Why Feeding Junk Food to the Peacocks at the Zoo Is a Bad Idea

Updated on June 4, 2019
jenb0128 profile image

My rescued cockatiel runs my life, and I'm a volunteer at a wildlife rehabilitation center.

Peacock at the zoo asking for fries (he didn't get any from me).
Peacock at the zoo asking for fries (he didn't get any from me). | Source

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.

Nutrient Deficiencies

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.

A peahen (she didn't get any fries from me either).
A peahen (she didn't get any fries from me either). | Source

Other Considerations

  • 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 may be found 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.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.


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    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish MS 

      8 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      LOL - not take marshmallows into the zoo. What was I thinking?

    • jenb0128 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jennifer Bridges 

      8 years ago from Michigan

      Haha, well, I guess there's not much you can do when you have a thieving peacock like that!

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish MS 

      8 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      At the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago a few years back, I had an open bag of marshmallows in a paper sack. A peacock walked around me, stretched his neck and snapped his head into the sack and grabbed a marshmallow before I could react. Swallowed it whole. I was stunned.

    • jenb0128 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jennifer Bridges 

      8 years ago from Michigan

      Thank you! It always drives me crazy when I see people feeding junk to these birds. I've said something a few times, but I usually just get a "who are you?" look.

      Thanks for the comment and the votes!

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      8 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Voted awesome and up. These are very wise words. Zoos and petting parks post these signs for a reason and this information that jen has given is very true. Our food that has come about over the decades isn't even fit for us, so can you imagine what it will do to animals with different alimentary systems? It is a recipe for disaster. Thanks, jen for these wise words.


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