- (of a person or animal) search widely for food or provisions
- obtain (food or provisions)
- obtain food or provisions from (a place)
Now that we know Foraging is basically the act of searching for food, why do we hear this word often when we speak of parrots?
Simply because if our companion parrots were in the wild, this behavior would take up to 70% of their day! Wow, That is A LOT of activity!
Most birds will even travel several miles to search for food or to access feeding spots. Once there, they may have to climb to certain areas, hop or balance on swaying tree limbs, or even squabble with other flock members.
Now think about our birds within our homes and care. The truth is, most of our captive birds live in cages. Let's take a moment to think about their exercise habits.
Do they exercise? Some might be clipped or have plucking issues, resulting in the inability to fly.
Unfortunately, most captive birds are getting very little exercise within our homes. They may be getting great nutritition, but that nutrition is often handed to them in a single bowl, much like we would feed a dog or cat.
A common sight in captive birds- sitting near 'The Big Bowl'
How can we change this?
This is where the word 'foraging' comes in and why it is so important to our birds' everyday health and wellbeing!
Don't let the word Foraging intimidate you. We do not have to do any elaborate changes to start encouraging foraging with our birds. Small changes can make a big difference in our birds' daily lives!
The first (and easiest!) step to encourage foraging is to take a look at that big bowl in your bird's cage. Everyday it gets filled with healthy, fresh foods for our birds in abundance. Our birds may sit and rake out most of that food, then eat their fill and choose the remainder of their 'in cage time' sitting on a perch, like a knot on a log.
Solution? We need to offer as many feeding spots as we can versus that big bowl! This will motivate our birds to move and forage, increasing their activity levels and even stimulating their minds in the process.
We can simply opt to place a small amount of fresh food in the big bowl and provide other smaller bowls in different locations to encourage our birds to move for their food.
Loopey, a Double Yellow Headed Amazon, searches for food in his Snack Table Toys. Note the position required to reach one of the Snack Tables, a movement that might be similar to a wild parrot reaching berries from a lower branch.
I personally like to use the 'big bowl' as a second water dish (we all know some birds like to dunk their food in water bowls and also bathe in them). This gives another option for fresh water.
Another choice would be to use the big bowl as an area that you fill with broken toy parts or pieces, shredded papers etc. Perhaps place a tree nut or sunflower seed or two at the bottom of the bowl. Your bird rakes out the parts, finds the treat, and eats. They just successfully foraged!
For birds who have never had experience foraging, we need to keep food accessible , just spread out within the cage.
But we can also hide higher value food items, like nuts or sunflower seeds.
These types of food items usually make up a smaller portion of the diet and are thoroughly enjoyed, therefore, our birds may be willing to work a little harder for these items!
Start simply: IS there an area of the cage, or a certain toy, that would 'hold' one of these food items?
Most bird toys, even if not specifically designed for foraging, can hold these healthy treats. Look for any nooks or crannies where an almond can be shoved, a sunflower seed lodged, or even an area where millet can be hung.
Even toys not specifically designed for foraging may hold food items. Here, an Activity Wall toy has some visible space where an in-shell nut may be stashed.
Our first instinct may be to hide or place a food item beside a perch for easy access.
But does this challenge our birds in any way?
Let's think outside the perch.
How about hanging that food item directly from the center of the cage's 'ceiling'? Maybe we can even hang or place things down towards the bottom of the cage! The cage bottom is an area that is seldom used, but we can entice birds to start using it for foraging! Just be sure not to place any food underneath perches or they may get pooped on!
Stainless Steel skewers can hold a variety of fresh food items and can be placed anywhere you can hang something, like cage bars or toy links.
Skewers filled with new foods can encourage your bird to investigate and possibly consume these new healthy foods. Place skewers away from perches to encourage movement. Another option is to hang skewers on the outside cage bars. This requires a bird to reach through the bars with their beak, making foraging a bit more difficult. It also means you won't forget to remove any fresh food that is close to spoiling! Win-Win!
Some toys/toy parts are actually designed to be used on skewers, allowing you to quickly transition your skewers from holding fresh whole food items one day to becoming an interactive foraging toy the next!
Foraging Blocks by HootnHoller designed for skewers
Paper or Plant fiber cups can hold small food items and then be squeezed closed. Toss in a foot toy bucket along with other misc parts for a fun activity. Cupcake wrappers and coffee filters can also be used this way.
Foot Toy Buckets are a great addition to the cage, providing foraging opportunities and a place to recycle your toys! It's no secret that our birds destroy (it's good for them!). But don't worry, broken bird toys aren't done just yet! Take any dismantled parts that are clean and toss them in those buckets to keep the fun going! Plastic or pvc bird toy parts may be washed and sanitized, however, if any broken wood pieces are soiled they must be trashed.
My, my, what's in the bucket today?
When purchasing bird toys, look for toys that can double as foraging opportunities. Keep an eye out for toys that may have cavities where treats can be placed, lots of texture that allow seeds to be held or toys that may allow a skewer to be hung from them.
A parrot swing that features toy parts with holes, perfect for hiding a tree nut
Some bird species, like african greys and cockatoos, prefer ground foraging. How can you be sure if your bird might prefer ground foraging? These are birds, that when out of the cage, you constantly find on your floor!
Birds that behave in this way would greatly benefit from a tray or large bowl on their cage bottom. I like to use large feeder pans that were designed for livestock. They are shallow and hold up well with my macaw.
Livestock pans are shallow and heavy duty, making excellent foraging pans. You can also use glass baking pans.
Fill your foraging pans with a sampling of fresh foods, like chop, or dry, broken toys parts. I like to fill these pans with things that can be easily replaced, as most of the pan's contents may be raked out. For example, clean cut pieces of cardboard, crinkle paper, plant fiber cups, clean untreated wood pieces and parts of toys that have been broken.
'Uglywood', broken pieces of untreated pine, make great, inexpensive foot toy bucket fillers
Once you have your pan's contents, take a small amount of high valued, healthy treats (if using a 'dry' foraging pan) and mix with the original contents.
You can create several pans at once, making it quick and easy to add a new pan before you go to work in the morning.
If your bird is flighted, you have even more options to get your bird foraging and exercising.
Simply move foraging areas from the cage to play stands, trees and nets. If you have several areas your bird can fly to, try placing very small amounts of food at each area, or landing spot.
As our birds foraging skills increase, we can opt for hiding food more thoroughly and invest in more difficult foraging toys.
Some bird toys are designed with foraging specifically in mind. Keeping a supply of these toys on hand ensures you can provide a variety of foraging options for your birds.
HootnHoller's best selling Snack Tables were created with very small holes for placing a single nut in each or a few sunflower seeds. Alternatively, you can place a single treat in one hole while opting to place a single small toy part, like vineballs, in the remaining Snack Table holes. We can also place healthy dry food items, like freeze dried vegetables or mealworms within the holes. Birds may have to chip the wood or reach in with their tongues to remove these small bits.
Snack Tables work best in multiples to encourage your bird to move. Even birds with no foraging experience will enjoy searching and perching on their Snack Tables, from parakeets to macaws.
Often, providing our birds with toys that are brightly colored with bird safe food dyes will encourage them to investigate, as fruit items in the wild are vibrant.
- Get your bird foraging by spreading out food, not placing an abundance in one dish
- Encourage exercise by placing food items in rarely used or harder to reach places of the cage
- Provide ground foraging opportunities for ground foraging type birds
- Remember: Smaller quantities of food at each location means more exercise and less waste
Visit HootnHoller's Foraging Section to find a variety of Foraging Toys, including the best-selling Snack Tables, and get your bird foraging and moving today!