The Perfectly Trained Parrot – Book Review

Perfectly Trained Parrot ImageThe Perfectly Trained Parrot  by Rebecca K. O’Connor is a really good book.  I have read this book cover to cover twice now and I intend to read it again and again.  I find it informative, encouraging, and inspiring.  Reading it helps keep me motivated to keep training.  If you live with a parrot or parrots, I recommend you get this book.

I believe training is often overlooked when we consider forms of enrichment for our birds.  As parrot owners we get it that parrots need toys and foraging opportunities, but training, not so much.  Maybe because many of us associate the word training with a discipline like having to train to run a marathon.  And I will be the first to admit I am a reluctant trainer, probably because I don’t practice training enough nor do I make time for training like I should.  This book is going to help me get over that hurdle and learn to really enjoy training with my parrots.

In this book’s introduction, Rebecca O’Connor writes, “If you understand the underlying communication of training, you can have a perfect parrot.  Yes, I said, “perfect”.  I was given a bit of grief over my last parrot book’s having the words “perfect parrot” in the title.  There were those who felt I was encouraging unrealistic expectations of parrots.  So let me clarify.  The English language is alive, and the definitions of words evolve.  We rarely use the word “perfect” with its original intent of being flawless, as a diamond can be.  So few things in this world are that kind of perfect, yet we use the word all the time.  I’ve gone out on dates with a few perfect gentlemen, but they were far from flawless.  Thank goodness for that too, because flawless is boring.  We all have quirks and annoying behaviors.  The trick to living happily with any human or animal is to make concessions for the habits that do not bother us all that much and clearly communicate how to live happily together.  A perfect parrot is one that gives you great joy, is healthy and well-adjusted, and has minor and livable-with bad habits.  A perfect parrot has everything to do with your ideal standard.  What you need to do is decide what that standard is and make it fun to live up to it.  Trust me.  Your parrot has his own ideal standards of how you should behave as well.  The two of you can have this conversation with applied behavior analysis.”

Rebecca goes on to explain, “Applied behavior analysis is a straightforward and ethical way to shape behavior in most, if not all, situations.  Whether it is used in special education with children, managing zoo animals, or communicating with the parrot in your living room, it is applicable, replicable, and sensible.  In this book it will be the basis for training and problem solving.  Once you start practicing on your parrot(s), though, you may find that you get better at expressing what you mean to the whole world.  You may find that you are clearer and more consistent and that everyone else seems to be as well.  Life gets less stressful.  Days are more enjoyable.  Relationships are full of joy.  It sounds like a miracle, but it’s nothing more than clarity and better communication.”

Rebecca is right.  I have found that studying applied behavior analysis and training with positive reinforcement is more than something I learn.  It is something I become.  I am more observant and aware.  My heightened sense of awareness isn’t exclusive to working with my parrots.  I take an interest in what other people want and need.  I am a better listener.  Relationships with friends and family members improve.

This book encourages me and helps me relax and enjoy training.  I felt empowered that I could define my own standards and be a “perfect” trainer.  Perfect for my parrots and me, in my living room, at my house.

The Perfectly Trained Parrot features:

  • training basics, such as positive reinforcement, clicker training, target training, and terminology
  • basic behaviors, including the step up, step down, stick training, and stationing
  • trick training, including playing dead, vocal routines, fetching, and much more
  • training useful behaviors, such as participating in claw trims and wing clips and riding in a carrier
  • training a flighted parrot – and keeping him safe
  • solving and preventing behavior problems, including screaming and biting

The Perfectly Trained Parrot is a book I highly recommend.  To quote Rebecca, “Parrots, like all other animals (and people too) enjoy the stimulation of challenges and interacting with their world.  Training is one way to provide these things, and it enhances their lives.  So keep training! ”

 

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Birdie Buddy To The Rescue

Some of you already know that we suspended sales of the Fantastic Foraging Blocks because Jerry isn’t able to make the table saw cuts and I’m too afraid of the table saw to try.

Jerry had coronary artery bypass surgery on Wednesday, March 5th.  He had a total of 6 arteries bypassed.  Six sounds like a lot, and it is unusual, but a greater number of bypasses does not imply a person is more sick.  A person with a large amount of coronary artery disease may receive fewer bypass grafts because their arteries may be unsuitable for bypass grafting if they are too small or heavily calcified.  In Jerry’s case his arteries were suitable target vessels and the surgeons were able to successfully graft all 6 arteries.

So good news is the surgery was a success and Jerry is in rehab and surprising everyone with how well he is responding to therapy.  It will be quite some time before he is able to work in the garage around power tools again.  My dear friend and colleague, Nyla Copp of http://mybirdiebuddy.com/, is stepping up and will be making the Fantastic and Puzzler Foraging Blocks for us.  I say us, because I will be depending on her to make them for my birds as well.

