By Simon Starkey BVSc, PhD, D.ABVP (Avian)


Wild birds spend the great majority of the day seeking food, shelter and water. It’s understandable then, that pet birds have significantly more spare time on their hands as they can simply shuffle down a perch to one or more bowls full of plentiful food and fresh water. To combat the boredom that can stem from pet birds having so much spare time on their hands, there has been an increasing movement aimed at enriching the lives of captive birds by reintroducing the process of seeking food that is known as foraging. In the context of pet birds, this is often referred to as captive foraging. The basic idea of captive foraging is to hide food and require that pet birds work for their meals, thereby passing more time during the day with meaningful activity; forging ties in both mental and physical well-being of pet birds because the best way to encourage active foraging is to feed the bird a healthy, predominantly pelleted diet and use treats like seeds and nuts in the foraging process.

It is important to start with a basic approach when introducing foraging to pet birds. If you initially start with advanced foraging toys your bird may become frustrated and not attempt to forage at all. One of the most basic ways to begin foraging with your pet bird is to partially cover his or her food bowl with a single sheet of paper. Be sure a small area remains uncovered so your bird can still see the food. It’s also important to keep the food in its normal location within the cage when beginning this process to further ensure your bird understands that his food is under the paper. Soon your bird will learn to knock the paper out of the way, enabling him to eat the food below.

The process can be enhanced by adding an additional layer of difficulty. In the next step, a small amount of seeds or healthy nuts is placed in a single sheet of tissue paper. Initially the paper should be partially open so the bird can see the food and learn to open the packet with his feet and beak to eat the contents. You will quickly be able to completely wrap the seed in one or more layers of tissue paper, thereby increasing the degree of difficulty required for your bird to access the treat and therefore the amount of time taken. These treats may be deposited in the bird’s normal food container. The bowl can then be covered with a sheet of paper, forcing your bird to both knock off the paper and unwrap the paper-covered seed balls to enjoy the treats. Ultimately you can distribute these paper-covered seed balls in various places throughout your bird’s cage, keeping him busy throughout the day.

Pet toy manufacturers have realized the importance of foraging and are now making different types of foraging toys that are available in a store and online. It’s important to take the time to help your bird learn how new foraging toys work because they can become frustrated with difficult tasks and soon stop attempting to forage. It is also important to monitor your bird when first using a new foraging toy to help ensure the product is safe to use.