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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.