Contrafreeloading: (verb) The behavior in which animals offered the choice between eating food provided to them for free or working to get that food would eat the most food from the source that required effort. This term was created in 1963 by animal psychologist Glen Jensen. Jensen ran a study on 200 male albino rats where the end result was the rats ate more from the food source where the rats had to press on a bar to get the pellet rather than the dish of pellets where they didn’t have to do anything at all. Jensen then studied the behaviors of gerbils, mice, birds, fish, monkeys and chimpanzees. In fact many have studied contrafreeloading since then with similar results, except for the domestic cat – which likes to be served. This 1963 study’s results were surprising because it would be more logical, from an evolutionary point of view, to not expand energy to get food when food is freely available. Why do pet bird people care about this? Birds seem to want to work for food, which is a wild instinctual behavior. Avian behaviorists recommend that pet bird owners encourage contrafreeloading behavior with foraging setups and bird toys within the pet birds’ cages and that pet bird owners engage their parrots by training commands like Step up or tricks such as the eagle, and then use a treat reward system. This keeps pet birds busy, active and healthy.
Foraging means to search for some desirable item, usually for food. There are many commercially made foraging toys available to buy. When making your own foraging toys, incorporate food items, such as pasta, ice cream cones, or rounds of melba toast, as toy parts. Or include containers, such as cups, bowls, baskets or buckets in the construction of the toy, which treats can be tucked into.
Websites (just to name a few): Big Beaks Bird Toys (http://bigbeaksbirdtoys.com) Bird Safe Store (http://birdsafestore.com) California Bird Nerds (http://www.cabirdnerds.com) Casey’s Wood Products (http://www.caseyswood.com) Fastenal (http://www.fastenal.com) Mother Plucking Toys (http://mpbirdtoys.com) Oriental Trading (http://www.orientaltrading.com) Parrot Toy Angels (http://www.parrottoyangels.com/supplies5.html#sspails) The Coconut King (http://www.coconutking.com) Rhode Island Novelties (http://www.rinovelty.com) Twin Leather (http://www.twinleather.com/birdtoys/strips.html) ULine for boxes (http://www.uline.com/product/BoxListing1.htm)
Fun With ForagingA Phoenix Landing Presentation By Laura Ford www.phoenixlanding.org
What is Foraging?“A search or the process of searching for something, especially a search for foodand supplies or a search among a varied collection of things.” Photo by Kris Porter
Why is Foraging Important? “Time upon time it has been observed that parrots denied their natural behaviors over the years are more prone to pulling out their feathers, vocalizing excessively, self mutilation, or forming sexual/mate bonds with their owners. This can lead to aggression towards other family members, or just plain annoyance on your part. Parrots are not people, but they are intelligent creatures. Parrots are “happiest” being parrots…” Dr. Scott Echols DVMOur Companion Parrots living in our homes have had many of the activities thatwould fill the life of a wild parrot taken away form them. As responsiblecaretakers it is our obligation to provide and encourage as many speciesspecific and appropriate behaviors as possible.Foraging is one of the easiest and most rewarding of these activities.
Temple Grandin, Ph.D.Animals Make Us Human…Creating the Best Life for Animals “A good life requires 3 things, Health, Freedom from pain and negative emotions, Lots of activities that turn on PLAY and SEEKING”Dr. Grandin explains how Seeking is a core emotion for animals (andpeople) and defines it as the basic impulse to search, investigate, andmake sense of the environment.Foraging, the act of looking for food or other desired items, naturallyevokes a feeling of curiosity and curiosity is a direct component ofSeeking.
So Foraging is not just a method of feeding, but providing your companionparrot with mental and physical challenges, recreating natural behaviors,allowing them to make choices and regain a sense of empowerment, purposeand joy to their life.
Foraging need not be a difficult orcomplicated puzzle. We are simplyattempting to recreate for the birdsin our home, the same Seekingbehaviors that wild birds use. If foraging is new to your bird, start slow. For birds who have never had to forage, some give up fairly easily when presented with food that is not delivered in the manner they have become accustomed to.
The Bowl The majority of parrots in our homes have always eaten from a bowl, usually in the same spot in their cage everyday. The simplest change you can make is to switch the places of the food and water bowls. Add extra bowl holders in various locations around the cage, and rotate the location of the bowls everyday.In your parrot’s pellet bowl, mix insome wooden or large plastic beadsor buttons.
Try covering the food dishes with paper.You may have to start slowly, with just asmall strip of paper, so your bird learnsthat there is food under the paper.Gradually increase the size of thepaper until the entire bowl in covered.Cover extra bowls that containdifferent types of things, such as fresh Phoenix of Phoenix Landingchop, or pellets mixed with beads, onlyfoot toys, or smaller foraging toys.
Put food in hanging bowls or buckets that require more effort to eat out of. Remember that beads or toys can be mixed in here too.
Consider locations outside the cage for bowls of food, treats and toys, such as kitchen counters, windowsills or playstands.Photo by Carina Law
Think Outside the BowlOffer whole leaves of greens. These can be woven through the bars of a cage, clippedto the side of the cage, attached to the perch or toys, or stuff into a forging cage. Photo by Carina Law
Whole vegetables can be made into foraging toys. Pumpkins make great foraging toys. Small pumpkins can be purchased for around $1.00 in season. At other times of the year, similar foraging opportunities can be provided using whole zucchini , butternut squash or red or green peppers.
Hang whole orlarge chunks ofveggies or fruits onstainless steelskewers or otherfood holders.
These can be made ahead of time and stored in therefrigerator for several days.
