Implementing Parrot Enrichment: No-Brainer Foraging

November 11, 2013 § 7 Comments

A few posts ago, I summarized a few excellent articles and a DVD on parrot enrichment.  (You can read that post here.)  Although I included examples in that post, I thought it would be helpful to show how I’ve since integrated what I’ve learned about parrot enrichment into my girls’ lives.  I personally felt that the biggest takeaway from my research was just how important foraging is: it covers four out of the five major categories (occupational, physical, sensory, and nutritional) and is a natural behavior that all birds exhibit in the wild.  So I have begun integrating as many foraging opportunities as possible for my two, making sure to switch them up and to keep them guessing.

There is a myriad of excellent information about foraging on the web, and tons of sites with fantastic ideas.  My ideas draw from many of them, and are only a drop in the bucket compared to just how many brilliant ideas there are out there.  But I try to focus on natural materials, and easier foraging opportunities.  My parrots are beginning foragers, and foraging is a particular challenge with a bird as tiny as Sabrina is, so these are the few foraging tips that I’ve decided to implement for right now.  Those with more advanced parrots will probably not find this entry particularly illuminating, but if you are getting started with foraging or just looking for different, easy tips to expand your foraging repertoire, I hope this helps!

Lola’s food bowl covered with kraft paper

Lola sticking her head under the paper instead

Some of the easiest foraging toys involve simply adding paper.  The first thing I’ve started doing with Lola is simply putting some paper on top of her food bowls, and securing it with a little masking tape.  I use natural Kraft paper and Japanese washi tape.  (As a side note, I find Japanese washi tape particularly useful because it is reusable, and also because you can find it in about a billion colors and prints and patterns!  To go with my natural theme, I use natural tones [browns, tans, dark leafy greens] and a wood grain washi tape.)  It costs next to nothing and it takes about two seconds, so there’s no excuse not to do it– except that Lola absolutely doesn’t get it.  For some reason, she doesn’t understand what in the world she is supposed to do.  I can lift up the paper a million times to show her the food underneath it, but once I re-secure the paper, she stares at me like, “Well??  Where’s my food?  What am I supposed to do with this?”  She even walked on top of the paper across the bowl and looked under the bowl as if the food was hiding from her.  Silly bird.  I’ll keep trying 🙂  This is something I really want her to learn how to do because it’s one of the only ways I can think of to combine her fresh foods plus foraging.

more easy paper ideas

In fact, there’s an entire world of foraging ideas out there that just use paper.  An assortment of some of the things I use is photographed above: mini kraft paper boxes, tiny tiny kraft paper bags, slightly larger kraft paper bags, one of my rolls of washi tape, and natural mini cupcake liners.  The possibilities are endless.  For an incredibly easy fix, wrap treats, squares of bird bread, or anything else in cupcake liners or dixie cups.  If I hand Lola any nut wrapped up in a cupcake liner or a dixie cup, she knows exactly what to do, and she wastes no time getting to it.  

miniature (2.5″ x 4″) kraft paper bags

Lola foraging with her paper bag almond treat

Another thing I absolutely love are these tiny little 2.5″ x 4″ kraft paper bags.  They perfectly fit most in shell nuts and are adorable!  I wrapped one up and secured it with some thin leather cord, and Lola loved it.  The paper is actually a little bit thicker than most kraft paper bags, so it makes for a good treat wrapper.  My good friend at Avian Avenue made a post about these bags and I have been obsessed ever since.  (Actually, a lot of these ideas are things that she came up with first!!  She is a truly inspirational parrot owner and has endless ideas for foraging toys and enrichment.  The paper wrapped toy below is an original of hers, and I only found out about washi tape because of her as well.)

I buy all sizes of kraft paper bags now, and they are so versatile and easy to use.  With a slightly larger bag, you can fill it up with any assortment of treats or foot toys or anything else and just hang it up in the cage.  It’s like a parrot pinata and by changing the contents with each bag, you’ll keep your parrot guessing.  (And again, it’s something that takes about 5 seconds and costs very little!)

diy paper wrapped foraging toy materials

step two: tie knots between each treat

the finished product!

But you don’t only have to use kraft paper bags as bags.  I have some larger ones around 9″ long and I will cut them in half (so that they’re two detached sheets rather than a bag) and use them to create this paper wrapped foraging toy.  In each section, there’s a treat: in this one, an almond, a hazelnut, and a dried cranberry.  I am going to hang this up in Lola’s cage and she’ll have to forage her way to treat-dom.  You can make even longer or shorter versions of it, or put anything you can dream up in each pocket.

a ton of different foraging ideas

Those paper boxes are also great.  I put them together and poke holes through to skewer them (see the toy on the right in the above photo), but I am also going to try to side mount one with some stainless steel hardware.  Above the cardboard box in the photo is a little wooden treat box that opens.  There’s another super simple idea.  You can find little wooden treat boxes or cups like this at most craft stores, or you can buy them online.  I purchased this one from Things for Wings, where Danita is kind enough to drill holes through them, or add some stainless steel hardware to make a side-mounted foraging cup like Lola has in her cage.  And on top of that there is a vine ball, which has endless possibilities (more on vine balls below).

