Bird Care Articles

Foraging for Birds

How to keep your bird mentally and physically active

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:

  • Sleeping
  • Flying
  • Eating and foraging for food
  • Socializing with flock members (preening, playing, finding a mate)

Birds in cages will often have food provided in a bowl for them and this greatly reduces their ability to forage. Instead of taking hours to find and consume food, they often eat their food within minutes. Therefore, there can be large periods of time where captive birds are lacking intellectual, social and physical stimulation. We unfortunately find that birds can become frustrated with their situation and can develop behavioral and physical problems. These include feather picking, aggression, anxiety and obesity.

How can I make foraging toys for my bird?

Start small:

  • Some birds who have not had to forage before may need easier activities to get them used to it. Try placing food items all throughout the enclosure to encourage seeking and climbing behaviors.
  • Begin by covering their regular food bowl with a piece of paper or cardboard, and poke holes so your bird can see the food underneath. Gradually cover the bowl in such a manner that makes it more difficult to obtain the food. Ultimately secure the cover to the bowl with masking tape. You can also make basic toys out of paper cups, toilet paper rolls or boxes, to add variety.


Be social:

  • In the wild, parrot species generally live in flock situations. Take the time to give your bird a foraging activity while you and your family are eating nearby. This simulates the flock searching for food together and provides a healthier relationship.

Choose carefully:

  • Some bird species are able to manipulate and solve toys more easily than others. Make sure that you take the time to understand your bird and provide toys that are challenging, but solvable, for them to reduce frustration.
  • Also be careful of the material the toy is made of. Don’t give them anything they may become trapped in or eat pieces of (if using plastic materials).

Get creative:

While there are many excellent stores and companies that prefabricate foraging toys for birds, you can also make your own at home!

  • Skewer food (cut up vegetables and fruit) – change daily to prevent spoilage
  • Cover food bowls with paper (small birds) cardboard, or wood (medium-larger birds)
  • Put food in multiple food bowls throughout the cage
  • Mix food among toys, shredded paper or other inedible items – be careful to remove shredded paper from cage as sooner finished as some birds will use this as nesting material.
  • Wedge pieces of nuts or treats into holes of wooden or plastic toys, then hang from the cage
  • Weave greens in cage bars
  • Hide food in cardboard boxes, place between cage bars or hang in cage
  • Purchase foraging toys, many are available
  • Create foraging containers easily at home using safe materials:
    • Hide food in crushed paper bags, newspaper, small paper plates, coffee filters, paper dixie cups, corn husks, or snow cone cups.


  • 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.