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Guest eterri

Captive Foraging

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Guest eterri

In the wild, birds spend most of their time foraging for food. The act of eating involves much more than climbing down to a food dish and seeing what's on the menu for today (then picking through it, throwing out what isn't wanted, making us a huge mess to clean up, etc.). Looking for their food keeps them stimluated and busy. This can be achieved in our homes and it has almost as many benefits for us as it does for our birds!


Bored parrots (remember that budgies are indeed small parrots with the same basic needs as larger parrots) are louder and exhibit more behavioral problems than those who are able to keep themselves stimulated. Interesting toys are one good way to keep our birds busy but interesting food stations may prove to be just as important.


Since beginning my own foraging project (I'm attempting to phase out food dishes almost completely), I've already noticed the volume in the house decreasing significantly. With a flock of nine (six budgies, one cockatiel, a yellow-sided green cheek conure, and a female eclectus with a death scream) it can get insanely loud sometimes. Two days into this project, I feel like a saner person. (Which is saying a lot for me, take my word for it!)



Pixel, Peregrin, Paris, and Pika (cockatiel) with a "foraging pod."


Not everyone has the time to implement foraging as a permanent means of feeding their birds (and I've only just begun so it may not even work for me) but there are little things that anyone can do to make foraging a part of their birds' lives. Currently, there are many different types of foraging toys on the market, but most of these are targeted at the larger parrots and only cater to things like large nuts used as treats. I know of one online store owner who is working on expanding her line of products to include foraging toys that can hold tiny bits of food but until then, it might be best to try and do it yourself.


My first idea was to make "foraging pods" out of plain black and white newspaper. Place the newspaper flat on a surface, add food, roll it up, then tie each end together. These can hang from perches or you can use cotton or sisal rope (sisal seems to be safer and work better) to put it anywhere in the cage. My budgies and 'tiel took to this immediately and stayed busy for hours getting their food. All they have to do is tear into the paper and the food comes right out. The downside (if you choose to do it this way) is that a LOT of food will fall onto the floor as they dig into the paper pod. To remedy this, I line the bottom with newspaper and today I added a shallow but large wicker basket to catch what is spilled. This makes it much easier to reuse the food and means far less waste. It is also important to make sure that the food on the bottom of the cage doesn't become too soiled, you don't want the birds eating nasty poo-food. :D On the upside, budgies naturally enjoy foraging at ground level and this can help satisfy that instinct.


Setting up foraging areas outside of the cage is a great idea as well. My birds have always loved whatever I put onto their playgym just because it's in a different place. For all they know, it won't be there tomorrow so they have to get it now (and get it before another bird does; we all know how selfish they can be!). Having a playgym with several small food dishes can really help feed the need to forage.


Foraging can happen in a lot of ways. You can simply add several small dishes to your cages or aviaries and occasionally move them to different positions. I've heard it suggested that you add a few empty cups too, just to spice things up and make it challenging. I prefer for the birds to have to do a little chewing to get to what they want, but because we're just starting, I poke at least one hole so that they can actually see that there is food to be found within.



Arctic was very enthused about all this -while Crystal looked on thinking it was nonsense at first-. Wish I could say the same for my ekkie, Poe, who has decided that it's better to be handfed her food than having to actually work for it. :D (I did notice those strands from the rope and cut them, I'm using sisal rope now instead.)


If you do some researching, you will find a lot of articles that discuss foraging and foraging toys. Here are two that I found especially interesting:





There is also a DVD available called Captive Foraging. I've just ordered it today and will reply here after watching it with a bit of a review. I'm really looking forward to it!


I came up with a very rough list of things I may be able to use for foraging (some are with larger birds in mind but it may give you some ideas too). If you see anything on the list that you think could be harmful, let me know please. Also, if you can think of anything to add to the list or any ideas in general that would be great.


1) Wicker balls

(& other wicker objects)


2) Curleycue (any ideas for also making one of these, something chewable?)



