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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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