FORAGING BEHAVIOR, AND HOW TO ENCOURAGE IT
by Brian Speer DVM
If normal social interaction with their adoptive family/flock is limited, as is often the case when the owners are away, the other maintenance behavioral groups (foraging and feather care) must be increased to fill the deficit. If the total feeding activity of a pet parrot is limited to eating out of a dish, foraging activity may be as little as 20 minutes a day. Some wild parrots spend as much as 6 to 18 hours a day foraging. Merely by increasing the daily foraging activities of a pet parrot, the daily lifestyle can be enhanced in an ornithologically sound manner. This in turn may be very beneficial as a part of behavioral modification treatments for abnormal behaviors in the other maintenance categories of feather care and social interaction. Abnormal feather care often includes "feather picking" or other feather damaging behaviors, and abnormal social interaction problems may include screaming and pair bonding behaviors that result in reproductive drive associated issues.
Try some of these creative techniques for enhancing foraging behavior for your bird:
- Foraging perch - A piece of non-treated wood (eg, pine lumber) drilled with holes into which nuts, seeds, or other treats fit tightly. The reward should be visible but not accessible without chewing down through the wood. This perch can be used with you training perch out of the cage, or as a perch in the cage, or even hung in the cage to increase the challenge.
- Wrapping food bowls - Wrap the food bowls with newspaper or cardboard so that your bird has to spend time chewing in to get at the food. You may have to teach your bird the first time by punching a starter hole, or simulating the foraging activity yourself.
- Wrapping food items - You can individually wrap nuts, seeds or other rewards in small pieces of paper, corn husks or other materials. Wrap them with a twisted end. Not all wrappings need to contain a treat.
- Mixing food with inedible items - Pellets or seeds can be mixed in with wood buttons or other items so that the bird has to dig through them to find it's food. Some parrot species can be particularly stimulated into new foraging behaviors by having a "sandbox" provided, in which some desired treats and food items can be found.
- Puzzle toys - There are a variety of toys available that require birds to unscrew the parts or manipulate components to get at the reward.
- Trick training - By asking your bird to perform a desired behavior for a treat or reward you are, in essence, providing a modified foraging activity. In addition, you are adding in social interaction.