3) Willow basket/objects


4) Newspaper (Safe for birds to tear into, cheap, good for the little birds with tiny beaks)


5) Wiffle balls


6) Popsicle sticks (can be manipulated to make triangular or other-shaped base)


7) Soft wooden blocks/objects


8) Plastic toys with holes big enough to hide food in


9) Cholla perches


10) Plastic hamster wheel (on its side, made stationary)


11) Plastic hair curlers


12) Plain paper towels


13) Kabobs (string chunky foods)


14) Tangle toy


15) Plastic chain


16) Finch nests (turned upside down or mounted on the side)


Another thing I'm working on is making my cage set-ups a little more "natural." I'm using more natural tree branches and trying to keep the middle clear so that flight back and forth is easier. Tree branches create a nice, dense climbing area and it's easier to hide food within this. This also makes for a great place to put leafy greens, especially if you have nice skinny branches to spear them on.

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:D What cool ideas.. Im going to give this a go myself.. I love the idea with the seed wrapped in the newspaper, all my birds love to rip paper and i think they will really go for this :D Thanks heaps for the ideas eterri :)

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I love the idea and indeed do similar things for my budgies too, but I wouldn't be using newspaper considering the toxicity of the inks etc. Something a bit more natural perhaps ? :(

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Guest eterri
:wub: What cool ideas.. Im going to give this a go myself.. I love the idea with the seed wrapped in the newspaper, all my birds love to rip paper and i think they will really go for this :D Thanks heaps for the ideas eterri :D

No problem! One thing I found that really helps is making little holes in them at first so the birds can see the food. Most of them catch on really fast though, and the rest catch on when they see the other digging in. :( Hope it works for you. If so let me know and post pictures!! :D


I love the idea and indeed do similar things for my budgies too, but I wouldn't be using newspaper considering the toxicity of the inks etc. Something a bit more natural perhaps ? :(

I'm not sure about Australia, but most newspaper in the US is printed with soy-based ink. Completely non-toxic (it was done this way for fear that small children might put it in their mouths). But any safe paper would work fine. :D Plain paper towels, even. Or like Una said, butchers paper.

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Guest Budgie Baby

Great post eterri! I have been experimenting myself with this concept and when my photo shrinking program is operational again I will post pics.


I have used pine cones to thread millet around, roll fruit and vegie cut into small sticks in bird seed and stand up in the pine cone. As my birds are only just starting on fruit and vege I disguise it with a sprinkiling of grass which they love.


When I was at the Adelaide zoo recently I participated in an enrichment program for monkeys and they used small fire hoses with a carrot piece in each end and filled with nuts and seeds. A small plastic hose might work well too. They also platted fire hose and then pocked pieces of fruit and veg in gaps and hung from the walls or tree branches. They filled plastic drink containers with popcorn and then a piece of lettuce in the neck so it had to be removed before the food would come out. They coated the inside of toilet rolls with a past of flour/cornflour and water and then sprinkled seed inside for the monkeys to pull apart and extract.


I will be adding more to my receipe list as I experiment and look forward to seeing what everyone else does.

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Great topic eterri! This is something I have been working towards, a more natural environment in the aviary for my budgies. I only use natural branches for perches, just yesterday I was in the bush and found some weirdly twisted branches I thought I could use as swings! Also I have ordered a 5 foot eucalyptus tree that I am hoping to grow in the aviary, for the birds to perch in and probably eat!

The foraging for food is a natural extension of what I have done so far!

Thanks for the great ideas!

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Guest Shellball

Great stuff! I have already changed all of the wood in my cage to natural branches too. I have a couple that are very twisted and curly and I have a large Cholla in there. It would be a great place to stick bits of food as it is hollow with many holes all over it. I am going out tomorrow to pick up some pine cones for them. I love finding creative ways to make their environment more exciting and satisfying for them.

