Though your parrot has become an integral part of the family, they still have the wild instincts of their ancestors that make foraging an important part of their daily life. The act of foraging is when your bird goes on the hunt for their food or plays with a stimulating toy that allows them to pursue something with an intent to capture, these actions keep their mind stimulated and ensure they are not stagnant in their cage.
Parrots are highly intelligent creatures that love a puzzle. As you integrate foraging activities into your bird’s life you will want to monitor them to see what they prefer and how they react to the new games and items in their world. Here are some ideas that you can incorporate into your parrot’s life to open them up to the world of foraging.
Parrots and the Benefits of Foraging
When parrots are idle in their cage, it can lead to problem behaviours so it is important to offer them opportunities to test their mental capacity and release extra energy. In the wild, parrots spend the majority of their day searching for food, so when an owner simply gives the bird its meal, they will begin to get bored.
Teaching your bird to forage will encourage the following positive traits as they go on the hunt for food:
- Heightened exercise
- Brain stimulation
- Opening up of their natural instincts
If your parrot has been eating from a bowl then you will have to teach them the art of foraging by slowly making changes to their daily habits. If your bird has already been foraging then you can advance them to more difficult puzzles that will push them to think outside the box.
Provide Foraging Boxes
Foraging boxes come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and options, but are a great beginner item as your parrot learns to forage. These boxes can be placed as a perch for your bird on their cage bars, hung from the roof, or left on the ground for them to move around. The goal is that they are difficult to get into, but rewarding in some way so your parrot pushes through to get their treat or food item.
You can create a DIY foraging box by using items from your recycling bin, paper cups, cereal boxes or egg cartons are great items to use. If you go the DIY route be sure to put paper clippings in the box with the food to make it a bit more challenging to find.
- A simple way to create a DIY foraging box is to gather the container of choice
- Insert a food item, like a nut or piece of fruit, then surround the food with scrumpled or shredded paper to hide it within the box.
- Hang or set it in the cage and allow them to go to work.
- To add difficulty, tape the box closed before offering it to your bird.
Once you have found your foraging box you can determine how you want to mix it in with your parrot’s feeding schedule. You can supplement treats in the foraging box, like fruits, vegetables, or nuts, or you can add a part of their daily meal to the box which means that your bird can have fun hunting for their meal.
The foraging box will open your parrot up to the idea of searching for their food, you can initially show them the food inside the box then make it harder to find as time goes on. It is important to monitor your bird and understand cues on what they enjoy and if the game is too difficult for them. Each bird has its individual preferences and you can work to find what fits its personality.
Create a DIY Food Foraging System
By creating a foraging system your parrot will be stimulated and never know where the next meal will come from. They will, however, know that they have to find it. To challenge your bird and make mealtime more enjoyable, you can create a variety of obstacles for them to get to their food.
This challenge stimulates the wild side of your pet by allowing them to go on the hunt and provides a valuable reward at the end when they get to enjoy their food.
When starting a food foraging system you can allow your bird to watch you hide the food so they understand that this is a new game. This will stimulate their curiosity. You will also want to keep track of your parrot’s progress to ensure they are eating enough and not giving up.
Your system can be simple or complex and can change day to day, this is just as enjoyable for parrot owners as the parrot themselves. Here are some ideas for various systems:
- Put multiple bowls in different areas of their cage with their allotted food.
- Hide some of their food under a lettuce or kale leaf in a different area of the cage than where they normally eat.
- Create a foraging tree, where food bowls sit at different layers of the cage and they have to move around to eat out of them.
- Buy a foraging wheel or box from a local pet store or online. These items separate food within the object and your bird has to work out how to manipulate the puzzle to get to the food.
Be sure you are utilising coveted items that your parrot will want to search for. The foraging system makes normal feeding time more exciting and gives your parrot something to look forward to.
When you mix up the daily routine you will get rid of idle moments that could be negative for your bird. Many owners see their birds start to act up by making excess noise or pulling at their feathers, this is an easy way to get them moving and their mind on an activity.
Give Your Parrot A Variety Of Foraging Toys
Commercial toys for parrots are a simple and effective way to open them up to the world of foraging. You can find all kinds of toy styles that are designed to ensure your bird is stimulated throughout the day, including the following:
Some toys require your bird to spin a wheel, open a drawer or lift a lid, these milestones can be exciting when your pet accomplishes a new task.
Toys are a great option for owners who may head off to work for the day and leave their parrot alone at home. Birds can easily learn to play independently with toys and if the foraging option is preconstructed your pet will not be reliant on you to set them up.
When buying your parrot new toys it is important to factor in what they already like as far as texture and size. Try to stick with options that are similar to what they know and start to branch out as they engage more. You also will want to understand what truly pushes them to move around, motivation is a necessary part of foraging. You will begin to understand more about your pet and learn what gets them moving.
It is important to not buy toys and just throw them in their cage and leave them. Strategically place new items in their home and move them around regularly to change up the scenery. It is recommended to start birds young with toys, but an old bird can also learn new tricks too. Just be sure to integrate new items slowly so they can adjust on their own terms.
New toys do not have to be expensive. And, you can easily mix a few store-bought toys with the DIY foraging activities we discuss in the next section. No one knows your parrot better than you, so as you understand their preferences you can create the most engaging environment possible.
