Our favorite trainers over at Bird Tricks have been on a big foraging education kick lately, working hard to incent us humans to begin creating more food foraging opportunities for our companion birds. Birds spend a huge portion of their time in the wild out searching for their next meal. In captivity, when we provide them with all of their food so readily available in their bowls, we leave them with a lot of spare time. Excess spare time leads to boredom which in turn, can domino into an array of behavioral problems. Additionally, many studies have proven that most animals, including birds, actually prefer to forage for their food, rather than find it plentifully in a bowl.
We have so far been stimulating the Three-Cans’ need to forage mostly with their toys. We have also tried out some simple foraging techniques with their fruit (see: Enrichment on the Menu: Bonding Through Food) by occasionally hanging whole fruits around their aviaries and making skewers for them to pick at.
But so far, we have been stumped about how to create foraging opportunities with their Mazuri pellets. Not only is their main pellet diet very tiny, but toucans do not have the dexterity in their beaks and feet as parrots do, which makes a lot of the ready-made parrot foraging toys such as these below near-impossible for them:
Luckily for me & the Three-Cans, Jamieleigh at Bird Tricks put together a fantastic post called, Getting Started with Using Foraging: Beginner Tips & How-To. The post and accompanying video gives a variety of basic ideas to make your intro into foraging as uncomplicated as possible. I was so motivated by the simplicity of this post that I implemented the ideas immediately and it has been a lot of fun watching the toucans’ fascination with their bowls each day and observing their problem-solving skills as they figure things out.
I started off super-easy by placing small obstacles in their bowls, such as wooden blocks, crumpled paper, and balls. Yet unlike the Bird Tricks video model, Jinx the Macaw, who removed the obstacles to get to his pellets, the Three-Cans continued to add toys to their bowls throughout the day. Apparently, they approved of my idea of their food bowls as the newest toy storage center and easily picked out their pellets amongst the loot. Just another reason that I believe toucans are probably the goofiest, and perhaps the most clever, in the bird world.
For the next challenge, I placed a large, colorful plastic bowl on top of their pellets, making it necessary for them to remove the obstacle, as it was difficult to pick around it. I figured this would be quite easy for Paco & Paz, but was worried it would be too tough for Pepe, who usually will not work very hard for things before giving up. But I clearly underestimated him, because he too conquered the newest obstruction quickly. The bowls also proved to be a fun, intriguing item for the day, keeping the monkeys entertained knocking them around on the ground long after they threw them out of their bowls.
Watch how the Three-Cans showed me that these bowls were a piece of cake:
Moving up a level in difficulty, the next idea was to wrap paper around the pellet bowl, covering the dish. For the first time, it was suggested to poke a couple of small holes in the top, giving your bird the ability to see in and have a starting point in ripping it open. The Three-Cans enjoyed this for the double fun of looking for their pellets and destroying the paper – the crunch of paper tearing is truly irresistible to them. The following day, I covered the bowls without poking any holes, which savvy as they are, only took them all of 3 seconds longer to figure out.
Watch Paz demonstrate how she cunningly ripped her way through the paper wrapping:
We have also used some of the other pellet diet we feed (from Marion Zoological), which we use as training treats, to stick into holes around their perches. It’s much like an Easter egg hunt, as they peek around their aviaries looking for hidden pellets.
All of these ideas were definitely an introduction and I will need to keep increasing the difficulty to keep the monkeys on their toes. Honestly, Paco, Paz, and Pepe are whacking all of my balls out of the park, telling me I need to step up my game – pronto. So it’s back to the drawing board for us – this time, I’m certain there will be power tools involved…