If you have been following my blog posts, you’ll know that I have a Blue and Gold Macaw who excels at getting into trouble. This has become a significant problem for me, especially since he has recovered from Psittacosis and is now recovering from poor feather condition due to his extended illness. Most of his tail feathers broke off or became damaged and as they have grown out he has had some significant blood feathers, which have resulted in some emergency vet runs. Naturally, I found myself under vet orders to “Keep Fid quiet”.
The sadistic side of my vet’s personality showed through here. He killed himself laughing as he looked at the expression on my face as he said: “Keep him quiet”. I may have called him something unpleasant in response. He knows Fid very well. This is a bird that thinks it’s the best fun to hang upside down from the roof of his aviary and then let go – canon balling to the bottom with a crash. Short of duct taping Fid to his perch (believe me that’s tempting in this situation), keeping Fid ‘quiet’ seemed impossible.
Well that said; I’ve employed some basic distraction techniques with Fid. I’ve increased his number of training sessions. We’ve been working on talking on cue and touch training and he has loved it. We had visitors the other day that Fid had never met before and despite sometimes being a little shy around strangers he still followed my cues, which is real progress for a bird that doesn’t have the greatest attention span! Let’s face it; visitors have distracting buttons on their shirts that are just screaming out to be yanked off. You can’t really blame a parrot…
Aside from this, I’ve been increasing his foraging activities to keep him too busy to play ‘canon ball’. I’ve had mixed success with this. It would seem that nothing is going to entirely stop Fid from imitating a canon ball (he’s now had 5 serious blood feathers), but it has been enough to slow him down. His tail is slowly but surely growing out.
I was reading a thread on the BirdTricksStore.com facebook page the other day, where others were saying that they were having a difficult time keeping their macaws occupied and I had to laugh. I knew their pain. Like their birds, Fid can have an expensive new wooden toy lying in splinters on the ground in less than 10 minutes. As for foraging toys – he works them out in less than 60 seconds. They might ‘engage’ him to some extent but I’d have to say if he can crack padlocks I could pretty well write off any idea of outsmarting him with a difficult toy.
One of Fid's favorite foot toys. There is grass there because I'd hung it from the roof of the aviary in a bucket of grass and he threw it to the ground. There are almonds and walnuts (still in their shell) wrapped in paper and hidden in shredded paper inside this toy. He has to unscrew the 2 halves to get them out, or loosen them by removing the shredded paper.
I can say from experience that it isn’t about finding the hardest variety of wood or the most difficult foraging toy on the planet. If it’s too hard, there’s no point; the bird will just give up and go back to cannon ball imitations.
Loading a foraging coconut with nuts, shredded paper, eucalyptus pieces and vegetables. So it's not all food!!! I clean and bake my own coconut shells - these aren't bought like this. (I find smashing them into halves with a hammer is a lot of fun.)
When I sit down and work on my wish list I want activities that:
- Keep the bird mentally engaged. So it has to have some difficulty but not so hard that they give up.
- Keep the bird interested. So it needs to give enough of a reward in stages to keep the bird motivated over a period of time.
- Doesn’t always include food as the reward. I don’t want a fat bird.
- Isn’t expensive. Reusable foraging toys cost around $50 each in my local area and when your bird is a walking can opener with feathers… NOTHING is forever reusable.
- The activity must last more than 60 seconds. So a toy that winds up in splinters on the floor within minutes isn’t ideal to say the least.
- The activity must be safe. In other words, not a choking hazard, not poisonous/toxic, not physically demanding enough to damage a blood feather, etc.
That’s not asking too much is it?
The finished foraging coconut. I drill holes in the coconut and suspend them on a stainless steel fruit stick. I'll sometimes even gift wrap the whole coconut (but that doesn't make for a clear explanatory photo!).
As a solution, I’ve called on an old childhood party game. Did you ever play “Pass the parcel”? A prize is wrapped up in multiple layers of paper but within each layer of paper a smaller prize is wrapped in to the parcel. The idea being that the bundle is passed around a circle of children while music is played, when the music stops the child gets to open one layer and gets to keep that prize. The kids stay motivated because there are progressive rewards for continuing to play.
So you guessed it, I’ve started torturing Fid with a similar sort of approach. He still gets his foraging toys but now he has to forage to get the foraging toys and the item in the foraging toys are wrapped and hidden too. Wrapping things in layers in butcher’s paper has kept him busy – especially if I gift-wrap parcels to his perches. I’ve been using cable ties to secure the paper. I have been hiding things in shredded paper, burying wrapped things in dirt and grass that I’ve dug up from my own yard. Hiding toys within toys, so that he has to work to get anything but gets rewarded progressively as he works.
The extra levels of foraging that I’m giving him are working. Toys are lasting that little bit longer and so is my bank account! A roll of butcher’s paper is only a few dollars and that goes a long way. His tail feathers are growing out and I haven’t had to deal with any more blood feathers for several weeks. He still does the occasional cannon ball, but overall he’s toy busy ripping everything apart to be bothered.
So if you have a bird that destroys toys in a matter of seconds, maybe wrapping parts of the toy up might slow your bird down? Bury the toy in a stainless steel bucket or hide it in something else. The more layers to your foraging that you can give your bird, the more time you’re filling for them.
If you’re looking to find safe, good quality bird toys that will keep your bird entertained check out the Birdtricks.com Parrot Toy Club.