Bird Foraging and Enrichment

It is important to keep our birds’ minds stimulated or else, they will scream, pick their feathers, or destroy things. 

Dr. Laurie Hess, our Avian expert, enumerates in the video below a couple of tips on how we keep them busy and occupied. 

Video Transcript

Hi, I’m Dr. Laurie Hess and today, I’m going to talk to you about a topic that comes up quite often in bird medicine and in bird behavior, and that’s the notion of foraging and enrichment. Now, what does that mean? You hear those buzz words quite a bit.

The notion of foraging applies the idea that birds in the wild forage for quite a few things. What does that mean? It means they forage and they seek and they actively go out and look for food. They forage for food in the wild. They forage for mates. They forage for nest sites. These are all the activities that keep them busy all day long.

What happens when you have a pet like my bird here, Elmo, is that they don’t really get those opportunities to forage. So we tend to give them their bird food in a bowl and you know, I’m a big fan of pelleted bird food so Elmo gets this big bowl of pellets. And they don’t look for a nest site. It’s because they’re really not nesting. They tend to live in cages like this or other locations purchased throughout the house. And they also don’t really forage for mates. They often tend to bond to us, their caretakers, and although they’re bonded to us, they’re not really mating with us.

So a lot of the jobs that they have in the wild are now taken away and they don’t have as much to do so they often get bored and they pick their feathers. They scream. They do a lot of destructive behaviors that we’re really not happy with that we have to deal with as bird owners.

So what can we do?

We can promote the idea that in captivity, as pets here, birds like Elmo have the ability to forage. How can we help them forage?

Well, we can do things like hide their favorite foods in bowls where we put other things. Perhaps we can use some wooden balls that… You want to make them bigger than the bird’s head so that they actually can’t swallow them. You can hide their favorite foods and treats in little pieces of paper. Birds like to open things so I’ll even take a post-it and hide some of Elmo’s favorite treats inside. He loves blueberries, so I’ll hide some blueberries in there. I’ll hang up his food in pieces of paper or cups, paper cups that I can twist or toilet paper rolls or for some of the bigger birds we can use paper towel rolls and we’ll put treats in there and we’ll twist them up and we can wear them in between the bars of the cage or we can hang them with rope or heavy leather string. It’s something that birds can’t ingest, that they can chew on, but they can’t ingest and become obstructed.

We can also, you know, get them toys like… These are some of Elmo’s favorite toys. These are paper-based toys. He loves to chew paper. I know some birds like paper, some birds like wood. You can try different things with your bird and see what they like to chew on and eat. These are things that you can get online. Sometimes if you buy them in bulk, you can actually spend a little less money. These are all things that you can do. Again, just simple things like hiding their food around the cage, you know, taking some vegetables and wedging them between the bars of the cage like broccoli stalks or peapods or, you know, just again, creating different stations for your bird to feed from. That’s foraging, too. 

And then there’s the notion of enrichment. Enrichment involves foraging and food, but it also involves getting a bird involved in other activities — giving him toys that are puzzles or things that he can discover things in… Even providing him with TV. I mean, I’m a big fan of TV. Radio is fine, too, but I always tell people, you know, what would you rather do? Sit by yourself in a room and listen to the radio or sit by yourself in the room and watch TV? And I think the TV is great because birds are very visual and they do like to see things as well as hear things.

So, you know, we liken these little parrots to having the mentality of a toddler. Some of the larger birds are, you know, incredibly smart, incredibly, incredibly long lived, and they can learn lots and lots of things so using their bird food as a treat and a toy that they can chew and play with or certainly setting up simulation in their own environment with the radio, the TV, other things, putting them in an area in the house that’s highly trafficked, where they can interact with people.

These are all important things to keep their minds stimulated, to keep them active and very happy for a very long time.

Looking For More Pet Bird Care Information?

How to Handle Your New Bird

If the bird is amenable to coming out of the cage, let him or her stand at the threshold of the cage, right at the open door for a while,

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