Teaching Your Parrot to Forage
Parrots are very intelligent birds and can be taught to forage at any age. Some will jump straight in and understand everything very quickly, others will take longer to get the hang of things. If your parrot is tame, letting them watch you set up their foraging toys is a good way for them to learn how to get the food out. A good way to start is with their natural instincts or a using a behaviour they already do as a starting point. For example, some birds will walk around on their cage floor. For birds that enjoy playing on the floor, a foraging tray
can be a great starting point. The link will take you to my blog post, with photos of a foraging tray and many things you can put in it. To make a foraging tray, you’ll need a good sized flat dish, with sides an inch or two high. For mine, I’ve used a plastic drip tray, meant for sitting potted house plants in. In this dish, scatter a treat, like some seeds (a teaspoon or less should be plenty). Place the dish on the bottom of the cage or play gym, making sure there are no perches directly above it. Leave it there until your bird is comfortable with it, and has learnt to associate it with food (refill it and wipe it down as needed). Once they’ve eaten everything in it a few times, half cover the bottom of the dish with dry pasta. As you parrot gets used to this, you can add to the tray, by increasing the amount of pasta, adding wooden beads, blocks, stones, and foot toys, so they have to dig down a bit and push things out of the way to get to the bottom. It’s best to go at the speed of your own parrot – some will adjust quickly and be digging through the complete setup in a couple of days, others may need several weeks before they’re confident enough to do it. I also do this with my birds food dishes now they’re comfortable with it.
Another favourite for foraging is wrapping a treat, like a nutriberry, in a piece of paper. Using a small rectangle of paper, roll it around the nutriberry, (so the nutriberry is in the middle of a tube of paper) and twist both ends closed, so it looks like a sweet. To begin with you can now rip a small hole in the paper, so your parrot can see the nutriberry, but still has to rip some of the paper away to be able to eat the whole thing. Once your parrot gets used to this you can stop ripping holes in the paper. At this point, you can also wrap up wooden beads the same rough size as the treat, and mix them all together so your parrot has to rip them all open to see if it’s a treat or a fake. This adds a challenge, and they can be used in most foraging toys.
Another style of foraging is to hide the treat under toys. Foraging cups
is an example of this. To teach your parrot how to do this, you can use any container. Show your parrot the container with a treat at the bottom. Once they’re used to the idea that the container holds a treat, place some wooden blocks and beads at the bottom, with the treat, but make sure the treat is still obvious. Again, wait until your parrot is comfortable with this before moving on. The next step is to put one block on top of the treat. Hopefully your parrot will move the block off and find his treat, but if not, lift the block off the treat, and show it to him, then replace the block on top. Repeat this until your parrot is comfortable finding the treat under one block, then move on to two. This step should be easier for your parrot after they’ve got used to moving one block. Slowly bury the treat under more and more wooden blocks until the container is full. You don’t want your parrot to get discouraged or bored by not finding its reward as quickly as it expects. Once they’re happy with this, you can increase the number of containers. We have three paper cups, a coconut and a hanging bucket for this. Every morning, Lofty empties them, throwing wooden blocks and beads all over the cage floor. Every day we put a treat in one of these, and occasionally we put a treat in two or three, so every day, our cockatiels go around and empty all five, instead of just stopping once they’ve found the first treat. Again, this toy can take anything from half an hour to a month to introduce to your parrot, depending on the speed they pick it up at and their confidence.
These are just a few ways to start your parrot foraging. There are more ideas contained in the following websites and e-books.