Foraging has been a hot topic in the bird community in recent years. Many people are aware of the concept, but few employ it because it often seems like a lot of extra work.
Quite simply, foraging means “searching for food” – something all wild animals do. Captive animals, on the other hand, typically have food appear in a bowl in front of them.
Research has shown that birds benefit from foraging for their food and even prefer it!
In its natural environment, a bird is surrounded by a multitude of unpredictable stimuli to which it is adapted to respond (Van Rooijen 1991) and therefore it is able to exert control over certain environmental stimuli. However, within a cage often there is little unpredictability.
Thus, the animal has little control over any aspects of its environment, a situation to which it is not well adapted (see Hughes & Duncan 1988).
Hughes and Duncan (1988) have suggested that an animal working for food in the presence of identical free food (contrafreeloading) is exerting control over an aspect of its environment. Furthermore, studies by Hermstein (1964) and Inglis and Ferguson (1986) have shown that non-food-deprived animals prefer variable to constant reinforcement, such as food.Effects of Foraging Enrichment on The Behaviour of Parrots—Animal Welfare—November 1997
If you read up on foraging, there are a multitude of products and do-it-yourself techniques you can employ. But there is expense and time involved in creating these opportunities as well as monitoring the results.
I’d like to propose one simple foraging idea that does not take that much effort. This is what my current version looks like.
It looks complicated, but I initially started very simple. It’s a ceramic dish with a seed mix at the bottom. Use whatever food mix you prefer. On top, I initially just added these small wooden blocks you’ll see in the picture. At first, just a few until they get used to it. Eventually, enough that they need to do some work to get at their food.
Other things I’ve added over the years:
- Glass beads (I try to find safe things)
- Twigs with leaves attached
- Small toys
- Crinkled paper
- Cinnamon sticks and star anise (see my article on enrichment)
You can pretty much add what you want. The downside is that the more you add, the more work it is to empty out the food and add more food later. You can always just keep adding food and then change out the bowl infrequently. Alternatively, you could dump it out in a colander and rinse everything, then dry out the non-food contents.
Wood blocks and glass beads can be bought at a jewelry supply store or also online. (Note: I am not an Amazon affiliate)
You can use a foraging bowl as a fun plaything or as your bird’s main food dish.