Thanks for the ideas,


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Guest eterri

Feathers, those pictures were wonderful!! I'm really enjoying hearing about everyone's experiences and please keep the pictures and stories coming!! I'm going to do a few more things with my guys today that hopefully I can get pictures of. If so, I'll post them here. I have a few from yesterday that I may post in a bit.


If we can get a good deal of pictures together, I'd love to make this a feature on my website (after getting permission to use the pics, of course!)


**Edited to add pictures**



Phizzy and Peregrin didn't dig into this one until Pixel came over and showed them how to again. (Not that she meant to, she was more like MINE MINE MINE!)




I added a big basket to catch more of the dropped food (and added a little food covered in paper for foraging there too). That ended up being a good move. Surprisingly, the spilled food doesn't get very messy at all. I'm sure the story would be different if I didn't clean it up in the evening though. The little basket hanging on the door has food in it as well.




I added a grass mat that I found at the pet store. It's hung from the top and there are seeds inside. As you can see, Arctic was less than pleased about this for a while but he soon got over it. (He can't resist checking things out for long.)




Looks quite cluttered but the middle isn't actually that cramped. Still going to play around with more ideas for the branches though. :)



If anyone's curious as to how my other birds are taking to this... well, here's Poe telling me where I can shove my foraging stations...




She wouldn't even step up for me for a while. :) She's very, very peeved!




Frankie's taken to it well though. Here she is after foraging my cup. :)


Edited by eterri

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If anyone is sceptical about this, STOP its great, i've been doing thing for about a month my birds are happier and it obvious. After reading on one of my free flight forums that some people had a window open for their birds at all times and they discovered that their birds were foraging in the neigbourhood and the results they'd seen birds weights still stayed down and their personalities became even more out going and friendly i thought i'd try.


what i have been doing is taking large trays like in Eterri's latest posts and placing small amounts of favorite treats/seeds and enough veggies for three or four humans(between my Quakers and budgies) and then a layer of toys, then a few large nuts in the quakers then a layer of alfapha grass more toys, i used confetti the other day after eating the had fun just rolling the little pieces of paper in their mouths, by the time i'm done the budgie's try is about 4-6 inches tall and the quakers near 8. i have found that with wild caught birds that don't play with toys it is amazing Carla one of the quakers WAS a plucker, but it seems to be doing much better now. my budgies now fly in their cages because i've moved branches like Eterri said more to the side, no more bickering between couples. its all around an amazing concept.


i will try the hanging of things today for mid day snack,

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What a FANTASTIC idea, I thought I would give it a try this morning, I used plain paper towel, didn't want to risk it with the news paper although I know someone that uses newspaper in the bottom of there budgie cage and the budgie rips it up and they seem okay, anyway I didn't want to risk it so I used paper towel, and here are some pics





stormy seemed to be more interested in it than winter, kept him occupied for a good hour and half I suppose winter was just happy he was leaving her alone for a while hehehe :)

he still keeps going back to it


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Guest eterri

It's so great to see it working well for others. I've been slacking on updating here but I'll try and get all the highlights of the past couple of days in this one reply.


The day before yesterday, I used cornhusks to make healthy veggie/baby food wraps for the birds...



This one was Poe's. She has to have mostly fresh food so I only added two or three sunflower seeds to keep her motivated.




She also had a plate of carrots on top of the cage. I'm making it easy because it took her a while to get into this but she's doing a great job now. (The budgies did awesome from the start!)




This is a great sight to see for a bird who has been through as much as Poe has. Diet is the most important aspect of keeping eclectus parrots healthy so this really made my day.



This toy is great for hiding pellets/seeds.



On to yesterday's foraging...



This was the original idea. Two paper plates, hole in the top, tied on two ends so that they could get food from the sides with a little work. Then, I realized that they might not realize that the sides could be opened/chewed up a bit. Since we're still at the beginning of this (and because it's healthy food we're dealing with), I decided to go easy on them.




