Have you ever heard of setting up “foraging” activities for your pet bird? If not, perhaps you should. Each week I see at least one pet parrot that has terrible problems with feather picking, feather chewing, skin mutilation, screaming, biting, or inappropriate bonding. It is thought by many researchers, that the reason birds participate in these self-destructive behaviors is that they don’t have enough to do with their time and do not have natural food seeking opportunities incorporated into their daily routines.
In the wild, birds generally spend their time divided between resting, grooming, foraging, and social interactions with flock members. Most wild birds spend between 6 and 15 hours per day foraging for food. Our pet birds have food provided in easily accessible food bowls sometimes 24 hours a day. This type of feeding requires no creativity, activity or thought and rarely requires more than 30 minutes to consume a meal.
Increasing the available foraging activities will enhance your bird’s life and may prevent abnormal behaviors. If these abnormal behaviors are already present in your bird, providing foraging activities may help decrease the frequency these problems.
Foraging toys are toys that require some physical activity to aquire food. There are avian pet stores and websites that sell commercial foraging toys made from various materials. It is important to choose toys that are an appropriate size and skill level for your bird. The best way is to start small and uncomplicated and then work your way up to more complicated toys. In addition to commercial foraging toys, inexpensive toys can be created at home using natural products such as untreated wood, paper, or PVC pipes. Simple foraging toys may include, food inside a crumpled paper cup, paper bag, or piece of paper towel. Food toys can be created by placing food inside untreated wood or cardboard containers with covers that can be removed or with holes drilled in the side that allows extraction of small food items. A foraging cup or shallow pan can be filled with untreated wooden beads or shredded paper. This can be used to hide nuts or seeds, requiring the bird to dig through the inedible objects to find the food items.
There is also a good DVD called “Captive Foraging: The Next Best Thing to Being Free.” It is available at our hospital and online through the Zoological Education Network (www.exoticdvm.com). Think of any natural way that food is hidden in the wild environment, and try to set up a similar situation in your bird’s cage using nontoxic items that you have around the house.
Keeping your pet bird occupied with foraging activities will make him (or her) a much happier and healthier individual.