This question comes up fairly often this time of year, so it would seem a blog post on the subject is in order!
We are always looking for ways to keep our birds entertained because a happy bird is a bird that has destroyed toys littering the bottom of the cage. When nature offers us free “toys”, we should gratefully accept.
Pine cones are wondrous little things…they are shreddable, have interesting little slots for hiding things which qualifies them as foraging toys, and they are safe…well, with just a couple of minor tweaks:
How To Find Pine Cones
-You could cheat and go to a crafts store and buy pine cones there BUT there is every possibility that they will have been sprayed with something that makes them weather resistant for use in wreaths and/or with fire retardants making them NOT safe for birds. You won’t know by looking at them, and neither will the store employees you ask. Also, buying them conflicts with the “free toy” scam we’re running on Mother Nature.
-Find a tall pine tree. If you live in an area where there is the possibility that pesticides have been used on the tree or ground, you will need to locate a new tree. This may require city folk to commune with nature and perhaps even take a hike into the woods.
-Dust off your Pine Cone Collection Equipment. This is mine:
-Locate fallen cones, stealthily shove them into your bag and rush back to your vehicle! This is referred to as the snatch and grab technique used by professional pine cone rustlers.
How To Cook Pine Cones
-Once you have arrived safely back at home from your pine cone adventure, you can begin to prepare them for your bird.:
-Set your oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit (93 degrees C). Remove any dirt or debris from the cone and place it on a baking sheet (the cone, not the dirt and debris):
-Bake for 45 to 60 minutes. The baking will kill any molds, fungus or insects in or on the cone. Baking WILL NOT kill pesticide, mainly because pesticide is not alive. Pesticide that is lightly toasted is still unsafe.
How To Have Fun With Pine Cones
Once they have cooled comes the fun part…
-DECORATE!! Unleash your inner artist!
I used frozen peas and corn, pecan pieces, banana chips and millet. My birds are familiar with pine cones so I already know they will be going for this right away, but if you have a bird that is shy about new things, only use dry ingredients. That way you can leave it in the cage for longer without worrying about bacteria until they get up the courage to explore. This is a great forager for pellets too!
Check out Cooking For Parrots/Healthy Holidays for some really creative ways to use pine cones in your bird’s diet.
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.