Photo by Jamieleigh Location: Orlando, FL Shown: Java tree made for foraging with lots of foraging toys loaded and ready to be figured out
First thing's first, where to get these toys I'm about to talk about: Wag.com. (Because I know you'll be wondering with these awesome photos and videos accompanying this post!) I got a recent box full of goodies from Wag.com and decided to spend the next few days filling all my new foraging toys for my birds and taking video and pictures of the results. It was quite fun, for them and me. Some were better than others, and honestly... I didn't really do foraging toys while on tour for two years so I think quite a lot of it was forgotten by them.
Photo by Jamieleigh Location: Orlando, FL Shown: Pinwheel foraging toy loaded
However, foraging can be a lot of fun for birds and people. Watching your birds figure something out on their own is insanely rewarding. I think it's comparable to watching a child overcome an obstacle. And it makes you feel proud. Foraging and overcoming mental challenges builds confidence in your bird which your bird needs to be able to interact with you.
Photo by Jamieleigh Location: Orlando, FL Shown: Cardboard foraging box toy prepped with pellets inside and ready in cage
Here are some EASY FORAGING IDEAS to start if your bird has no idea what the concept of foraging even is. Start small, build confidence. There are some toys you can get for your bird, fill with treats (seeds, nuts, millet) and then once your bird understands how those toys work you can fill them with fewer treats and more pellets and daily foods that your bird should be eating anyway. You'll find that your bird actually prefers to work for his food, than not.
Photo by Jamieleigh Location: Orlando, FL Shown: Cage set up with foraging toys all loaded
I started with Creative Foraging System's cardboard box toys (which I put a few pellets in, not many so that the birds would come across one just enough that it would destroy the whole thing hoping for more) as well as clear foraging toys that entice the bird to go after them, since they are clear and the bird can see the treat... and not get to it. Most birds out of frustration will grab the toy and bang it, and then find that food comes out! Then it will make them figure out what made the food come out and where it came out of, and it goes on and on from there... Let me show you what this looks like (and just how long it takes) with my own birds.
Photo by Jamieleigh Location: Orlando, FL Shown: Clear foraging toys with baked goodies inside
I used for treats: Baked goodies from Wag.com and Feed Your Flock life enhancing organic pellets, and Harrison's organic pellets. The following toy was the most advanced and as you buy more and more foraging toys that are reusable you will start to figure out which ones are easy, medium and hard for your bird. This was advanced for my birds as they have had clear ones before that you pull down or up or even to the side, but never that you spin so this one threw them off...
Photo by Jamieleigh Location: Orlando, FL Shown: More advanced foraging toy loaded with pellets
The easiest thing to do for a parrot who is getting started in foraging and advancing is to take its current toys and CONVERT them to foraging toys. Wooden toys are especially easy to do this with. This robot toy from Wag.com was one of my favorites, you can easily drill small holes in the wood of this toy and place treats inside, you can even place treats inside the eye balls!
Photo by Jamieleigh Location: Orlando, FL Shown: Robot toy that can be converted to foraging toy
Not only can you fill the eyeballs with treats and get your bird to start chewing the wood on this toy but you could easily drill holes into the main body of the robot and hide treats in there too! That way you aren't scaring your bird with a new toy but taking its already existing toys and making them more interactive.
Another idea is taking a knife to your current bird toys to convert them, like these... or giving your bird natural toys that are natural foraging toys already because they are made of things like coconut and oyster shell and bamboo, etc.
Photo by Jamieleigh Location: Orlando, FL Shown: Toys that can easily be converted (taken a knife to) and made into a foraging toy and ones containing natural materials that are already foraging toys (one on left can be consumed because it uses oyster shell)
Here is a great video on how to use a knife to convert some of your bird's current toys into food finding toys:
Also, in order to motivate your bird to forage and work for his food, he needs to actually want the food which means you don't ask a bird who has a full stomach and pellets and food in his dish 24-7 to use a foraging toy. Likely they won't go near it because they have no reason with food in their dish. So make sure your bird is a bit hungry when you bring the idea of foraging to his attention. I promise the results are MUCH better! Another thing you can do is set up a play area outside your bird's cage, like a foraging tree, food finding tree or manzanita or java tree. They are great for hiding treats and good on and hanging toys like this:
Photo by Jamieleigh Location: Orlando, FL Shown: Blue throated macaw "Jinx" foraging in toys on a java tree
For toys that are much more advanced you can start easier, such as the treasure chest. It has two nobs you have to undo the combo on, so to speak. Leave one already undone to make it that much easier on your bird. You can even have them in the right place so your bird just needs to pull them out and it opens, then work on putting one in and locked and leave the other out, and so on. Work it slowly so not to discourage your bird.
Also, birds will learn which toys are easy, medium and hard. They will go for the easy ones first and so eventually you will start putting less and less treats in the easy ones, and MORE treats in the harder ones to encourage them to challenge themselves. The smarter your bird gets, the smarter you need to get with how much more challenging you make it. The harder it is and the better your bird can overcome and figure out, the better off your bird will be because it will be building his confidence. We all want a confident parrot - that changes everything from how they interact with you, to how they interact with other people too. Spent time explaining certain toys to your bird, in this video Jinx easily gives up for something easier (like picking through the leftovers at the bottom) and so that tells me I need to spend more time with him on this toy. This toy is great because it dispenses little amounts of treats at a time instead of the bird winning everything inside, it gets as much as it puts in to get.
Ideally a toy like the one in the video above would be able to be kept in your bird's cage and he could feed himself the amount he is willing to work for. You will be surprised if you keep food in your bird's cage all day just how LITTLE they actually eat. This next video is an example of how to make even a simple toy simpler for your bird to just start to get the hang of it. Also you can hand easy toys in hard to get places to make them even harder! This is what made this easy toy harder for my macaws to get because they'd usually got something out of it but couldn't reach enough to hold it themselves so it would fall to the bottom and they'd have to fly down to get it, then fly back up to do it all over again:
Cardboard toys are easiest as you can stick food through them to entice your bird or poke holes in them, or start with them open. My birds are pros at these:
Photo by Jamieleigh Location: Orlando, FL Shown: Destroyed cardboard foraging toy properly used!
Cardboard is something we all use a lot from boxes to paper towel rolls and toilet rolls. We naturally give them to our birds to play with and destroy, even used mail and what not. You can stuff those things with paper and pellets on the inside and let those be foraging toys too.
On the pinwheel it's a great toy for starting out. I make it harder by putting it in a harder location for the birds to get at. To make it easy you can put it by a perch at head level for your bird. To make it harder you can put it somewhere they have to climb to to be able to use it. Mine still get at it even with putting it in a hard to reach location... here are their results:
Photo by Jamieleigh Location: Orlando, FL Shown: Practically emptied pinwheel foraging toy after a day's use
Hopefully that helps get you going in the medium-foraging level direction! Share your foraging tips and tricks and ask me questions over on facebook. Don't be afraid to demonstrate to your bird how the toys work and prove and encourage them that they can get treats and do it on their own.
Article by Jamieleigh Womach. She has been working with parrots and toucans since the age of 17. She isn’t homeless but is home less than she prefers to be. She travels the world with her husband, daughter, and a flockful of parrots whom she shares the stage with.