When introducing fresh foods to our birds, you can use the principles of positive reinforcement and modeling to help your bird succeed! If you put a beautiful chop into their bowl, in their cage, and walk away, is it safe? Did you leave it because it is poison? Why did you walk away?
Start by setting up the environment for success. Perhaps your bird will approach you to steal food off your plate. Or perhaps they would be more inclined to try food clipped into their cage, rather than in a dish. Set things up so you try the easiest way, which is most likely to lead to success. Use this to your advantage when offering new foods.
Then, try to find fresh foods that are closest to what they are already eating. This again, makes it easy. If your bird eats seeds, try tiny little broccoli nubs. Or if your bird loves chips, try a crunchy kale chip. Or even oatmeal off a spoon can be an easy goal. This ensures you are staying in their comfort zone while increasing chances of them trying the new food.
Next, use the Model-Rival technique. This is where YOU eat the food, out of the same bowl or off the same plate as them. Feed your family the same food, out of the same bowls. Looks crazy? It uses the idea that if you are eating it, it must be “safe” and “good”. Flocks trust their flockmates. Use your hand to “peck” the food, or use another bird to help demonstrate the fresh foods are yummy.
This is how you find me on the dining room table, scattered with bits of broccoli, pretending to peck at it with my fingers. This seems irresistible to most cockatiels. From there, I put the broccoli on a shallow dish on the table, and peck with my fingers. The cockatiels will come to eat the broccoli bits out of the bowl. Or I’m at the table eating quinoa salad out of a metal bird bowl with a spoon. It’s a tried and true way of getting your bird interested in what’s in the dish!
Sometimes it is about presentation. Large pieces, shredded pieces, cubes, whole, cooked, pureed, there are many ways to try before finding the one your bird loves.
I also love sprinkling high-value items into the fresh foods. Mix in a teaspoon of seeds, rice, quinoa, millet, or other delectable food your bird loves. At very least, they will search through the chop to find the yummy food. That’s a great step in the right direction!
I also recommend eating at the same time as your bird in the same room (unless your bird prefers to eat alone). Many birds find eating a flock activity, for many reasons. It can help your bird dig into their bowl if you are eating as well! (You can eat human food, they can eat their chop)
Another option is to switch around the food bowls inside the cage. Sometimes the chop gets ignored because it’s in a dish that’s usually empty. Switch the chop into the regular diet dish and put the regular diet into the “other” bowl for the day. At very least, they will get to explore the cage to find their diet!
I really like the “chop” recipes, as they offer a little of everything for your bird to be healthy. That way they don’t get too much sugar with fruits, or too much carbs from grains, and have a good balance of nutrition.
Above all, keep trying! It will be worth it in the long run for your birds health! Want to learn more? Take our Course here
Stay tuned for next months Training Tidbit to learn how to use positive reinforcement to transition a bird from an all-seed diet to a PELLET diet!
- Robin Horemans CPBC-KA, IAABC-ADT, KPA CTP