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FORAGING 101

FORAGING:
Foraging is an enrichment technique that combines many of the elements Robin discussed, including dietary tactile and visual. It replaces an important activity generally lost in captivity. In the wild, a bird will spend 80 percent of its time traveling to seek food. So if all we do is give our birds food in a bowl, it’s no fun! Foraging works to get them to do something. It is time consuming and it reduces boredom. It also serves to redirect unwanted behaviors to positive and nondestructive ones.

GOALS FOR FORAGING
In teaching foraging for companion birds, our goals are:
  • to increase the variety and number of positive, natural behaviors
  • to decrease the number of negative or harmful behaviors
  • to provide animals with an improved ability to handle being in a captive environment
TEACHING FORAGING
Here are the steps to take when starting to teach a pet bird to forage for food.
  1. Choose a favorite small treat; do not offer this treat at any other time, other than to train foraging.
  2. Start with a simple foraging device and initially load device with this treat only.
  3. Let the bird see you load the foraging device with the treat.
  4. Show him how to manipulate the device and get the treat.
  5. Add more foraging devices and begin adding regular food to them, with a treat hidden at the bottom.
Be sure the bird is an accomplished forager before feeding all food as forage.
As an example, take a Dixie Cup and put some safflower seeds in the bottom. Show this to the bird and then feed the seeds to him out of the cup. Get him used to eating the seed in the cup. After the bird is compfortable and accomplished at this, put some seed in the cup and cover it with a paper towel. Show, the bird and let him see how you take the paper towel out to get to the seed. When the bird can take the toweling out to get to the seed, next close up the top of the Dixie cup with masking tape and show the bird how to tear it open, remove the toweling and get to the seed.
Within reason, let’s make it as challenging as possible to find the food – that is, challenging, but make sure it is something that the bird can accomplish.
 
FORAGING TOYS
These can be store bought such as these from drsfostersmith.com, whose bird toys are safe and bird easy, but still a challenge.
 
Foraging toys can also be home made. You can make a simple foraging toy by sticking slices of parrot-safe fruits and vegetables in the holes of a Whiffle Ball and hanging the treat-filled ball in the cage or somewhere else the bird can access it. That’s easy – and cheap! Paper towel rolls are amazing, too. The paper towel roll is universal – it can make great toy that works for just about every animal. String several sections of the roll on a rope and hide food and treats inside each section. Use your imagination and you can do a lot with these simple cardboard rolls.
You can also use adding machine tape, paper from shredder, telephone book pages, newspaper, etc., with food or treats wrapped in the middle. Put this through the cage bars and the bird will have to figure out how to get to the wrapped treat.
 
CONSTRUCTING FORAGING TOYS FOR BIRDS
Always make sure you’re using parrot-safe materials. No matter what you use, some parrot out there may manage to injure himself with it. Birds can – and will – get into just about anything … get into, break off, destroy … You need to balance safety with the benefits of enrichment these toys provide.
It is important to consider size of the parrot and power of the beak when you evaluate the components of foraging toys. Clean and disinfect all toys or materials extremely well before use. The materials shouldn’t contain soft metals or toxins. Metal should be stainless steel and not have sharp edges or clips that might get caught around any part of the bird’s boyd. If there’s any question about a material, don’t use it!
 
Washable objects should be cleaned with a diluted bleach solution or mild soap. If you get a material out of nature, either truly clean it or don’t use it!
 
CONCLUSIONS
Foraging can add immeasurable enrichment to the life of any pet bird. I have seen birds that were driving people crazy, screaming all day before they were introduced to foraging. No more screams – now they’re too busy foraging!
 
CAITIE SICKAFOOSE is a registered veterinary technician who has worked at the Avian and Exotic Animal Clinic in Indianapolis, IN, since 2010.

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