Birdie Buddy LogoYou can rest assured that Nyla is a toy maker who puts the parrots and customers first.  Her work will be of the same quality as the work Jerry and I did.  Nyla uses only the best materials and always with the safety of your parrots a priority.  If you will be needing foraging blocks you can contact Nyla directly.  Her e-mail is adminnjc@mybirdiebuddy.com .

Also we will be looking forward to some new designs exclusively for My Birdie Buddy by Parrot Enrichment.  Nyla and I have been going over ideas and we will let you see them after we beta test them on a few of our birds and receive the parrot seal of approval.

So there is much to be thankful for with Jerry’s remarkable recovery.  And much to look forward to with new foraging block designs coming soon from My Birdie Buddy that will have all of the features we love about the Fantastic Foraging Blocks; but with a new twist to keep our parrots interested and engaged with foraging and chipping away at wood toys designed specifically for the intelligent creatures they are.

 

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Avian Enrichment and Parrot Enrichment Brainstorming in Colorado

I recently had the working vacation of my dreams.  Deb White invited me to Grand Junction, Colorado to work with her on enrichment ideas and videos.  I got to visit the home of Super Bird Creations, Avian Enrichment and Make Your Own Bird Toys.  After a few days of designing toy kits and coming up with DIY toy making ideas we took off to Houston, Texas to attend Parrot Festival 2014.

For those of you who may not know her, Deb White is dedicated to improving the lives of companion parrots through enrichment education and the manufacture of avian enrichment products.  Deb founded Super Bird Creations in 1992 with the goal of creating safe, fun and stimulating toys for companion parrots.  Super Bird Creations has grown to be one of the largest and most respected manufacturers of bird toys in the United States.  Deb White’s formula for success has been simple; an unwavering commitment to quality, innovative design, customer service and integrity.

Recognizing there was a need for a comprehensive approach to parrot enrichment and owner education, Deb wanted to do something more to help people understand the full spectrum of a pet parrot’s physical, instinctual and emotional needs.  The original concept for Avian Enrichment was a book.  However, deciding it was more important to make sure as many people as possible had unlimited and free access to the most up-to-date information, her book idea transformed into a website, www.AvianEnrichment.com .  In addition to having a wide variety of parrot toys and supplies, the Avian Enrichment website has over 90 articles on 12 easy to navigate essential topics that will help you enrich your bird’s life.  Deb is also owner of www.MakeYourOwnBirdToys.com and www.DancingParrot.com .

I have known Deb White for years.  Our friendship started through our mutual interest in parrot enrichment collaborating on enrichment tips and ideas as well as creating DIY toy making videos.  We had visited over the phone and on the internet but had not met in person until this visit.  Deb picked me up at the airport and drove me out to the Colorado National Monument for a quick tour before going to work.

Touring the Colorado National Monument

Touring the Colorado National Monument

The Colorado National Monument took my breath away.  But I must say I was equally impressed when I walked into Super Bird Creations.  I was walking through a warehouse of my dreams where you could find any parrot toy part imaginable.  My mind was racing and the opportunity for creating parrot enrichment items was unlimited.

Super Bird Creations Warehouse

Super Bird Creations Warehouse

The Production Room

The Production Room

At home I had been working on an idea for a hanging play area for smaller birds.  But I was stumped at how to attach a tray I wanted to use.  Deb suggested I use O-Rings.  I’ve never been able to work successfully with O-Rings but the folks at Super Bird Creations showed me how.

Penny teaches me how to open and close an O-Ring

Penny teaches me how to open and close an O-Ring

Once I learned the trick of opening and closing the O-Rings with two pair of pliers, I was empowered.  It was easy to attach the chain to the tray and create a terrific hanging play stand for little birds.  I took one back to the house for Deb’s Quaker to beta test.  This was one toy creation that received the parrot stamp of approval and it will definitely be a new toy kit for sale at MakeYourOwnBirdToys.com.  I’m already at work making the how to video and Deb is at work assembling parts to put the kit up on the website.

Working on a hanging play stand kit for MakeYourOwnBirdToys

Working on a hanging play stand kit for MakeYourOwnBirdToys

Sky is enjoying time on her hanging foraging play station.

Sky is enjoying time on her hanging foraging play station.

