Foraging Articles


Liz Wilson

The Importance of Foraging

by Cheryl Rose

Vice President and Festival Director
National Parrot Rescue & Preservation Foundation

— Parrots exhibit four main behaviors: socializing, grooming, sleeping and foraging.

Two thirds of their day is spent foraging for food. The parrot in captivity has his food served to him in bowls and doesn’t need to spend time foraging, or does he? We wonder why our parrots pick their feathers or have behavioral problems? Perhaps they are bored?

If we take away the three of their four natural behaviors or limit them they can still groom or preen. This could lead to over preening or feather picking. Perhaps we need to evaluate our parrot’s quality of life in captivity and see what we can do to meet more of their natural behaviors; perhaps we can reduce their over- preening or feather picking.

A flock of wild Pionus parrots was observed in Mindo, Ecuador. Below is a chart of their daily routine:

Dawn to 10:00 A.M. - Foraging for food
10:00 A.M. to 2:00 P.M. - Resting, napping, preening, socializing
2:00 P.M. to 6:00 P.M. - Foraging for food
6:00 P.M. to 6:00 A.M. - Roosting, sleeping

As we can see, parrots spend the greater part of their waking hours foraging for food and eating. We can enhance their lives and stimulate their minds by giving them some of the challenges that they have in the wild. (Also note that wild parrots roostand or /sleep for about 12 hours a day.) Let’s offer some ideas to our parrots to stimulate foraging and create an environment that encourages and develops motor skills and curiosity.

In the wild, birds need to be inquisitive in order to find certain foods. We can increase this natural curiosity by hiding food in different places, but don’t immediately start hiding their food. They might not find it right away. Remember their foraging skills haven’t been used or are rusty and we need to encourage that curiosity. You may need to show your parrot several times at first where the food is or that by tearing open a folded dixie cup there will be a treat inside which will be a positive reinforcement for foraging.

For hand-raised birds who’ve never had to forage, some give up fairly easily when things don’t come as easily as they’ve become accustomed to, so working with these birds to help them discover the reward can be discouraging for their bird-parents when the birds don’t pick up right away. Encourage foraging inside and outside of the cage.

Retro 1  Retro Full


Some ideas

Foraging Trees - Place a large branch from a tree in a Christmas tree stand and tuck various foods in and on the branches. You may already have a play gym type stand that you can do this with. Be creative. Make the food somewhat obvious so that they know it is there but have to look. Vary the location of the foods each day to encourage them to look around. They know that there will be food on that tree just where is

Multiple Food Stations - Start out by having several bowls of food in the cage at various levels and places. In each dish, put just a little bit of different food. This will stimulate them to begin looking around in other areas for their food.

Once used to the different feeding stations, you might want to place a loose piece of paper or cardboard on top to “hide” the food from view. Give the parrot a few days to get used to the idea of not “seeing” the food. Then cover the bowls in a manner that makes it more difficult to get into - where the parrot needs to tear the paper to get to the food. He now knows that there “could” be food in that bowl but gives him more of a challenge to get to it.

* Hide food in toys and offer more puzzle type toys
* Put an almond or nut in a small paper cup and let the parrot retrieve it by tearing up the cup.
* Twist some pellets in corn husks and place between the bars of the cage.
* Buy some foraging type toys that tempt the parrot to unscrew or open the toy to get to the food - wooden or cardboard tubes stuffed with food and/or seeds.
* Hide some nuts in a bowl of wooden beads or small wooden chunks. The parrot will rummage through the wood and find the nut. You might want to let the parrot see you hide the nut the first couple of times.
*Place food on the sides of the cage bars; e.g., carrots with the tops on are good. Not only can they tear up and munch on the carrot but the tops can also be torn up and possibly ingested. Skewers are also good.
Use your imagination. Think of other ways to make forage and play fun. And remember, our companion parrots may have a more difficult time taking their own initiative so keep trying - they may need to be encouraged to try again and again until they get it.

Cheryl Rose is currently the Vice President and Festival Director of the National Parrot Rescue & Preservation Foundation after having served in other positions since 2004. She also is owner of the Pickin' Parrots Yahoo discussion group.

Photos of “Retro” of provided by Mikie Humble, (Southeast) TX. USA

Shade, Russ; Pionus Parrots: Wild Birds & Captive Pets A Stategy in Coexistence, Parrot Festival 2003, Houston, Texas
Echols, Scott D.V.M.; Diet & Dietary Behavior in Psittacines, The Importance of Foraging in Parrots, Parrot Festival 2003, Houston, Texas

© Pickin’ Parrots 2003-2008

Food and Treat Dispenser:
this multi-compartmental food dispenser can make eating a long-lasting event.


Hexagonal treat system:
this multi-compartmental treat holder is a challenge for your parrot!

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Foraging Wheel
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Cylinder Foraging Device
Cylinder Foraging Device

Sphere Foraging Device
Sphere Foraging Device

Sliding Door Foraging Device
Mult-Drawer Foraging Device -
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Foraging Carousel
Foraging Carousel

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Try putting multiple foraging devices in your parrot's cage to make it more of a challange!