In this article, I look at how to get your parrot to forage for food, what toys you can use, which treats are best and more foraging ideas for parrots.
In the wild, foraging for food is what birds do almost the whole day.
It is the single thing that keeps them most active.
Unfortunately, as pets, they lose all this activity that keeps them sharp.
Their lifestyle can become very sedentary, which can cause several health problems.
Teaching your bird to forage is one of the best ways to provide them with both mental and physical stimulation.
It serves both purposes – the bird gets fed and stays active and healthy.
In this article, I will look at various creative and fun ways to help you train your parrots to forage.
What Is Foraging?
For wild birds, foraging involves flying around in search of food.
A majority of their daytime activities include foraging.
Of course, pet birds do not need to find their food that way.
In their case, teaching them to forage is just making it hard for them to get their food, in a way that the bird needs to put in some effort to find and access it.
Creating foraging opportunities in your parrot’s daily routine is one of the several things you can do to keep it entertained.
If your bird is alone during the day, foraging can keep it busy almost the entire time.
Foraging is also a great enrichment activity for your parrot. Here is a simple dog toy being used for foraging by the bird’s owner.
Why Do Pet Birds Need Foraging?
Pet birds really don’t need to find food.
Their owners offer enough of it as it is. So why the need of foraging?
Well, it has more to do with the bird’s need for stimulation than feeding.
Parrots are highly social and intelligent creatures.
A lack of mental and physical stimulation can cause various behavioral problems in them.
In the wild, they would not have faced such problems. They would spend the day with other flock members, finding food.
But alas, as pets, they sorely miss the benefits of this activity.
So making domestic birds forage for food inside their cage helps remedy this.
Foraging is considered one of the best ways of redirecting negative behavior in birds.
Apart from the mental stimulation, they also have to put in physical effort, which keeps them healthy.
How To Teach Your Parrot To Start Foraging
For a parrot that has always been in captivity and is unaccustomed to foraging, learning it may take some time.
Here’s a simple stepwise plan to teach your sedentary parrot to forage for food.
Step 1: Spread out multiple food bowls
Start by spreading multiple food bowls across the cage.
Keep using its regular food bowl, but only put enough food for the day in it, without adding any treats.
Also, don’t add too many of your pet’s favorite treats to it.
The idea is to get the bird to search for treats.
Put the treats in small foraging bowls instead and spread them all over the cage.
Position the bowls so that to reach them all, your parrot will have to traverse the length of the cage.
Each bowl should only contain a small amount of food.
This would prevent your pet from having its fill before it reaches all the bowls.
Step 2: Make the treats harder to access
Once the parrot has learned to forage from bowls, it’s time to take it a notch higher.
Cover the bowls with a piece of paper so the bird must remove it to access the treat.
Eventually, you can also start taping the paper on the bowl.
This way, the parrot must use its beak and tear a hole in the paper.
Here’s what happens – the parrot develops better foraging skills each time you increase the complexity.
The foraging continues to become more mentally and physically stimulating with each progressive stage.
Step 3: Use foraging toys
Hopefully, by now, your bird has completely mastered foraging from bowls.
You may start using treat dispensers and foraging toys.
Toys that require the bird to perform an activity, such as
- Lifting a lid,
- Turning a foraging wheel, or
- Opening a drawer will be perfect for this purpose.
Puzzles designed for birds are also great for training your pet in problem-solving treats.
Besides food, you may also nest foraging toys and puzzles just to reinforce the foraging skills.
Step 4: Give the bird shredding toys
Does your parrot tend to pluck its feathers a lot?
A lot of times, this happens due to boredom.
Providing the bird with some shredding toys will be the perfect solution.
Thanks to their foraging habit, parrots have developed an instinct to dig and shred things looking for food.
Shredding paper, wood, and other materials is a great way for a parrot to get physical activity and entertainment.
Besides, it helps reinforce the foraging instincts.
15 Affordable and DIY Foraging Toy Ideas
You don’t necessarily have to buy foraging toys for your parrot – there are several DIY options that you could use.
Untreated lumber cutoffs are available at very cheap prices and make great bird toys.
You may cut them into small pieces and string them on stainless steel toy holders, cotton or sisal ropes, or a short chain.
The pieces of wood can also serve as foot toys if you just leave them in the cage.
If you’re feeling creative, drill some holes in the wood and fill them with treats or beads for the parrot to forage for.
Empty cereal boxes and egg cartons
Don’t throw away all your empty cereal boxes.
You can use them all as foraging toys.
All you have to do is put the food reward or toys inside it.
Cardboard egg cartons and brown paper lunch bags are also great for this purpose.
Natural branches from bird-safe trees
Branches from bird-safe trees such as balsa, elm, ash, maple, and birch can be useful too.
It’ll not only give your parrot something to shred and chew on, but branches also contain different nutrients that may benefit the bird.
However, make sure the branches are non-toxic.
They shouldn’t have been sprayed with pesticides.
Wash them thoroughly before you put them near your bird.
Reused telephone books
If you have an old telephone book, you may hang it or place it in the cage (placing it on top works too).