Time flies when you are having so much fun and before I knew it we were on a plane headed for Houston and Parrot Festival 2014.  National Parrot Rescue & Preservation Foundation (NPRPF) presents the annual Parrot Festival for the purpose of education and fundraising.  This was my first time attending Parrot Festival and I’m here to tell you, if you haven’t attended Parrot Festival before, you will want to put this on your list of things to do, http://www.parrotfestival.org/.  I had so much fun; learned a great deal; met old friends and made new ones; and went home with a renewed enthusiasm for living with my parrots.

Karen Anderson, Paula Nowak, Nyla Copp, Kris Porter, Deb White at Parrot Festival 2014

Karen Anderson, Paula Nowak, Nyla Copp, Kris Porter, Deb White at Parrot Festival 2014

Time spent working on toy kits and toy ideas with Deb White flew by.  I left with hundreds of new ideas swimming around in my brain.  I will be working on more toy making videos and publishing them at Make Your Own Bird Toys YouTube channel to share with all of you.

Meanwhile here is how you open and close an O-Ring.

If you are receiving this post in an email subscription you will need to click on this link to watch the video: http://youtu.be/4kfXSTD0aGg 

Stay tuned to http://www.youtube.com/user/MakeYourOwnBirdToys for more DIY toy making videos coming soon.

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Creating Foraging Opportunities – Part III – Increasing Complexity

This is the last article in a 3-part series on teaching parrots to forage that I wrote for Parrots magazine earlier this year.  With this article I hope to show you how to increase the complexity of foraging opportunities and fit those ideas into every day living for you and your bird.

In the first two articles in this series I covered the “how” of teaching your parrot to forage.  Now I would like to explain the “why” of foraging.  I think if we better understand why parrots need to forage, it becomes easier for us to recognize, create and incorporate foraging opportunities into the captive parrot environment.

Making foraging toys and providing foraging opportunities helps to activate the Seeking System in parrots.  Seeking is a core emotion in animals and birds that was originally identified by Dr. Jaak Panksepp, a neuroscientist who wrote Affective Neuroscience.  Dr. Panksepp spent decades mapping the emotional systems of the brain he believes are shared by all mammals.

The core emotions Dr. Panksepp describes as “blue ribbon systems” are:  Seeking, Play, Fear, Panic, Rage, Lust and Care.  Going into details of this research is not within the scope of this article, however I think his research provides insight into why foraging is so important to parrots.  Foraging opportunities should be about more than just hanging a food kebab or foraging toy in the cage.  Simply put, Dr. Panksepp states, “Seeking is the basic impulse to search, investigate and make sense of the environment.”

Temple Grandin, in her book, Animals Make Us Human, writes: “Everyone who is responsible for animals – farmers, ranchers, zoo keepers and pet owners – needs a set of simple, reliable guidelines for creating good mental welfare that can be applied to any animal in any situation.  The best guidelines we have are the core emotion systems in the brain.  The rule is simple: Don’t stimulate Rage, Fear and Panic if you can help it, but do stimulate Seeking and Play.”

Reading Animals Make Us Human influenced and helped to expand my thinking when it came to providing foraging opportunities for my birds.  Parrots are amazing seekers.  They take pleasure in investigating what is inside things and trying to figure out how to get at an item of interest that is just out of their reach.  They like to steal things.  I have one bird that doesn’t eat walnuts when you give them to him, but if he sneaks one out of another parrot’s bowl he will eat it.

Now that my own parrots are experienced foragers, I am always thinking of ways to increase the complexity of the foraging opportunities I provide for them.  In other words, I work to stimulate their Seeking System.

Once your birds are accustomed to having to work to retrieve food from foraging toys, have them work to get to the foraging toy as well.  Toys can be strategically placed just out of reach to encourage movement and activity.  This also stimulates the Seeking System in that your parrot has to figure out how to best get at a foraging toy that isn’t conveniently placed right next to a perch.

Toy placed just out of reach of a perch.

Toy placed just out of reach of a perch.

 Try presenting the food you make for them in different ways and offer it in different locations.  You might wrap the morning mash in a whole wheat flour tortilla and leave it out on the counter for a curious parrot to find. 

Tortilla wrap left out on the kitchen counter.

Tortilla wrap left out on the kitchen counter.

Or perhaps wrap fruits and vegetables in leafy greens and place the wrap out on a platform perch in your parrot’s cage.

Swiss chard wrap on a platform perch in the cage.

Swiss chard wrap on a platform perch in the cage.

Strategically placed clutter on various flat surface areas of your home, such as kitchen counters, table tops, shelves, TV trays and end tables, can create activity zones that stimulate the Seeking System and offer your parrot choices and the opportunity to make decisions. 

Tiny plastic container filled with foot toys and left out on an end table.

Tiny plastic container left out on an end table. After Zorba gets the toy out of the container, he can busy himself by shredding the old phone book left out on the table for him to find.

