil assisted the chemical balance of their stomach. This limited how many toxins they digested from the food.
The Peruvian parrots chose soil that had a small particle size. So, even though the birds were ingesting grit, it didn’t negatively affect their digestive tract. Instead, it passed through more easily.
Even wild parrots don’t eat soil because it’s grit. Some species will consume dirt because it naturally helps them to cope with specific toxins in their food. That makes it an evolutionary adaptation to increase the availability of edible and digestible foods in the wild.
Why Is My Parrot Eating Dirt?
If you’ve bought grit for your parrot, it might eat the gravel or sand even though it’s unhealthy. That leads many owners to believe that parrots need grit.
However, parrots only ingest sand or gravel to satisfy their mineral requirements. Grit is rich in calcium, which is important for maintaining healthy bones. For female parrots, calcium is especially vital to egg formation. After all, eggshells require large amounts of their mother’s calcium deposits to form properly.
Therefore, pet parrots that have mineral deficiencies or imbalances will eat more grit if it’s offered to them. This isn’t proof that your parrot needs grit, though. Parrots that seek out grit are signaling that they have dietary issues.
If you feed a parrot grit, the most concerning health issue is a blocked gizzard. It’s life-threatening if left untreated because it harms the kidneys and liver. Here are the symptoms:
- Increased thirst
- Fluffed out appearance
- Leaning forward on perches
- Watery and clear or white feces
- Decline in appetite
If you notice these signs, remove the grit. You should take your parrot to a vet to remove the blockage.
Should I Feed My Parrot Grit?
It’s safer to avoid offering your parrot grit. That’s because parrots are:
- Fed grit in uncontrolled quantities
- Do not have a proper diet in place
- Offered poor quality grit
However, there are cases where you should provide some grit. These include:
According to Poultry Science, chicks that were fed gravel had a limited risk of gizzard thickening. Chicks that were not fed grit developed this physiological problem. That caused further issues as they grew up, such as lesions.
Sometimes, a pet parrot will crave grit. This may be out of boredom, habit, or a mineral deficiency. No matter the case, you may find that your parrot consumes harmful substitutes, such as:
Eating these substances is more harmful than just offering your parrot grit. Feeding parrots good quality grit in moderation can prevent parrots from seeking out these unsuitable alternatives.