Wild Rainbow Lorikeet feeding on berries (photo by dreamstime.com)
Searching, hanging upside down, chewing, balancing and working hard to problem solve; it’s all a natural part of getting something to eat for a wild parrot and it’s important to simulate this for our pet birds to keep them happy, healthy and mentally stimulated.
The idea of creating a foraging toy for your bird may seem a bit overwhelming if you’ve never done it before and you and your bird have become accustomed to a routine of all food being offered in a bowl. However, it is absolutely vital to provide food foraging opportunities and I hope these ideas prove just how easy it is!
1. THE SIMPLE CARDBOARD BOX
Any kind of cardboard box will do; a big one, small one, a cereal box, egg box, etc! Make sure the box you are using is just cardboard and doesn’t have any plastic coating which could be harmful to your bird. Fill the box with shredded paper, newspaper, or if it’s a big cardboard box, maybe more cardboard! You could even use string to seal it closed if your bird is an ‘advanced’ forager!
Hang it up, or just place it on the floor, with some treats somewhere inside – this can entertain for HOURS! If you’re feeling adventurous, add ‘accessories’ like in the picture below (wooden blocks, string boxes together etc) If you have a cage with bars on the ceiling, try putting the box on there so your bird has to chew and pull it through the bars.
Photo by Heather Ahearn of a collection of cardboard foraging items made for her flock
2. NEWSPAPER CRACKER
This is ridiculously simple and brilliant! (Thanks to my boss Andy who suggested this one!) Get a couple of sheets of newspaper, put a treat or a few bits of food in the middle, then roll it up into a long tube and twist both ends so that it looks like a Christmas cracker… give it to your bird as a present or hang it up in their cage or aviary to add to the challenge of getting to the goodies 🙂
3. FROZEN TREATS
Especially great for hot days; take some or your bird’s food and place in a freezer-safe container (the smaller the better) add some water and watch your parrot tackle a yummy ice-cube!
Ruby, Green-winged Macaw, wondering where to start with her frozen treat
4. CARDBOARD TUBE
Get a cardboard tube from the inside of your kitchen roll/paper towel or even a toilet roll tube (the longer tubes work better for this toy) and put some food in the middle. Either leave it like this, or poke a few holes in the tube where the food can drop out. Your bird can roll it around or chew to get to the food in the middle, and when they get pretty good at it, make it trickier by leaving the tube as it is and stuffing a ball of paper into each end to ‘seal’ it with treats inside.
Military Macaws 'Red' and 'Bolivia' working to retrieve food, photo by Heather Ahearn
5. KERPLUNK FOR PARROTS!
Thank you to Heather Ahearn, bird trainer at Whipsnade Zoo, who recommended this one. If you have played KerPlunk, you can probably guess already how this works, I will definitely be making a few for my flock! It requires a bit more in terms of preparation so for those of you who struggle to find time to do this kind of thing, this could be a rainy day project, or a special treat every once in a while.
Start with a cardboard tube or, if you can get hold of it, a chunk of hollow bamboo (any hollow parrot-safe wood could be used), make holes in the tube and poke sticks through the holes from one side to the other, with some at different angles. The food placed inside is retrieved by pulling the sticks out of the tube so it falls down the tube 🙂
Collection of various foraging toys, photo and toys by Heather Ahearn
Don’t forget, if your bird hasn’t yet experienced the fun of food foraging, it may take some practise, but don’t give up! If one toy doesn’t strike their interest, try different ideas! You can also make food foraging simpler in the early stages by revealing a little bit of the food, or open up a little bit of the concealed part of the toy until your bird is confident in what to do. Good luck and have fun!