Perhaps leave an old water bottle out for a curious parrot to see if he can open it.  Or drape an old sweater jacket with a zipper over the arm of a chair.  My birds like destroying zippers so much I purchase old jackets at the thrift store to bring home just for that purpose.  Of note: I received a comment from a reader that pointed out caution should be used offering jackets with zippers.  I always buy the jackets with plastic zippers, but some jackets have metal zippers which might contain zinc and would not be a good choice for a parrot enrichment item.

Water bottle left on the end table for Buddy's curious beak to try and open.

Water bottle left on the end table for Buddy’s curious beak to try and open.

 Once your parrot is accustomed to foraging, you need to keep it interesting and that can get expensive.  You can stretch your toy making dollars by making use of your trash.  Recycled containers can make wonderful parrot toys.

When I buy cornstarch I look for the Argo brand and it isn’t because I think it is superior to similar products.  Argo cornstarch comes in a bright yellow plastic container with a bright blue top that I use as a parrot toy when empty.  After washing, I cut a few holes in the side of the container and fill it with beads and other foot toys.  Instead of presenting it to my parrot, I leave it out on the counter as strategically placed clutter to be discovered.

Recycled container made into a foraging toy and left on the kitchen counter for a parrot to discover.

Recycled container made into a foraging toy and left on the kitchen counter for a parrot to discover.

More often than not, parrots themselves can give us ideas for providing them with opportunities that stimulate the Seeking System.  I had a tub of apples soaking on the counter in vegetable wash when my Timneh, Buddy, landed on the tub and leaned his beak in to get an apple.  I removed the tub full of vegetable wash and replaced it with a tub of clean water with some apples floating inside.

Buddy had a great time bobbing for apples in the tub and this is an activity we’ve continued.  When I’m preparing my parrots’ salad mix, I sometimes place vegetables and fruits in a tub of clean water for Buddy to bob for.  It is an easy activity to set up and one that he enjoys.  Of note, this is an activity that should be supervised and may not be suitable for all parrots, especially smaller parrots that might fall in the tub.

Buddy bobbing for apples.

Buddy bobbing for apples.

I don’t know a parrot who doesn’t like to test gravity by dropping things off counters and onto the floor.  I always have a number of mismatched plastic containers in my cupboards.  You know, the ones that don’t have a top that fits and tops that don’t have bottoms to match.  I place them in an empty plastic washtub that I leave out on the kitchen counter.  My birds enjoy wandering over to rummage through the contents of the tub and toss the containers onto the floor.

Zorba picks out a plastic top to chew on before tossing it to the floor.

Zorba picks out a plastic top to chew on before tossing it to the floor.

 These are just a few of the countless ideas to help you stimulate the Seeking System in your own birds.  Be inventive, but always consider safety first.  Closely observe your parrot and know not only what toys he interacts with, but how he uses them.  If you do not feel completely comfortable with a toy or foraging opportunity do not use it.

Other ideas, videos and my Parrot Enrichment Activity Books (available as free PDF downloads) can be found on my website, www.ParrotEnrichment.com.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this series of articles on Creating Foraging Opportunities and that it has served to help you provide foraging opportunities for your own parrots.

 

 

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Creating Foraging Opportunities – Part II – The Next Level

This is the second in a 3-part article on teaching parrots to forage that I wrote for Parrots magazine earlier this year.  Part I gave you some basic ideas on how to get started providing foraging opportunities for your parrots.  In this article, Part II, I share ideas on how to move to the next level of foraging.  Part III will explain how to increase the complexity of foraging opportunities and fit those ideas into every day living for you and your parrot.

Last week we talked about how to introduce foraging opportunities to parrots that have had little or no experience being presented with foraging opportunities.   Once your parrot begins to take an interest in the simplest of foraging toys, you can start to move to the next level of foraging.

Assuming you have threaded some of your parrot’s favorite treats on a stainless steel skewer or length of rope, hung it in the cage and your bird has taken food off it; you are ready to progress from the simple food toy to a slightly more challenging one.

Start adding fresh leafy greens, pieces of red or green bell pepper, carrot, squash, a small ear of corn, a slice of apple, pear, orange, or anything you can thread on the skewer or rope that you find in season at the local grocery store.  The goal is to add in healthy vegetables and fruits very slowly so that the changes in the toy aren’t so great that your parrot stops foraging food from the toy.

When you observe your parrot has no setbacks with a variety of vegetables being added to his foraging skewers you can start adding non-food items.  You might cover a bird bread muffin or other favorite food item with a paper cupcake liner or sandwich it between two pieces of wood.

A slightly more complex skewer includes food and shreddable material.

A slightly more complex skewer includes food and shreddable material.

