DVD:  Captive Foraging by M. Scott Echols DVM

A review by Greg Glendell

We are often told, quite rightly, that parrots are not domesticated creatures like most other ‘pets’ and that they retain all their wild-type behavioural needs.  Studies on birds have shown that they are highly motivated to search for foods and that this urge is so strong, captive birds prefer to seek hidden foods rather than merely go to their food pot and acquire the same items in a fraction of the time.  The need for birds to do this (and many other natural behaviours) is so strong, that where such behaviours are frustrated by conditions in captivity, the birds may develop a range of behavioural problems, including self-plucking. 

Dr Scott Echols is a specialist avian vet who clearly has the welfare of parrots at heart.  He has been advocating foraging for companion parrots for some time and his ideas are explained very well in this DVD.  The DVD makes it clear that providing foraging facilities alone may not cure many common behavioural problems such as self-plucking.  However, the more a bird can replicate its wild-type behaviours, particularly actively searching for its own foods, then such problems are more likely to be prevented or, where already present, reduced. 

The video shows several species of wild birds foraging, before concentrating on companion parrots.  The concept of the foraging ‘tree’ for companion birds is then introduced.  The tree is a multi-branched parrot stand with an array of food containers spread around its branches.  The tree also encourages the bird to exercise and the bigger it can be, the better. 

Initially, with birds new to this method of feeding, food is simply placed in the containers and the bird is encouraged to climb around the tree to get at its food.  But this is only the start of the process.  Over time, the task of searching is made a little more demanding.  So, food is then partially hidden by paper covers, or wrapped in paper, within the containers, or hung from leather cords around the tree. 

The use of hanging, food dispensing toys and foot toys is also introduced.  Those made either from natural materials such as wood and bamboo, or very hard plastic or steel are recommended.  Again, simple devices are tried out first, then more complex versions are introduced to keep the bird stimulated by variety and increasing complexity. 

The DVD concentrates on two birds using the toys; a self-plucked umbrella cockatoo and an African grey.  Both birds show their enthusiasm for the foraging opportunities. 

The DVD is clear and simple to follow, showing how carers can provide a variety of homemade foraging toys for their birds, as well as the use of commercially available versions.  There appeared to be some difficulty in getting the umbrella cockatoo to accept the tree and this took some months.  The DVD does not mention (or appear to use) positive reinforcement methods in encouraging birds to show new behaviours and this may explain why it took the cockatoo so long to accept the tree at the start.  In addition, there is mention of ‘trimming’ a bird’s wings to ‘encourage’ it to stay on the tree.  However, such imposed flightlessness is contrary to the DVD’s stated theme of actually encouraging more natural behaviours, not preventing them. 

In addition to the 30 minutes main section, there are further sequences including a detailed section on how Dr Scott Echols made the film and solved various problems on the way.  The DVD is well-made and provides a very good guide to enriching the lives of companion parrots.  I would certainly recommend it to all owners of companion parrots.  Perhaps a later version could be done which included an introduction to the use of positive reinforcement to encourage parrots to take up these feeding methods.  Certainly, the more a bird can be kept busy foraging for most of its food, the less its chances of becoming bored and turning its beak onto its own feathers.  This DVD will really help you to keep your bird’s beak and brain busy searching for his daily foods. 

 Product details:

DVD.  “Captive Foraging: The next best thing to being free.”  30 minutes’ duration, plus a further 35minutes of details of some methods used and problems solved during its production.   Includes a leaflet with further tips and cautionary notes on some materials to avoid.  Can be played in the UK; US and Europe etc.  Produced by Zoological Entertainment Network, 2008. 

Typical price:  £24.99, by mail-order from advertisers in this magazine.

About africangrey