Now, they have a little more of a window into the paper plate world of food. And it looks like a flower!




I had to cut the edges off of Frankie's (green cheek conure) plate as one little bird doesn't need one that big. The leftovers were screaming to be made into a cheap bird toy!




Time to dish it up! (Whole wheat pasta, brown rice, lentils, green split peas, and boiled carrots. I meant to add some crushed chili pepper that I bought and completely forgot.)




The presentation.




These guys are champion foragers! Or close to it, hehe.




Even the pickiest parrot in the world approves! (Crazy pinny eyes = the ekkie stamp of approval)




It's messy but the benefits far outweigh the extra effort.






I've also been hiding chili peppers in their little foraging baskets that I hang in the cages. They love them!

Edited by eterri

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Guest eterri

I am afraid to say that I didn't get any super cool ideas this morning, though I did manage to do things a little differently and that's my goal anyway. Even recycled ideas can be changed slightly, even if it means putting it in a different position than it was in the day before. That's how I look at it, at least.


Good news! My better camera is NOT dead. The rechargeable batteries I was using apparently sucked. They work fine in my old camera but my new one must be more of a battery sucker. Anyhow, that means slightly better pictures than usual.



Fruit salad (apples, pears, bananas) in corn husks. I also have a coconut. A coconut that I can't open.





I tied one end of them together this time just to make my birds' lives more difficult challenging.





Frankie says that I will never succeed in getting a picture of her eating her food. Not ever. She'd rather run up and dance.





Arctic knows where the seed can be found. Smart little budgie.





Now, if he'll just turn around and go for the green stuff too.





Chili pepper in the little basket (Pika's the only "budgie" who really likes those) and lots and lots and lots of different things in the big basket. If they're willing to sift around. It's kind of like that $5 DVD bin at Walmart.





This is Poe's windswept look. Only...there was no wind. I don't understand.





She says I'll never understand her.





Foraging birds all over the place. Yay!





This is how I presented their cooked food today. Probably wouldn't work well at all for bigger birds but it was great for the teeny guys.





Arctic takes a break from seed scavenging to indulge in the good stuff.





Poe wonders why she didn't get a suspended plate of food like everyone else. She did get the corn husk fruit salad though, so she shouldn't complain. :P





Crystal and Arctic dig in.





I moved her fruit to the top of the cage and she got more interested in it. I tied one end of the corn husky thing to the cage so that it doesn't completely fall off this time. (And please excuse the messiness on the cage, I'll clean once they've finished their breakfasts.)


I'm going to do some serious cage rearranging either today or tomorrow and that will help spice things up a little. I'm also gonna look over my list of ideas and see how different I can make things tomorrow morning.

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I tried putting sprouts in a paper towel today. They were very leery of the folded up white thing, but I set it on a dish and put it where the sprouts usually go. They stared at it for quite some time. And would have none of it. So I put a few small holes in it so they could see the seeds. Still, nothin' doin'. I finally tore open most of the paper towel so practically all the seeds were out in plain site. You guessed it, Skittles made a beeline for the dish. :) And of course, she can't have all of them, so the rest finally came down and touched, Yes...actually TOUCHED the white thing with the sprouts on it. And proceeded to eat all those soaked seeds.


We'll see if I have to make holes in it tomorrow. :)

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Guest eterri

That's great to hear! Poe had to be coddled/bribed/tricked into this too. At first she was clueless, then she was like" You want me to do WHAT for my food??" and then she gave in. Now she seems to enjoy it. :)


I look forward to hearing how tomorrow goes! I need to step up to the plate and get more foraging pictures of my guys. I got lazy today. :)

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This sounds awesome!! I don't know why I didn't think of it myself... Baby has always foraged, but we didn't do it for the new two. Baby would pull her food dish off the side of the cage onto the floor so she could forage and we put seed on the floor her playground to get her to use it and that's where she forages now. I have been giving Cupid and Psyche food in a low flat dish so it would facilitate pushing the food around and stuff, but creating new little containers and places for food sounds even more stimulating.


