Posted: October 22, 2013, 2:00 p.m. EDT
Avian foraging products can mean greater stimulation for pet birds and for your bottom line.
By Laura Doering
Many bird owners are keenly aware that offering a healthful diet is paramount to their pet’s good health.
A trend gaining momentum is not just paying attention to what owners feed their birds, but how they feed their birds.
New bird owners who peruse the Internet for pet bird information are sure to come across topics devoted to the importance of creating foraging opportunities for their pets. Birds in the wild spend a large portion of their day foraging for food, and many avian veterinarians and behaviorists recommend that pet birds be offered at least some degree of food-foraging opportunities.
"Birds fly and forage for food over great distances on an average day in the wild,” said Lisa Bono, owner of the Platinum Parrot retail store in Barnegat, N.J. "Because birds do not have that opportunity in our homes, we need to provide mental as well as physical stimulation to keep them happy and healthy.”
Foraging for food is a trend that is here to stay, said Mary Wyld, owner of Wyld’s Wingdom, a pet bird supply distributor in Norfolk, Va.
"The thirst for foraging is not going away, especially because food foraging is so important to a bird’s well-being,” Wyld said. "The customer and store personnel need to work together to come up with new ways to offer foraging opportunities.”
The Many Styles of Foraging Products
One of Super Bird Creations’ best-selling products is its Foraging Pouch.
"It’s a good destructive foraging toy,” said Deb White, owner of the Grand Junction, Colo.-based company. "You can sprinkle dried fruit, nuts or [Lafeber] Nutri-Berries throughout it, and the bird chews through it to get to the food.”
Zoo Max Exotic Ltd., a pet bird product manufacturer in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada, recently introduced its Groovy Blocks foraging toy, which allows owners to slide food into the toy’s grooves.
"The inspiration behind our Groovy line is that we know that birds like to get their beaks into small areas; that’s how the Groovy Block came along—to cater to the bird’s natural curiosity,” said Bernard St-Cry, co-owner of Zoo Max. "Response has been good; in fact, we’ve had a hard time keeping up with the demand.”
St-Cry said another popular foraging option that Zoo Max offers is the Birdie Plunk forager.
"You can put a treat like an almond or piece of fruit in, and the bird figures out how to make the treat fall down the chute,” he said. "It’s one of our top sellers.”
"One of my favorite ideas was introduced to me as a foraging station,” Bono said. "It is comprised of a bird-safe stand—optimally a play tree—and various foraging apparatus (homemade or commercial) placed around the stand.”
Bono explained that this encourages a bird to climb, swing and flap its wings to maneuver around the play tree to find the hidden treats/food.
"Each foraging point would have hidden treasure to destroy,” she said. "Points of interest should change on the tree as well as contents. This way the bird is on the hunt for his favored treat not knowing at what point it may be at.”
A Challenge for Birds, Not Owners
Bird owners might want to challenge their birds’ food foraging skills, but that’s not to say that owners want the challenge of cleaning and product maintenance.
One reason why Bono likes Caitec’s 5-inch Foraging Ball and Kabob is its relative ease of use.
"This toy is easy to clean, fill and quick to deliver,” she said. "The kabob system offers the option to skewer veggies, and the ball can hold nuts or pellets.”
Super Bird Creations offers The Four-Way Forager, which is not only geared toward easier foraging for "novice” birds, but it is also designed to be a quick clean for the owner.
"It is somewhat easy for the bird to manipulate and is see-through so the bird can see the food inside, which is better for birds new to foraging,” said White. "It’s also easy to refill and easy to clean.”
The Four-Way Forager might make it easier for a bird to figure out how to get to the food, White added, but it still promotes bird health and agility because it dangles and moves about as the bird climbs on it.
Some pet bird food companies have developed diets that function as edible foraging toys. The Lafeber Co., based in Cornell, Ill., offers the Nutri-Forage Pack-N-Snack, which, according to the company, is omega-3 and -6 balanced and contains 31 percent pellets to offer a healthful "filling” that a bird owner can heat up and then mold into their bird’s toys, paper cups, dry pasta shells, unsalted pretzels and more.
Kaytee Pet Products in Chilton, Wis., fuses food with foraging elements. Its Fiesta Foraging Box has crinkled paper mixed with its Healthy Bits brand of treats, as well as nuts, fruits and seeds. The bird chews through the box to reach the treats inside. Kaytee also offers a Fiesta Foraging Stick for small birds that is designed to hang in the birdcage.—LD
Caitec’s Everyday Feeding Systems is a corrugated honeycomb paper box placed inside a plastic holder and is designed to be placed at various areas around the cage.
"We emphasize to people that you have to move these around the cage to challenge your bird and to encourage more exercise,” said Terry Gao, president of the Baltimore-based company.
According to Gao, retailers might overlook promoting foraging products’ multipurpose elements.
"Every foraging product Caitec creates has more to it than simply being a treat dispenser,” Gao said.
"They serve as educational toys. We create foraging products for beginning, average and advanced foragers. There’s also the physical health development; manipulating the foraging system to get to the food requires the bird to climb, dangle and use its foot and leg muscles, along with the beak.”
Both retailers and bird owners have a mindset that foraging is strictly for offering treats, Gao said.
"Although there has been a great interest in the concept of birds foraging for food, even experienced bird owners have limited this to treats,” said Gao. "Unfortunately, most people only think of foraging as feeding their birds treats, not their regular diet. They need to turn everyday feeding into regular foraging.”
Bono pointed out that food is never offered in a bowl in the wild.
"Birds are highly intelligent creatures that need stimulation to be well-rounded family members,” she said. "A bird that is spending time foraging, climbing and playing is a bird that spends less time screaming from boredom or for attention. A busy beak is a content beak.”
Foraging for Approval
All of Caitec’s products are tested by dedicated bird owners, especially its foraging products, Gao said.
"They will give all kinds of great feedback,” Gao said. "The reason why we do this is that we can bring a product to market much faster because we are both the manufacturer and the marketer. We provide samples to our distributors, as well as ask customers what they want to see next.”
What comes next is something pet owners are particularly interested in, said Wyld of Wyld’s Wingdom.
"The interest in foraging for food continues to grow,” said Wyld. "People are always asking ‘What’s new; what’s next? My bird has already figured that one out.’ The thirst for foraging is not going away, especially since food foraging is so important to a bird’s well-being.”
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