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Providing Our Birds With Foraging Activities – G.E.T. Creative!

by Gaye Thomasson

It’s a new year and a time for achievable resolutions, especially about the animals we have in our care.

For birds in the wild, foraging is a way of life.  It keeps them fed, physically fit and mentally stimulated. For our companion parrots, foraging is sometimes a hit or miss “bonus” proposition (done at OUR convenience and not for the birds’ consistent well-being).  One of my New Year’s resolutions is to provide my flock with foraging activities on a regular, surprise  basis.   I say “regular” because I fall into the trap of “human convenience,” and I want to climb out of that hole once and for all and make foraging a constant, integrated part of my birds’ lives.    And I use the word surprise because I believe that foraging should provide engaging activities with unexpected rewards for our birds.

It has been extremely cold where we live, and so days spent in the outside flights are currently just feathered memories.  My flock is experiencing cabin fever, and I can’t blame them one bit.  A couple of weeks ago, one of my Blue and Gold Macaws was having a terrible, no good, very bad day. (Her name was temporarily “Alexander.”)   There was nothing that would calm her.  Having her step up for a loving moment just wasn’t going to happen.  She was snappy, ready to draw blood, overly protective of her cage…it was a perpetual tantrum. I could hardly get her out of her cage, and once out, there was virtually no way to lure her to return. Her goal was to climb into my other birds’ faces and start fights.   I had to come up with something different to entertain her and change her miserable mindset.

First, I rolled her cage into a different position so that climbing onto an unsuspecting Amazon’s cage with the resulting veterinary bill was a non-issue. Next, I decided that foraging might be my best shot at redirecting her ramped up energy. I  retrieved an empty steel hanging foraging cage and was on my way to transforming “Alexander” into a very engaged, happy bird.

It doesn’t take a lot of expensive parts or time to stuff a foraging toy to a bird’s satisfaction.  These are things that I grabbed:

shredded copy paper, (You could use shredded phone book, a paperback.)
torn up pieces of a cardboard egg carton or Starbucks drink carrier
pieces of destroyed wooden toy parts
some smaller foot toys (Chinese finger torture toys stuffed with paper)
Large plastic bead (for color!)
A WALNUT IN THE SHELL in a tiny Dixie cup, scrunched up

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(I am amazed every time that I do this.   I stuff the containers so full, so tightly packed. They look like I’ve set the contents in a trash compactor.    I make sure the walnut (or treat) is not in an obviously easy place for my birds to retrieve them. I want them to work, to think! I’m always convinced that I have made these too difficult and that my birds will explode on site from frustration.   Not so.)

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So I quickly assembled the steel cage foraging toy for my bratty Blue and Gold, put on my Kevlar body suit (not really!), distracted her long enough to get it securely hung in her cage, shut the door and held my breath.   Would she release some of that pent up frustration and attitude she was exhibiting?   And… if so, how long would it take to tear the toy apart and find her treat?

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As soon as it was hung and I had exited the danger zone, she went straight to the little steel cage and started obliterating the contents, bit by bit.   I am always amazed how parrots can weasel their beaks into remarkably small spaces and retrieve practically EVERYTHING.   Within minutes there was trash all over the bottom of her cage…only the largest of the wooden blocks remained, and there was no sign of the walnut.  (How DID she get THAT out??)  It looked like a hurricane had hit her cage.   And she was happy. And she was busy.  And she had reclaimed her given name, “Malibu.”  And she was not exhibiting the earlier aggressive behaviors towards me and her roommates.   Not that they went away, but they were temporarily diffused and redirected with positive play/engagement.   All the more reason to refill the foraging toy again and again and again.  And I will.

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There are excellent articles online regarding the importance of foraging for parrots and creative ideas to create your own foraging toys. There is no reason to reiterate here the benefits that birds reap in the wild as well as how our captive companions do from this activity.  It’s been done, and done very well.  So please, read them and get creative…for your parrots’ sake.  Start here with Chris Porter’s article: http://www.parrotenrichment.com/foraging.html

and then take a look at another good article by Cheryl Rose:

http://www.creativeforagingsystems.com/articles.html

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