Should we naturalise food presentation styles for zoo-housed parrots? Macaws we should!


This brilliant project was submitted to the BIAZA ‘Behaviour & Welfare’ category 2022 and won a Gold award.

Congratulations to University Centre Sparsholt Lecturers,  Marianne Freeman, Kerry Hunt and James Brereton!

A collaboration between Sparsholt College Group, Beale Wildlife Park and Shepreth Wildlife Park

Chop chop! As part of their busy lives, zookeepers provide best-practice care for their animals, and one part of their role is diet preparation. Diets containing chopped food items are provided to a range of zoo animal species, yet it isn’t always clear why the food needs to be chopped. In the wild, many animal species, such as macaws, find their food in large pieces or encased in tough shells.

To investigate the value of chopping foods, students and researchers at University Centre Sparsholt investigated the behaviour of blue and gold macaws (Ara ararauna) at Beale Wildlife Park and Shepreth Wildlife Park. Here, the birds were provided with either chopped or whole fruit items in a randomised schedule. In addition to behaviour, researchers recorded the amount of food eaten, and also the amount of keeper time taken to prepare the diets.

The study revealed that food manipulation behaviour increased when foods were provided in whole form. Food consumption was slightly (but non-significantly) increased when whole foods were given. Excitingly, male macaws were observed engaging in significantly more bouts of allo-feeding for whole food observations. This behaviour is normally associated with pair bonding in parrots and macaws. No significant changes were observed in the prevalence of resting, aggression or preening behaviours, however.

Overall, these results suggest that some of the anecdotal risks of providing whole food, such as increased aggression, may not occur. Macaws may actually benefit from whole food provision, as shown by the increased prevalence of allo-feeding behaviour.

This presents an opportunity for zookeepers to save themselves time whilst also enriching the lives of their parrots. Evidence collected from these food presentation changes could help to better understand this trend across a wider range of psittacines. This project was in collaboration with Beale Wildlife Park, Shepreth Wildlife Park and Sparsholt College Hampshire (SCH). It was submitted to the BIAZA ‘Behaviour & Welfare’ category 2022, and won a Gold Award. A full paper can be found on the Journal of Zoo and Aquarium Research page at