ANIMAL FORAGING BEHAVIOR

Animals and humans alike must forage for food in order to survive. Foraging is the instinctive behavior of searching for and obtaining food. Several factors affect the ability to forage and acquire profitable resources.

 

FORAGING IN THE WILD

THE SIMPLE FACT:  A wild bird is challenged to find food daily in order to survive and this will require a substantial amount of very hard work.

Living in their natural environment all birds must allocate time and effort to forage for food. All food items have both a cost (time and energy) and benefit (net food value). Cost:  wasted energy, loss of valuable time, risk from exposure to predators  Benefits:  net energy intake (calories consumed) per unit of time. The relative value of each of these determines how much “profit” each specific food item represents. Birds do exhibit the ability to modifyspecific behaviors to achieve a balance between cost and benefits Foraging strategies may vary with different patterns of resource availability. A resource Patch (a defined area with the probability of available food items) must be located. Patch choice and value
assessment is determined by the economic law of diminishing returns. Patch “profitability” is determined by the energy yield of food items divided by handling and processing time after the resource has been located. As a result of foraging the resources within a patch will be depleted, however, the risk of poor performance is non existent as the forager will quickly search for more fertile ground.

 

COMPANION BIRD FORAGING

AS A RULE:  Our pet birds are only a few generations removed from their free ranging counterparts, that not withstanding, they continue to exhibit similar or like behaviors.

Captive bred, hand raised birds, do not enjoy the benefits of social learning or social transmission of foraging information. In a controlled environment a daily food supply is available 24/7. Typically this is conveniently located just inches need away from the primary perch, as if by design there is no stimulation associated with food acquisition. This human intervention suppresses the bird’s natural instinct to forage in an environment devoid of enrichment. The time previously budgeted for food acquisition, six to eight hours per day, is reduced to 30 minutes, of equal importance there is no effort or work involved. The biological clock is now completely out of sync. The end result of this dilemma is the bird now has an inordinate amount of inactive, unproductive time available, no means of filling the void and no opportunity to make choices. Consider that which is lacking from a pet birds time activity budget. Food finding and acquisition, stressors related to conditions or changes in the environment, social interactions, predator avoidance, territorial defense, mate selection, courtship rituals, raising offspring, nest construction, etc. The behavioral consequences of these losses can only produce a result which neither bird nor human understand. To complicate matters even further, most pet birds have had their ability to fly impaired, albeit for their safety when flying and food foraging behaviors are eliminated from a parrot’s daily activities; the most significant long term effect may be the restrictions placed on their ability to make cognitive choices.

The obvious solution to this problem would be to offer some positive enrichment in the environment. Encourage the bird to spend a significant portion of the day foraging, for example, working for food. Optimally this requires a change in the feeding regimen, moving away from free food availability and initiating a foraging system whereby the bird must work to obtain food, The responsibility for making a  successful transition lies with the primary caregiver. Within the avian professional community of researchers, avian veterinarians and behaviorists we are learning that how a bird eats may be equally as important as what a bird eats. It is universally agreed that creating a more stimulating environment and promoting natural foraging behavior will improve your birds overall psychological and physical well being. And so it goes…we all must work in order to feed ourselves, including Mr. or Mrs. Parrot.

HUMAN FORAGING

THE SIMPLE FACT:  Man, along with all other members of the animal kingdom, must forage for food in order to survive.

You too, are foraging as you trek to the market and patiently guide the shopping cart thru the aisles checking prices, choosing preferred brands, fulfilling menus, selecting the best fruit, vegetables, meats, etc. You must return home and stow your bounty until it is time to prepare a meal or you may decide to have dinner at a restaurant in which case you will travel to your destination, partake in some light social interaction, make your dinner selection, eat and return home. It is no coincidence that this scenario sounds so familiar!