In time you will be able to incorporate a wide variety of vegetables and small amounts of fruit to the food skewers along with wood and chewable items such as maize mats.  Hide pieces of apple inside a vine ball or cover other food items with paper cups, bowls or unbleached coffee filters.

A very easy foraging opportunity to create is to weave fresh leafy greens like collard, kale or Swiss chard in the cage bars.  Most parrots love to rip and tear at the greens and we would hope they just might ingest some of the healthy greens in the process.  You can also hang plastic chain on play-stands or in the cage and put some leafy greens through the chain for your parrot to chew.

A cockatiel forages on leafy greens woven through cage bars.

A cockatiel forages on leafy greens woven through cage bars.

While we don’t often think of potted plants as foraging opportunities, I found my own parrots enjoyed having access to edible flowers such as pansies or nasturtiums.  In the spring and summer months I hang them out in the aviary for them to chew on.  In the winter I often hang a non-toxic houseplant near a boing or play-stand that is within reach of curious beaks.

A basket of edible pansies hung near a favorite perch.

A basket of edible pansies hung near a favorite perch.

There are some health and safety issues to consider when incorporating plants into your parrot’s environment.  Rugh Fahrmeier shared an article, “Plants and Parrots – a Personal Perspective” in The Parrot Enrichment Activity Book, Vol. 2 – pages 15-18 which addresses many of these concerns.

There are many commercial foraging toys available useful for helping you get your parrot to the next level of foraging.  Jungle Talk Hide-A-Treat is a good one to start with .  The toy hangs in the cage on a chain with two hard plastic cups.  The bottom cup is divided into three compartments where you can hide pellets or treats.  The top is an inverted cup that sits over the bottom cup.  Your parrot has to slide the top cup up the chain to get at the food inside the bottom cup.  To start, you may have to hold the top cup up and show your parrot there are pellets or treats inside the toy.

Teaching this quaker parrot how to get treats out of a Hide-A-Treat toy.

Teaching Guapo, a Quaker parrot, how to get treats out of a Hide-A-Treat toy.

You can create similar foraging toys using plastic bottle caps.  String two bottle caps on a length of parrot safe rope.  Fit the top cap over the bottom cap so it can hold a small treat or pellet.  Use other items such as plastic or wooden beads to keep the caps on top of each other, but held in a manner that your parrot can get his beak between the bottle caps to separate them and get the treat out. 

DIY Hide-A-Treat toy made from bottle caps separated by plastic tubes on rope.

DIY Hide-A-Treat toy made from bottle caps separated by plastic tubes.

 Another DIY Hide-A-Treat idea is to use paper cups.  Place a piece of wood or a plastic washer or disc on a length of rope.  Thread a paper cup on the rope.  The washer or piece of wood will help to give support to the paper cup so it doesn’t tear off and fall to the cage bottom as your parrot forages in the cup.  Put foot toys, pellets, nutri-berries, nuts, etc. in the cup.

To start with you may want to leave the cover off the cup so your bird sees the treats and toys inside.  When you observe your parrot eagerly getting items out of the open cup hanging in the cage, you can increase complexity by placing cardboard paper or wood slices over the top of the cup.  In the photo I show an example of a cup I found in a store in my area that is made for coffee and comes with a lid.

I would like to mention here that the paper cups I buy do have a thin wax coating on them and I am okay with giving them to my own birds.  I’ve observed them with this type of toy and they do not ingest any pieces of the cup so I’m comfortable with using them for foraging toys for my flock.

I do know many parrot owners object to using cups that have wax coating.  If so, there are plain paper cups that can be used for this same purpose and you could make your own lid using cardboard or even a plain rice cake to top it off for more shredding fun.

A Chinet Comfort Cup made into a parrot foraging toy.

A Chinet Comfort Cup made into a parrot foraging toy.

When your parrot becomes practiced in quickly getting everything out of the cup, try wrapping some of the foot toys and treats in paper for an added challenge.

Open containers on counters or cage tops can initiate foraging activity.  If you get bottled beer or soft drinks in six-pack containers recycle the container into a parrot foraging toy.  Fill the compartments of the container with paper rolls, paper shred, foot toys and maybe a nut or two.  Leave it out in the open for your parrot to discover and forage through.

Recycle six-pack containers into parrot foraging toys.

Recycle six-pack containers into parrot foraging toys.

I like to use six-pack containers rather than traditional cardboard boxes because the design is open and compartmentalized in a way that it doesn’t trigger nesting behavior in my birds like a typical cardboard box often will. 

