Notes on the preparation
of the caique's favorite foods
Apple. Some caiques like apples, but most get bored with them if they are served too regularly. I serve them as a coarse dice leaving on the skins. You may feed the whole fruit if you do not mind it going to waste. An entertaining use of apple peels resulting from your regular human cooking is to drape a few over their cage bars. The bird will drag them off and chew on them. I usually remove the seeds, but this is probably not necessary when you consider that one of the reasons the Carolina Parakeet was considered an agricultural pest was that it would destroy whole apples just to get at the seeds (Holmes, 1857).
Banana. Most caiques do not like bananas. They do seem to like the sweetened dried bananas.
Blackberries. They love them, but you will have a blue splatter decor if you feed too many. No preparation required, just add a few of them to the bowl. Be prepared for blue droppings.
Blueberries. Prepare same as for blackberries. Like blackberries, they can make a big mess with them.
Broccoli and cauliflower. Most caiques will eat broccoli and, to a lesser extent, cauliflower. Break off the florets and serve, but do not forget the stalks. Slice the stalks into sticks and serve them too. These vegetables belong to a larger group called either the cruciferous or brassica group of vegetables. This group includes the cabbages, kale, mustard greens, rutabagas, and turnips. You can feed all of these to your birds.
Cherries. Not all caiques like these, but those that do, love them. Just drop the whole cherries in the bowl. To get them started, you sometimes have to cut them in half to expose the flesh. Caiques cannot crack the pits, so there is no need to seed them.
Corn. Caiques like both fresh and frozen corn on the cob. They tend to turn up their bill at canned corn. You do not need to cook corn. If frozen on the cob is used, let it defrost over night in the refrigerator. To serve corn on the cob, chop it into chunks that they can pick up with their claws. Giving them a whole ear is wasteful. Chopping chunks of corn on the cob requires a little skill. You need a large heavy knife and a cutting board. It is easiest to cut it across the diameter of the cob. To cut, place the tip of the knife on the board, and then rotate it down on the cob using the palm of your other hand to press through the cob. (I have seen special devices made of plastic for cutting corn-on-the-cob that work on this same principle.) If the cob seems particularly tough, microwave it for 1½ minute to make it easier to cut. If you are providing fresh corn on the cob, be sure to inspect it carefully. Discolored kernels are a sign of fungal infection and that cob should be discarded. Finally, give the husk to the birds for them to play with.
Carrots. Andy, one of my males, loves carrots every way they are prepared both fresh and cooked. The rest of my caiques are less enthusiastic. Usually they just chew carrots into tiny pieces without taking much nourishment from them. Chop carrots any way you please so that they can pick it up in their claw. If you buy carrots with tops, give them too. The tops can be hung in the cage at perch level to provide entertainment in addition to nourishment.
Cheese. I give each bird a ½ inch cube of mild yellow cheddar cheese daily. Most, but not all caiques like cheese. Some are especially fond of it and you need to limit it because of its fat content. Do not spend too much money on cheese. The chief factor affecting caique cheese preference is color. They prefer yellow and ignore the white cheeses.
Cranberries. A major favorite! I just pick over the berries to remove the brown and soft ones and serve. Caiques tend to waste these, they like the little seeds more than the flesh. Still, they like them so much I buy a few extra bags while they are in season and freeze them. They even like them after they become soft after thawing.
Flowers. For a change in pace you can feed your birds flowers. Some varieties of nasturtiums are grown for their edible flowers. You may give these to your birds. Other flowers that can be served are pansies, roses, hibiscus and marigolds. Be sure the flowers have not been sprayed with insecticide.
Grapes. One of the standard fresh fruits I serve my birds. The availability of grapes does not seem to be affected by season like many other fruits. Normally I feed table grapes, but you can feed the viniferous or wine grapes too. Caiques tend to prefer table grapes. The chief factor, however, seems to be sweetness. So, if you have a choice, buy the sweetest grapes. Do not worry about the color or whether they have seeds. For some unknown reason, parrots tend to avoid intact grapes. So, my one serving instruction is to slice grapes in half until they accept them whole. Sliced grapes are particularly useful for weaning chicks onto solid foods. A grape is one of the first foods my babies eat by themselves.
If you feed grapes, you need to exercise more caution than with other fruits. Molds growing on them may produce a mycotoxin called ochratoxin A. Ochratoxin A is a nephrotoxin as well as carcinogenic for people. Chickens fed ochratoxin A develop kidney and liver diseases (Kimar, 2004; Verma, 2004). Thus, it is particularly important to avoid feeding grapes infested with molds or do not look normal.
