While parrots are omnivores, some species occasionally eat live prey. This includes insects such as mealworms, caterpillars, grasshoppers, snails, and termites. However, kea parrots sometimes eat newborn chicks and eggs. They’ve even been known to eat the fat off live sheep.
Parrots have olfactory glands, which is a sensory system that enable them to detect airborne substances. Also, some parrots scratch in the dirt to expose insects. When parrots have caught their prey, they kill it with their claws, using their feet like hands to eat it. Some parrots peck their prey to death with their beaks.
It’s rare for parrots to eat live prey, especially as they’re at risk of predation themselves. Raptorial birds, big cats, snakes, and bats are common predators that parrots must watch out for when they’re eating.
What Do Parrots Prey On?
Some parrots hunt and eat insects. This is uncommon as their diet mostly consists of seeds, nuts, fruits, and vegetables. Some also ingest clay when they’re not getting sodium from their diets.
Parrots have little need for live prey. However, parrots are opportunistic feeders and have been known to kill and consume the following living creatures:
Commonly found across North America, mealworms are the larval form of the mealworm beetle.
They’re a good source of protein and fat for hungry parrots. Mealworms are also high in moisture, hydrating parrots when they’re thirsty. Not all parrots enjoy the taste, but they’re safe for them to eat.
Mealworms can break down toxins found in Styrofoam and other plastics, so they have other health benefits.
Caterpillars are a common feature of many wild parrots’ diets. They’re high in protein (amino acids) and fat. There’s also an abundance of them in the wild, so they’re very easy for parrots to find and eat.
However, some caterpillars are poisonous, so not all species are suitable for parrots. As a result, some parrots ingest clay before eating toxic substances as it prevents the body from absorbing them. This allows them to eat poisonous foods when sustenance is scarce, preventing starvation.
According to the University of California, wild parrots living in the Peruvian Amazon Rainforest don’t always consider toxicity and will take the risk depending on how hungry they are.
Grasshoppers have spikes on their rear legs and wings, so parrots will only eat them if no other foods are available. Most grasshoppers fly away when parrots approach, so they’re not always easy to catch.
Some parrots eat grasshoppers occasionally, especially if they’re injured and easy to catch. Grasshoppers are a good source of nutrients, including protein, vitamin A, vitamin B, and vitamin C.
Many parrots feast on snails, pecking out the flesh from the hard outer shell.
Strangely, Live Science describes how some tiny snails survive the digestive process of certain animals and are excreted in a different location, allowing them to travel further distances with no effort.
That being said, it’s unlikely that many snails would survive a parrot’s extensive digestive process.
Parrots consume termites when foraging for food on or inside trees. During the rainforest’s rainy season, termites swarm, making them easy for parrots to catch and eat.
Some termite species contain up to 64% protein (amino acids), which are the body’s main building blocks. They also provide energy, which parrots need for foraging.
Kea parrots are opportunistic feeders and eat all manner of plant and animal matter. While they usually eat the meat from animal carcasses that are already dead, they will eat bird eggs from birds that breed in small underground nests.
Kea parrots are most likely to eat the eggs of Hutton’s shearwater birds. That’s because they breed inland, making their eggs vulnerable to predation. They’re also a common bird in New Zealand, where keas live.
Not only do Kea parrots eat bird eggs, but they eat Hutton’s shearwater chicks. To do so, they excavate their burrows while the mother birds are out foraging for food.
Kea parrots kill petrel chicks, which is another type of seabird. Chicks are usually too weak to fight back, making them easy prey. They’re also much smaller than kea parrots and don’t stand much of a chance once they’re caught.
Kea parrots have been seen killing and eating sheep. As described by Nature, their diet primarily consists of insects, fruits, and berries, but they’ve gained a taste for carnivorous foods over the last 30 years.
While it’s rare that they’d actually kill a sheep, they will peck at the animal to eat its flesh. Some sheep perish from infected wounds. Keas hunt in small groups of 3 or 4, so they cause lots of damage.
How Do Parrots Hunt for Food?
In the wild, parrots spend up to 70% of their day looking for food. This provides much-needed mental stimulation as much as it stops parrots from going hungry. To hunt for food, parrots use the following functions:
Parrots have good vision and can see all colors of the spectrum. They also have a fourth cone that allows them to see UV light. So, they can see prey clearly, especially insects that are bright and colorful.
While parrots don’t have amazing hearing, they can quickly distinguish between sounds. They can also determine where the sound is coming from. This enables them to hear and locate rustling prey.
Parrots have a good sense of smell, which they use to find food. Specifically, parrots have olfactory glands, which are powerful scent glands. They not only use this system to smell food but also to pinpoint the exact location.
Some parrots forage for food by scratching the ground with their feet. This unearths insects. Parrots usually use this technique to look for nuts and seeds. They’ll eat any insects they find along the way. While this is the case, they’re unlikely to go out actively looking for bugs.
How Do Parrots Catch Their Prey?
Because of how their beaks are shaped, parrots eat things that are easy to find and catch. Most parrots have long, slender beaks that they use to pick out insects. Parrots have hook-billed beaks, so they don’t have this luxury. However, once parrots have found potential food, they’ll catch it using the following methods:
Grab Prey with Their Feet
Parrots find it easier to pick things up with their feet rather than their beaks. They bring the food up to their mouths and either break off small pieces or swallow their prey whole.
Parrots are one of the few bird species that do this. If parrots need to kill something that’s still alive, such as a wriggling bug, they may use their talons to do so before eating it.
Use Their Powerful Beaks
Most parrots use their powerful beaks to grab and kill food. Macaws have a bite force of between 500-700 psi, which is enough to crack through bone. This grip allows parrots to use their entire jaw strength, causing significant damage. They then use their curved beaks to tear off the flesh of the animal they’ve caught.
However, more often than not, parrots use this strength to crack nuts and shells. They’re not natural-born prey killers, and most insects don’t require this level of force.
In contrast, Keas use their long beaks to dig out insects from the ground. Their beaks are longer and thinner than most other parrots, giving them the ability to pluck bugs out as they find them. They also use their beaks to peck newborn chicks to death, aiming for the throat.
When attacking sheep, kea parrots use their long, curved beaks to tear through wool and eat the fat from their backs. Keas are clever because they know that the sheep can’t reach them when they’re at the rear of the animal.
When it comes to chick eggs, keas carry them in their mouths and drop them with force to break them open. They also use their claws to tear into the shell.
Parrots are prey animals, but some species are predators. Wild parrots, such as Keas, hunt animal species to survive. However, they prefer to eat seeds, nuts, fruits, and vegetables. Most only hunt if other food sources aren’t available.