All About Foraging!

How important is foraging? In the wild parrots exhibit four main behaviors: socializing, grooming, sleeping, and foraging. Most of the day, over two thirds, is spent foraging for food. In captivity, however, our pets rarely spend time foraging. Why? Because we serve them their food on a silver platter. What's the result? A fat bird! A bored bird! A perch potato! Many birds whose minds are not stimulated with toys and foraging opportunities become feather pluckers, self mutilating themselves. A little known fact is feather plucking can be "treated" with foraging toys and activities. It may or may not "cure" the bird, but either way the destructive behaviors should improve. So how can we as parrot owners provide foraging fun for our pets? Here are some suggestions:

  • First, the bird may be a little rusty on his foraging skills, so it is our job to teach him. You'll probably have to show him where the treats/food is.
  • Second, for the "lazy" bird, why would he bother working for food if he has a full bowl of goodies? I'm not saying its always a good idea to remove the food bowl entirely, at least not at first. But limit the amount of food you put in and save treats for foraging. You can also try covering the food bowl with a paper towel and rubber band (at first make a little hole so he can see whats inside, once he gets it you can stop making holes).
  • Hide food. I cut up small portions of paper and put a few nuts or dried fruit in the center. Then I roll it up like a candy wrapper and hide these throughout Nani's cage, rarely in the same spots. To make her work a bit harder I will use paper cups (the cone kind) to wrap up the treats because its a little tougher to chew open.
  • Buy little cardboard boxes (or wooden boxes with no metal hardware) from the craft store to fill. For added entertainment, fill it with shredded paper so he has to dig for the food.
  • Find pine cones outside (only where you are absolutely positive there has been no pesticides used) and stuff nuts, pellets, and other goodies inside. You can hang these from a string (see video below) so the bird has to figure out how to get at it.
  • Once he learns how to forage, don't always put a food item inside. This will keep him guessing.
  • Get some natural branches to stick in or around his cage and skewer some grapes or other favorites in various spots so they have to climb around to get them. WARNING: Make sure you choose branches that are bird safe. Here's a list of safe/unsafe plants.
  • Other possible foraging containers are: egg cartons, brown paper bags, cereal boxes, coffee filters, corn husks/tamale wrapping, plastic colored eggs (you can make holes in them), natural wicker baskets (no paint or stains), small plastic containers.

Here are a few videos of Nani with some handmade foraging toys I made. One is a pinecone with bits of nuts and dried fruit stuck inside, and the other is a paper cup with a treat in it. In the first video you can see she is interested but doesn't know how to get at the treat. She gets frustrated and climbs away to play for awhile. In the second video, taken a few hours later, she decides to give it another try and this time she's rewarded for her efforts!

Below are some commercially available foraging toys to try:

Coco Cup Buffet

parrot foraging toy made of cocont halves

Tiki Takeout
Parrot foraging toy in the shape of a tiki hut

Barrel Of Fun

Barrel of fun faraging toy, fill with nuts Parrot Treasure

See through treasure chest filled with foraging items for parrots Learn 'n Turn Logs

Foraging cups that screw shut for birds to open Birdie Plunk

Plunk foraging toy system

Quaker Jack Pizza

Destructable cardboard box filled with treats parrot toy

More foraging resources:


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Pretty Birdie
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(variation) Whatcha Doin'?
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