Greens. Most commercially available greens belong to either the brassica (Brassicaceae) or goosefoot (Chenopodiaceae) families. Cabbage, kale and radishes are brassicas, while beets, chard, and spinach are chenopodias. I do not usually put these in the bird’s fruit bowl. These should be placed near their favorite perch. To serve greens with long stems like Swiss chard, I lower the stem through the bars on the top of the cage so they dangle supported by the bulk of the leaf. They will usually chew on the stems, then pull the leaf through and chew on it. If you have a shelf or clip in the cage they may be used. While on Swiss Chard, this is one instance in which caiques do not prefer the red form. I suspect it looks too much like a snake.
Kiwi. Not every caique likes the kiwi fruit. The ones that do, however, relish them. To serve, leave on the skin and cut them into foot-sized wedges. To a caique, the little black seeds are the best part.
Mango. I slice mangos the same as when I prepare them for myself, i.e., slice parallel to the flat side of the fruit along the large flat seed to remove the pulp. Leave the hide on and slice into chunks and serve. One word of caution, some people are allergic to the skin of this fruit.
Melons. Caiques are not very fond of melons. They do like a piece of sweet watermelon on occasion. Just like humans, they eat the red part and leave the rind. Chop into chunks. Be sure to leave the seeds in.
“Nectar.” In the wild, caiques take nectar from flowers. Nectar is a solution comprised mostly of glucose and fructose, but caiques also seem to like sucrose, i.e., regular table sugar. Caiques will accept the commercial nectars meant for lories, and this is a good choice if they are not getting complete nourishment from their regular diet. I provide my pet caiques with a few teaspoons of ginger ale or clear juice such as cranberry juice in a small cup as a treat when they are out on their stand.
Nuts. Caiques like all kinds of nuts. Just avoid the salted ones. You should not feed too many because of their high fat content. Caiques need to have the harder shelled nuts cracked for them. They can open peanuts easily. One of the nuts I like to give occasionally are almonds in the shell. They can get into the nut, but it is a challenge that can entertain them for a long time. I give nuts as a treat. Even my breeders take them directly from my hand. A reliable sign that my breeders are going to nest, is when the female refuses this treat.
Okra. This is one vegetable that some caiques relish and others dislike. They prefer the older pods over the young pods. I once came across some large spiny pods at a farmer’s market. They were a great hit with my birds even though most humans would not have tolerated them. This is probably because the birds prefer the seeds. To prepare okra, cut it either across the diameter to form disks or lengthwise in quarters. When preparing my fresh food bowls, I always prepare okra and hot peppers last. The reason for doing okra last is the slime it leaves on the knife. The birds probably do not care, but I like to wash my knife before I slice other foods.
Oranges and Grapefruits. Oranges, grapefruits, kumquats and occasionally lemon are accepted by caiques. As with all fruits, caiques tend to prefer the sweeter citrus fruits. Like apples, chop them into “foot-sized” chunks. I tried blood oranges once, but these were not accepted. I suspect they were not sweet enough. You should limit the amount of citrus you feed. Some feel feeding too much citrus fruit or other foods rich in vitamin C leads to an increase iron absorption and an iron storage disease called hemochromatosis. This needs further substantiation.
Papaya. This is one fruit that is hard to know when to buy. Often it is picked too early and arrives in the store so green it never develops a good sweet taste. This is particularly true of the larger papayas varieties. Unless you live where they grow, avoid the large fruits. Of the two smaller varieties that are normally available, caiques prefer the sweeter orange fleshed form over the yellow fleshed form. The problem is that often one cannot distinguish them apart until they are cut. Most papayas are picked and shipped before they have ripened. Sometimes, they have been in the store long enough to be ripe, but equally as often they are still green. A good quality ripe papaya should be blemish free and barely soft in your hand. If it is still hard, allow it to sit at room temperature, preferably in a paper bag, until it just starts to turn yellow and soften. To prepare it, slice it in half lengthwise to expose the seeds. Do not peel. Cut into chunks, and serve it seeds and all. The birds will eat the flesh and drop the skin and most of the seeds.
Peas. The best peas for caiques are sugar snap peas. Shell peas in the pod are accepted, but they prefer them young and sweet. They like snow peas, but since the bird only eats the seed, these are a waste. Snap peas are almost always sweet and their seeds nice and plump. They are also easy to prepare. Just drop them in the bowl. I find they do not particularly like the frozen or canned shelled peas.
Peppers. Caiques have a taste for peppers--both the mild and hot varieties. Dried chilies are often sold in bird shops. There are two general rules covering the caique’s preferences in peppers. They like them red and they like them with plenty of seeds. Of the mild ones, they prefer the red bell peppers. They chew out the flesh and leave the skin. But they have a special fondness for the seeds. Anytime you are preparing peppers for yourself, always save the inner core of seeds for your birds. The red colored hot peppers are the most preferred, but they will eat the long green seed filled chilies too. Do not worry that feeding your parrot hot peppers is cruel. Birds do not have the same response to them as mammals (Kaiser, 1999). In fact, it is thought that the existence of capsaicin in hot peppers evolved as a way for the plant to limit its eating to birds (Tewksbury, 2001). Indeed, studies at the Virginia Tech Univeristy indicate that when capsaicin is fed to chickens it protects them from Salmonella enterididis. This is one of the bacterial species that causes food poisoning of people. Because only birds seem to be able to tolerate hot peppers, some people add them or their juice to their wild birdseed to keep the squirrels and other vermin from eating it. (The hot Chinese type mustard is the only food I have noticed that gets the bird shaking its head in revulsion.) As with the other foods, chop them into chunks. Take care not to touch your eyes, nose, lips and your personal mucosal surfaces after you have prepared the hot varieties. If you feed the red ones, do not be alarmed when you see red droppings.
