What is foraging?
In the wild, birds spend the majority of their day flying around and searching for food. The act of finding food; husking seeds and nuts and chewing on vegetation is known as foraging. Many animals forage for their food, but for parrots this activity is especially important. Because this occupies such a large part of their day, it is important that we provide the same foraging opportunities for pet parrots in captivity.
Why is foraging important?
Scientists have studied birds in the wild, and found that their average day can be broken down into the following activities:
- Eating and foraging for food
- Socializing with flock members (preening, playing, finding a mate)
What they’ve found is that most birds spend upwards of 40-75% of their day (4-8 hours) flying to feeding areas and foraging for food. Foraging is excellent mental and physical exercise and is also involved in social interactions between flock members. When birds in captivity are given food directly into a bowl it drastically reduces their ability to engage in this important activity.
Therefore, we are finding that many birds start to lack mental, social and physical stimulation from their cage environment if they are not given appropriate foraging opportunities. This can then lead to birds becoming bored, frustrated or developing behavior problems such as anxiety, feather plucking or become overweight from reduced activity.
What can you do to stop your bird from being bored?
There are many things you can do to provide your bird with environmental enrichment. In fact studies have shown that some birds actually prefer to forage for their food. It appears that they are motivated for work for food even when it is freely available. See the list below for some suggested types of stimulation for your bird.
- Social enrichment (interaction with other birds or people)
- Parrots are flock animals and benefit from company of other birds
- Mental and intellectual stimulation
- Puzzle feeders, daily training sessions
- Novel experiences (unusual food, new toy item, unusual scents)
- Physical habitat including perching/climbing structures
- Provide natural branches for perches, chewing and touch stimulation – different textures, diameter and motion of perches can be more interesting than the plain wooden dowels that most cages come with
- Provide protected areas, studies have shown that birds feel safer in certain areas of households
- Avoid placement of the cage in areas of high traffic or loud noises
- Climate (light, temperature, humidity and wind)
- Sensory tactile, olfactory, taste and auditory and visual
- Birds have larger range for vision and hearing beyond human ranges
- Provide noise stimulation with radio, television, music and white noise machines.
- Engage in talking, singing and whistling vocalizations with your birds, playing games like peek-a-boo
- Food enrichment
- Offering types of foods with different textures, colors and shapes
- Offering new food items, including healthy table foods that you can share
- Presenting food in puzzle feeders, multiple food bowls and hiding food items
How can I make foraging toys for my bird?
- Start small – many birds have never foraged before and will need to learn this skill. You can start with covering their regular food bowl with a thin layer of paper towel and poke some holes to your bird can see the food underneath. Then as your bird figures this out, you can gradually make it more difficult by securing down the edges of the paper towel with masking tape
- Be social – Parrots generally live in flocks in the wild and will spend their day eating together. When you and your family are eating a meal you can give your bird a foraging activity too.
- Choose carefully – Some species are very intelligent and others less so making sure you have a toy that is the appropriate level of difficulty for your bird is very important.
- Get creative – While there are many excellent stores and companies that prefabricate foraging toys for birds, you can also make your own at home!
- Try combining items like cardboard boxes, paper bags, paper cups, toilet paper rolls, untreated safe woods/baskets, newspaper and masking tape. You can also mix items like wood blocks or paper with food items so they have to pick around them to get to their food. This is a fun and varied activity for both the bird and your family!
- Click here fore more information.
Does this apply to other species?
Absolutely! We are encouraging foraging for all captive birds species including backyard poultry, canaries and finches, and pigeons and doves. In fact, foraging is so prevalent in zoos that we are applying this knowledge for our small mammals and reptiles too. Stay tuned for more foraging tips in other species to come!
- Paul-Murphy, J. (2016) ‘Advancements in management of the welfare of avian species.’ in Speer, B.L. (1st ed) Current therapy in avian medicine and surgery. Missouri: Elsevier, pp 669-677.
- Rupley AE, Simone-Freilicher E. (2015) ‘Psittacine wellness management and environmental enrichment’, Veterinary Clinics of North America Exotic Animal Practice. 18 (2), pp 197-211.