I attended another great Phoenix Landing seminar this weekend. Saturday’s class featured Kris Porter, all the way in from Alaska, to talk about parrot enrichment, specifically focusing on captive foraging.

Kris Porter is the author of a great web site about parrot enrichment and two free e-books, the Parrot Enrichment Activity Books (which can be downloaded from her site).

From my lecture notes:

Kris Porter started off emphasizing that it’s critical to provide choices to our parrots. Enrichment allows our pet birds to make choices. (She even cited a study that showed providing enrichment opportunities and stimulating exercise can reduce stereotypic behavior like feather plucking! That not only makes sense and jives with the common wisdom, but it’s also good to see scientific evidence backing what we’ve been saying for a long time.)

Some birds don’t know how to forage, so you may need to work up to full-blown foraging. If you make it too hard to begin with, your bird won’t know how to start (and if you make them forage for all their food right away, they’ll go hungry!).

Easy ways to provide some variety and beginner-level foraging opportunity include simply presenting food in different locations. I.e., move the food bowls so they aren’t always in the same spot. Food doesn’t have to be hidden or locked up in order for foraging to occur.

(Photo courtesy of Phoenix Landing and Kris Porter)

If you have a parrot who doesn’t know how to forage, don’t give up. It’s about being creative. Porter says she’s not above including not-so-healthy, high-value snack foods to get started.

To encourage play activity, incorporate food items right into toys. Create DIY toys that include pretzel pieces, melba toast and other treats within easy reach just to get the bird to approach the toy. Once a bird realizes that toys include yummy food items, make them just a little bit harder to get to (by half-hiding them in a cupcake liner, for example). Also include vegetables and healthier foods once you’ve trained your parrot to become an enthusiastic forager.

Porter also advised observing how your birds interact with foraging toys and being aware of preferences. One of her birds will stay much more engaged with food strung up on a rope as opposed to the same food strung up on a metal skewer. Something about the way it moved was more appealing. Your bird may have similar preferences you can observe and cater to.

The presentation included photos of whole vegetables that were turned into foraging toys and how much fun that could be. For example, hollow out a cucumber and stuff it with the bird’s favorite mash. The cucumber is an edible container that is a lot of fun to play with. Half a small pumpkin can also provide loads of nutritious entertainment.

Another great tip shared during the presentation: prepare foraging toys with fresh foods in advance. Skewer or stuff kale, carrots and other veggies into toys and then put them in plastic baggies in the fridge. Take out the food toys when you’re ready to serve (and remove them before they have a chance to spoil). Bird bread can be left in the cages all day. (Porter recommends making a hole in the bird bread mix before baking, so you can easily string it up onto a toy when it’s ready to serve.)

Some of the take-aways from the seminar:

  • providing foraging opportunities doesn’t need to be hard
  • it’s about providing variety and mental stimulation
  • some birds need to learn how to forage so be patient and keep trying
  • opportunities for mental and physical activity can curb unwanted behavior issues
  • … and don’t forget to be creative and have fun!

Those are just a few of the great tips Kris Porter shared about creating easy and cheap foraging activities for pet parrots. Please visit ParrotEnrichment.com to download her activity books and check out her videos about teaching birds to forage. These are all absolutely free resources that can help improve your companion birds lives, so I highly encourage you to check them out.


p.s. As always, a few adoptable birds were on-hand to add color (and noise) to the proceedings. This happy, gorgeous Mollucan Cockatoo talked and chortled throughout the presentation making everyone laugh. If you’re thinking of adopting a bird and live in the Phoenix Landing area, please come to any of the classes to meet a few adoptable parrots and talk to an adoption coordinator.

Cockatoo - Adoptable Birds