Often birds who are not great at eating vegetables from a bowl will eat vegetables when offered this way.The harder a food is to reach, the more appeal it has to many birds, this is know as“Contrafreeloading”(In both these examples the food is INSIDE the bird’s cage, and they have chosen to climb around to the OUTSIDE oftheir cages and reach through the bars to get to the food)
Add variety and increasecomplexity by wrapping foods incoffee filters, papertowels,paper cup, paper bags, coinwrappers, or cupcake papers.Often you will need to start outwith a high value treat, such asa nut or Nutriberry, and let yourbird watch you wrap the treat.You can later use these same Photo by Cheryl Celsowrapped foods inside otherforaging containers forincreased variety andcomplexity.
Small wrapped itemscan then be addedinto bigger foragingtoys.
Kris Porter, author of ParrotEnrichment Vol.1 & 2,mixes food and toys.“To encourage foraging activity, tryincorporating food into the toys youmake for your parrots.This toy adds dried pasta shapes,melba toast rounds with almondsstuffed in the vine balls.A toy that can be made ahead andeasily stored for use later.”
Kris Porter makes birdie muffins using a stiff batter, and makes a hole inthe middle before baking. She uses these muffins in her foraging toys.Here she shows the progression of increasing complexity as she teachesher birdsforaging skills.
Baskets can be made into foragingtoys. When your parrot is finishedforaging out all the food, toys andtreats – the basket can beshredded.Leftover baskets can be cut up andused to make foraging toys onstainless steel skewers or kabobs.
Choose unfinished baskets, such as wicker or willow.Wash with white vinegar and/or oxyclean, rinsing thoroughly and allow to dry in thesun.
Recycle empty food boxes (the glue usedto make packaging for food, is nontoxic), orpurchase new shipping boxes.These are great destructible/foraging toys,fill with shredded paper, foot toys andtreats.Decorate the outside as simply or fancy asyou choose.
Other types of food containers can be cleanedand turned into foraging toys.
Photo by Angela Harrison Photo by David Hull Photo by Anna McGregor
Photo by Karin OlaussonPaper cups make wonderful foraging containers.Just make sure you choose unwaxed cups.
Gradually increase the complexity offoraging toys by adding layers ofwrappings. For example wrapped food, and foot toys placed inside a paper cup, the paper cup placed inside a stainless steel foraging cage. Perhaps the next steps for this toys would be to stuff shredded paper inside the stainless cage, surrounding the cup, then wrap the stainless cage in a paper bag. Photo by Karin Olausson
Wood lends itself naturally to foraging. Photo by Kathy James Photo by Karin Olasson Photo by Sheron White Hagelston
The possibilities for foragingopportunities are only limitedby your imagination.
There are of course many commercially available foraging toys for birds from small to large.
The Food – Beyond Nuts, Pellets & NutriberriesCall it Chop or Mash, raw or cooked, many of us are now feeding our birds avariety of foods that are soft and squishy and don’t seem to lend themselves toforaging, but with a little creativity these foods can be foraged for too.Remember our first steps with foraging? Covering a standard bowl with paper,hanging bowls or buckets, these can all be easily washed with very little, if any,extra effort on our part.Wet or messy foods can also be put in small disposable paper cups, and the cupscovered or placed inside other containers. Dividing a meal into several very smallcontainers and scattering them in various areas will also add a level ofexcitement to your parrot’s foraging.Just remember that this type of food is highly perishable and will need to beremoved and discarded after just a few hours.
Chopped fruits and vegetables, mixed with cooked or sprouted grains can bewrapped in leafy greens.You may have to work up to this by placing the high value food on top of theleaf, working up to a complete wrap. The same mixture can be wrapped in a whole grain or veggie tortilla.
Birdie breads or muffins are a little longerlasting and can be safely added to more complex toys.If making muffins, you can leave the wrapper on.Make an effort to bake healthy breads and muffins byskipping the wheat flours and corn meal mixes. Photo by Jennifer Slaughter Photo by David Hull Photo by Sheron White Hagelston Photo by Nyla Copp Photo by Nyla Copp
Dehydrators have found their way into the Parrot Kitchen. Dehydrated crackers,cookie and chip recipes are bring adapted for parrots. Dehydrated foods are dried at alow temperature so as to not kill live enzymes, as happens during baking. And theremoval of the moisture inhibits bacterial growth, making them stable for long periodsof time. Slices of vegetables or fruits can be dried, Photo by Leanne Burtonor a mixture formed into crackers or cookie shapes.Poke a hole in them and they can be strung as toy parts. Photo by Lisa Bakalars Photo by Leanne Burton
For More Foraging Ideas Other Resources: The Parrot’s Workshop FaceBook group http://www.facebook.com/groups/TheParrots Workshop/ The Parrot’s Pantry FaceBook group http://www.facebook.com/groups/156496311 144601/Download for free A Bird’s Best Life BlogParrot Enrichment Vol. 1 & 2 http://abirdsbestlife.wordpress.com/by Kris Porterhttp://parrotenrichment.com The Happy Cockatoo, Elle’s Avian Cuisine http://thehappycockatoo.wordpress.com/Parrot Enrichment Bloghttp://parrotenrichment.com/blog/ Download the activity books at: Natural Bird Blog (for dehydrated crackers) http://naturalbird.com/birdfood/ http://parrotenrichment.comParrot Enrichment FaceBook pagehttp://www.facebook.com/parrotenrichment
AcknowledgementsMany thanks to Kris Porter for the tremendous inspiration she has given me andcountless others over the years to help us improve the lives of our companionparrots.Her ideas and photographs made the “HOW” of this presentation possible.Thanks also to the many members of the FaceBook groups The Parrot’s Workshopand the Parrot’s Pantry, who generously have shared their ideas and photos.Thanks to Leigh Ann Hartsfield for introducing me to the works of Temple Grandin,which gave me the all important “WHY” to understanding foraging.
Show and TellMade by Debbie Russell Made by Debbie Russell Made by Debbie Russell