Plastic compartmentalized organizer boxes designed for holding small items such as beads, thread or screws can be found online and at craft or hardware stores.  You needn’t fill the compartments with an abundance of treats.  Parrots are naturally curious and foraging can be as simple as a search among a collection of stuff:  plastic or wooden beads, plastic bottle caps, marbles, with just a single nut hidden in their midst.  Birds like to jostle through the items in the compartments tossing them out and searching for anything of interest or value.

A plastic craft box makes an ideal foraging toy.

A plastic craft box makes an ideal foraging toy.

These are just a few ideas to help you create foraging opportunities for your parrot.  Be inventive, but always consider safety first.  Know your own parrot and learn not just what toys he interacts with, but how he uses them too.  If you do not feel completely comfortable with a toy, do not use it.

Other ideas, videos and my Parrot Enrichment Activity Books (available as free PDF downloads) can be found on my website, www.ParrotEnrichment.com.

Next week:  Part III of this series – Increasing Complexity

Posted in Foraging, Teach Parrots to Forage | 3 Comments

Creating Foraging Opportunities – Part I – Getting Started

This is the first in a 3-part article on teaching parrots to forage that I wrote for Parrots magazine earlier this year.  Part I will give you some basic ideas on how to get started providing foraging opportunities for your parrots.  Part II gives you some ideas on how to move to the next level of foraging.  Part III explains how to increase the complexity of foraging opportunities and fit those ideas into every day living for you and your parrot.

If foraging is new to your bird, start slowly.  For birds that have never had to forage, some give up easily when presented with food that is not delivered in the manner they have become accustomed to.

One of the first things you can do is cover or wrap the food bowl with paper using string or masking tape to fasten the paper to the bowl.  Sometimes you may need to poke a hole in the paper to show your parrot food is inside the bowl.  Alternatively you could run a thin strip of paper down the middle of the bowl.  Even something as simple as this creates a foraging opportunity in that your parrot has to stop and think before getting food out of the bowl.  Over time you will be able to gradually increase the width of the paper across the bowl or dish until you cover the entire bowl and your parrot will tear through the paper to get to the food inside.

A start to foraging could be covering the bowl with small strip of paper.

A start to foraging could be covering the bowl with small strip of paper.

Another way to introduce a foraging opportunity to a reluctant forager is to add a few wooden beads to their bowl of pellets.  Start with just a few beads.  Once you see your bird nudge aside a bead to get to a pellet, add more beads the next day and the next, until your parrot readily forages through a covering of wooden beads to get to his pellets.

Put wooden beads in the bowl with their pellets to encourage foraging.

Put wooden beads in the bowl with their pellets to encourage foraging.
Photo credit: Pat Phillips

Whole vegetables can be made into foraging toys.  Small pumpkins or butternut squash make great beginner foraging toys.  To make it more interesting for your parrot you can cut the top off the pumpkin, carve out some of the flesh and put in some of his favorite vegetables or fruit.  Also carve holes in the side of the pumpkin and stick in a nut or piece of carrot or broccoli in the hole.  When pumpkins aren’t in season you can use butternut or zucchini squash or whole bell peppers in the same way.

Use whole vegetables for foraging toys.

Use whole vegetables for foraging toys.

Thread large pieces of vegetables and fruit on stainless steel skewers to hang in the cage.  The skewers provide a foraging opportunity in that food is presented to your parrot in a different way.  Instead of getting food from a bowl, your bird will need to climb to a different part of the cage and figure out how to reach the skewer to get the food off of it.

A great beginner foraging toy is a skewer hung in the cage with vegetables and fruit

A beginner foraging toy might be a stainless steel skewer hung in the cage with vegetables and fruit.

An artichoke strung on a stainless steel skewer makes a great foraging toy.  You can stuff the leaves with a variety of fruits and vegetables.  To encourage your parrot to approach the artichoke you might smear almond butter on the tips of some of the leaves.  Artichokes have sharp thorns at the end of the leaves.  More often than not these are trimmed by the grocer before putting them out to sell.  If you do get one with sharp thorns, they are easy to trim.  Cut the thorny tips of the leaves off with a pair of kitchen shears.

An artichoke with other foods inserted in the leaves makes a foraging toy.

An artichoke with other foods inserted in the leaves makes a foraging toy.

There are many commercial foraging toys on the market that are good for beginning foragers.  I like the Treasure Chests made by Parrot Island with see through acrylic drawers which are easily opened and there is room for all sorts of foot toys and treats inside each drawer.  If your budget won’t stretch to a Treasure Chest, similar foraging opportunities can be created using quick lock bowls that attach to the side of the cage or stainless steel buckets that can be hung in the cage.

