I have limited experience feeding wildlife, and while it's fun to watch and I'm sure fun for the wildlife too, I'm interested in just how much fun. Is there's any noticeable difference in the following scenarios?

  • Scenario A: a bird is given a "pile" of food, and can eat it at any pace.
  • Scenario B: an element of play or competition is introduced. The bird has to seek out seeds that are scattered on the ground, or has to compete with other birds. Alternatively, a challenging bird feeder is used.

The end result is that there's enough food to satiate the bird in either case. It seems that in scenario B, it would take longer for the bird to get full. In scenario B, the bird has to hop from one cluster of seeds to the next, picking out the ones that the bird wants. There may be additional birds, also competing for the tastiest seeds. Alternatively, the bird has to balance on the birdfeeder, and coordinate precise movements to retrieve a seed from the feeder.

If the bird is observed over the next X minutes or hours following the feeding, is there any noticeable difference in the overall demeanor, activity pattern, etc., between the two scenarios?

UPDATE: I originally thought that this question does not apply to humans - we all sit at a table and eat meals from dishes, etc. I couldn't ask a question about kids throwing pie, which is what I thought of when I think "play with food". But this evening, as I was deseeding a pomegranate, I realized that humans may like "Playing" with difficult fruit too

  • Pomegranate
  • Citrus (oranges/grapefruit)
  • Pineapple

enter image description here

Getting to the best parts of these fruit can be turned into a game too. For example, deseeding pomegranate can be done with the minimum amount of juice splashing, while an orange peel can be removed in many ways as well.

The scenarios above can be modified to be easily applicable to humans too:

  • Scenario A: Given unlimited supply of whole pomegranates to deseed
  • Scenario B: Given an unlimited supply of pomegranate seeds on a plate

Which person will leave the table feeling better?

To get a sense of how people may play with the fruits above, search google for "Peel an orange", and you will find very varying screenshots.

A cleaned pomegranate

  • $\begingroup$ I'll be watching this question intently! Also, see my related question $\endgroup$
    – Josh
    Nov 7, 2012 at 23:16
  • $\begingroup$ not sure about animals but for humans the ones that I have noticed get the most happiness and joy from food are those who have been starved. $\endgroup$ Nov 8, 2012 at 0:56

1 Answer 1


Yes. See contra-freeloading or (for humans) ikea effect.

Contrafreeloading: (verb) The behavior in which animals offered the choice between eating food provided to them for free or working to get that food would eat the most food from the source that required effort. This term was created in 1963 by animal psychologist Glen Jensen. Jensen ran a study on 200 male albino rats where the end result was the rats ate more from the food source where the rats had to press on a bar to get the pellet rather than the dish of pellets where they didn’t have to do anything at all. Jensen then studied the behaviors of gerbils, mice, birds, fish, monkeys and chimpanzees. In fact many have studied contrafreeloading since then with similar results, except for the domestic cat – which likes to be served. This 1963 study’s results were surprising because it would be more logical, from an evolutionary point of view, to not expand energy to get food when food is freely available. Why do pet bird people care about this? Birds seem to want to work for food, which is a wild instinctual behavior. Avian behaviorists recommend that pet bird owners encourage contrafreeloading behavior with foraging setups and bird toys within the pet birds’ cages and that pet bird owners engage their parrots by training commands like Step up or tricks such as the eagle, and then use a treat reward system. This keeps pet birds busy, active and healthy.

From http://www.birdchannel.com/bird-words/contrafreeloading.aspx

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Fantastic answer! I had no idea humans valued products of their own creations so much more than those of comparable amateurs. It took me a while to realize that contra-freeloading means the opposite of freeloading. $\endgroup$
    – Alex Stone
    Nov 8, 2012 at 23:04
  • $\begingroup$ Wow, that's great! Now I know I really should come up with some interesting experiments for the birds who feed from the bird feeders at our offices! $\endgroup$
    – Josh
    Nov 9, 2012 at 21:21

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