Someone had decided to have frozen breaded shrimp for dinner and was kind enough to save the box for us. It still smelled strongly of the shrimp, and for a moment I got a little hungry. Then, I refocused on the task at hand…place the box in one of the animal enclosures and log it, so that during the next enrichment session, the animal would get something different to explore. This scenario happened regularly during my time as a zoo volunteer. Animals were given items to change their environment. Items that challenged them to use natural behaviors like scenting, foraging, and burrowing. Items that kept boredom to a minimum and heightened enthusiasm. This concept is a wonderful one to use for our pets as well! When it comes to birds, enrichment is particularly important, as they are highly intelligent animals often kept in very confined spaces. This can create a lot of frustration and result in things such as screaming, destructive behavior, and (sadly), self-mutilation. Not exactly the dream of bird owners everywhere. So what can be done to enhance the environment for our birds and challenge them to think and exhibit natural behaviors? Easily enough, just moving things around in their cage can give them a fresh perspective. When I do weekly cage cleaning, I move perches, introduce new toys, move old toys and add treats from time to time. This forces my birds to reconsider their environment and respond to it differently (e.g., finding a new favorite spot or figuring out new ways to move around). With all that to work on, who has time to pluck feathers? Outside of “moving the furniture,” you can also make it challenging for you bird to get to food. I have a client who asks me to put treats in small cardboard boxes for her parrots, so that they have to chew through the box (or figure out how to open the flap on top), in order to get their treat. Once, I had the pleasure of seeing one of birds, a beautiful umbrella cockatoo, manipulate the box. She would stand on one foot and grab the box with the other one. Then, she painstakingly moved the box to her beak and chewed on it for a bit. After a hole formed, she took the time to put the box up to her eye, so she could peek inside of the hole! “Yep, treat is still in there…how the heck do I get to that thing???” She finally decided she needed to chew a hole big enough for the treat to come out of. Cockatoos love to chew, so this was a really big win for her, and so easy to offer! There are also a lot of foraging toys available for purchase that can keep your birds occupied for quite some time!
Speaking of toys, there are lots more options than just those that encourage foraging. Things such as swings, mirrors, and ropes will entice your bird to climb, chew, and flirt. Yes, my bird Sydney tries to woo himself every morning in his mirror. He whistles his little heart out and yet, he never scores. I almost feel bad for him. In any case, it’s good that he is practicing his songs and staying out of the realm of boredom.
All this being said, the greatest form of enrichment you can offer your pet is to spend time with it and let it out sometimes so it can explore the bigger world around it. Provide such things as bird stands with toys attached or even a few strips of paper for your bird to carry around, to enhance their time outside of the cage. Training your bird is also a fantastic form of enrichment and has many benefits beyond enhancing your bird’s environment! For inspiration, I will leave you with a video I shot of myself teaching my parakeets to target. What can you think of to enrich your pet’s life?