Teaching your parrot to forage is a great way to keep them active and content.
It can also help prevent unwanted behaviors like pacing, bar biting and plucking. Whether your parrot is new to foraging or just stuck at a certain level, these tips will help.
First, here are some foods that you can use for foraging.
When you first start out, I recommend choosing something that's of HIGH value to your parrot. This will be different for each bird, and YOUR bird decides what it is. If he'll do anything for almonds, cut a few into tiny pieces and use those JUST for foraging. At least until they start to understand the concept. Then you can use other foods.
Here are some of the things that I use in my birds foraging toys and trays.
- Dehydrated vegetable mixes
- Dehydrated fruit mixed (use unsulfured kinds)
- Avian herb & salad green mixes
- Dried flowers or avian tea mixes
- Seeds & Nuts (just a few, especially if you also use them for training throughout the day).
- Oven Fresh Bites
- We even throw in pelleted foods that are different than the brand our birds get daily (just a piece or two).
Birds don't always naturally know how to forage.
Foraging often needs shaping, which is when you take small steps towards the behavior you want to see. If you take too big of a step, your bird may not understand what it is they need to do, and may get frustrated. If they get frustrated and repeatedly walk away, take it back a step.
This example shows one way you can steadily increase the level of difficulty.
Here you start very easy and use an uncovered cup. Make sure your parrot is watching when you introduce the cup and put a treat in it. Then give him a chance to take the treat from the cup. Do this a few more times putting the cup at different places in the cage.
Then move on to the covered cup. Once your parrot has mastered one form of the toy, move on to the next, making it a bit harder to get inside the cup each time.
For your parrot, this could mean different things. Some examples would be:
- Covering the cup with different "road blocks" like beads or plastic saucers
- Wrapping the treat in paper and then putting it into the cup
- Placing the cup into a box
- Putting the cup into a food dish covered with shreddable toy parts
- Placing it into a treat cage surrounded by other shreddable toy parts.
If your bird totally ignores any of these next steps, you may need to go back and make it a bit easier until they catch on. Here's an example of that.
Making it more difficult...then taking a step back:
Lets say you want to add a layer of difficulty to the treat cup forager. You could place it into a spare food dish, and then cover the dish with paper to hide the cup.
If your parrot is getting frustrated and not able to figure it out, take a step back and offer a little less difficult option. For example, you could cut several small holes in the paper covering the food dish, so they are able to see that there could be something inside. A step further back might be just to lay a piece of paper over the food dish. Keep going back until your bird is figuring out how to get to the treat cup again.
Another example of increasing the difficulty.
You can also stuff small boxes (like pillow boxes or soap size boxes) with paper shred, beads and some dried foods. Make sure your bird sees you stuffing the box. Leave the box open for beginner foragers, so they can see there's something inside. Hang the box in the cage or stuff in between the cage bars. Close the box when they're more familiar with this. To increase difficulty, put the box inside another item (like a treat cage or a slightly larger box).
And if your bird doesn't seem to catch on at first, keep at it! Sometimes it just takes them awhile to get used to something new in their environment.
Research shows that parrots actually PREFER to work to find their food versus eating that same food freely out of a bowl! (It's called contra freeloading if you're interested in checking out more about it.) So, you may find that they end up LOVING the chance to look for their food.
Let us know which of these ideas you try in the comments!
For another SUPER easy foraging idea, check out our post Easy Foraging Trays.
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