You've heard the term forager and foraging when it comes to your parrots. But what is foraging exactly? Does my bird really need foraging bird toys?
In Nature, Everything is a Foraging Bird Toy!
In the wild, parrots and other animals spend most of their time looking for food, an act called foraging. A bird's quest to find food in nature can involve many hours of searching, climbing from branch to branch and even flying for miles to reach their next food source. This constant search ensures wild parrots never suffer from 'bird boredom' or experience a lack of mental stimulation. Searching and working for food keeps animals sharp, mentally and physically. Can we replicate this behavior for captive birds with foraging bird toys?
A Parrot's Life is Boring Without a Variety of Foraging Bird Toys
In captivity, most parrots' enclosures are equipped with a food and water bowl that contain their day's nutrition. All the food they could possibly need is right within their reach. Hours spent flying and searching in nature are spent idly sitting on a perch in captivity. What does a captive bird do with all this extra time in the day? They no longer have a job to do and are often left unmotivated. Providing out of cage time for our birds is essential for their health and well being, but many of these birds must remain inside enclosures for long hours while their caregivers are at work. How can we be sure our parrots are getting their proper exercise and being provided enough mental stimulation within the enclosure?
Adding foraging bird toys to our birds' cages and play stands is an easy solution that can help reduce bird boredom and get your birds moving, foraging and reduce problem behaviors.
This african grey, shown left, is working on retrieving a food item from a foraging bird toy. Pictured right, the cockatiel and budgie's toy could easily hold hidden food items to encourage foraging behavior.
Foraging Bird Toys Can Reduce Problem Behaviors in Captive Parrots
Captive birds that do not have access to foraging bird toys or mental stimulation often suffer from a condition bird keepers call 'bird boredom'. This inactivity can lead to problem behaviors such as over preening, plucking, and screaming. When given bowls of food, they will often toss most of the food from the bowl, wasting the majority of it. A simple solution is to ditch the food bowl and opt for foraging bird toys instead. By placing small amounts of food in various locations of the enclosure, we can encourage birds to move and look for food. A bird who suffered from boredom now has a very important job to do, find his food! The act of looking for food is exciting for most parrots. You can introduce new foods by changing what foods you offer in your birds' foraging toys daily. Now, just like in nature, they never know what they'll find! You may be surprised to find less food is wasted as well, another bonus to offering these types of bird toys.
Foraging Bird Toys Encourage Exercise
This Amazon parrot is being served a variety of in shell nuts and kumquat citrus in his Snack Tables. Providing multiple foraging bird toys encourages your bird to work and maneuver in ways they would in nature, providing mental stimulation and increasing exercise. This bird must move from one ledge to another in order to retrieve all of the food items. Some food items are easier to reach, while others are pressed deep down in the foraging toy to encourage this bird to problem solve. By not placing a large amount of food in one place, the bird is kept motivated to look and work for food longer. The beak and feet are also receiving exercise! The beak is kept healthy by chipping away at the wood and cracking the shells of nuts. This Amazon's feet are clasped to the side of the bird toy, a movement that would occur in nature while hanging from the side of a branch or rock face. All a good workout!
Any Bird Toy That Can Hold or Hide Food is a Foraging Bird Toy!
When looking for foraging bird toys to incorporate in our birds' play areas, choose toys that can easily hide food items. Some bird toys are specially designed as foraging bird toys, but many are not and work just as well for foraging! Any bird toy with nooks and crannies can work well for hiding an almond for large parrots or a sprig of millet for those smaller birds. When choosing bird toys, think about what food item you may be able to weave into that toy. Household items, such as cardboard boxes, cupcake liners and cardboard tubes all make excellent materials for making your own foraging bird toys. These items are inexpensive and are a great place to start! For birds that seldom use bird toys, you'll find those particular birds will become more motivated and driven to interact with a toy when their favorite food is involved.
Instagram user @myfeatheredfarmhouse has taken a preening bird toy and placed a sprig of millet within, making this a foraging toy! By also adding a perch, she made this activity easily accessible by her flock of cockatiels. This new toy was frightening to some of the flock, but even the most timid of birds was coaxed over when food was introduced!
What's in the Bucket?
A DIY foraging bird toy can consist of dried foods covered with crinkle paper. To prevent mess, place in a container for birds to 'rake' through with their feet.
Hidden Food Requires More Work!
In-shell nuts hidden under these wood slices motivate this parrot to chip away at this foraging bird toy until the food is revealed, providing mental stimulation and beak trimming in the process!
Searching For Food is a Beneficial Activity For Captive Parrots
In conclusion, birds need foraging bird toys to live a more enriched life in captivity. The act of looking or working for one's food, foraging, has tremendous benefits over offering bird food via a food bowl. Implementing these toys can encourage exercise and movement within the enclosure, provide mental stimulation, and reduce problem behaviors. Adding food to new and often scary toys introduced can help even shy birds investigate the new toys. Foraging toys are a great way to introduce new vegetables and other foods to our birds. Foraging bird toys are a vital part of our captive birds' lives and are needed in every enclosure or play area to create variety in an otherwise mundane indoor setting.