In the center of the above photo is actually a deconstructed toy that I skewered.  It’s actually a Planet Pleasures two that’s much larger (has two of those coconut feeders) and comes on a long piece of metal chain.  I’m not a big fan of chain and I don’t use any non-stainless steel metals, plus the toy was ginormous, so I took the toy apart and made a smaller, skewered version.  I actually really love the parts to this toy because aside from being made from great natural materials (just bamboo and coconut shells), it’s an awesome foraging feeder that requires Lola to stick her head in the coconut hole, but the upper coconut piece actually moves along the skewer and can be lifted up, so that there is no chance of her getting her head stuck.  With a lot of the foraging toys out there that consist of a wood, bamboo, coconut, plastic, etc. base with a hole in it, you must be very careful to make sure that it is properly sized for your parrot and that your parrot won’t get his or her head stuck in it while busy foraging.  This one bears no such risk and I think it’s a great toy.  Plus the bowl is very generously sized, and is a great alternative to just putting a seed mix or pellets in a normal bowl everyday.

Finally, on the left in the photo up above is another toy that I deconstructed and made my own.  I actually don’t know the name of this toy or the brand, but in store it comes with a bunch of dyed parts and other things stuffed inside the cardboard peanut base and attached to it elsewhere.  I took all of that stuff off and skewered the cardboard peanut.  I’m going to stuff it with some paper and other materials, and use it as a treat cage.

One more awesome foraging material: skewers!  Skewers are so easy to use, and they’re reusable, and they make the perfect safe toy base for any size bird.  Unlike rope or cord or chain, there’s no chance of a skewer getting tangled around your bird’s neck or toes, and they are great for toys or simply for skewering fresh veggies or food.

Lola and her cornucopia toy

Now back to vine balls.  Vine balls area amazing.  Strangely, I didn’t know this until I ordered this very cool toy from Things for Wings called the Cornucopia.  Lola has always been such a wood chipper and has never really taken to shredding, so I had really stopped buying toys with vine balls or using them on my DIY toys.  I’m not sure what possessed me to buy this toy– probably how cute it is– but it’s awesome.  It’s a whole bunch of delectable parts in a basket (which is yet another great foraging toy part), which Lola loved to begin with, but she truly went nuts for it when I finally thought of putting treats inside the vine balls.  Not only did it turn her on to a new toy part to play with, but it also got her exploring a lot more.  I would put treats in some of the vine balls on some days, other vine balls on other days, and sometimes nothing, but every single day, she checked the entire toy without fail.  And the more I introduced vine balls in other toys, she did the same thing.  One of the best things about foraging is that when your parrot learns that there could be treats lurking in anything, they are way more willing to try new toys and to dive right in, and they are willing to go to different parts of the cage to explore and find them!

vine ball foraging toy

For example, once she learned that vine balls could contain treats, she would seek them out wherever she could.  I threw together this ugly skewered vine ball and wood toy in about 10 seconds, and it kept her busy for hours.  She could chip away at the wood and she could break for snack time, all from one spot.

a skewered plastic cup, vine ball, and natural box

Here’s another easy peasy foraging toy using a vine ball.  This one’s also got a plastic cup and a little foraging box too, but it was still a breeze to make.  With plastic cups nowadays I will usually wrap the treat in paper first (like one of those mini paper bags or mini cupcake liners), unless I know the plastic is food safe.

natural foraging materials

Those little boxes are really great resources as well.  A lot of bird toy stores carry little boxes or containers in all shapes and sizes, made out of great shreddable material.  These are just a few examples.

foraging toys made from natural shreddables

Stick them on a skewer, and suddenly you have a new toy!  Lola loves this one in particular for some reason, and it’s really funny to watch her stick her whole head and half her body into this toy to fish out one measly sunflower seed.  She pretty much always has some variation of this toy in her cage, and she forages for all sorts of dry foods out of it.

Similarly, natural baskets make great foraging toys.  You can skewer them, hang them, or side mount them, and throw some stuff in there.  Alternatively they also make great foot toy buckets.

shreddable bags

In the same vein, little shreddable bags also make great foraging toys, in particular for the little guys.  I often find it challenging to create foraging opportunities for Sabrina, but this is one of her favorites.  If I stick natural items or treats or anything into a little shopping bag like this one, Sabrina will go in and fish it right out.  She loves these little bags and has gone through a ton of them.  This one in particular is from Things for Wings.  Be careful about the handles when using them and make sure they are either too small for your bird to get his head through, or large enough for him to get his whole body through.  If they are somewhere in between, I’d snip the handles.

