Foraging for food in the wild is a major activity for birds, and can consume up to eight hours of their natural day. Foraging not only provides them with life-sustaining nutrition, it also keeps them active and entertained throughout the day. Many of the larger birds organize their entire day around foraging. Wild parrots will literally dig, tear, rip, and root their way around for food.
Unlike wild parrots, parrots in captivity always have food available. Most often, it’s a quantity of food they wouldn’t finish in two days, let alone one. What used to be a day long adventure (foraging) has now been replaced with the simple act of navigating to the bottomless food dish. No wonder so many parrots have behavioral problems – we’ve stripped them of what they have been hard wired to do! Bird owners can vastly enrich parrots’ lives by simply implementing some low cost, basic foraging materials that would replicate their natural activities.
Be creative. Mix and match commercially available foraging systems with homemade toys that encourage foraging activity. Following are some ideas for the beginning forager.
- Use paper. Printer paper, newspaper, or even construction paper work well. You can crumple the paper and hide a treat inside, cover the food dish with a sheet of paper, or learn a few simple origami designs to hide treats. Finding food in paper is a great activity for beginning foragers.
- Small cardboard boxes. Tea and cereal boxes are great for smaller to mid-sized birds. You can hide favorite treats in smaller boxes and have the bird chew its way through the cardboard to reveal the treat inside. For a larger box, stuff the box with shredded paper, sprinkle with seed, and watch your birds go to town as they root around in the box to find the food.
- Paper cups. Crumple them with a treat inside. Or string multiple cups on a length of wire, chain, or sturdy cotton rope, so two cup open ends are facing each other, and hide a treat inside each cup. Then hang in your bird’s cage.
- Coffee filters are a favorite in this household. Bleached or not, organic or not, they have a great and engaging texture.
- Paper towel rolls can be cut into small segments and used to hide treats and other foodstuffs.
- Food bowls. Instead of having one food bowl in the cage as the primary source of food, mix things up a little. Have two or more bowls in the cage, placed away from each other and containing a small amount of food. This way your bird will have to work its way to each bowl to eat its fill.
- Whiffle balls, especially the slotted type, are great for stuffing with items such as shredded paper, craft sticks, and anything else you can think of that your bird might enjoy. The birds will delight in having to extract the item they want to play with from the ball.
- Nut cages are a great and relatively inexpensive option for the serious forager. You can fill them with toys, nuts, or other food items so your bird has to really work for its treat. Nut cages are refillable and reusable, which makes them a great long term investment.
- Popsicle sticks can be used as foraging treats as well. Put them over your bird’s food dish to provide a challenge to overcome when trying to reach its food. You can tape down the sticks with cloth tape from the first- aid section of your local store.
- Invest in some foraging systems. There are many types out there now, since the recent popularity and importance of foraging has come to light. Many systems double as toys, so your bird can get foraging and enrichment at the same time.
I hope you find these ideas useful and that they will give sway to your creative side to come out and play. Remember, no idea is too simple and just because it might not look pretty doesn’t mean it won’t produce an effective tool. Some of the most enriching forms have come from some pretty ugly prototypes!
Emily Trimnal is a Certified Avian Specialist, a Level 2 Aviculturist with the American Federation of Aviculture, and a regular contributor to PetGazette. Her bird blog is Emily’s Birds. She also blogs at ashevilleblog.com.