James, C., Nicholls, A., Freeman, M. et al. 2021. Should zoo foods be chopped: Macaws for consideration. Journal of Zoo and Aquarium Research, 9(4), 200-207.
Globally, many zoological collections provide their animals with diets that are chopped into small chunks, yet there is limited empirical research to measure the benefits of this practice. Preparing chopped diets takes considerable amounts of zookeeper time, and may affect both the nutritional quality and desiccation of the food. While keepers have suggested that chopped foods could reduce aggression, recent studies have suggested that the inverse is true for a range of zoo-housed mammals. Additionally, whole food items may have benefits in terms of increased food manipulation and processing. Many food presentation studies have been conducted on mammals, yet similar studies on other taxa are sparse. To test the impact of food presentation, we provided two pairs of blue and gold macaws Ara ararauna with either chopped or whole fruit as part of their normal feed rations. Macaw behaviour was measured using instantaneous focal sampling, with continuous recording of events; fruit consumption and keeper preparation time for diets was also recorded. Overall, keepers spent significantly more time preparing diets containing chopped fruit (P<0.001). Birds appeared to eat more when provided with whole food (21.66 g) rather than chopped (15.52 g), but this was not significant (P=0.206). Macaw activity budgets remained relatively consistent irrespective of food presentation, however, a few key behaviours increased in frequency, including podomanipulation (P<0.001) and allofeeding (P<0.001) when whole food was provided, whereas resting behaviour significantly decreased (P<0.001). Not only are keepers able to save time when providing their macaws with whole food, but the macaws also appear to spend more time engaging with their meal, and therefore less time inactive. Future studies could determine whether whole foods can improve the activity budgets of other frugivorous zoo-housed birds.