Contrafreeloading Indicating the Behavioural Need to Forage in Healthy and Feather Damaging Grey Parrots

Yvonne R A van Zeeland*, Nico J Schoemaker, Johannes T Lumeij

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Contrafreeloading (CFL) is a concept that describes the preference of an animal to work for food even when identical food is freely available, and reflects an intrinsic motivation to engage in foraging-related activities. However, altered brain neurochemistry, which can be induced by chronic exposure to a suboptimal living environment, may affect this intrinsic motivation in animals with abnormal repetitive behaviours (ARBs), including parrots with feather damaging behaviour. To determine whether this was the case, we evaluated CFL activity in healthy ( n = 11) and feather damaging ( n = 10) Grey parrots ( Psittacus erithacus) by offering them a free choice to obtain identical food from a food bowl or from a foraging device. Differences in CFL activity were observed, with feather damaging Grey parrots displaying less CFL (as indicated by shorter foraging times and lower amounts of food consumed from the foraging devices) compared to healthy conspecifics, indicating altered 'motivation' and time allocation, for which the underlying mechanism needs to be clarified further. Nevertheless, despite the variable level, all birds displayed CFL, which, together with a seemingly positive correlation between CFL activity and the plumage condition of the birds, suggests that parrots are intrinsically motivated to forage and highlights the importance of providing foraging opportunities to captive parrots.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2635
Number of pages22
Issue number16
Publication statusPublished - 15 Aug 2023


  • Psittacus erithacus
  • enrichment
  • feather damaging behaviour
  • feather picking
  • feather plucking
  • foraging
  • psittacine


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