Maybe this will help with Psyche's frustrating moments, exercise their bodies and their brains a little more than usual so they'll be more content. I'm only concerned that they might be a little shy for a lot of new things. However they did adjust well to me moving their cuttlebone and adding a new toy, so maybe they're braver than i think. *L*


*edited to add*


I had to start with this idea right away! I'm starting them slowly by simply moving their food dish to a new place and making a very small food packet. I was thinking that Baby wouldn't need this extra enrichment, but I made a little packet for her too, anyway. I brought hers right up to her and she started attacking it right off! *(Laughing out loud)* She didn't seem to interested in the food though, so I poked it through a hole in one of her toys for later. To make a small, easy packet, I just used a separated square of toilet paper - a small, non-threatening object that tears *really* easily so they can learn quickly. Cupid and Psyche just seem to be looking at it, from their highest perches. They were having a quiet moment right now anyway, so they're not being too investigative just yet. Although they're starting to look at things a little more animatedly...."oh look! Our food's over THERE now! How do I get down to it?"

Edited by armchairangel

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Well, the second day of foraging was most interesting... :) I only poked two small holes in the paper towel today, and sprinkled a few of the soaked seeds on top of it to remind them what was in there. That was enough for Skittles. I am so proud of her. By the time I got my camera to take pictures, Blossom was thinking about getting into the act. I don't like how the video looks on photobucket, it's pretty jumpy. But you can still see things okay. Blossom commandeered the sprout plate (after Skittles did all the work of course), but Skittles was undaunted in her quest for finding food, so she came back. Blossom half-heartedly tried to guard the food, but foraging was just too much work for her... (Notice Skittles half-hearted 'tail tug' to get Blossom to speed it up and get on out of there. :) Watch what Blossom does after that. :P Which is more like Blossom's idea of captive foraging anyway.......


***edit*** Working on a better link...





Skittles then took the idea of captive foraging to a whole new level. In her quest for working to get at her food, she was willing to lose her head.....










I think I have at least one bird who likes this idea!



Edited by Rainbow

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Guest Shellball

I have an 18 inch long cholla log in the cage. So I stuffed a bunch of millet inside. The only way they can get the millet is to go through all the little holes! I had to leave a little sticking out here and there so they would get the idea, but it is working very well. I am so glad for this post. It has really got me thinking about foraging. Thank you all for your brilliant ideas.

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Guest eterri

armchair, that's wonderful to hear! It's really fun to watch, isn't it? I'm having a blast with this.


Ann, I couldn't get the video link to work (it asked me to log in as you so I guess you just have to make it public?) but that picture made me literally laugh out loud. Love it!!!


Shell, that's awesome! Chollas are great for that very purpose. :)


*Editing to add today's pictures*



Simple, but effective.




My first idea was to string them together vertically and that was (quite literally) a flop. My second idea was to string them horizontally. That sucked too. :P





Yum. (Carrots, squash, bell peppers, kale, radishes, sweet potato baby food, brown rice, whole wheat pasta, lentils, green split peas, crushed chili pepper.)





I was going to tie these to the cage and make this neat little suspended eating area. I thought it would work because I'm dumb. :) (okay, I was tired too, it was early.)





After inadvertantly feeding some of this to the dogs, I realized it was just not gonna happen.





There's that !%$£ coconut that I can't open. It says to WHACK ME along the ridge. I whacked and you see how open it is. The whiskey (wedding gift) is for the day I finally give up.





I put the cups in several different areas of the cage.





Pika wants to know what I'm looking at.





They're happy, I'm happy, the world is good.





Frankie waits for her's.





I gave her the stringed-together ones and a couple of wicker foragey balls.





