Many parrot owners are now well versed in foraging techniques for their birds. However, some of you may not be familiar with the concept or how to best incorporate it into your parrot’s routine. Foraging is simply the process of looking for and finding food. This natural process can be very different from one species to another, but the goal is always the same. In captivity, our parrots simply have to navigate perches to reach their food bowl. However, in their natural environments, birds can fly miles a day, spend hours stripping bask and leaves from trees, or search for that elusive seed or nut in the undergrowth on the forest floor. Studies have shown that in their natural environment, Orange Winged Amazons can spend up to eighteen hours a day foraging, whereas they can spend as little as thirty minutes eating in a caged environment. Our goal is to have our pet parrots spend those hours occupied in productive activities instead of destructive ones, such as feather destruction, self mutilation and screaming. Not only will foraging occupy your bird’s time, but it is also mentally stimulating. Given the choice of foraging for food or free feeding from a bowl, most birds will preferentially choose to forage.
Next we need to discuss how to introduce foraging to your parrot. Foraging does not have to be expensive to implement. It can be as simple or complex as you and your bird desire. Foraging should be a part of all parrots lives to provide as many opportunities for your bird to maximize his or her health and wellness. For some birds, this means simple in cage techniques and toys, while others will benefit from extensive foraging on a special foraging “tree” with multiple toys and feeding stations outside the cage.
You can begin foraging with simple items you may already have on hand at home. The most basic foraging involves switching from a single feeding bowl to multiple bowls scattered throughout the cage with food divided unequally between them. It is important to note here that this we are not promoting over feeding. We simply want you to divide the daily food intake into multiple bowls and toys in the cage. Ideally, some or all of these bowls should be movable to add even more variety. Next, cover the bowl with a plain piece of white typing paper. For quick learners, use plain masking tape to secure the paper around the sides of the bowl or tuck it under the bowl in the holder. Some birds may need you to poke a small hole or two in the paper to get them started. You can also hide non-perishable food in a bowl of wooden or plastic beads, ensuring the beads are too large for your bird to swallow.
Foraging is only limited by your imagination. Hang nuts in the shell, such as almonds or pecans, from perches with bird safe leather. Drill holes in an untreated wooden board and push nuts and other non-perishable food items into the holes. Hang the board from a perch or the cage bars. Place nuts, seeds, dried fruits, Nutriberries, or pellets in unwaxed Dixie cups or drinking water cones. Twist or fold the top and place in a bowl, toy, or hang in cage. These are one of my bird’s favorites! Wrap non-perishable food items in corn husks, tie with bird safe rope or leather and hang or hide in the cage or on the tree. Small, plain white or brown paper lunch sacks also make great foraging toys.
If your bird loves foraging like mine does, there are dozens of foraging toys available to purchase. These range from simple wooden bowls with lids to complex boxes with multiple nuts and bolts or keys to open. Another simple toy that is a big hit with most birds is a clear acrylic tube with PVC caps that has small holes or slits drilled in multiple places. The slits need to be large enough for the tip of the beak and the tongue to reach in to manipulate the food. These can be small tubes used as foot toys or larger tubes that can be hung via a hole in the cap. For a more in-depth look at foraging, stop by the clinic for a copy of “Captive Foraging” DVD by Scott Echols, DVM, ABVP Diplomate (Avian). See the following website list for these and other foraging ideas.
Beth R. Rodney, DVM