Author: Zarita Garozzo, Parrot Rescue Centre

Foraging has become a very popular word in the parrot industry. Why? Pet Parrots are wild by instinct therefore will respond to things in their environment based on what there instincts tell them. In the wild a parrots day consists of finding food to survive, so they fly for miles a day to find their food, they spend most of their time moving from one tree to another chewing through gumnuts to get their seed, eating and ripping up bark, flowers, berries, leaves, seed pods, finding bugs to munch on, or running around on the ground Foraging for grass seed.

When we look at parrots in captivity we see them locked in a cage with a food bowl at one end and water at another and wonder why our parrots have fatty tumours, become screamers, pluckers or even aggressive. Their natural instinct is to move (flap those wings) to explore and find food (Forage), instead we turn them into couch potatoes who slowly go mentally mad! Parrots have a brain just like humans, so just like humans without stimulation our minds start to deteriorate and we slowly go crazy!

It is easy to help stimulate your parrots life by providing foraging toys and activities. There are many foraging toys available for parrots today or there are easy cheap ways of making toys that do the same thing as bought foraging toys. Some examples of cheap home made foraging toys are:

  • Toilet rolls after the toilet paper has been used can be filled with treats, wood bits and food and then raped in newspaper like a lolly. Your parrot will rip, chew and have a great time trying to get to the hidden treats.
  • You can drill some large holes into a wood log that is about 10cm thick at all different angles and then hide nuts, vegetables etc in the holes.
  • Roll up an old magazine and put some treats in the middle, then tie the magazine up with natural sisal rope and tie to the cage. Your parrot will throw the magazine around like a bell.
  • Open Pine cones can be filled with treats and then wet the pine cone and it will close with all the treats inside. Your parrot will chew the pine cone up to shreds to get the treats.
  • Spreading some safe natural dirt on the bottom of the cage and sprinkling budgie seed down, so your parrot has to go to the ground and forage for their food.
  • Providing a large ceramic dish filled with rocks, grass, sticks etc and hiding treats and food amongst it, so that your parrot gets in and empties everything out to get to his food.
  • Covering your parrots food bowl with paper, so they have to rip through the paper to get to the food, you may have to demonstrate it to them to get them started.

Some examples of retailed foraging toys that the PRC stock are Treasure Chest, Foraging Wheels, Buffet Ball, Baffle Cages, Barrel of fun and the list goes on. 

Variety is the key! Parrots in the wild do not eat in one spot everyday and do not eat the same thing day in day out. You need to get your parrot used to lots of different toys and foods.

Foraging toys and interactive activities need to be rotated on a regular basis, so that your parrot does not become bored with the same old toys. Once you start to expand your parrots mind you will have lots of fun trying to outsmart them, it is really hard to do! Some of the foraging toys available take us a few minutes to work out and sometimes it only takes about that for the parrot to work out too! They are quiet amazingly intelligent. So now you know this why keep your feathered friend bored and unstimulated any longer!

Recent studies have suggested that Parrots enjoy a challenge, they like the feeling of working for their food rather then just easily getting it out of a bowl. We have put this to the test with the PRC sanctuary and boarding parrots. Our tests have shown this to be true, especially with some of the larger parrots (Macaws and Cockatoo species). We have put nuts and vegetables in their bowls and nuts and vegetables in their treasure chests and Stainless steel treat holders and to our surprise every time they go for the ones in the holders rather than the bowl.  We have also found that cockatiels like their vegetables wedged in the bars of the cage, between branches or on fruit kabobs rather than in their bowls.

Foraging toys are not the only toys that should be provided, soft and hard wood hanging and foot toys should be included in your parrots toy mix, which allow them to chew and also keep their beaks busy and stimulated. Parrots love to CHEW and DESTROY, so do not limit buying them products that are not destructible. A toy destroyed is a toy ENJOYED! A variety of at least five toys should be provided in your parrots cage. The cage layout should be big enough for your parrot to move around comfortably amongst their toys and still have space in the cage to be able to flap their wings. Flapping their wings is an important daily routine that parrots do to stimulate their muscles and release excess energy.

No parrot toy is 100% safe, therefore it is important to check and monitor your parrots toys on a regular basis for general deterioration. Always monitor your parrot when given new toys, to ensure their safety. Old toys can be a hazard, so remove toys that have frayed cotton, brittle metal parts, sharp edges and rust. Toys made out of predominantly rope are not recommended as parrots cannot digest rope fibres, so if the fibres are eaten they literally sit in your parrots stomach until it begins to make them sick and can eventually cause death. If your parrot has a tendency to chew rope and you have noticed with some of your toys that rope is missing or frayed, then please REMOVE the toy. We cannot express enough how detrimental rope fibre is to your parrots life. This is also the case with parrot toys that are made from fine, zinc plated or rusty metal. Many parrots die due to metal toxicity because they find a fascination with the shinny metal parts. If the metal is rusty, very fine or zinc plated and you are noticing your parrot has a fascination with chewing or licking the metal, please REMOVE the toy. Try to only purchase toys that have hardware made with Nickel plated or Stainless steel rings, bells, links and heavy duty chain,

Be careful that you do not purchase cheap imitation parrot toys that are made from treated timber and brittle fine metal parts. Also only purchase toys that are suitable for the size of your parrots beak and strength. If you are unsure if the toy is suitable get the advice of a Parrot Behaviour consultant, Avian vet or contact us, we are your best options for correct educated advice.

For more information on parrot toy safety or to check out the Parrot Rescue Centres large range of safe parrot toys and accessories Click here or please feel free to contact us for advice on toys on 0755692840.

References:

Dr. M. Scott Echols, 2006. Captive Foraging: The Next Best Thing to Being Free, DVD.

Michelle Karras, 2003. The Importance of Toys: Positive Parrot Behaviour Series Volume 1, pp. 10-13

Carol S. DArezzo & Lauren Shannon-Nunn, 2000. A Practical Parrot Guide Parrot Toys and Play Areas: How to put some fun into your parrots life.