Recently I noticed a new dietary supplement for parrots which is based on their ability to self-medicate in their natural environment. The product Herb Salad® is said to help prevent illnesses and deficiencies that can arise from captivity. Would you recommend this as addition to my parrot’s regular diet and what can you tell us about self- medication of parrots in the wild?
I always enjoy a question that directs me to a product that is new to me! Having read about Herb Salad®, I can certainly see how bird owners may be tempted to add it to what they already feed their birds. It would appear that all the products that show up in the salad are safe for ingestion by birds and I see that the product gets around the fact that not all birds are exposed to all the items in their individual natural environments by suggesting that the bird will selectively eat the items that it needs, when it needs it. To me, therein lies the debate.
We are all familiar with examples of birds seeking out an item for ingestion (the salt licks in Costa Rica for example) where we know the birds must intuitively be seeking something that they are not getting anywhere else. But to suggest that the bird ‘instinctively know that medicinal plants are a necessary part of its diet’ seems a bit of an extrapolation. Whether birds actively seek out specific items, in addition to what they normally eat, in response to ‘not feeling well’ is debatable. I think that birds can learn to seek an item when the item is available and selectively pick an item if there are choices to be made, but I would wonder whether a bird eats item ‘x’ because it has symptom ‘y’. If one extrapolates at all from our pet birds, we all know that birds will choose the food item they want rather than the one they need!
Having said that, during times of stress or duress, including disease and traditional medicating, I do not think that it is wrong to ‘boost the immune system’ with natural supplements, keeping in mind that just as with people, one should make sure that the naturopathic supplement is not contraindicated with any medications or supplements that the bird is already taking. It is always good protocol to run any new supplement past your bird veterinarian prior to using it so that each case can be assessed individually.
The caveat ‘do no harm’ applies. If you have done your due diligence and you know that the items in the herb salad are not in any way contraindicated in your pet bird, go ahead and offer the herb salad. It would be an interesting study to find out if the items a bird chooses from the salad are, in fact, items that would naturally be available to that bird or if, given the whole salad to choose from, it selectively picks the items that it likes the taste of best!
Dr. Kerry Korber B.A., D.V.M.