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why do parrots eat clay?

Significance of Parrots Ingesting Clay

Last Updated on: 3rd July 2023, 09:03 am

Geophagy is a term used to describe the process of parrots ingesting clay.

Experts believe that parrots eat clay to increase their sodium levels, especially when food is scarce. This is common during the breeding season when parrots need clay to get extra nutrients to feed their young.

Clay ingestion removes toxins from the body, allowing parrots to eat toxic foods without falling ill.

Clay also provides minerals when parrots can’t get them through their diet. During the rainy season in the rainforest, sodium gets washed away, and clay is a good alternative.

Why Do Parrots Eat Clay?

There are various theories on why parrots ingest clay, but none have been scientifically proven.

While more studies are needed to determine the reasoning behind parrots eating clay, the latest scientific research suggests there are five possible explanations:

Toxin Protection

It’s thought that parrots ingest clay to protect themselves against the adverse effects of dietary toxins. Parrots may consume toxic plant matter, especially when food availability is low.

Clay licks allow parrots to eat nutritionally rich, toxic foods like seeds and unripe fruits because clay binds to alkaloid toxins before they’re digested, reducing the effects of quinidine.

As PubChem explains, quinidine is a deadly alkaloid extracted from the bark of trees. 

Also, the Journal of Chemical Ecology studied the effects of clay on captive parrots and discovered that orally administered clay reduced quinidine’s bioavailability by 60%.

Sickness And Diarrhea

A wild parrot’s diet can comprise fruits, some of which are highly acidic, like citrus fruits. After eating them for prolonged periods, parrots can develop gastrointestinal problems due to their acidity.

When birds are sick, clay can settle the stomach. Some clays contain kaolin, a soft, white clay that relieves diarrhea. Kaolin isn’t absorbed into the bloodstream but absorbs toxins, making their waste less watery.

If a parrot eats something toxic, it may ingest clay following consumption to prevent sickness.

best clay for parrots

Mineral Supplement

Clay provides parrots with minerals lacking in their plant-based diets.

Sodium is washed from the ecosystem in tropical rainforests, especially during the rainy season. However, it’s stored in hard clay, which parrots lick to increase their sodium intake.

Some sodium is essential for a parrot’s:

  • Nerve function.
  • Muscle contractions.
  • Bodily fluid regulation.

Clay licks in the western Amazon basin have sodium levels 40% higher than certain foods parrots eat.

While most parrots gain sodium from fruits and vegetables, salt licks increase sodium levels when food is scarce, particularly in rainforest areas when it’s dry.

Reproductive Health

Like a mineral supplement, the International Journal of Avian Science (IBIS) found that ingesting clay gives parrots supplemental minerals needed to reproduce.

NPR explains how clay eating peaked during the breeding season, especially when parrots start feeding their young. Females need more energy and minerals to produce and lay healthy eggs.

Grit for Grinding Food

Parrots don’t grind their food down like mammals because they lack teeth.

Instead, they have a two-chambered stomach consisting of the proventriculus and the gizzard, and food moves between them and are broken down by acid, mucus, and other digestive fluids.

When food reaches the gizzard, it’s ground into smaller pieces by the stomach’s thick wall and muscles.

Some birds eat sand, grit, small pebbles, and stones to assist with the process of pulverizing the food and allowing it to pass through the digestive system. However, parrots don’t use grit in this way.

Some parrots consume clay to improve the digestive process. Fine clay is more refined than grit, so it works more efficiently and sits comfortably in the stomach. 

Can Parrots Eat Clay?

Clay is safe for parrots, which is why so many species practice geophagy (the act of eating soil) in the wild. It can increase mineral levels and ward against toxins. However, too much clay can harm parrots.

Sodium overload is caused by the consumption of clay, which leads to:

  • Fluid and electrolyte imbalance.
  • Excessive thirst.
  • Dehydration.
  • Kidney failure.
  • Death.

Captive parrots don’t eat clay and are less likely to need it when their owners provide a healthy diet.

What Is A Parrot Clay Lick?

Clay licks are large walls of red clay that have appeared due to erosion along riverbanks. Many parrot species gather there to consume clay.

You’re most likely to see macaws, Amazon parrots, and parakeets at clay licks because they’re native to these regions. The largest clay licks appear within the borders of Peru on the western Amazon basin.

The Peruvian government has tried to preserve their clay licks to enable parrots to act instinctively. Consequently, these areas are protected as nature reserves.

Are Clay Blocks Good for Parrots?

As pet parrots are exposed to the same plant-based diets as their wild counterparts, providing a clay block for parrots to detoxify their bodies could be beneficial.

Clay blocks offer the following health benefits:

Source of Calcium

Some parrots are deficient in calcium (hypocalcemia) because seeds have low calcium levels.

Parrots don’t eat dairy products because they lack the enzyme (lactase) responsible for breaking down lactose. Calcium deficiencies lead to the following problems:

  • Strong, healthy bones.
  • Muscle movement.
  • Nerve transmission.
  • Heart disorders.
  • Muscular pain and contractions.
  • Hypocalcemia.
  • High cholesterol.
  • Feather plucking.
  • Lack of coordination.
  • Rickets.
  • Weak eggshells.

Female parrots need more calcium to produce strong eggshells during the breeding season.

why do parrots eat clay?

Pesticide Protection

Pesticide poisoning can be fatal when parrots are exposed for prolonged periods.

Clay licks reduce the risk of pesticide poisoning by binding to the toxins, preventing them from being digested. Then, they’re excreted before they can cause health issues.

What Is The Best Clay for Parrots?

Bentonite is the safest clay for captive birds because it’s natural and highly absorbent. The best-known brand is Clay Cal Bentonite, which has the following benefits:

  • Source of supplemental minerals.
  • Toxic secondary compound absorption.
  • Protects the gastrointestinal tract from chemical irritation.
  • Increases the digestive system’s pH balance.
  • Higher levels of dietary calcium.
  • Protects against harmful bacteria and fungi.
  • Improved digestion.

Most owners provide Bentonite clay by sprinkling a teaspoon over their food. It works best on moist foods because water absorbs the clay, increasing the likelihood of consumption.

When parrots have cuts and scrapes, you can apply Bentonite clay to their wounds to draw out toxins, reducing the chances of bacterial infection.

You can turn Bentonite clay into a detoxifying drink. Mix a teaspoon of clay with 125 ml of water using a non-metallic spoon. Allow the mixture to settle overnight, leaving clay milk at the top.

Give this to a parrot in a shallow dish and change the water daily for freshness.