Although I myself do not practice veterinary medicine on exotics, I do own a few. Currently I am the proud owner of a Rose Breasted Cockatoo named Ruffles and our clinic hosts an African Grey Parrot (Buckeye) and a parakeet (Petie). All of these birds get plenty of attention and are well adjusted to living here.
Until recently I simply put their food into a bowl twice a day for them to eat. I now know better and want to spread the word to other bird owners. We have gone to forage feeding to mimic what a bird does in its natural environment.
It is estimated that in the wild, 70 percent of a bird’s time is used searching for, peeling and cracking open his food. Contrast this to the amount of time that birds in captivity spend getting its food. It is delivered to their food bowl twice daily and provides no challenge at all. So what does your bird do with its extra time?
Many birds will start to develop destructive behaviors ranging from weaving, feather picking to screaming. These behaviors may cause the owner to get rid of the bird, trips to the veterinarian for treatment and even possible euthanasia. Many birds will become so deeply disturbed that they can not be helped and can become hazardous to themselves and their owners.
In an effort to help combat this boredom and prevent destructive behaviors, it is now recommended to feed your bird in a foraging style. This is where the food is placed in either homemade toys or commercially available toys that cause the bird to work for their food. In fact, C.L. Meehan (U.C. Davis) has reported that there is evidence that indicates parrots “prefer to perform some sort of work for food even when ‘free’ food is available.” This indicates that foraging is a behavioral need of parrots.
It is best to start out simple for your bird to get use to the idea that food will no longer be coming from the bowl. We started with a small open box. Slowly we added the lid, taped it down, and added shredded paper to the inside. We have gone on from there and now have many foraging toys in the cage as well as many boxes. The birds love it! Some will now only eat if they can forage.
There are a great number of resources that I found online in regards to foraging for your bird. These sites provide good guidance for homemade toys and sell great commercially available toys. I encourage you to check it out as an alternative feeding method for your bird. Foraging toys will provide your bird with entertainment, mental stimulation, play time and exercise.
Dr. Kathleen Babbitt is the owner of Lima Animal Hospital. If you have questions please email her at babbittDVM@wcoil.com.