Persimmon. There are reports that persimmon can be toxic for parrots (Clipsham, 1998). I have not had any problem, but this may be because I only feed them occasionally and in small amounts. This is because they are very messy to prepare. This fruit has to be very soft before they can be served to either birds or humans. If it is not, it is very astringent. It is best when it is allowed to ripen on the tree and picked just after it softens. Even then, be sure that it is completely soft before offering them to your birds or eating them yourself. Most people, however, have to buy persimmons at their local market. The fruit offered there is almost always hard and very astringent. There are two ways to make these persimmons edible. The first way is to allow it to sit at room temperature until completely soft. The second way is to freeze it solid, then allow it to defrost completely. Either way you do it, its flesh will become jelly-like. To serve it to my birds, I do my best to chop it into suitable portions trying to keep it in the fruit’s skin. This can be a challenge.
Pomegranate. This is a major favorite but messy. Pomegranates are usually only commercially available in the autumn unless you are lucky enough to live in a warm area and have your own tree or bush. To serve these, I use a large knife and slice them in half. I then place the cut side of the half on the cutting board and slice it into sections and then across the sections to form wedges or some semblance of wedges. I slice them this way because pomegranates are very juicy and during the slicing the juice gets sprayed all around. You can prevent this by trying to keep all the slices together with your hand while you are cutting. I drop the wedges, hide and all into the bowls. This is another fruit I prepare last because it is so messy. The juices will run all over if you are not careful. Pomegranate seeds, or rather the dried fruit cells, are available at Indian groceries under the name anardana seeds. Alternatively, you can freeze the fruit cells. To do this, make shallow incisions through the hide so as to not cut the cells. Then submerge the fruit under water and remove the hide. The juice laden seed cells will sink and separate from the husk remnants.
Prickly pear or Cactus pear. The prickly pear is the fruit of the Opuntia genus of cactus. There are several species of this cactus. The fruit from all of them are edible for humans. Some are sweeter than others and these are the ones we occasionally find in our northern markets. As for most fruits, chop them, hide and all, into foot sized chunks.
Pumpkin. While it is hard to persuade caiques to partake of the gargantuan Halloween pumpkins, they do like the small mini-pumpkins. I give these a quick heating in a microwave oven for 30 seconds. Then I chop it into foot sized pieces seeds and all.
Raspberries. Raspberries are another major favorite. They like the red and black ones better than the yellow ones. No preparation required. I give these as treats. The main problem with raspberries, as with blackberries and blueberries, is the mess.
Soybeans. I sometimes serve fresh soybeans, not the dried ones. These will not be accepted unless they are cooked. To prepare them, blanch the whole unshelled bean for five minutes in boiling water. Cool and keep in the refrigerator until ready to serve. These are a nice treat for people too. In recent years, feeding soy based products to birds has come under fire. Some suggest that soy is a source of unwanted hormones and toxins capable of seriously affecting parrots (Chamberlain, 2003).
Sprouted seeds. I occasionally give my caiques sprouts, but they tend to ignore them. If you provide these you should be warned. Organically grown sprouts have been linked to people acquiring Escherichia coli O157:H7 and Salmonella. This bacterium can cause death of the very young, the elderly and immuno- compromised persons. This is probably one case where you best avoid products labeled as organically grown. There is no way of completely avoiding these bacteria without the use of some chemical agent. If you plan on growing your bird sprouts, pretreat the seeds with calcium hypochlorite (not bleach which is sodium hypochlorite) to reduce the danger of contracting these deadly bacteria.
Strawberries. These are a major favorite, but wasteful treat. Caiques like the little seeds on the outer surface and seldom eat the berry itself. Leave the stem on and cut the larger berries into pieces they can handle with their claws.
Sweet potatoes and Yams. Sweet potatoes and yams may be served either raw or cooked. Just chop it into “bite” sized pieces.
Tomatoes. The tomatoes’ seeds are what caiques like best, and cherry tomatoes have more than regular tomatoes. When I serve cherry tomatoes, I just cut them in half. I chop larger tomatoes into chunks. Be sure to remove stems since they are thought to be toxic. As per their normal color preference, red is best.
Twigs and buds. Some parrot owners, especially in Europe