Foraging for Fun and Health
We first tried foraging after our blue-crown conure started feather chewing. Our avian vet suggested we try foraging as a way to distract him from his tasty feathers. The foraging was quite successful in getting our obsessive little guy to stop feather chewing almost immediately. All of our birds now adore foraging. When they come out in the morning and we refresh their cages with breakfast foraging, they can’t wait to run back in! Our foraging techniques, which share here, are relatively quick to prepare and serve, and seem to make our birds happier than just about anything!
We use 5–ounce stainless steel coop cups with holders that bolt onto the cage. The advantage of the bolt-on cups is that, once the holder is secured, you can easily remove the cup without having to unclip a hanger or unscrew a bolt. We find them quite handy.
The 5–ounce cups are the perfect size for most small-to-medium-sized birds. Even larger birds can use them as long as they can get their beaks into the cup. For very large birds, the same cups are available in 10-ounce sizes and up. We use four to six cups for a single bird and up to ten if a cage is shared.
The cups we use are IndiPets Coop Cup with Bolt Clamp 5 oz. which you can get here.
Foraging Mix Food Ingredients
For the food part, we mix the following, but be creative with your own mix.
- 4 parts Harrison’s adult fine pellets
- 3 parts TOP (Totally Organic pellets)
- 1 part Harrison’s coarse pellets
- 4 parts “Just” dried foods (see below)
- 3 parts dried greens (see below)
- 1 part Lafeber Nutri-An Cakes (we prefer to Avi-Cakes)
- 1 part Lydia’s Cinnamon Sprouted Cereal (see below)
- 1 part Lydia’s Fiesta and Green raw food crackers
- 1 part cheerios-type Organic oat cereal
- a few small nut or seed treats so that every 5th cup or so gets one
small wooden bird beads
Choose whichever pellets your bird likes or add some new, healthier ones to the old ones in the foraging mix. Try some of the organic pellets that do not contain sugar and have less peanuts, soy, corn, and wheat. TOP is a particularly good brand and Harrison’s is a favorite with most birds.
“Just” Dried Foods
You can get the “Just” dried foods at most higher-end grocery stores, but if their selection is limited, order them online. We buy the organic versions when available, including peas, corn, peppers, carrots, crisp-dried raspberries and blueberries – and POMEGRANTES, don’t forget the pomegranates:
Do not use too many of the sweet fruits, that is too much sugar for the birds. Stick with blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, and pomegranates. Corn and carrots are also high in sugar, so go easy on them, especially the corn. Birds get a lot of corn in their diets already because of the ingredients in some of the pellet mixes. Some good mixes are:
the organic veggie mix:
and the HOT veggies:
which adds jalapeno (always a bird favorite) to the mix.
We also found a new place that sells and even wider variety of dried foods:
For the dried greens, we place any leftover fresh greens in a dehydrator over night. We then crumble the dehydrated greens into the mix. If you have a convection oven that can be set to 100 degrees, that should work to dehydrate.
We use Lydia’s Sprouted Cinnamon Cereal and the Fiesta Crackers and Green Crackers that can be ordered from their website:
or purchased in the “raw foods” section of most grocery or health-food stores.
Adding a few treats, like a real pistachio or pine nut in the shell – enough that every five or six cups gets one, is a real incentive for birds, not only to learn foraging, but to make it fun. You should hear my Pionus when he finds one of those, "Oh boy, oh … BO-O-OY!!" This is called “gambler’s addiction” when they can’t tell when they’ll hit the jackpot.
Add a few small wooden beads that are made for bird toys. Be creative!
Adding the Shells
Combine the food mix with empty pistachio shells (see below) in a ratio of about 1 part food mix to about 3 or 4 parts shells, so the birds have to pick through a lot of shells to find their food. For birds new to foraging, you might begin with only a few shells in the food mix. Or, you might try just the new dried foods, without shells.
Our favorite place to buy shells is Polly Pajaro. They started packaging and selling the empty shells for foraging after we asked if they had any empty shells lying around that we could buy from them. However, they did not get enough business so tend not to do it anymore but have done it by request. The website is:
However, to get shells you must call them and put in an order. Their contact information is:
Little Creek, Inc.
P.O. Box 245
Lincoln, CA 95648
Sometimes you can order from the Amazon link accessed through their website, but if not, they are familiar with Mickaboo volunteers ordering shells, so just call them and tell them you want some of the empty shells sent to you. They may have several packaging options available.
Another place that sells shells is ARO Pistachio/Orandi Ranch. They typically sell their shells by the ton, but they have also sold to Mickaboo parronts at 50 lbs for 0.25 / pound plus shipping, which is not expensive. However, these shells are not as clean as the Polly Pajaro shells. So, before using, you should probably rinse them and put them in the oven at 200 degrees for about 30 - 45 minutes.
Call to order; you can also set up a quarterly shipment if you like:
ARO Pistachio/Orandi Ranch
(559) 535-1500 Fax (559) 535-1505
19570 Avenue 88; Terra Bella, CA 93270
We start with fresh foraging in the morning and the birds cannot wait to get their breakfast. They hang out on the playstand while we refresh their cages with bowls and they can’t wait to get back in to forage! Especially those birds who have moved on to Advanced Foraging, described below.
For birds that “live to forage” we’ve made the experience more challenging by covering the bowls with brown wax paper, other paper, or parts of paper bags. For larger birds with stronger beaks you can also use thicker paper. Wrap the paper around the top of the bowl, and stick the bowl into the holder. Or you can tie something safe around the lip of the bowl.
Many birds find this more fun than just the plain old shells with food mix. Our foster Jenday, Linus, has now advanced to several layers of wax paper and he couldn’t be happier. We have found that if your bird likes the wax paper covering, it tends to keep more of the mix inside the bowl and less of it flung all over the cage and floor. In fact, our birds seem to prefer to fight through the wax paper and shells for their food, rather than have a food-only dish sitting right in front of them. The paper also serves as a wedge to secure the bowl tightly in its holder. This is great for mischievous birds who like to dump the dishes more than they like eating their food. We have even put some crumpled up paper in the bowls.
In addition to foraging bowls, we also hang vegetable and fruit skewers, and traditional foraging toys.
Extra Tips and Tricks
Another way to keep your birds interested is to give them only enough foraging to last until late afternoon. That makes them excited to have dinner and even more interested in finding the last bits of food during the day. For dinner, our birds usually get chopped vegetables sprinkled with a little of the fine pellets or the sprouted cereal.
Check the Mickaboo website Resources > Diet for vegetable and other recipe ideas.
If you haven’t tried foraging with your birds, it’s a joy to watch. Birds seem to enjoy foraging every bit as much as playing with toys and grooming.
NOTE: All birds are different, so please do consult your veterinarian to ensure that your own feeding plan is right for your bird.