If you're in the market for a new pet, and you have decided you want a bird. Take a few minutes to read through this so you can make the most informed choice.
Providing environmental enrichment is essential for the well-being of a captive bird because it encourages physical activity, cognition, and exhibition of natural behaviors, which, in turn, help to prevent and reduce stress and stereotypical behaviors (abnormal repetitive behaviors such as pacing and Feather Picking) that are seen too often in captivity and evidence low welfare.
Before determining ways to provide proper environmental enrichment, one must understand the natural history of wild parrots, which is dramatically different from life in captivity.
In the wild, parrots are rarely found alone, most species are found in large family groups or flocks. For a typical bird (parrot), most of the day is spent foraging, and exploring the environment or interacting with members of the group/flock (e.g., playing, preening each other, resting together).
Birds tend to form bonded pairs during mating season and work as a team while raising their young. This type of lifestyle in the wild keeps birds physically active and mentally stimulated on a daily basis. Over time, their complex lifestyle has helped birds evolve fairly advanced cognitive abilities.
Unfortunately, in captivity, many birds lack sources of stimuli and activities that keep them healthy in the wild. Therefore, it is our responsibility to provide proper environmental enrichment to help mimic their lifestyle in the wild. Numerous behavioral disorders and health problem, such as feather picking, can result of the lack of proper stimulation.
Types of Enrichment - Foraging
One of the easiest and most important types of enrichment that can be provided in captivity is Foraging. As mentioned earlier, birds in the wild spend much of their day foraging for food. A behavior that is often denied in a captive environment. It is important to consider scheduling the main foraging/feeding sessions for your companion early in the morning (after the bird wakes up) and in the late afternoon/early evening because these are the times when most of their foraging occurs in the wild. Foraging requires that the bird work for its food (i.e., searches for and identifies food). This challenge helps to keep a bird physically and mentally active. Thus, it is important in captivity to provide food that challenges the bird to obtain it. This can be done by hiding food in a store-bought or Homemade (with nontoxic materials) foraging toy.
Homemade foraging toys can be made from nontoxic items that resemble toys that can be purchased at a store, one can use cardboard to construct boxes, one can also use nontoxic building materials such as PVC piping purchased at a hardware store to construct foraging toys or toys in general.
Even natural items from your backyard such as clean pinecones and branches/sticks can be used to hide food /toys
(make sure to briefly microwave or bake such items to kill potential pests/pathogens).
Aside from hiding food in foraging toys, one can place food in various places in the cage. For example, clips can be used to hang fruits and veggies in different parts of the cage and can be placed in new spots each day. Food can also be hidden in the food dish under cover of items such as hay or shredded paper; this forces the bird to pick through or remove these items to obtain its food. Essentially, the possibilities are endless as long as the food is presented in nontoxic materials and in ways that does not pose a threat of possible injury to your companion ( e.g., entanglement).
So, feel free to be creative!!!
Types of Enrichment - Exercise
Physical enrichment in the form of exercise is very important and is something that many caged birds do not get enough of. In the wild, they get to fly freely and are required to do so to get access to resources such as food, water, shelter and their mates. A vast majority of captive birds do not have access (e.g.; limited cage space) or the ability (e.g., clipped Wings) to fly. As a result, they do not get the exercise they would get in the wild.
Fortunately, exercise can be accomplished in many ways.
All Birds should be provided a cage that is large enough to allow your companion to flap its wings freely and as often as it desires.
Flapping of the wings should be encourage as much as possible because it provides exercise similar to that of flight.
Captive birds that still have the ability to fly should be allowed to fly supervised in a safe environment (e.g.; a room with no moving ceiling fans, an outside area free of predators such as hawks) as often as possible.
Those that cannot fly (and those that can) should be allowed out of the cage in a supervised area that allows them to safely walk, run, climb, and hang (in an area free of potential hazards such as electric wiring that your bird may chew on).
A good way to encourage climbing and hanging is providing a play stand that can be store-bought or homemade (e.g.; made of nontoxic building materials such as PVC piping).
Types of Enrichment - Toys
Toys are a great way to provide physical enrichment. Many birds are destructive by nature and toys allow them to exhibit this behavior in captivity in an appropriate way. For example, nontoxic woven baskets sold at craft stores (which can be used as foraging toys), phone books, paper, cardboard, pinecones/sticks (mentioned earlier), pieces of nontreated (nontoxic) lumber, and various destructible toys made for birds can be used. Toys should be provided in the cage and should be changed out every now and then for variety (just be sure to leave its “favorite” toys in at all times if your companion might stress without them). This is especially important for birds who are kept alone in a cage at any time during the day.
Always keep in mind, though, the potential safety hazards that some toys can pose to your sweet companion (e.g.; entanglement in frayed rope material).
Cages should be furnished with multiple perches of different sizes to provide opportunities to exercise and to promote better health for the feet (e.g.; prevent bumblefoot).
Types of Enrichment - Social Interaction
As mentioned earlier, birds are social animals by nature and lack of social interaction can be detrimental for their health.
Therefore, it is most important that they are provided social enrichment on a daily basis for their well-being. This can be done by interaction with another bird (cage mate) if your bird is socialized with other birds, or with his human companions. You can provide this by talking to, holding and petting the bird on a daily basis.
In addition to that, you can teach your companion tricks and commands by using positive reinforcement (e.g., rewarding with treats), this will provide not only social enrichment but cognitive enrichment as well.
For example, a great command to teach a bird is to come when called because this activity (e.g., teaching a bird to fly to its owner on command) can provide exercise for the bird as well.
Types of Enrichment - Visual and Auditory
Birds in the wild rely heavily on visual and auditory cues to go about their daily tasks. Therefore, it is important to provide daily visual and enrichment to captive birds. This can be done by supplying toys in different colors and shapes and toys that provide sounds, e.g., bells!
Sounds from the outdoors through an open window/door, television, or radio, white noise (e.g., noise of air filters might have a calming effect), verbal interaction with other birds or people, etc.
Avoid Horror movies on TV or wildlife shows where birds of prey, like hawks are featured…Our companions are very sensitive creatures!
It is important to realize that some birds are very vocal by nature, so people should be prepared to allow their birds to be vocal as well, especially early morning and early evening!!!
As with any animal, captive or wild, captive birds need to be provided a safe refuge in their environment. This can take the form of hide box, objects to hide behind or in, a private section of the cage, or a higher perch. Like toys, these things can be homemade or store-bought (again, safe and nontoxic materials).
Your companion should have a good night’s sleep (10 to 12 hours) in a quiet dark room if possible or one can cover their “homes” with a dark sheet/fabric of your choice.