Enrichment on the Menu: Bonding Through Food

I am always looking for ways to enhance our Three-Cans lives. A big part of their life is spent eating, so working to make their food fun is important in creating a interesting environment for them. Toucans have a very fast metabolism and consume more food than you would imagine could fit in those tiny bodies. So rather than serve them the same fruit, chopped in the exact same way, day after day, we work to provide food that stimulates both the mind and the appetite.

Food enrichment can come in a variety of ways. In its most basic form for us, that means working to provide an ever-changing mix of fruits into their daily diet. No matter how much they love papaya, it’s always good to have a change, rather than to allow the pleasures of papaya to become soured by over-indulgence. Not only is variety necessary for keeping things engaging, it is also important to ensure they eat an array of nutrients. You do have to be very careful about what you serve toucans and are limited to solely low-iron fruits and very few vegetables, but there is always room for creativity. We work within the recommendations of this great low-iron food guide and have been able to come up with quite a few variations that have intrigued the birds and kept things fresh.

The Three-Cans all love to share food with me. I often bring in pieces of whole fruit and share it as a bonding activity. They seem to really enjoy getting their beak right in there as I am biting the fruit, so that we may eat it together. While they like to try and bite off pieces of their own, they don’t have very much leverage in their beak, so they also get excited when I tear pieces off and offer it to them. Often times, I will core a whole fruit such as a pear, plum, peach, etc. and then wrap a line of twine through the center. I will share a few bites with them, then hang it off of one of their perches for further play. They love to peck at the fruit and will also pull it up to hold in their toes as they munch.

Watch me share a banana with Pepe, who takes a big, slightly concerning bite! :

Watch how my wild monkey Paco’s behavior is a bit different in sharing a banana:

Another enrichment idea we have integrated came through the creative mind of one of our Facebook followers named Oliver. I posted a picture of Paco tasting a whole papaya. It was a fun experience to share because I don’t think they have seen many whole fruits before, as they generally come already chopped in their bowl. They are always slightly suspicious when meeting a new fruit, but when they take a bite and taste with recognition the flavors they know, it is so neat to see the light bulb go off in their heads.

And so the idea came about to serve their chopped fruit inside of a whole fruit container. I have so far used a halved honeydew melon and another time, a halved papaya. Both times, they were at once startled by and curious of the new addition in their bowls. Each toucan had a different reaction, exploring and alternately attacking the foreign object before they felt comfortable chowing down.

So long as things aren’t overly frightening where they won’t go near it, it is good for them to experience change, even when it’s slightly shocking. All of this enriches their overall experience, helps them to learn to flow with change, and provides mental stimulation that birds often miss out on in a non-wild life.

An additional way we have found to pique their interest is to modify how the food is cut. The easiest way for them to eat fruit is if it is chopped into 1/2″ – 1/3″ cubes, which is how we generally prepare their fruit bowls each day. But occasionally, we will also mix things up by using a melon baller, mashing (see sweet potatoes below), and grating (see carrots below).

mashed sweet potato


grated carrots

Toucans also love to dig things out of hiding places, so I will sometimes bring in a treat, such as the occasional hard-boiled egg, inside a fun box, cup, or jar.

In the future, I hope to be able to come up with more ways to create foraging opportunities for Paco, Paz, and Pepe. Because that is how they would spend a good portion of their life in the wild, I would like to continue to keep them enlivened and entertained by cultivating that wild spirit.

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5 thoughts on “Enrichment on the Menu: Bonding Through Food

  1. Pingback: The Ever-Changing Preferences of a Toco Toucan | Adventures in Toucanland

  2. Thank you so very much for sharing. I have learned a lot and now Touk will learn to forage as much as I can do in a small living space. Also I had no idea that he could eat carrots ans squash. Thank you again. Anita & Touk

  3. Pingback: Toucan Foraging Beginnings | Adventures in Toucanland

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