why do parrots throw their food?

Why Do Parrots Drop Their Food?

Things can get messy when your parrot throws food on the floor. However, before you start to worry that your parrot isn’t enjoying its food, rest assured that this behavior’s normal.

Parrots drop their food accidentally when they can’t grip it, when suddenly startled, and due to unfamiliarity. They throw away rotten food, or food low in nutrients, to stay healthy. Some scientists believe that parrots drop food to allow ground-dwelling animals to eat and sow plant and tree seeds, creating new growth.  

If you notice your parrot throwing food out of its bowl, you can do your best to train it to stop. However, bear in mind that this is natural parrot behavior, so you may have to live with it instead.

Why Do Parrots Throw Their Food?

Regardless of what foods you give them, captive parrots are prone to throwing just as much of what they eat on the floor. Similarly, many wild parrots eat a bite or two before dropping their food. This behavior’s confusing, considering it takes time and effort to forage these valuable resources in their native habitats.

According to Safring News, researchers observed Cedar Waxwings handling various berries in the following sizes:

  • 7.5 mm
  • 11 mm
  • 12.8 mm
  • 14 mm
  • 17.6 mm
  • 20.5 mm

They discovered that the birds dropped the larger berries 79% of the time. These findings can also be applied to parrots. As described by Scientific Reports, scientists have come up with several theories:

Accidental Dropping

There’s no legitimate reason behind parrots throwing their food on the floor – it’s accidental. It’s easy for parrots to drop large fruits and vegetables because they can’t get a good enough grip on their food. Smaller parrots are more likely to make a mess than larger parrots with bigger claws. Also, tiny seeds and nuts are difficult to hold.

Accidental waste occurs more often in the wild when individuals forage in larger groups. Owners can help their parrots keep hold of their food by chopping it into bitesize pieces or providing large handfuls that are easier to grab and hold.

parrot throwing food out of bowl

Environmental Disturbance

If your parrot experiences some disturbance while eating, it will drop its food from being startled. This involuntary action is a response to factors beyond the parrot’s control, such as:

  • Loud noises
  • Aggressive cage mates
  • Unfamiliar sights and sounds
  • A sudden movement from a person
  • Bright lights
  • TV or radio suddenly coming on

If you didn’t keep your parrot in a cage, it would likely swoop down and pick the food back up. However, it’s up to owners to keep an eye on this and hand the parrots the food they dropped in captivity.

Unfamiliar Foods

If your parrot’s not familiar with the foods you feed it, it’s more likely to drop them. According to Emu – Austral Ornithology, the grey-headed parrot feeds on a specific range of trees throughout the breeding and non-breeding seasons, which provides certain nutrients the species needs to thrive. Food competition is low as they’re specialist feeders, suggesting grey-headed stick to the foods they’re familiar with.

Parrots have different taste preferences. They don’t like the taste of all foods, and there are some they’d rather not eat. As a result, they drop them to reject them. If your parrot does this more often with certain foods, try feeding it something else. Parrots are more likely to drop exotic fruits than native ones because they’re not used to them.

Poor Food Quality

Parrots will drop their food if it’s compromised in any way. For example, fruit and vegetables may be:

  • Unripe
  • Rotten
  • Riddled with parasites or insects
  • Contaminated with toxins
  • Low in nutrients or energetic content

Parrots need specific nutrients to survive. Being picky allows them to save room for the vitamins and minerals they need the most. They’re also more likely to drop or throw food that serves no nutritional purpose, as eating it wastes the nutrients. Similarly, pesticides and other chemicals can harm and kill parrots.

Benefits Other Animals

Because scientists and researchers are uncertain about why parrots drop and waste food, it’s theorized that doing so benefits other animals in the ecosystem.

Dropped fruits and seeds become available for animals that remain on the ground to eat. Parrots act as secondary dispersers, increasing the methods of dispersal available for each plant involved. Unfortunately, scientists don’t know how many animals consume the wasted food, so this is only a theory for now.


Some parrots enjoy flinging their food into the air and treat this behavior as a fun game. Parrots gain mental enrichment through toys and games, so throwing their food helps keep their minds sharp and prevents boredom. You can minimize this by providing fun things for your parrot to play with.

Why Do Parrots Waste Food?

Parrots don’t intentionally waste food, but it’s universal and occurs across the 103 parrot species that scientists have studied. Parrots can adjust their behavior according to food availability in their native areas. If a particular food is abundant where they live, there is little energetic cost, so the food doesn’t count as waste.

Parrot food wastage is a widespread behavior that researchers have observed throughout the year in non-breeding and breeding seasons. That being said, food wastage occurs less frequently when parrots raise hungry chicks. Parrots commonly waste:

  • Fruits
  • Seeds
  • Flowers
  • Leaves
  • Twigs
  • Stems
  • Sprouts
  • Parasites
  • Bark

Researchers have found that captive parrots waste an average of 21.2 % of the total food provided, while wild parrots waste 11.8% of fruits and 14.6% of the seeds they handle. In the wild, most of these foods are found under the trees where parrots reside.

Unfortunately, tests haven’t conclusively determined whether wastage is deliberate or accidental, so more research is needed to know for sure.

Why Do Parrots Put Food in Water?

Some parrots put their food in their water bowl. Many birds do this for fun and because they like the taste of wet food, while others do it to make their food easier to eat. Seeds, nuts, and some fruits and vegetables can be quite tough, so parrots put them into the water to soften them up, making them easier to chew and swallow.

In particular, baby parrots need soft food because of their undeveloped beaks. They can’t break hard foods apart, so they need their meals to be soft and digestible. Doing this prevents digestive issues and helps the food travel safely down the gastrointestinal tract.

Depending on where your parrot’s water bowl’s located, there’s a chance that your parrot’s accidentally dropping its food into the water and can’t fish it back out to eat it. If this is the reason, you may want to consider moving your parrot’s water bowl to reduce the chances of food falling into it.

It’s also vital that you keep your parrot’s water bowl clean to prevent it from growing bacteria and developing diseases. As soon as you notice food in the water bowl, discard it along with the water and rinse it with water and a small amount of dish detergent. Use a wool sponge if there are any stubborn crusts or dirt. This will keep your parrot’s water dish clean and sanitary.

why do parrots waste food?

How To Stop Parrots Throwing Food

We’ve determined that most parrots are messy eaters, which you can’t stop. However, there are things you can do to limit the amount of mess your bird causes. Try using some of the following items when you next feed your parrot:

Spill-Proof Feeders

Spill-proof feeders effectively keep food contained in one area, preventing birds from throwing their food. They typically have two chambers:

  • A large open chamber that the bird enters
  • A small inner chamber where you place the food

You can purchase one from any pet store, or you can create your own by placing your bird’s everyday dish inside a large food storage container or plastic bottle.

Seed-Catching Skirt

Seed-catching skirts are a popular choice to prevent food wastage. They’re large funnels that you hang under the cage. You install the device underneath to catch seeds and other foods before they reach the floor. Most are made with plastic, which is easy to clean. Make sure your skirt extends pasts the cage sides by several inches to be effective.

Protective Barriers

Create small walls on the bottom of your parrot’s cage to keep food from spilling out. You can use acrylic sheeting or stainless steel to accomplish this, as your bird won’t be able to chew and break it. Apply it to the inside walls of your cage, making them 3-4 inches high. Use adhesives to attach them or drill small holes through the panels.

A parrot dropping its food is normal and natural behavior. However, keep an eye on your parrot during mealtimes to ensure it has enough to eat. Otherwise, your parrot could be missing out on vital nutrients.