The importance of food waste in parrots


Perhaps you have noticed it in parrots present in aviary, these birds do not hesitate to waste their food by eating with ‘negligence’. Many pieces of food end up ejected from the bowls and end up on the ground.

This food waste plays an important role in nature and contributes to reforestation. Many scientists have recently taken an interest in this behavior in various species, conducting studies directly in the ecosystems in which they live.

We note after this research that the Psittaciformes opt for a very different dispersal system from those used by other bird species. Most fruit-eating birds such as some passerines, trogons or even toucans, known to be seed “dispersers”, will systematically swallow the fruits and disperse the seeds once the food has been digested.

Parrots on the other hand will essentially destroy and manipulate the fruits so that some of the seeds fall to the ground. Recent observations also show that parrots carry fruits, seeds and dates in their beaks and sometimes travel several kilometers with food (photo 1). This action directly participates in the dispersal of the seeds since pieces of them inevitably end up falling into the air and end up on the ground.

Once fallen to the ground, the seeds will gradually germinate to give birth to a plant which will in turn give seeds, fruits, dates, etc.

It is for this reason that the Rewilding Argentina Foundation, supported by the PWLF, is involved in the reintroduction of the Red-winged Macaw in Argentina. The lack of seed dispersal by macaws had a strong impact on the primary forests of the Ibera Park nature reserve.

Scientific studies illustrate to what extent scientists are constantly questioning themselves and especially how much we still have to learn from the living that surrounds us. This is why the PWLF is active in the conservation of Psittaciformes in nature, in addition to the safeguard of a given species it is all the sustainability of an ecosystem that is preserved.

Parrots play an important ecological role, they have a key role in the functioning and maintenance of biodiversity not only in their natural ecosystem but also in regions where they have been introduced by humans.

Of the 400 recorded species of Psittaciformes, found in tropical ecosystems around the world, only the vasa parrot (Coracopsis nigra) and the toui tirica (Brotogeris tirica) had been considered seed dispersers. Indeed, in the years 1999 to 2008, numerous observations show that these two species regularly carried seeds in flight in their beaks.

This quickly led scientists to believe that only these two species exhibited these behaviors, then considered unheard of in other species and therefore unusual in Psittaciformes. However, the vasa parrot is one of the most ancestral species of parrots while the touis are among the most recent species if we refer to the phylogenic tree of the parrot family. By taking this into account, we then imply that this behavior has been preserved through the evolution and diversification of species.

It is also important to consider that many of these species are difficult to observe when foraging in the canopy, mainly for logistical reasons due to the complexity of access to feeding areas. This is why for many years we had little information allowing us to confirm that the majority of species participate in the replanting of trees.

As shown in the photo above, this first hypothesis could quickly be called into question. Indeed, we observe among this group of macaw de lafresnaye (Ara rubrogenys) that one of the individuals carries corn in its beak.

This photo has therefore aroused the curiosity of many scientists who have gathered to study this phenomenon more seriously in other species of Psittaciformes. Since 2012, hundreds of observations have been made, making it possible today to advance with certainty that parrots participate in the dispersal of seeds, using their beak or their legs. These observations were carried out on more than 28 species, among 16 different genera, which offers a significant diversity compared to the first hypothesis.

In total, more than 94 species of plants, palms and cultivated plants benefit from this replanting. These data were also recorded in 7 different countries (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Peru and Spain) comprising mainly parrots of neotropical species but also African and Asian parrots considered to be invasive in Spain.

These species also cover a wide variety of ecosystems ranging from Argentina’s primary forests to the Andean mountains through the wettest regions of the Amazon as well as the driest areas of the Brazilian Caatinga see urban environments as in Spain.

Article entirely taken from the Parrot Wildlife Foundation website:

Cover photo:


  • Conserving the Diversity of Ecological Interactions: The Role of Tow Threatened Macaw species as Legitimate Dispersers of “Megafaunal” Fruits – José L. Tella, Fernando Hiraldo, Erica C. Pacifico, Guillermo Blanco (…).
  • Internal seed dispersal by parrots: An overview of an neglected mutualism – José L. Tella, Fernando Hiraldo, Erica C. Pacifico, Guillermo Blanco (…).
  • Parrot as overlooked seed dispersers – José L. Tella, Adrian Baños-Villalba, Dailos Hernández-Britos, Abraham Rojas, Erica C. Pacifico, José A Diaz Luque, Martina Carrete, Guillermo Blanco, Fernando Hiraldo


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