soft balsa wood toys

Soft woods make awesome foraging toys.  Just like the balsa wood toy on the right from I Got a Woody, I often take all sorts of soft wood and push little treats into them to embed them in the wood.  It will get your bird foraging but it’ll also help get them started destroying their toys and playing more.  I do this with yucca and cork as well, as they are both very soft and great for embedding sunflower seeds or pine nuts.  Mother Pluckin’ Bird Toys carries corks in all sizes, but they also carry jumbo size ones I haven’t seen anywhere else that make awesome foot toys.  Loofah is another cool toy part that also makes a great foraging base.

an extra small fantastic foraging block

Soft woods are great for embedded treats, but hard woods can do the trick too!  The wooden block toy above is an awesome (and actually very cost effective toy) from Kris Porter called the Fantastic Foraging Block.  (They also happen to be on sale right now!)  As you can see above, you can stick hole veggies in the holes (like I did with the carrot tops), or you can put pieces of them in the slats (like I did with the actual carrot).  Another great choice is are the wood toys from Parrot’s Treasure.  I’m sure if you were handy with a drill, you could also make some awesome ones on your own.

DIY foraging toy 1

DIY foraging toy 2

DIY foraging toy 3

Don’t get me wrong– I’m absolutely not handy with a drill.  But if you’re like me, you can still buy the parts for cheap and with a little patience, turn them into really cool toys!  Here are three toys that I’m extra proud of.  The one on top has a longer channel in it and three big hole openings, but you can make them more challenging by tying leather cord in them like I did so that the treats don’t just fall out and require some manipulation.  Below that, the middle toy has a ton of fun wood to chew and destroy, but also holes embedded in the center blocks for treats.  And finally, the one below it has two long foraging tubes that also have leather strips in front of the holes to make them more challenging.  Notice that all three of them are based on my trusty stainless steel skewers as well!

DIY bridge / ladder swing

detail shot of the foraging blocks on the swing

My masterpiece is the DIY bridge / ladder swing above, which also marked my official retirement from DIY toys.  (Just kidding.  Sort of.  I don’t take anything ambitious on anymore, at least.)  But this is a really cool project, and I even managed to slip some foraging opportunities in there for Lola while she’s hanging out and swinging.

But there’s so much more.  I recently mentioned the acrylic drawer toys from Parrot Island Inc.  Still love ’em!  They do admittedly require more of an upfront investment, but they are so well made that I am sure they’ll last forever.  Another easy toy to make yourself: a measuring cup or stainless steel spoon toy.  You can use what you already have, or buy a cheap set from the store.  I also recently purchased some paper straws, which I’ve seen really cool toys made out of.  I haven’t gotten them yet but will post some ideas once I receive them and figure out how to make something.  Another thing I’m working on is creating foraging trays for my guys, both Lola and Sabrina.  They’ll be wooden trays and I’ll fill them up with wood pieces, fresh branches and leaves, and other foraging material, and hidden will be some seeds, nuts, etc. that they will forage for.  It’s a similar idea to creating a foraging food mix rather than just a dry food mix, which I’ve seen some manufacturers actually create now.  I first learned about it here (a really cool link!).

Well, that’s all I’ve got for now, until my guys advance to more difficult foraging tasks.  I hope this has given you some ideas.  For me, the key thing is to keep them guessing and keep changing it up!  You might have noticed that Lola has about a billion different types of “bowls” in her cage: three food bowls, two foraging bowls, a coconut cup (will post about that soon), skewered boxes that serve as food bowls, acrylic drawers, a stainless steel toy bucket, etc.  (Yes, Sabrina has a ton too.)  They’re never all full at once, but she knows that I might put food or treats in any of them on any given day, so she checks them all.  This keeps her busy and hunting around for food– foraging!  It’s all about keeping her mind and body busy, and keeping her enriched.  

For way more ideas and inspirational articles, definitely take a look at the following: Desi Milpacher’s article on foraging toys and Kris Porter’s two awesome enrichment books.

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§ 7 Responses to Implementing Parrot Enrichment: No-Brainer Foraging

  • This is awesome. I might start using some of these on my cockatiels. And try making little tiny holes on the paper over the food bowl, it might urge her to see what’s going on.

  • Danita says:

    You are awesome Coco This article fits perfectly with ~No-Brainer~ I love it! Your toys are very nice 🙂

  • Susan says:

    Lots of great ideas…thanks for the inspiration!

  • Allo Coco… wondering where you got the nice big blocks with holes drilled in them at the very bottom of the swing supports. I bought a couple of pre-made swings with these blocks on them, my parrots are going crazy for them! we need more. Thanks in advance if you can share where to find them 🙂

    • Coco's Flock says:

      I’m sure we got them from the same place 🙂 Les Jouets Rosie, up in Canada. She used to have a lot more of her own toys and ship to the USA regularly, but she’s decreased her line a bit and hasn’t done USA shipping in a while. I believe she’s been having health issues. If you are handy, though, it shouldn’t be too tough to make them yourself! Really just requires a nice big foraging hole.

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