Your feathered friend will have plenty of fun shredding the paper.
Another easy-to-make shredding toy is a bunch of plastic straws tied together in the middle.
Make sure to use twine or any other bird-safe rope for this.
Hang the bunch from the top of the cage using another such rope.
You may also use natural raffia in place of plastic straws.
Paper cups and plates
If you’re looking for eco-friendly options, paper cups and plates might serve you well.
Take the bird’s daily diet food and wrap them in paper cups and folded plates.
You may also stack several cups and plates, hiding food and treats in certain layers.
Once your parrot gets the hang of it, you can roll some food into a ball and place it in the cage.
Your parrot will have to chew through the cup to get to the food.
Shredded-paper makes a great filler for foraging toys.
You can use this cheap (and possibly free) material to fill pretty much any container and hide treats and toys under it.
It will make your parrot dig around the paper to forage for food.
Your bird is going to be busy for a long time; it really is a lot of fun for them.
Many pet stores sell newspaper bedding, which is a good alternative.
The texture of shredded paper and other such fillers also helps with sensory enrichment in birds.
Almonds and other shelled nuts
If you have a larger parrot, like a macaw or a cockatoo, this trick can work wonders.
Offer your feathered friend almonds (or other nuts like pistachios) with the shell still unbroken.
Remember – don’t try this with smaller birds like parakeets.
Their beaks are not strong enough to crack open nuts. They might end up injuring themselves.
Organic and unbleached coffee filters filled with grains or treats can be clipped to the side of the cage or hung inside for foraging.
Rice paper wrappers and dried food-grade bamboo leaves will also work
Make sure to keep the rice paper wrappers soaked so that they become flexible.
Plastic easter eggs
If you have any plastic easter eggs, you may drill a couple of holes so that you can pass a sisal rope or chain through them and hang them up.
The lower halves should be filled with treats for your bird.
Initially, keep the halves loosely attached so that the parrot doesn’t have much trouble opening them.
As time goes on, make it tighter so that it becomes harder for the bird.
For something so simple, paper balls work surprisingly well.
They are a great choice when you don’t have many options.
All you have to do is crumple some paper into a ball with treats in the center.
Besides being a foraging toy, it also gives your parrot something to shred.
The corn husks used to wrap tamales make excellent natural coverings to hide treats.
Place a small amount of treat in the husk and wrap it around until it is completely covered.
Let your parrot chew through the wrapping until it finds the prize in the center.
Non-waxed pine cones
Pine cones double as foraging toys and natural treats for parrots.
Pick up fresh pine cones and soak them in a dishpan of vinegar water for 10 to 15 minutes to remove the dirt and bugs.
Make sure to add at least a cup of vinegar per gallon of water to make it effective.
You must let the washed pine cones air-dry in a colander for a day.
Remember, the toxic fumes emitted by heated vinegar can be fatal to birds.
Once the pine cones are dried, bake them at 150 to 200 degrees on a foil-coated baking sheet.
This is to get rid of molds and bacteria.
Let the pine cones cool down and offer them to your pet.
Parrots love playing with pine cones and breaking them down.
Ultimately, they’re rewarded with edible seeds inside the cones. You may also stuff some food and treats inside the cones if you wish.
Finch nests are very affordable and make excellent natural containers for foraging.
All you need to do is fill the nests with shredded paper or other fillers, hide treats inside them, and hang them inside the cage.
The parrot would spend hours or even days foraging for treats in these nests.
If your parrot has a feather plucking problem, hanging some inexpensive cotton mop heads from the top of the cage, the perch, or the swing can help.
You can even wrap some treats with paper and tie them to the threads.
However, it’s best to use cut-end mop heads to reduce the risk of your pet getting its feet tangled up.
Fruits and Vegetables That Can Be Used as Treats in Foraging
Parrots love fruits and veggies, many of which can serve as healthy treats.
Different fruits and vegetables are to be served in different ways, as we’ll soon find out.
Whole fruits and veggies
Smaller fruits and veggies can be served whole or in chunks.
Anise pods, for instance, are a favorite among parrots.
The same goes for small apples, tangerines, and oranges.
You may also give your feathered friend chunks of brussels sprouts, purple cabbages, broccoli, and bell paper.
If you have multiple parrots in a cage or aviary, you can leave some grapes in there.
However, I wouldn’t recommend doing it daily as you can’t control how many grapes each parrot eats.
Even a large parrot shouldn’t have more than one whole grape per day.
Birds are known to suffer chronic renal failure due to eating grapes.
Parrots are also fond of pumpkins, and edible mini pumpkins are delicious foraging fruits.
While you may have to cut them in half for smaller parrots, the larger birds can eat them whole.
Some parrots may accept them as raw, but others might prefer them to be slightly cooked.
Fruits and veggies to weave, hang up, or skewer
Certain vegetables like carrots and corn on the cob can be hung inside the cage for the birds to peck on.
You may also weave or hang salad leaves and other leafy greens from the top of the cage or the cage bars.
Pomegranates are another great choice.
Not only are they nutritious and tasty, but parrots also love digging out the seeds.
