Grit is a type of fine sand, rock, or gravel consumed by some birds to assist with the breakdown of food. Birds use grit and the gizzard to grind up seeds or grains so the stomach can process them.
Parrots shouldn’t consume grit because it causes blockages of the digestive tract. Also, parrots have smaller intestinal openings than other birds, so passing grit is more difficult. Unlike other birds, they don’t need grit to digest their food because they have strong and muscular gizzards.
Wild parrots eat clay to aid digestion. However, this is only to filter out toxins, not to grind up food. Domesticated parrots only crave grit when they have a mineral deficiency.
Do All Birds Need Gravel to Digest Food?
According to BioOne Complete, wild birds ingest grit to enhance the efficiency of the mechanical breakdown of their food.
Parrots don’t have teeth, so they don’t chew 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, grinding up the food and aiding digestion.
However, not all birds need gravel, sand, or small rocks to digest their food.
Why Do Some Birds Need Grit?
While there are benefits, not all birds need grit. Chickens only need grit because their:
- Gizzards are smaller or weaker
- Intestinal openings are larger
If a bird’s gizzard isn’t as strong, grit adds strength and rigidness to the gizzard, which is important for grinding down large seeds or grains.
Stomach acid alone isn’t sufficient 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 their bodies. Instead, certain birds have larger intestinal openings.
This allows the grit to pass through the digestive system rather than being trapped. For such birds, consuming grit has no adverse consequences.
Do Parrots Eat Grit?
While grit can benefit a bird’s digestion, that’s not the case for parrots.
Parrots have stronger gizzards than other birds. The muscular composition of this organ works to grind back and forth, mashing up their food. Putting random items in the gizzard blocks their intestines.
That’s partly because parrots have small intestinal openings, so anything that passes through the gizzard and to the rest of the digestive system will travel slower.
Any grit will 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, Peruvian Amazon rainforest parrots eat grit frequently. However, researchers concluded that this species doesn’t grind food in their gizzards but remove toxins.
Much of the Peruvian parrot’s diet contains seeds and fruits that contain dangerous toxins. The clay in their chosen soil assisted their stomach’s chemical balance, limiting 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 enables them to cope with specific toxins in their food.
So, it’s 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 mistakenly believe that parrots need grit to assist with the digestion of food.
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 vital for healthy egg formation. After all, eggshells require large amounts of their mother’s calcium deposits to form properly. Unfortunately, malformed eggs can lead to egg binding.
Pet parrots that have mineral deficiencies or imbalances will eat more grit. This isn’t proof that your parrot needs grit, though. Parrots that seek out grit are signaling that they have dietary issues.
Add a cuttlebone or some ground-up eggshells to add calcium to your parrot’s diet.
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 and take your parrot to a vet to remove the blockage.
Should I Feed My Parrot Grit?
It’s better to avoid offering your parrot grit.
However, there are cases where you should provide some grit, including:
According to Poultry Science, chicks fed gravel had a limited risk of gizzard thickening. Chicks that weren’t fed grit developed physical problems as they grew up, such as lesions.
Sometimes, a pet parrot will crave grit, which may be due to boredom, habit, or a mineral deficiency. Regardless, you may find that your parrot consumes harmful substitutes, such as:
Eating these substances is more harmful than parrot grit. Feeding parrots good quality grit in moderation can prevent parrots from seeking out these unsuitable alternatives.
However, parrots don’t need to eat grit. If you ensure that your parrot is fed a mineral-rich diet and has lots to do, it’ll stay healthy and mentally occupied.