All these items make good foraging toys for beginners.  Fill the bowl or bucket with non-food items like foot toys, plastic bottle caps, pieces of wood and beads, with a few nuts or other treats mixed in.  Your parrot will then have to maneuver through the non-food items to get to the treats.

Treasure Chests encourage parrots to learn to forage.

Treasure Chests encourage parrots to learn to forage.

 

Food bowls can double as foraging toys if filled with toys and treats.

Food bowls can double as foraging toys if filled with toys and treats.

To encourage smaller parrots to forage you could place a shallow container on the bottom of the cage.  Fill the container with pellets and/or seed mix with a light covering of shredded paper.  Keep in mind that most avian veterinarians recommend seeds mixes be offered as a treat food and not a staple of the diet.  When you see your bird push aside the shredded paper to get to the food you can add more shreddable material to increase the complexity of the foraging opportunity.

Teaching a cockatiel to forage through shredded paper to get to pellets and seed.

A cockatiel to forages through shredded paper to get to pellets and seed.

I share a recipe for bird bread on my website that most parrots like.  I bake the bread in mini-muffin tins and make a hole in the center of each muffin before baking.  That way I can string the bird bread on toys and hang them in the cage.

When our Timneh, Irving, came to live with us I was told he didn’t play with toys and wasn’t accustomed to foraging.  Irving liked the bird bread.  The very first foraging toy I made for him was a single piece of bird bread strung on a length of hemp rope.  I knew Irving was ready for me to increase the level of difficulty just a bit when I saw him chew the bird bread off the rope.

Teaching Irving to get bird bread off a toy hung in the cage.

Teaching Irving to get bird bread off a toy hung in the cage.

I added a piece of wood to the rope with a bird bread muffin on top of that and hung it in the cage.  After I saw him eat the bird bread that rested on top of the wood, I added paper on top of the next one and gradually worked up to more complex foraging toys for him.

My goal was to get Irving to go to the rope to get his bird bread.  Once I had him accustomed to eating bird bread off the rope, I added vegetables and fruit hidden under unbleached coffee filters or grass mats to the foraging toys.

If you have a reluctant forager, like my Irving, who was accustomed to getting high carbohydrate treats handed to him, you may have to start out with treats like a pretzel, cracker or very small slice of cheese to get your parrot comfortable with taking food off a toy hanging in the cage.  It is important to keep in mind that you only use what I call “junk” food to get them used to the idea of going to the rope or skewer and taking food off a toy hanging in the cage.

Once they learn to reach for the rope or skewer and get the food off of it, begin to eliminate the unhealthy food and start incorporating healthier bird bread and small pieces of favorite fruit into the toy.  Work your way up to adding leafy greens and vegetables along with paper, vine balls, straw mats or any other shreddable material into the foraging toys you make for your parrot.

Irving learned to forage and is seen here chewing through a vine ball to get to what's inside.

Irving learned to forage. Here he chews through a vine ball to get his treat.

These are a few fairly easy ideas to get you started teaching your own parrot to forage for food.  More ideas, videos and my enrichment activity books (available as free PDF downloads) can be found on my website:  www.ParrotEnrichment.com .

In next week’s post I explain how to move up to the next level of foraging.

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Oliver’s Garden Handcrafted Bird Toys and Perches

I saw a blog post at Coco’s Flock with a review of Oliver’s Garden bird toys and perches.  I have been coveting the platform perches made by Susan Tuck, owner at Oliver’s Garden Bird Toys, ever since.

Coco's Flock, Lola, on her Oliver's Garden platform perch.

I finally ordered my own to try.  I ordered a medium and large platform and couldn’t be more pleased.  The platform perches are made from thick and sturdy natural wood.  The hardware that attaches the perch to the cage is quality stainless steel.  Susan Tuck came up with a signature idea to put beads inside her platform perches.  These platforms come with five fun beads built in which makes it a perch and a toy all in one.

Oliver's Garden Large Platform

Byrd was the first parrot in my house brave enough to step on the new platform perch.  I ordered the medium size for her and she was stepping up onto the perch while I was trying to fasten it in her cage.  She immediately started spinning the beads and then went to chewing the wood.  The way this perch is made, it will take her many months or maybe years to chew through it.

Byrd on the Medium Platform from Oliver's Garden

I originally thought of the large platform for Zorba, who right now thinks it will eat his toes.  While waiting for him to get used to the new perch, I had the idea to put the large one in Byrd’s cage.  I think I prefer the large platform for Byrd because it is big enough to put a book on it while leaving plenty of room for her to stand comfortably and chew on her book.

Byrd on an Oliver's Garden Large Platform with room for her book.

