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Parrot Tamale Foraging SurpriseI’m constantly seeking new ways to provide foraging activity for my parrots.  My most recent efforts follow the new wrap craze that is catching on at fast food restaurants across the country.  I will wrap up anything I can think of in any material I can dream up to encourage more foraging activity.

I wrap treats in corn husks to make little tamale surprises.  First I soak corn husks in warm water for about 15 minutes to get them pliable then drain them in a colander.  I take one whole corn husk and cut or peel it into ¼ inch strips to use for ties.  I wrap an in-shell almond or walnut half (my parrot’s beaks are not strong enough to crack whole walnuts) in one corn husk and tie it up with one of the strips.  Almonds are smaller so you may find it easier to wrap if you cut the corn husk in half first.

Once I have the tamale surprises rolled and tied, I put them on stainless steel baking racks to dry overnight.  I like to use the baking racks because air can circulate on all sides of the wraps.  The corn husks dry quickly and thoroughly which helps prevent mold from growing on a wet husk.  I don’t store them in closed plastic containers or bags either.  I store mine in a plastic storage drawer that fits under the cage.  The drawer isn’t airtight and it is easily accessible to me for on-the-spot dispensing.     

My parrots favor these tamale surprises to such extent that I have started wrapping non-food items inside the corn husks.  I wrap up small foot toys, plastic animal shapes, large textured plastic beads or pieces of bird safe wood and mix those in with the nut filled corn husk wraps.  Sometimes they get a nut and sometimes they don’t.  But they are always eager to tear into their tamale surprise to get at whatever toy or treat is inside.

BuddyCoinWrapper2Since the birds are used to finding treats inside corn husks, they are also attracted to toys stuffed with corn husks.  One of Buddy’s favorites is a dog’s toy that is shaped like a foot ball with holes called a “Sphericon”.  I put a few small items inside the Sphericon such as in-shell nuts, large beads, plastic animal shapes, small pieces of wood, etc.  Next I stuff corn husks all around the items inside the toy.  Buddy will keep busy digging and tearing at the corn husks in an attempt to get at what’s hidden behind them.      

DittoTortillaWrapPaper coin wrappers can be used to create foraging activity.  Dollar stores are a good source for purchasing coin wrappers in bulk.  I wrap nuts; carrot, celery or zucchini sticks; thick stems from collard, mustard or turnip greens; pieces of apple or other fruit in the coin wrappers.  I put them in cage dishes or toy bowls.  You can also put stuffed coin wrappers inside other foraging toys like stainless steel pails, Jungle Talk Hide-a-Treat or Parrot Island’s Treasure Chest.  Here’s a good tip; fill coin wrappers with veggie sticks the night before and put them in a plastic bag in the refrigerator so they are ready to put in the cage bowls in the morning.  You don’t need to limit yourself to food treats either.  Non-food items such as large plastic textured beads or wooden beads, spools or shapes can be wrapped up as well.

Then of course there is the more traditional tortilla wrap.  I place brown rice, chopped veggies, sprouts, scrambled egg or other cooked foods in a tortilla and roll it up burrito style.  Another twist on this idea is to use rice paper sheets that are used in making Thai fresh rolls.  You can find them in oriental stores or sometimes in the oriental section of the grocery.  Soak a rice paper sheet briefly in hot water to soften it.  Place it on a wet paper towel being careful to lay it flat because the rice paper will stick to itself.  Put favorite food items on the rice paper and roll up egg roll style.  These sheets are slightly transparent and you might find you have more success with foraging using the rice paper versus the tortilla because your parrot can see there is a food treat inside the roll.     
ByrdLettuceWrapYou’ve all probably eaten tacos, burritos and pita pockets, but have you ever tried lettuce wraps?  Asian lettuce wraps are a favorite of mine.  It is also a great way to lower my consumption of carbohydrates.  Lettuce wraps are easy to make with a range of ingredient variations.  You can make them yourself using the same ingredients that you use in burritos, tortillas, tacos, pita bread or spring rolls.  The key to great wraps is the contrast of warm, flavorful fillings with the cool crunch of lettuce.

I make a wrap similar to a lettuce wrap for my birds to enjoy.  Take a large leafy green (Swiss chard, romaine lettuce, mustard, turnip or collard green) and place veggie mash, sprouts or fruit at one end of the leaf, roll it up and serve it to your birds.  To get my parrots used to tearing into their leafy green wraps I would fold it loosely in half so they could clearly see the food inside.  As they became accustomed to tossing the green aside to get to the filling, I started rolling the food up more completely in the leaf and later tucking in the ends.

BuddySSMeasurCupsA favorite foraging toy at my house is a set of stainless steel measuring cups strung together with paulie rope.  The measure cups are filled with nuts, treats, pellets, dry whole grain cereal, tamale surprises and small foot toys.  After filling, I cover each cup with newspaper using a few pieces of masking tape to secure the paper covers to the cups.  You could also use a length of hemp rope to attach the paper.  At first I had to tear large holes in the middle of each wrapped cup until my birds caught on to the idea of tearing off the paper to get at the items hidden inside.  Now they eagerly tear into each paper wrapped measure cup as soon as I hang them in the cage or on a play stand.     
Here's a few more quick ideas:

Wrap treats, nuts or pellets inside paper or unbleached coffee filters and stuff the paper wrapped treats through plastic chain to hang on a play stand or in the cage.  You can also put the paper wrapped treats in a dish or toy crock placed inside the cage.

All sorts of toys and treats can be wrapped up inside a brown paper bag.  Tie a piece of paulie rope or strip of leather around the top of the paper bag and hang it on a play stand or in the cage for foraging fun.

There are a variety of ways you can hide or wrap up food to encourage foraging activity, but please keep in mind, if foraging is new to your bird, start slow.  For birds that have never had to forage, some give up fairly easily when presented with food that is not delivered in the manner they have become accustomed to.  So you need to work with these birds to help them figure out how to discover the hidden treat or food item.  One of the first things you can do is cover or wrap the food dish with paper. Let your bird see you hide the food.  Sometimes you may need to start out by loosely covering the dish with paper.  Once your parrot gets used to tossing off the paper topper try wrapping the dish by tying the paper on with a piece of hemp rope.  You may need to poke a hole in the paper at first to show him food is inside the dish.

As your parrot becomes accustomed to tearing through paper to get at the food inside his dish, you may want to try placing food inside plastic ice cube trays and wrapping the ice cube trays loosely in newspaper.  Again poke a hole in the paper over a couple of the cubes to show him food is inside.  Wrapped ice cube trays can be placed on top of a counter or on the cage bottom.

I thank you for taking the time to read this article and I hope you’ve found a few good ideas.  I wish you great success with incorporating your ideas for wrap-n-rolls into your parrot’s foraging activity.  And if you’ve never tasted them, I encourage you to find a Chinese restaurant that has lettuce wraps on the menu and try them for a special treat for yourself.

Reprinted by Permission of Good Bird Magazine
Volume 4-3 Fall 2008
Kris Porter is the author of "The Parrot Enrichment Activity Book" versions 1 & 2.  In these books, Kris shares her ideas for providing parrots with toys, foraging activities and alternate play areas.  Both books are available as free PDF downloads at which is another excellent resource for even more enrichment ideas as well as photos and videos of her flock in action. 

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