5 Ways To Use Food As Foraging Toys

What is a foraging toy?

To forage means to rummage or root around for food, the activity at which a wild parrot spends the largest part of his day. And a toy, in a parrot’s world, is pretty much anything from which it gains benefit. Therefore, by definition, a foraging toy can be anything the enables a search for food, even another food. We can use foods as foraging toys.

As expected, the very best opportunities for food foraging are provided by nature itself. Nuts and peas in the pod are perfect examples of foods that are built into their own foraging containers. Anything with a rind (squash), anything hidden beneath something (grubs) or attached to something else (grains and grass seeds) provide a foraging adventure.

The man-made foraging toys offer uniquely challenging activities; nowhere in nature is the ability to “unscrew” or “align notches” required in order to gather food. In fact, I have struggled to crack the “code” to some of these toys to hide something inside for my bird, who always gains access within minutes.

Nature’s foragers are not as elaborate, but they are always present for wild birds, who are kept mentally challenged each and every day. Our captive birds deserve the same.

How to use food as foraging toys

You don’t have to live in the woods or on a farm for your bird to benefit from foraging au naturale. Your local supermarket and your imagination has everything you need in stock. The following are meals that I offered to my birds over the past two days:

Stuffed acorn squash

1. An acorn squash

I washed, halved and cooked the squash in the microwave for 4 minutes to make it tender. I scooped out and chopped the insides and mixed them with some of Theo’s favorite foods like peas, corn, cooked rice, apples and beets (which has turned everything the color that it is here). I secured the two halves together with bamboo skewers, and served. Including cooking the squash, it took me less than 10 minutes to make this.

Theo begins foraging in her acorn squash

2. A cored carrot

I washed a large carrot and used the coring end of a peeler to gouge out holes which I stuffed with cauliflower, green beans, corn, and blueberries. I took only a few minutes to prepare.

The utensil used to core out the holes in the carrot.

I pushed an ice pick through the top of the carrot to create a hole for a bamboo skewer so I could attach the carrot to the cage bars forcing Linus to climb for his meal.

Linus, umbrella cockatoo, enjoying the use of food as a foraging toy

3. A broccoli stalk

You’d be surprised how much stuff you can fit in between each floret of broccoli. I hid an entire meal in this single stalk! It only took as long to prepare as it did to find places to hide the food.

Broccoli as a food foraging toy

I tied a rawhide strip around the stalk and attached a quick link to a knot at the other end so that I could hang it from the cage top.

Linus, the diva, refusing to pose for the money shot. Something about being upstaged by a vegetable...

4. A green (or red or yellow) pepper

I cut the top off the pepper in the same manner I would a pumpkin when making a jack-o-lantern. I pulled out the insides, reserving the seeds. I punched a few holes around sides so that it would be apparent that there was something inside, and filled it with a mixture of blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, corn and the pepper seeds. I put the top back on the pepper before I served it to Theo, my goffins cockatoo.

Green pepper with favorite foods visible for encouragement

Theo chews her way through the pepper to get her favorite foods.

Theo, goffins cockatoo: "Score!!"

5. An apple

My quaker and cockatiels would find it more difficult to chew through some of the above than my large birds, so I gave them these as an alternative. (Sometimes I do make green peppers for the small birds, but I cut large holes into the sides which they can put their heads into to get to the food.) I filled this with chunks of apple, green beans, beets, carrots and rice.

Using food as a foraging toy for smaller birds

In our cookbook, Cooking For Parrots, we include many recipes that are based on the idea of using food as foraging toys and it includes some imaginative fillings and ways to serve them. Its the best way to get your bird started on eating the way the wild birds do: healthy and naturally and most importantly, NOT EASILY.

Wet fillings are just fine when served in a container that is easily cleaned or that is made of something else that is perishable. When your bird is done eating, you simply throw away what remains. However, these same fillings are not always appropriate for many of the plastic foraging toys available.

Bacteria from wet foods can easily accumulate in the crevices, corners and movable parts of plastic foraging toys and they are, therefore, best for foods like nuts and dried fruits. Plastic foraging toys are IDEAL for pellets. It keeps food safely available for your bird all day long and keeps them challenged with the task of retrieving it while you are away during the day.

Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.

20 comments

Ilona

Thank you so much for posting this with pictures, just what I was looking for. Never thought about using the food as the foraging piece. Gail also had a great idea using smaller peppers for my Sun Conure.

Ilona
Taya

How can I modify these for my Lil lovebird? All these meals are way too big for her.

Taya
diana graves

my green cheek conure loves frozen grapes if they aren’t frozen he won’t eat them.

diana graves
Faith Embleton

Very cool ideas! Love it! Not only is it creative it is cleaver and smart!

Faith Embleton
vallie flanary

I have tried some of these and beans-potatos-even pizza they pick at them threw them on the floor then pull the feeder out and look at me. I have used nearlly all type of bowls that I could clean good and refill but they will not let my husband put his hands in to take them out but give them nuts-chips-oatmeal and they do fine . I will try them but I found out frozen veg warmed and put in the feeder is good but you can’t leave them long. Now you see I do have my hands full with 4 parrots but I love them but I am not sure that they do me. thanks

vallie flanary
Susan Hollis

These are great ideas but is it too big for my little budgie. He is lucky to eat a really small peice of brocolli, sml peice of spinnach & some 99% fat free trill bird seed & he also loves his millet

Susan Hollis
Patty

Norm Fisher, The corn is raw and the peas were frozen and brought to room temperature. Patty

Patty
Gail Nurnberg

These are great ideas, will try with my Sun Conure. About the smaller birds with the peppers, have you ever tried the mini peppers? They are usually red, yellow and orange. They may be better sized forthe smaller parrots.

Gail Nurnberg
Nazzima

thank you..very informative

Nazzima
jackie

IF only my parrot would even eat any of the stuff inside and outside of these “toys”. He’s regressing to old habits of only wanting seeds now

jackie
derek

My African grey nemo loves to have food hiden in is toys and he will eat anything with a nut inside it not the fruit just the nut

derek
Carol Busse

great ideas, thanks. My Goffin Lola wastes an enormous amount of food though.

Carol Busse
Norm Fisher

I agree with David Prince. Are the peas and corn cooked or raw?

Norm Fisher
Merilyn Keightley Robinson

I like these ideas and will try them with my Indian Ring-neck. Thanks.

Merilyn Keightley Robinson
Sherry

I currently do not have a bird but will be getting one soon. I love these posts because I’m able to get good ideas for all the current bird owners. this will definitely be useful to me in the near future.

Sherry
Mk

How long can you leave this in the cage?

Mk
Paulette Melick

I hid food all over my parrots (Yellow Nape and Grays) cage. Sometimes I wrap stuff up in wide masking tape. I like you food idea even better!

Paulette Melick
Deborah

I think this is a wonderful idea….I have 9 parrots from a parrolett to a cockatoo and I am always wondering about good ways to enhance their lives. This sounds so natural and good Deborah

Deborah
doreen

thanks for the ideas ,i will try them

doreen
Frances

I buy bags of candy that is packaged in those little individual boxes. I replace the candy with a special treat like a pumpkin seed, raisin, or almond and give to my Amazon, Lolita. She has great fun turning the little box every which way to get to the treat. She also takes pleasure in destroying the box! PS: you can buy these boxes with treats from bird catalogues but they are really expensive and the treat is probably not as healthy.

Frances

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