Oliver’s Garden is located in Chester, Nova Scotia, Canada and shipping to the United States for me was very reasonable.  They are a cottage industry with an original line of bird toys and rope products.  When you browse through their store, http://www.oliversgarden.com/ , you will find a unique collection of handcrafted toys made from quality materials and checked for safety, fun and durability.

Oliver's Garden customer Phoebe with a Chunky Monkey toy.

Oliver’s Garden rope products feature a collection of expertly crafted crawlers, swings, boings and more.  In fact, I see a Rescue Rope purchase in my future.

The Rescue Rope by Oliver’s Garden offers climbing activity and encourages flapping, swinging and above all FUN!

 

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Avian Stainless

I recently purchased stainless steel toys from Avian Stainless.  I have to tell you that I am very impressed with these toys.  They are made of premium quality stainless steel and expertly crafted with attention to every detail.  I love their designs.  I like the look and feel of these toys but more importantly they are are designed to appeal to parrots.

Avian Stainless - Spoon Tunes

Avian Stainless - Symphony

I purchased Spoon Tunes and Symphony.  Both are great toys and reasonably priced.  I couldn’t be more pleased.  Even better, my parrots are pleased.

Avian Stainless advertises “Parrot Toys with Attitude” and I can tell you they are spot on with that description of the toys they make.  When I took the Spoon Tunes toy out of the box I understood what they meant by “attitude”.  This toy is designed for clanging and banging fun.  It also has a foraging feature.  I filled the ladle of the spoon with Avian Organics Veggie Bars and covered them with a piece of paper fastened on with bits of masking tape.

Plenty of room in this spoon's ladle for treats.

 

Fill, wrap and hang for foraging fun.

Zorba got the paper off and the treats out before I could focus the camera.  But he didn’t stop there.  He continued to play with the toy for several minutes after foraging out the treats as you can see in the video below.

If you are receiving this post in an email subscription you will need to click on this link to watch the video: http://youtu.be/Cn_1mtgyUmc

Symphony is a beautiful toy that has stainless rods and disks of various sizes for curious beaks to explore.  Parrots can make charming music while playing with this toy as Elvis will demonstrate in the video below.

If you are receiving this post in an email subscription you will need to click on this link to watch the video: http://youtu.be/MIRWOGp7RJA

From simple fun to noisy toys, to foot toys and interactive toys, Avian Stainless has something for every size parrot.  Visit www.AvianStainless.com and take a look around.  I am sure you will be impressed.

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DIY Toy Jam-Packed With Shredding Fun

I have an Avian Avenue Forum member, Renae, to thank for giving me the idea to make my own version of a toy she shared in a forum post.  Renae posted this picture of a toy she made using links, bagels and rolled newspaper.

I know, terrific idea isn’t it?  I saw this and immediately went to my parts bins.  I had all the parts to make a toy similar to this one.

I also made a video showing how I put mine together with parts from www.MakeYourOwnBirdToys.com.  I especially like this toy idea because it is affordable and makes up quick with just a few parts.

I originally made this toy with the Large Heart and Star Links.  I needed to order more of those parts from MakeYourOwnBirdToys.com but they were out of stock.  I did find a substitute part that I actually like much better,  Geo Links .  I made a new video to show you how to make this same toy with Geo Links.  And, as you will see in the video, it is a toy that keeps my birds actively shredding away.

If you are receiving this post in an email subscription you may need to click on this link to watch the video:  https://youtu.be/fx9mdU3ZgJw

 

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Parrot’s Choice Foraging Blocks

My husband, Jerry, has designed another fantastic foraging block for parrots.  This block is designed exclusively for MakeYourOwnBirdToys.com.  We wanted a block that had all of the terrific features of the Fantastic and Puzzler Foraging Blocks but would also be unique to MakeYourOwnBirdToys.com.

I am happy and proud to introduce the Parrot’s Choice Foraging Blocks to you in this blog post.  I think if there were a Parrot’s Choice Award, parrots everywhere would pick this block.  The Parrot’s Choice Foraging Blocks are available in three sizes and are packed with features that encourage foraging and wood chewing like nested holes and wide cuts that make it easy to insert items like nutriberries, sliced vegetables and fruits.  You can tie on your parrot’s favorite toy parts that you find at MakeYourOwnBirdToys.com to add to the appeal of the block and increase the foraging experience.

I have a video to share with you that illustrates the wonderful features of The Parrot’s Choice Foraging Blocks.

If you are receiving this post through e-mail subscription, you will need to click on this link to watch the video: Parrot\’s Choice Foraging Blocks.

Parrot’s Choice Foraging Blocks are available for sale at http://www.makeyourownbirdtoys.com/Toy-Bases/ along with the most comprehensive selection of bird toy parts on the web.

Happy shopping!

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