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Bring Out Your Bird's Inner Ground Forager

If your bird in constantly heading to the bottom of the cage for fallen treats and food, follow these tips to provide foraging opportunities.

Laura Doering

cockatiel foraging with millet

Plenty of cockatiels do it. So do cockatoos, caiques, lories and lovebirds. I’m talking about getting down … on the cage floor. Whether it is used as an area to forage around or a place to goof off, some birds make good use of this extra real estate within the cage. 

Here are some tips for creating a safe, sanitary and fun bottom play and foraging area for your bird.

1) Keep It Safe
Remove the grate from the cage bottom, or roll out a thick layer of paper on top of it (or place a flat piece of cardboard on top) so your bird doesn’t have to contend with the unevenness of the grate. 

Make sure the pull-out tray is pushed in completely so there isn’t a gap, which could pinch your bird’s toe, beak or wing. If the cage has a nylon seed guard, puff it out a bit so it’s not resting against the cage bars so your bird can’t pull it through to chew on it (this is more for the well-being of the nylon!).

2) Keep It Clean
Daily cage liner changes, even two-a-day, are in order if your bird likes to spend any amount of time on the floor of its cage. You can also expect some extra debris if your bird has a penchant for chewing up the paper, such as tightly formed little paper balls (cockatiels any one?), neatly torn strips (talking about you lovebirds) or just an unruly pile of ripped-up paper (Amazon in the house?).

3) Keep It Fun
Crumble up some dry food, and sprinkle a bit around the cage floor so your bird can walk and nibble. Some birds might even be enticed to try a new food offered in this manner. My cockatiel, Gracie, for one, only eats her pellets when sprinkled about for her to find.

Make it more of a challenge by placing some shredded paper for your bird to excavate through to find a treat or foot toy. You can also turn the cage floor into a pool party by providing a shallow, broad dish filled with water or wet lettuce leaves for your bird to roll around on. 

Toys especially seem transformed when offered on a flat surface instead of hung or used while the bird is perched. Foot toys become wrestle partners, and balls are rolled and chased instead of being dropped over the side of the cage for you to fetch for the umpteenth time. (There is one word of caution here, though. If you notice your bird sitting on the toy and/or being overly protective of it, it might view the toy as an egg to incubate. If this is the case, remove the toy.)

The Floor Beyond
You 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.

You can create a play area on the ground by placing some toys and treats there, but there’s an increased likelihood that your bird will wander off, and make a beeline for underneath the couch or behind the curtains. Some birds can be territorial on the ground near their cage, so a table-top gym not only can be moved to a more neutral location, it also offers a defined area that the bird can be taught that staying within it earns it treats and interaction.

Of course, whenever your bird is outside the cage, whether on a gym or the ground, never assume that it will stay where you put it.

No Going Down There
Not all birds take to ground foraging. My conure Ollie has always been a scaredy bird in regard to the floor. I’ve tested his ground-tolerance level and, after five seconds, he is looking for the nearest leg to climb up or he takes to instant flight. Ollie is definitely not what you would call a ground-forager.

I put Ollie to the ultimate test. I picked out all the safflower seed from the treat bowl – Ollie’s favorite treat – and put it in shallow dish in the bottom of his cage. I made sure he got a good look at the safflower seed passing by him on the way down.

I left the bowl on the cage bottom while I did some chores, and Ollie still couldn’t manage the courage to climb down to the dish. I’ve seen Ollie practically hang by his toenails to reach a balled-up napkin on the cage floor or to hoist up a fallen foot toy. He manages some truly gravity-defying maneuvers to reach stuff with his beak instead of climbing down for them.

Tip: Always doing battle with cage fallout? Put your bird’s seed bowl on the cage floor, making sure that it isn’t within bombing range of a perch above. When you limit the distance the seed hulls fall, especially when used along with a mess catcher or seed guard, you’re less likely to find seed hulls on the ground beneath the cage or floating to nearby crevices.

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Posted: August 12, 2013, 3:00 p.m. PDT

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Bring Out Your Bird's Inner Ground Forager

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Reader Comments
This is great advice, but PLEASE, if ground foraging becomes a habit for your bird, DO NOT let him or her forage on the floor of your home. He or she can easily ingest dangerous carpet/rug fibers, dirt, and other debris. Only let your bird forage in areas that you've cleaned and designated for safe foraging and eating.
Michelle, Portland, OR
Posted: 8/26/2013 11:36:25 AM
Interesting article if you have a small bird. My African Gray takes pleasure in tossing seed as far as she can as well as her fruits and vegetables. My friend has a Gray that shakes her food from side to side like she is trying to kill it. I clean food off of walls, nearby furniture and windows! gotta love those Grays!
Kathey, Sarasota, FL
Posted: 8/22/2013 2:24:36 PM
Interesting! I hope that everyone's weekend was both great and safe,having a good week and has another good weekend,plus I also hope that they have a nice Martin Luther King,Jr. Day! That goes for last year and all of the other times that I've missed.
Mike, Columbia, TN
Posted: 8/22/2013 1:13:25 PM
Good ideas here especially the one about food. Thanks
Anne, England
Posted: 8/22/2013 12:51:14 PM
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