If you have parrots and potted plants in your house, you have probably watched in awe at the speed with which your feathered backhoe can empty the contents of the plant pot onto your carpet. You likely have a ground foraging species like the cockatoo, cockatiel, budgie or african grey to name a few. Digging is a natural behavior for a ground forager and if he’s found his way into your secret garden, you will have to pretty clever in your attempts to keep him away from it. Me, I gave away the plants. I miss them.
I was thinking about new foraging opportunities for my birds the other day, and my former plants popped into my mind. It occurred to me that since I do have ground foragers, maybe I should give them some ground to forage in. Why not a box of dirt? Maybe some rocks and twigs. Maybe some some plastic and acrylic toy parts that might be amusing to unearth. Maybe place some flat rocks on the top for them to overturn.
There’s no law that says foraging has be about food, although that is their motivation when they forage in the wild. In captivity, it can be all about an enriching activity that keeps them occupied and provoked. For a bird that loves to dig, why not digging for the fun of digging? There are no food rewards in your houseplants, just the pleasure of kicking dirt around your living room and enjoying the look of horror on your face.
So you’re thinking: “But dirt is …dirty. Isn’t that bad for my bird?” This is where you have to be smart. Before you take your shovel out to the front yard, think about the fertilizer you might be using on your lawn. This is bad for your bird. If you live in a city where pollutants or chemicals might have fallen onto or saturated the ground, this is also not a good source of dirt. Local parks may be treated with pesticides (not to mention that city officials would probably be opposed to you digging holes on their soccer field).
I, myself, would find a nice rural woodland to take the dirt from. To be sure that there is no mold or fungus in the dirt you can put it into baking pans and bake it at 200 degrees for a couple of hours, rocks and all. If you are comfortable with the quality of the dirt, don’t bother – and a few bugs in there are okay, in fact, they are a fun, yummy source of protein! If the dirt is crawling with bugs, you’ve probably dug up a colony and should look elsewhere. Let me add quickly that I heard of a parrot that was rushed to the vet after “foraging” in a fire ant mound. They may all have that wild wisdom, but they didn’t all graduate at the top their class.
For the container, a wooden or cardboard box would be perfect, perhaps a new kitty litter type box, if your parrot doesn’t chew through plastic. You will want to be sure it is at least five inches deep for your larger parrots because they will be digging and tossing the dirt behind them with their feet, like a dog in the petunia garden. From a distance of ten feet, I have been hit in the face with a wood chip that Linus, my umbrella cockatoo, launched from the couch while making a nest there one day. This could get messy, and you might want to put the box on the bottom of the cage with the seed guards in place.
If dirt makes you squeamish, how about making a box of foraging stuff, like plastic and wood toy parts, paper or muffin cups, shredder pieces, balls of newspaper, Popsicle sticks and foot toys? Something in a big, flat box that they can climb into and rummage around in.
This is a work in progress for me here. I still have yet to collect the dirt, but I have been scouting the neighborhood for just the right rocks and stones. I already know my cockatoos are going to have a blast playing in their box of dirt. If you decide to give this idea a try, or have another version of ground foraging idea, I would love to see them. You can post a comment below with a link to your picture. I think your ideas would make a great future post!
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.
This is a great description of foraging. In my experience, and with my current cockatiel, they love to walk around the bottom of the cage to see if they can recollect any of the millet they pulled out of the chinese finger cuffs or ratan balls I hide it in. Have had my clipped girl in the garden, but she was not a digger. This new boy won’t get the chance out doors, but I may take you up on making a box and see what Rascal cockatiel does.
Thanks for this advice….was anxious when my Senegal got so excited digging holes…he/she has a big cage in the garden with wild bird chums all around…I thought it must be a bit of a sad lonely nest making urge…Very energetic digging in the compost and peanut shell etc debris….A hole big enough to disappear into…I hunted for classier nest boxes…in case nesting was in mind. But no interest at all…and the ferocious digging and calling went on for hours…..The cage floor looks like a battle field… I didn’t think of it as a game…..I realise that I have supplied very few junky toys to play with….a metal military mirror seemed to be all that was necessary.Now I will find a stack of toys…
Nothing Pleases my 10 Cockatiels more than a Shoebox or a shipping box, especially if it is filled with plastic Popcorn! (What a MESS!) dump the plastic, and replace it wth real Popcorn for a nutritious snack your Cockatiels will love! I usually try and remove the box before it becomes a nest, but most of my Babies have hatched in cardboard cereal boxes, soda cartons, or shoe boxes! If You have a friend who works in a Warehouse, ask for the empty Cardboard tubes from Shrink Wrap. put a heavy piece of cord through the roll, and suspend it in your cage. My Birds swing on it, chew on it, sleep in it, and try to convince one another that the other is going the wrong way through it! A colorful plastic slinky suspended at the top of your cage, will entertain them for hours! (One of my Lutinos tried laying eggs in one, but the eggs kept falling out!! (Sheesh ( Lol,) BLONDES!!!) Oh, I didn’t mention my Quaker Parrot, Pepper! (“PEPPERMINT”, for his love of peppermint candies! He will sneek out of his cage, grab one from the candy dish, and run “HOME” to unwrap and eat his prize! Pepper has an extensive vocabulary, Sings several songs, and combines them into Meddlies ! (JESUS LOVES JINGLE BELLS!") My Feathered family is such fun, and of course, mine are the Smartest in the WORLD! They sit on either side of my Computer desk, when they aren’t sitting ON my Computer desk. (I always dump my Printer before I attempt to PRINT! I’ve found pencils, paper clips, Barbie doll shoes, floppy disks, Sunflower seeds, and numerous unidentifiable chewed objects IN the Printer!!! (Their cage is where they eat, sleep and stay when I am cooking, or won’t be at home to supervise their activities!) The guy worrying about his Senagal Parrot pooping on him Cracked me up! I have “Birdie Bibs”, cut from old plastic table cloths, or sewn from towels to protect my clothes, and even then, seldom go anywhere without birdie decorations Lol, I can’t go anywhere without Feathers in my Hair, and dog and Cat hair on my clothes Lol, people with allergies hate me!
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