Parrot enrichment – Parrot stimulation -Parrot Environmental enrichment
Based on an article by Bird specialist Dr Bob Doneley
Providing some toys or maybe some branches to chew on is often not enough! An enrichment plan should encompass all of the following:
- Foraging enrichment
- Physical enrichment
- Sensory enrichment
- Social enrichment
- Occupational enrichment
Foraging is the act of searching for and finding food. Wild birds can spend up to 80% of their day foraging and feeding, most actively in the morning and the evening.
Foraging has great social and behavioural importance, but is one of the most severely constrained classes of behaviour in the pet birds we see at the Bird Vet.
Birds engage in four basic behaviours on a daily basis – foraging, socialising, grooming and resting.
Removing the ability to forage by feeding
- the same food-
- in the same bowl
- at the same timeThis leaves a “gaping hole” that has to be filled with the other behaviours.
Also a bird that lives alone without other birds to socialise with may therefore start to overgroom (feather damaging behaviour) or sleep excessively.
It may develop stereotypic behaviours such as screaming, pacing, biting the wire of its enclosure, etc.
Foraging enrichment therefore seeks to prevent or treat these problems.
It requires the bird(s) to:
- and sort through
- , manipulate
- and/or open objects to get to food.
- It should reflect the bird’s natural foraging behaviour
- and can be increased in complexity as the bird’s skill levels increase. Examples of foraging behaviour can include:
- Scattering the food over the floor of the cage or aviary
- Scattering the food in a kitty litter tray filled with, wood chips, wooden blocks or recycled paper kitty litter
- Placing the food in small cardboard boxes or paper parcels that have to be chewed open to access the food
- ‘Baffle cages’ – wire framed boxes that require beak dexterity to access the over
- Multiple food dishes around the cage the cage or aviary, some with food, some without
- Covering the food dishes with paper or cardboard that the bird has to chew through to access the food
The bird will have to be taught how to use some of these foraging tools e.g. leaving a cardboard box open till the bird learns there is food in it, and then gradually closing it.
Physical enrichment ranges from objects placed in the bird’s environment (such as toys, swings, ladders, mirrors, etc.) to the environment as a whole (e.g. the space available for the bird to engage in locomotory behaviours such as flying, running or swimming). This is where the toys that many people provide come in. There are some general guidelines to follow when considering safe enrichment items for birds:
- If the item is constructed of synthetic components, use sturdy and large enough materials to prevent ingestion. Avoid cotton or natural fibres, as these are frequently eaten and can lead to gut obstructions
- For multiple birds in a cage, provide multiple enrichment devices to reduce item guarding and aggression
- For birds fearful of new items, slowly introduce the enrichment to the bird’s cage (or the bird to the enrichment area)
Sensory enrichment utilises the bird’s senses such as sight, hearing, smell and touch. Providing ‘a room with a view’, background noises, videos, toys, etc. can improve a bird’s welfare. It must be used with caution, as some birds may become visibly stressed with loud sounds, certain images, or a lack of security/privacy. Placing a bird’s enclosure in the middle of the family room can certainly provide sensory enrichment but the bird must have the ability to ‘get away from it all’ when the family activities become too much.
Social enrichment is the social interactions between birds, and between birds and people. It can be indirect, where the bird can see or hear other animals, such as when a bird is in an outdoor cage or aviary. Direct social enrichment includes cage mate pairing, social rooms or flights with numerous birds interacting, and allowing contact between enclosures. Done well, it allows the birds to perform ‘species‐specific’ behaviours (which is likely high when compatible birds are housed together), but it has the potential to have drawbacks and unwanted behaviours such as cagemate aggression. Social enrichment may need to be carefully chaperoned until it is clear the birds can safely intermingle and there is an escape mechanism in case aggression occurs.
Occupational enrichment includes items that elicit activities including problem solving, learning, and choosing and controlling some feature in the bird’s environment. (This is different from the use of puzzle foraging toys that do require problem solving.) Rather these may include items that give birds choices about how they spend their time. For example, although it comes with certain risks, free flight in the house (or even outside) can provide occupational enrichment.
Bases on notes from Avian Vet Specialist Dr Bob Doneley