Bird Enrichment Tips: Keeping Your Pet Parrot Happy and Active
There comes a time in every parrot's life when love just isn't enough. That's not really a well-known phrase, but hear us out. For those of us who live with, or plan on living with, parrots, it's important to love them, but it’s also crucial to create a world for them that is mentally stimulating. Keeping parrots curious is just as important as keeping their cage clean. So let's talk about one of the best ways to keep your parrot stimulated: teaching your parrot foraging behaviors.
What Is Foraging?
In the wild, parrots spend their days interacting with other parrots, grooming, sleeping, evading predators, and searching for food. Foraging involves searching for food and dealing with the obstacles that come between them and their next meal. The truth is, they spend most of their days foraging in the wild, occupying much of their time and providing stimulation and fulfillment of survival instincst. On the other hand, pet parrots don't have to search for food because it's always available, right?.
The upside of feeding your parrot? They won’t go hungry. The downside? With food always readily available, your parrot needs to find something else to fill its days. Sadly, many times unstimulated parrots turn to excessive preening, which can lead to feather destructive behavior and other behavioral problems including aggression.
But I'm Not a Bird
Good news! In the wild, foraging seems to be a skill that is taught. This means that we can learn how to provide foraging options and teach our companion parrots how to search and work for their food. And just like any skill, it isn’t something you learn overnight.
So How Do I Teach Them?
There are a few techniques, and you will need to get creative in the process (to keep your parrot's interest and your own). You should always consult a parrot vet if you're out of ideas, or want to test one out. Start out by making the food easy to find, then slowly work towards making it more complicated and challenging.
Here are some ideas on how to teach your pet parrot to forage:
Set Up Multiple Food Stations
You can place multiple food dishes in various levels of the cage. Put in small portions of different types of food in each dish. Switch the location of the food types at each feeding.
Try placing food outside of the respective dishes and get creative! For example, weave items through the cage bars, or wedge pieces between the cage bar spaces. Just make sure birds are not able to get tangled or stuck with the set up.
Make feeding time less predictable by not feed on a precise schedule.
Hide Your Parrot’s Food
Once they know that their food comes from different feeding stations, here are some ways to make it more interesting: Cover the food dishes with a piece of paper or cardboard. In the beginning, you want them to understand that there is food under the cover. You can help them out initially by poking holes in the cover and allowing your parrot to watch you place the food in the bowl, and the cover over it.
Once that becomes obvious to your parrot, gradually start covering the bowl in different ways that make it more difficult to reach the food. Avoid using toxic materials like metals, plastics, or rubbers.
Use things like crumpled paper cups, twisted corn husks, cardboard paper rolls, PVC piping with holes, and untreated wooden tubes to hide their food. But be safe: Make sure that whatever you are using is non-toxic, and has not been sprayed with pesticides! Use unbleached coffee filters or lettuce leaves to wrap up their food. Once they figure that out you can start changing locations of the surprise snacks! . You can leave these packages on the cage floor, or even hang them from the bars or integrate them into natural material toys already in the cage. Just remember to take them out during food changes so food doesn’t get lost and rot!
Look for Puzzles at the Pet Store
If you don't have time for a DIY project, some shops will sell things like puzzle toys and puzzle boxes. The most important part is safety when selecting these puzzle toys so make sure to get natural materials that are not treated with any chemicals or pesticides.
If you have the space for it – or maybe you should find the space for it – foraging trees are one of the best options. You can construct one from large tree branches. Place food dishes at various levels in different locations of the tree.
Some Final Tips for Parrot Owners
Safety first! If you're not sure if the items you are using are safe, speak to your avian vet!
Start off easy! Gradually make it more difficult and be patient.
Monitor your bird when you give them a new item, or a large piece of food. Like we said, safety first!
Stimulate your bird’s curiosity by letting them watch you hide the food.
Keep track of your parrot's progress. At first, you might have to help them out by showing them where the food is and how to find it.
Sometimes pet birds quit easily so it's important not to give up! Keep in mind that they often require repeated encouragement.
Check out Captive Foraging by Dr. Scott Echols for more tips and visual aids on how to teach foraging behavior.
Make sure your pet parrots favorite items are being used to encourage foraging or training behaviors rather than being offered freely in the food dish. The most coveted treat should be the one they are searching for!
You Have to Start Somewhere
Bird enrichment is important, but before you start thinking of all the cool ways to entertain your parrot, you should probably check out the parrot care guide to make sure you are doing everything you can to ensure good care of your parrot companion. Creating a stimulating environment for your parrot is part of their daily care and should be a part of the discussion with your avian pet vet.