Avian Expert Articles

Pet Parrots & Ground Foraging

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Hyacinth in the wild foraging.

Take a look at the birds outside your window, and you’ll see many of them on the ground. They’re hopping or walking around in search of edibles. Parrots in the wild are no different — many also spend good part of the day on foot looking for items to munch. And so it stands to reason that the parrots in our homes might also enjoy walking on their own two feet to see what they can find. Here are some tips for creating a bottom play and foraging area for your pet bird.

Clear Space

Remove the grate from the cage bottom, or roll out a thick layer of paper or a flat piece of cardboard or other hard surface on top so your bird doesn’t have to contend with the unevenness of the grate and to prevent treats or other chewable items from falling through the grate bars out of reach. Make sure the pull-out tray is pushed in all the way to prevent a gap, as some birds have ended up with a beak, toe or wing caught in between.

Cleanliness Matters

If your bird enjoys spending any amount of time on the floor of the cage, you might have to change the cage liner daily or twice daily to make sure it’s clean enough for your bird to play on. Of course the paper you lay down can in and of itself be a cheap and easy “destroy toy.” Some birds love to wad up paper into tightly formed balls (cockatiels any one?), or neatly tear paper into strips (hello lovebirds) or revel in leaving a path of paper destruction (Amazon?). Roll the paper debris up with the liner, replace and let your bird start fresh the next day.

A Fun Walk

parakeet, budgerigar, budgieCreating an edible path of healthy treats for your bird to explore can be as fun for your feathered friend as it is for you when you hit up all the samples at Costco. Crumble up some millet, place a blueberry, roll out a Nutri-berrie or make a little pile of shredded carrot strips for your bird to explore and taste. Some birds might even be enticed to try a new food offered in this manner. I get my cockatiel, Gracie, to eat her pellets by sprinkling them around the floor about for her to find.

Up the level of your bird’s foraging prowess by placing shredded paper over the treats and toys so your bird has to excavate through it to find a treat or foot toy. You can also turn the cage floor into a pool party by providing a shallow, broad dish of water, or lay out wet lettuce leaves — your bird might be among those bird types who like to roll around on wet “foliage.”

Have a hanging toy that your bird ignores? Offer it on the ground to see if that gets your bird’s attention. Ignored toys can become transformed into favorite toys when placed on a flat surface instead of hung. Foot toys become wrestle partners, and balls are rolled and chased instead of being dropped from the top of the cage or play gym for you to fetch over and over again. (If you notice your bird sitting on the toy and/or being overly protective of it, your bird might view the toy as an egg to incubate. If this is the case, remove the toy.)

Outside The Cage

Sulphur-crested CockatooYou can also make a foraging ground outside the cage. Plenty of birds love to hang out on the bottom of their T-stand or table-top playgym. Keep it clean with frequent wipe-downs or a paper change after each use. Some birds can be territorial near their cage, so a table-top gym can be moved to a more neutral location, and it offers a defined area that the bird can be taught that staying within it earns it treats and interaction.

Create a floor play area by laying down a blanket or towel and placing some toys and treats on it. Direct your bird back onto the playground if he/she begins to wander off. Keeping a tangible on-the-ground boundary such a blanket will prevent you from becoming lax and allowing your bird to roam to wherever he/she wants to  … which can lead to trouble. Of course, whenever your bird is outside the cage, whether on a gym or the ground, never assume that he will stay where you put him — supervision is a must.

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