Friday, April 3, 2009

Foraging 101

Foraging is the act of a bird searching for, working for or finding food. It can also be extended beyond food to water, nesting materials and other things necessary to a bird's life in the wild. However, I will limit this discussion to food.

Estimates are that wild birds spend between 50 and 80 percent of their day looking for food or involved in food-related activities. This includes flying, searching, determining what food is desirable, available, and ripe, all while avoiding potential risks, pitfalls and predators. Food that is found in one location today may not be in the same location tomorrow. Both mental and physical acuity are required.

In captivity, our birds can spend virtually no time foraging but for the opportunities we create and provide. Companion birds are traditionally offered a food bowl, usually located in the same place, filled at the same time daily, and at times with little to no variety. To the extent we can add any level of foraging to our parrots' lives, it is a worthwhile endeavor. Small changes add up to huge benefits!

Benefits of Foraging
When we provide foraging activities for our birds, some of the benefits include:
  • Mental stimulation (problem solving, curiosity)
  • Physical stimulation (flying, climbing, hanging, stretching, manipulating beak and feet)
  • Sense of accomplishment; success (rewarded intrinsically by finding the food)
  • Control over environment (ability to choose desirable foods)
  • A valuable use of time and activity
Igniting the Natural Instincts Once Again
While Coco no longer has a food bowl, and she must forage for 100% of her daily food, it was a gradual process. It would not be realistic to suddenly remove a bird's bowl one day and expect them to figure out where we may have stashed their food! My role was to methodically provide her the experiences needed to allow foraging instincts to develop naturally, and to encourage more foraging each day. At times, this involved showing her by demonstrating where to find food, or by encouraging her to continue pursuing a particularly challenging set of circumstances. Any foraging opportunities we provide to our birds are valuable, and as I mentioned above, small changes do add up over time!

By providing experiences of increasing complexity, she grew in courage, independence, curiosity, success and a preference for foraging over easily obtained food. These skills now enable her to live "bowl-free". Once a bird's foraging instincts are ignited, there is no stopping them! The fun, success and intrinsic reward of obtaining the food they seek support and reinforce the process automatically. Our reward is watching their skills increase, thinking of new ways oto provide opportunities, and seeing them grow, learn and flourish. So, what are some ways we can provide foraging opportunities?

Foraging 101 Skills
Here are just a few ideas; you will probably think of many more!
  • Provide multiple food dishes/multiple locations of different foods. One dish may have pellets, another nuts, another birdie bread, etc.
  • Place blocks of wood, large beads, marbles, dice, or bottle caps in dish with food (objects must be removed or pushed aside to access food)
  • Place a treat in a visible, but slightly difficult to reach location, requiring climbing, stretching or flying to access.
  • Use store-bought foraging toys for dispensing treats.
  • Place veggies/nuts inside green leaf lettuce or spinach 'wrap'; clip to cage or play gym
    (the bird tears away/eats
    the leaf in order to reach the veggies).
  • Offer nuts in the shell.
  • Cut a cardboard egg crate in half; place food in several of the indentations.
  • Place food in mini cupcake/muffin papers (while the bird is watching), twist, and then give to the bird or place in the bowl, on a table, or in another accessible location. If needed, show the bird there is food inside the paper by slightly ripping some of the paper to expose the treat.
These are just a few of the Foraging 101 Skills! Get ready... it becomes even more exciting as your bird learns, progresses, and you think of increasingly challenging ways for your bird to do what birds do... forage!!!
Happy Foraging!

(Egg crate with bottle caps, slivered almonds, Harrison's Power Treats, pine nuts and in the upper right corner a twisted muffin paper with a walnut inside.)


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1 comment:

Jim said...

Great information, Robin. I'm going to try and give my boys more foraging opportunities.

Btw - Great blog and good info.

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