Overweight parrot plays foraging games

Savannah the macaw parrotPerched on her caregiver’s arm in the Parrot Garden yard with her blue and gold feathers shimmering in the sun, Savannah is an impressive-looking parrot. When caregiver Lisa Englund begins moving her arm up and down, Savannah starts flapping her long, luxurious wings. She’s essentially flying in place while using the muscles in her legs and body to stay balanced on Lisa’s arm.

The exercise, which looks a little like a parrot Zumba party, is part of a new regimen to improve Savannah’s health and quality of life. Flapping her wings like this for five minutes, three to four times a day, is good for her heart and lungs. It will also help her shed the extra weight she’s been carrying around.

Lifestyle changes for an overweight parrot

The 24-year-old parrot recently had surgery and recovered beautifully, but the avian specialist who did the surgery suggested that she was a little "well-padded" — and that it wasn’t all fluff and feathers. Savannah is a large macaw to begin with, and since she has a slightly bigger frame than most of her fellow macaws, she is naturally a bit heavier. But the size difference wasn’t enough to account for all the extra weight she was carrying. To get into tiptop shape, the overweight parrot would have to make a major lifestyle change

Savannah had made a significant dietary shift when she came to the Sanctuary a little less than two years ago. Up until then, she had lived all her life in a home where she’d eaten a steady diet of seeds and nuts. When her person went into hospice, Savannah transitioned to a diet of birdie “chop” (a mixture of fresh vegetables, cooked grains and beans, herbs and other greens) and pellets, which is healthier for parrots and more nutritionally complete.

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Parrot plays foraging games

Now, Savannah would have to change her diet again, but this time she would change how she ate instead of what she was eating. Savannah still gets her delicious veggie chop three times a day. She also gets 15-20 birdie pellets daily, but instead of eating them from a boring old bowl, she’s playing foraging games to find them.

Foraging for food is especially good for Savannah because, besides helping her lose weight by keeping her body moving, it’s a form of parrot enrichment that also gets her mind working. Savannah is motivated to forage — not just to get her tasty food treats, but also because it is an entertaining and fun activity for the intelligent bird.

Since Savannah was a beginner at parrot foraging, at first her caregivers made it easy for her. They simply hid the pellets around her enclosure in tiny paper cups. At first all she had to do was find the cups and dip her beak into them, but now that’s she’s an expert, she’s learning how to solve more difficult problems. Her caregivers are now making her fancy macaw-foraging toys with pieces of parrot-safe wood and bells. The cups are strung together with the toys so that Savannah has to figure out how to move parts of the toy, and tear the paper to get at the food.

Savannah was a beginner at parrot foraging

Better than dieting

Savannah has also been playing around in Parrot Garden’s new “biggest loser” suite — an outdoor enclosure that’s like a jungle gym, with lots of fun things to climb on, play with and explore. It was designed to help improve the Savannah’s health, but it can also help any other birds in Parrot Garden who may be a little too “fluffy” for their own good.

Savannah still has a long way to go to reach her weight loss goal. Since beginning her new regimen a few months ago she’s lost about a third of the weight she needs to shed. But she’s staying busy flapping and foraging her way to better fitness, and all the extra entertainment and attention sure beats dieting.

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Savannah going to Parrot Garden’s new “biggest loser” suite

Photos by Kurt Budde