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Foraging....No more free lunches

Parrots in the wild spend most of their waking hours preening, searching for food and water, and flying to and from their roosts and in search of food. They also will be seen playing and interacting with other parrots, playing, mating, nest building and even resting, but most of their time is occupied with preening and food foraging. If we look at parrots in the wild we do not see the behavioural problems we often see in our companion parrots, such as aggression, excessive screaming, feather destruction and self mutilation and obsessive compulsive disorders (OCDs ), where parrots will perform repetitive or ritualistic behaviours that seemingly serve no purpose. Sometimes these behaviours can act as a calming behaviour for over anxious animals, but usually have no obvious reason and can be performed non-stop till they start interrupting the normal function and behaviour or the parrot’s life.

These can manifest themselves in rocking back and forth, pacing in the same pattern, rubbing or tapping their beaks against the cage bars. Sometimes these behaviours can be subtle and be displayed as opening and closing their beaks while repetitively licking with their tongues, or clicking over and over non stop. The feather plucking and self mutilation is always more obvious, but usually has been performed by the parrot for a while before the owner seeks help and once it has become so ingrain, it is very hard to cure and permanent damage can be done to feather follicles and no feathers can regrow.

One of the most common reasons for these problems occurring is loss of natural function in these creatures, things such as flight and freedom, flock and mates, sleep patterns, food foraging and selection of foods and from boredom. When you consider that many of our companion parrots are the least domesticated of all our pets and that many are only a handful of generations from their wild cousins, then consider how different and unfulfilled many of their lives are compared to that of birds living free, you can then start to try and understand the problems.

Foraging is something birds do as soon as they start to fend for themselves and will spend many hours searching and seeking out foods. In the wild, time and effort may be needed to be able to extract the seed, grain, fruit from where it grows and this is part of the bird using it’s mind and body and time to feed itself. This is an important thing to understand and try and implement when we are feeding our caged parrots. Placing a bowl of your parrots fruit and vegetables, pellets, seeds and nuts, already chopped up and in the same bowl, in the same holder, the same time of day, each day, does nothing to make your parrot use it’s mind or body to work for his food. It is just too easy and after the parrot has fed, this leaves many hours for your parrot to sit and be bored.

If you look at natural behaviours like foraging, which researchers say could take up as much as 70% of a wild birds time, and try and reproduce this in our birds life, this should start to stimulate them not only physically, but mentally by making them work for their food. If your bird is working for a lot more of his time at finding and getting his food, then there is going to be less time left for him to be bored. Foraging for food is going to supply him with a more natural behaviour and keep him thinking and alert……..No More Free Lunches! Researchers have found that animals actually prefer to forage for food that have it just given to them and a study with Starling showed that the birds would actually forage for meal-worms than eat the ones presented in a bowl to them.

These days there are more and more foraging toys coming onto the market to make it easy for you to supplying foraging opportunities for your parrot and with any toy always check for its safety and appropriate size to your parrot. You may have to start off slow and teach your parrot how to forage and how to find the food, if it has never played the game, but parrots being the inquisitive birds that they are, usually catch on really fast. If using commercial puzzle toys, make sure your parrot can work them out and doesn't find them too challenging, or not be able to get the food out at all. You want to present a challenge and make your parrot work, but not to the point of frustration. Start off with simple ideas and make it more challenging as he works them out.

Some simple ideas are to hide food in rolled up paper or a paper cup rolled up, so your bird has to tear the paper off to get to the food. Covering your parrot’s food bowls with paper or tied on with not toxic twine, so your parrot has to tear the paper to get his food. If he doesn’t get it straight away, you may have to make small rips in the paper and leave some food sticking out just to help him. Covering his food with wooden beads, rolled up small balls of paper, or small stones, depending on your parrots size can again add interest. All of these will make your parrot work to get to his food. You can also place food in containers that your parrot has to remove the lid, or hang food or containers so that your parrot has to pull it up, climb down or have to swing to get any food.

Wire containers can be stuffed with leaves and flowers of non-toxin plants, with food distributed through, or rolled up balls of paper with food hidden through, that your parrot has to work to find. Pinecones can have a food jammed into the gaps and hung by a lace of untreated leather, so your parrot has to climb and hang while trying to retrieve food from the cone.

Once your parrot has the idea, you can supply all your parrots food in different ways other than just placing it in his bowl

As always it is important that anything you use be safe and non toxic. Most papers and cardboard used for children are safe but always check anything you use for safety concerns. There are many different breeds of parrots and all are individuals, so look at your parrots natural talents, breed differences or individual tastes as to the best and most entertaining ways to supplying foraging opportunities.

Make a foraging tree for you bird, as shown in the excellent DVD- Captive Foraging, by Dr. Scott Echols or set your daytime cage up with lots of different foraging opportunities before you place your parrot in it each morning. Once you get used to doing this, it will only take a little bit more thought and effort to make your parrots life a lot more exciting and fulfilling every day.

To purchase the Captive Foraging DVD from the PRC Shop please CLICK HERE

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