This was the best picture I could get of Poe eating today. Sorry for the cruddyness of it. :)

Edited by eterri

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Cupid and Psyche are loving their little food bombs! I stuck one in the bars of the cage and they fought over it! It was so fun to watch them both try to pick at it at the same time and see the gears in their heads turn to figure it out. They're having a lot of fun picking at the fallen seed in the bottom now too.

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Is there anything that we could use to create something similar to a suet ball? They seem to be popular with the outdoor birds but I know they are made with some kind of fat that could go rancid inside and is probably very fattening. Maybe peanut butter - just for a treat?

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Guest eterri

I know there are recipes for things like home made honey sticks (similar idea). Peanut butter could work but I would think the amount you'd have to use would be too high and it's pretty sugary. Some birds also seem to have allergies to peanuts. I'll see what I can find though. :hap:

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Guest Budgie Baby

I tried mixing up a cornflour paste applying it to small sections of toilet rolls and rolling it in seeds, unfortunately the cornflour wasn't strong enough to hold the seeds when it dried. Thinking of trying honey next. I was going to slip these onto a perch so they had to work at getting the seeds off. Finally got some photos of my pinecone with vegie idea but photobucket going slowly tonight for me. Will try again when I have more time. I also hide their brocolli in their gum leaves and branches and sometimes add their grass into this place as well. I hang a different item containing their food from the centre of the cage every other day and also alternate the type of food I place in it. Sometimes just different grasses, sometimes fruit or vegie or both sometimes I lightly cover the vegies with the grass to encourage those reluctant healthy eaters.


They loved their vegies mixed with cooked brown rice the other day however it sparked a frenzy of beak cleaning on every available surface. (Laughing out loud) :grbud: Going to try the paper wrap this week.

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Guest eterri

I think I pushed my birds a little too far yesterday as they didn't quite grasp this... but here you go anyway. :ausb:



I put different types of food in plastic ice trays for Poe and the residents of the Budgie Barn...





Then, wrapped it in one layer of newspaper, tied with sisal rope. I poked some small holes in the top to get this one started for Poe.





For the little birds, I just put one layer of paper over it and moved it aside a little so they could see inside.





(Pardon the poop stains.) For Frankie, I put pellets in his little wheel barrel (very cheap, purchased at Hobby Lobby) and covered them with rafia.





Some of Poe's favorite junk food in her holee ball which has been moved to one corner of the cage. She's great at foraging there while it's hanging but it was time for a change.





Basket of chilis on her outside perch (which I only moved outside yesterday).





Frankie's small and I didn't want to do too much at once by giving her an only half-full ice tray so I put food in plastic measuring spoons and then wrapped toilet tissue around them.





The only warning about this is that you should probably wash off the painted-on measurements so that the bird doesn't accidentally consume any paint. On cheapy little spoons like this, it comes off easily but I didn't think of it until the last minute. I kept an eye on Frankie and he wasn't interested in flaking it off but next time around, I'll make sure I do that so I don't have to worry about it. You could probably use plain plastic spoons as well but these were deeper and had the appeal of already being linked together. (About $1 at your local dollar store or similar store.)





My budgies did investigate the ice trays but it took them a few forevers to realize there was food inside. Well, Arctic (that blue tail in the background) figured it out pretty quickly but even then, he didn't realize he could rip it away to reveal more food.





Paris is a tad confused.





The basket is full of seeds (in the background) because I'm stupid. Yes, Terri, of COURSE they'll check out the ice tray even though there's a plentiful basket of SEEDS around! Duuuurrr *drool*

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I just have a quick question - i've been hanging gum leaves/other veggies from the roof of my cages and Blink, Oz and especially Cookie much prefer to eat veggies this way than in a bowl (90% of the time they wont look if it's in a bowl). Is this foraging? Cookie especially likes it as she doesn't play with toys, but when i hang stuff from the roof or weave it into the cage bars she spends the whole day shredding and eating it all!

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