Why Feeding Junk Food to the Peacocks at the Zoo is a Bad Idea
Even though peafowl are not native to the United States, many Americans still have contact with them at zoos, parks and petting farms, where free-ranging peacocks and peahens may roam the grounds. Thanks to their colorful iridescent plumage and friendly dispositions, these birds have many fans.
Most zoos and parks have signs posted asking visitors to please not feed the animals, but many people choose to ignore the warnings so they can interact with the peacocks and see them up close. During my last trip to the zoo, I personally witnessed several people tossing french fries to the peacocks. A quick YouTube search brought up videos of people feeding them popcorn, pizza, cheetos, and corn chips. Unfortunately, when you feed junk food to these birds, you're causing them harm.
The table scraps people usually feed to peafowl are high in starch and low in actual nutrition. Most zoos and parks set up peacock feeding stations that have plenty of the birds' nutrient rich foods. However, if the peafowl fill up on high-carbohydrate, high-fat, low-nutrient junk, they aren't going to eat much of their real food, if any at all. As you may imagine, this leads to nutrient deficiencies, just like eating fast food for every meal of every day will lead to malnutrition in humans. Of course, this can make the birds more susceptible to infections, weight gain, heart disease, and other health problems. If juvenile birds primarily eat junk food, they don't grow and develop properly.
Fatty Liver Disease
Any animal that has a liver can get fatty liver disease (large amounts of fat in the liver), and this includes birds. When a bird has this disease, he may have difficulty breathing due to the enlarged liver pressing on other organs, his skin may be itchy, and he may develop diarrhea. When the disease becomes advanced, central nervous system problems (and even death) may occur.
What causes it? Primarily nutrient deficiencies and a high-fat diet.
- When people regularly feed the peafowl, the birds congregate where people are eating (such as a food court), because it improves the odds the birds will get a handout. Birds are great, but as anybody who has owned a bird or worked with birds will tell you, they poop. A lot. They drop it wherever they happen to be when they have to go. Bacteria, viruses, and parasites can grow in bird poop. Do you really want that all over the ground in your eating area?
- A common myth is that bread expands in birds' stomachs and kills them. While this is untrue, too much bread can cause an impaction in the crop.
- Some foods, such as chocolate and avocado, don't just lead to malnutrition. They are flat out toxic to birds.
- If birds become too used to receiving handouts, they can sometimes become aggressive with humans. When this happens, the loser is almost always the animal.
- As with humans, an occasional bite of junk food may not be harmful for a peacock. However, thousands of people may visit a major zoo on any given day, and if only ten percent of them give junk to the birds, that adds up to hundreds of french fries or chips. Please keep that in mind if you're tempted to think, "Oh, one french fry won't hurt the bird."
Some zoos and parks sell pellets and cracked corn that you can safely feed the peacocks. Even if your local zoo does not do this, the birds are usually used to being around people, so you can take photos and enjoy them without feeding them junk and potentially making them sick.