- Read Next: Parrot Enrichment: What Every Parrot Owner Needs to Know About Their Bird’s Environment and Toys
Non-Food Related DIY Foraging Activities For Parrots
Foraging does not always have to be food-related. You can put items in your bird’s cage that will push them to go on the hunt. Parrots are motivated by textured or colourful items. You can try non-food-related activities if they have already eaten for the day and feel bored or restless.
It is important to remember that, in the wild, birds have to pick through non-edible items to get to the more desirable food items that they will be searching for. When setting up food systems you may miss this integral part of foraging, so integrating non-food items for them to pull apart provides a unique angle to foraging that is healthy for their species.
Though food is the main reason birds in the wild are on the hunt, your domesticated creature may enjoy getting his food from the same simple source. Especially if your parrot is older and stuck in their ways, food foraging might not stimulate them successfully. If this is the case, creating games out of other items may be the fix that gets their brain excited.
Here is a list of non-food related foraging activities that can be created at home:
- Wood is a favorite of birds as they like the texture. You can give your bird a budding twig with leaves or flowers on it that they can pick and pull at. Be sure the branch you pull is bird safe and not toxic to their species. A stronger branch can also be used as a perch that they pick at.
- Beads or buttons are easy items to incorporate in a food box or throughout the cage. Make sure they are large enough so they are not swallowed by your parrot. You can hide the item slightly so the color and texture provoke them to search for the treat.
- Coffee filters with items like cotton or paper between them will push your parrot to search for the hidden items. This is a great option for birds who like to over-preen their feathers.
- Hang old paperback books or phone books from the ceiling of their cage. Though it can be messy, your parrot will enjoy tearing them apart.
- Make wreaths out of leather strips, paper, or cotton. Your bird will enjoy pulling at the pieces until they deconstruct the wreath.
- For the heavier chewers, you can use a piece of small wood that will gnaw on. To make it more stimulating, drill holes that you can place beads in so your bird can push them out.
- Stack cups with beads, treats, or paper in between.
These are cost-effective ways to engage your bird in stimulating activities. You can truly begin to understand what activities and items excite your parrot and push them on their hunt.
Incorporate Other Food Enrichment Ideas
It is important to discuss all dietary changes with your vet, but all animals can benefit from a small snack outside of their normal mealtime. This can be provided as a reward or a chance to get your bird moving around in its cage.
When it comes to foraging and increasing your bird’s exposure to foraging, having multiple items around the cage could help them get used to the new mental stimulation. You can place some toys and setups that will be utilized while others wait for your bird to find them in a new location, this will create an exciting experience in the cage and keep them busy while you are away.
Check out these simple ideas to incorporate in your foraging training:
- Weave leafy greens through the cage bars or hang them from the ceiling, you can give your parrot items like kale, lettuce, or dandelion greens.
- Drill small holes in larger nuts, like walnuts, so they can access the inside easier. Your bird will chew away at the shell through the holes then access the nut inside.
- Hang a carrot from the ceiling with a string, simple as that.
- Use a Wiffle ball to put sliced apples or snap peas in the small holes for them to pull out.
- Put brown paper lunch bags with nuts and seeds in their cage.
- Put natural branches of fruit hanging on the cage (ask your vet for the recommended serving of fruits for your bird).
- Pine cones are an enjoyable item for birds, be sure to disinfect them at 200 degrees Fahrenheit in the oven. Let them cool before offering them to your bird. You can wrap them in paper or coat them with nut butter.
It can be a very simple process to use food to open your parrot up to foraging, you can even use items in your fridge or pantry.
Create a Stimulating Environment
If your bird is left alone and has finished their foraging activities it is important they have additional stimulation. It is recommended to leave your bird by a window so they can see ongoing activities in the outside world, though parrots like their quiet time, they do want to feel a part of something.
Being near the window allows the perfect amount of activity to be shared with your pet as they spend time alone. Many bird owners report that their parrots enjoy watching birds that fly around outside. This is similar to your pet enjoying being near the family when you are spending time together, but not always in the middle of the commotion. Parrots want to feel they belong as a member of the family but are okay to observe.
You can also leave calm music on the radio or put on nature recordings from YouTube or Animal Planet. Your pet will enjoy listening to the different sounds and it will keep them aware of their surroundings. Parrots also love to hear the sound of their owners’ voices. If you leave a recording going, your bird will feel close to you even though you are away at the time.
Set Up an Outside the Cage Playground
Birds enjoy their cage, as it is their home, but they also need movement outside of a confined space. Setting up a playground on an indoor tree or cabinet can create an exciting foraging experience when they are moving about the house.
You can hang the various foraging items listed above from inside tree branches or on doorknobs that they have to fly to. You can truly be creative with this option if you are comfortable with your bird moving freely about your house.
Though pet stores sell bird gyms that can excite your parrot, it is simple to create one at home. You can hang a rope from the ceiling and add foraging toys at your convenience. This can be a bit more challenging so it is recommended for birds who are used to foraging and have experience with hard-to-reach items.
If you want to keep your bird engaged when they are home alone, it’s important to provide them with foraging toys. These ideas will help stimulate their minds and be entertaining at the same time. If you need help creating a stimulating environment or setting up an outside-of-the-cage playground read our parrot enrichment guide. We understand how challenging it can be coming up with new ways to entertain your pet while also keeping their brains challenged so don’t hesitate reach out if you need help.