Simply drill a hole through a pomegranate, put a skewer through it, and hang it from the top of the cage.
Sprinkling frozen pomegranates over the bird’s regular soft food mix is a viable option too.
Since pomegranates are seasonal fruits, you might want to stock up on them and freeze them for later.
The high water content makes them freeze very well, and parrots love the frozen texture.
Fruits and vegetables that double as feeder containers
Bell peppers make interesting foraging bowls for parrots.
Slice off the cap of the bell pepper and cut out most of the inner white contents, creating a hollow bowl.
Leave some seeds, though – parrots love them.
You can now stuff the hollow bell pepper with fresh food and put the cap back on.
Skewer it into a hanging stainless steel skewer in the cage for the bird to eat.
Cucumbers can serve as edible feeder containers too.
Simply take off the top with a knife, scoop out the insides with a spoon, and stuff the cavity with minced vegetables and sprouts.
If you have plenty of space at home and don’t need to keep the parrot in a cage, you may also build an indoor setup with plenty of foraging and playing opportunities.
It allows the bird to move around freely and take part in more activities.
However, you must bird-proof your home if you’re to keep your feathered friend outside a cage.
Keep the indoor setup as natural as possible.
It’s recommended to make some changes that would help improve the bird’s environmental enrichment.
Things to try include lighting and humidity control so that your pet’s living space looks and feels as natural as possible.
Things To Remember About Foraging
While foraging is a great way to keep your feathered friend active and engaged, there are a few things you must be careful about.
Birds, after all, are sensitive and highly vulnerable to toxicities and other dangers.
1. Do not use cardboard paper towels and toilet paper rolls to make foraging toys.
The adhesive used in them contains Zinc and may result in Zinc poisoning – a fatal condition.
2. You’ll have to come up with species-specific foraging foods and toys for your pet.
Not all parrot species can play with the same toys or eat the same foods in the same quantities.
3. To keep it natural, introduce seasonal foraging.
Switch the foods based on the season and what wild parrots generally eat during the season.
4. Setting up a fun playground for your bird is a good idea, but do not use any PVC pipes in it.
Vinyl chloride, a compound present in PVC, is a potential carcinogen.
To keep your bird safe, only use materials from natural and safe plants without any toxins or chemical pesticides (we mentioned some earlier).
5. Make sure to offer only non-toxic foods safe for birds.
There are several food items that birds shouldn’t eat.
6. Steer clear of Styrofoam containers.
Styrofoam sticks to the inside of a bird’s mouth and throat, forming a static mass and ultimately killing the bird.
7. Remember, bird toy safety is crucial.
Just like infants, birds run the risk of choking on any small inedible bits and pieces they accidentally swallow.
Getting entangled in a thread or having a body part stuck in a toy may result in injuries or even death.
It’s best not to give your pet such toys except under supervision.
There have been concerns over cotton threads containing chemicals that might be toxic to parrots.
Natural sisal ropes free of pesticides and oil are a better option.
Can You Take Your Parrot Outdoors?
While foraging is fun and provides parrots with a great deal of enrichment, it’s still good to take your bird outdoors every now and then.
This will help with environmental enrichment, allowing your pet to experience nature.
Of course, you need to take precautionary measures to make sure it doesn’t fly off.
Even if the parrot’s wings are clipped, and it can only fly a short distance, don’t risk it.
Pet birds unaccustomed to flying are at high risk from birds of prey or of simply crashing into things.
So, how do you take your parrot outdoors safely?
The best way to do it is to use a bird harness and leash and secure your pet.
The leash will allow the parrot to fly around for exercise while keeping it close to you at all times.
The other option is to take your feathered friend on a bike ride by putting it in a bicycle carrier or pet carrier.
Make sure to attach the carrier securely, and consider placing a towel at the bottom to make it comfortable.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are foraging activities for parrots?
Foraging is a natural behavior for parrots (and other birds).
They search for food items and often have to make both physical and mental efforts to get what they need to survive.
There are many ways to get pet parrots to forage, including simple ones like crumpled paper to using branches from trees, pine cones, and finch nests.
We have discussed many of these above.
What are homemade foraging toys for parrots?
You can easily come up with various homemade foraging toys to help your pet take part in foraging activities.
These include paper balls, cardboard boxes filled with shredded paper and hidden treats, non-waxed pine cones, and more.
How do I get my parrot to forage?
To teach a domesticated parrot to forage, start with simple techniques like placing treats in multiple bowls across the cage.
As your pet gradually develops its foraging skills, you may proceed to more challenging and complex foraging tricks using different toys.
How do you mentally stimulate a parrot?
One of the best ways to provide your parrot with mental stimulation is to have it forage for food.
Playing interactive games, training the bird to perform tricks and sing/talk, and providing various toys and puzzles can help too.
Teaching your parrot to forage is worth the effort.
It’s fun watching these intelligent birds solve puzzles and work their way through foraging toys to get their reward.
Besides, as I mentioned earlier, it keeps the bird healthy and mentally stimulated.
As you can see, including foraging in your pet’s daily routine isn’t hard at all.
I hope you found this article helpful, and thank you for reading it.