There are many ways to provide enrichment and fun for your birds while allowing them to hunt or work for the the treats they so love. With a little thought, you can provide fun, stimulation, enrichment and exercise for your bird while positively reinforcing the activity with the treat itself. These enrichment techniques are in themselves fun and enjoyable on their own. It is far more fun for a child to go on an Easter Egg hunt than to simply hand him a jelly bean.
Your human child enjoys activities such as the annual Easter hunt and games like Hide and Seek.
By using these same principles, you can employ these methods for your flock to enjoy.
Almond butter is a spreadable food most parrots really like. Almond butter is far healthier than peanut butter and many brands don’t contain added sugar. Because almonds are a tree nut as opposed to the peanut which grows underground in the soil, there is no danger of aflatoxin exposure from any possible fungus that might be lurking on the peanut shells and nuts themselves.
Aflatoxins are a dangerous fungus that may harm your bird.
Almonds are not exposed to these fungi. So when selecting a spread for your parrot, choose almond butter or any other tree nut butter.
You can spread almond butter on small carrot sticks. These make a nice snack they can hold in their talon. Choose any other vegetable to spread it on: broccoli florets, cauliflower or even bell pepper slices are fun for them.
This would work just as easily with a whole grain or ancient grain bread or cracker. They are appreciated as a small reward or positive reinforcement when used in training your bird. Why is it fun? They get to hold the item and eat it just as your child would hold a popsicle. Want to jazz it up? Roll it in a healthy seed such as flax or hemp seed to really get them intrigued.
Many healthy food items can made more interesting by stuffing them. This works because it encourages foraging and science has shown that birds enjoy having to work for their food. Ever see a dog with a Kong toy stuffed with a treat? It’s the same principle. Slightly cooked pasta shapes such as shells or little tubular, hollow pastas can be stuffed with a healthy and finely chopped mixture of vegetables have intrigued my African Greys many times. They seem to relish trying to get the good stuff out of the shells or tubes and it keeps them busy and engaged while they are eating them.
You can also make veggie boats by hollowing out small jalapeño peppers or small zucchini and filling them with a healthy vegetable mix.
If you’re handy with a screwdriver, you can get perfect walnut shell halves when breaking open their shells. Be sure to use a board and be careful! These can be filled with any number of items. You can even bake a healthy birdie bread in the shell to make the bread a little more fun to eat. Mini cupcake baking papers also make an excellent way to present a bird bread. I mean really, who doesn’t like a cupcake?
Many birds love to forage on the floor of their housing.
Make a foraging pan using a small aluminum or stainless steel sheet pan. You could even use a muffin tin. Find small bird safe items, such as plastic toys, bird safe plastic bottle caps that have been washed, wooden blocks and other small foot toys to scatter on the pan. Hide bits of millet, nut pieces and other fun little treats to get them sorting through the pieces to find the treats.
I learned this method of teaching foraging and enrichment at Best Friends Animal Society. There they put these pans down in their cockatiel enclosure and scurrying ensues! This kept the cockatiels busy and hunting through the pans for hours. It was excellent exercise for them as well because they had to physically move the foot toys out of the way to find the treats and they never knew where the next treat would be.
They spent their time engaged and happy with their busy task of looking for those treasured bits of millet.