Avian Expert Articles

Foraging For Food Satisfies Parrots’ Appetites & Minds

face of blue and gold macaw eating
Blue and gold macaws enjoy their food!

Feeding ourselves has never been easier. We can hit the drive-through, order delivery, buy pre-made meals, or dine out. We don’t even need to wash or chop produce — we can buy a pre-made salad complete with dressing and toppings. Why then do we sometimes choose to go out of our way to download a recipe, shop for the ingredients, and then spend a couple hours preparing it in the kitchen? It boils down to satisfaction. A homemade meal, even one where the dish might not come out “Pinterest perfect,” is immensely satisfying because of the effort put into it — literally allowing us to eat the “fruits of our labor.” In this example, you might say we are exhibiting signs of contrafreeloading behavior. Contra-what?

“Working” To Get Food

double yellow-headed Amazon on perch eating
Lafeber has developed several non-GMO bird foods that are perfect for encouraging foraging behavior, including Nutri-Berries and Avi-Cakes.

Contrafreeloading is an observed behavior in which an animal, when offered a choice between provided food or food that requires effort to obtain, prefers the food that requires effort. Animal psychologist Glen Jensen is credited as coining the term in 1963, and it is based on his study of rats that were given a choice to eat either straight from a food bowl or from a food dispenser that required stepping on a pedal to release the food. Jensen discovered that the rats went for the pedal more than the bowl. Over the years, similar studies have been done on a plethora of animals, including birds, and the results were similar to that of the rats — most animals prefer to “work for food.” Dr. Irene Pepperberg devoted a blog to the topic, which is worth checking out.

Armed with this knowledge, it might be time to assess not just what you feed your bird, but the way you feed your bird. Is your bird’s food, including treats, always offered in the bowl, conveniently located within beak’s reach? If the answer is yes, consider switching up the way you feed. To get you started, here are some ground foraging ideas to try with your bird.

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