Environmental Enrichment for our Pet Birds: how to entertain your pet when you are at work

Home-made Gym

Environmental Enrichment for our Pet Birds: how to entertain your pet when you are at work

Loving and responsible caregivers of companion birds need to make sure their companion birds are actively engaged.

Birds in the wild are busy foraging for foods, finding nesting sites, building or customizing existing nesting places, socializing with other birds, flying about enjoying the sights and sounds of nature.

Now consider the life of a captive bird that is locked up in a cage all day while their owners are working or taking care of their daily obligations. It is no surprise that so many pet parrots develop severe emotional problems.  As a result, pet rescues are filled with unwanted pet birds that are too "damaged" to ever become someone's loving pet; and there is no letting up.

 

Providing an Enriched Environment:

  • Learn about the Importance and Implementation of Foraging

  • If your bird is alone for several hours during the day, there are ways to entertain your pet, while you are gone:
     
    • Leave the radio or the TV on - birds love bird / nature videos. They get excited and often participate by calling out to the other birds, talking, being generally animated and interested in what is going on.
       
      • The Animal Channel is also often appreciated, especially when programs on birds are featured. The Discovery Channel also carries some nice programming. In the gym, my pets and I enjoy watching the Travel Channel as well. My African Grey was simply mesmerized by a Caribbean program that was on - with lots of fun sights and sounds.

      • Go through your existing DVD selection and find nature videos that you can then rotate.

      • I own the DVD collection called Life of Birds and absolutely adore it. It contains 4 DVDs, which translates into many hours of amazing entertainment for birds as well as humans. One of the four DVDs is about parrot specifically, including "Talking Parrots", and it's a big hit with the birds; although they clearly enjoy the sights and sounds of the other DVDs as well. David Attenborough is one of the world's most acclaimed broadcasters and naturalists. I am a big fan of his - and so are my birds!

    • Parrots enjoy audio tapes with bird / nature songs, or recordings of your bird or you talking.

    • Call and talk to the parrot via answering machine. Your pet will love hearing your voice. It's a great to stay connected when you are not at home.

    • Locate your bird's cage near a window and attach a bird bath near or a window bird feeders to the outside of the window, where your bird will be able to watch the wild birds come and eat during the day. My birds love to be "face-to-face" with the outside birds and this has become their favorite hang-out place.

  • Toys:

    Note, some birds may need to learn to play independently with toys. Birds are naturally suspicious of new things in their environment. They may show no interest in new toys for months, maybe even a couple of years. Over time you will find what toys your pet particularly likes. Mechanical birds like toys they can take apart, "shredders" like toys they can tear apart, etc. etc.

  • To start with, I always suggest a variety of toys that should include hand toys, puzzler toys, treasure chests, chewable toys and foraging toys. Think of toys not as an option or luxury for the pet bird, but as essentials to that bird's well being. Do not overcrowd the cage with toys. Strategically place a couple of toys in areas that your bird likes to hang out in. Rotate periodically.

  • NOTE: A toy doesn't have to be expensive. In fact, the foraging pages show you lots of EASY and inexpensive or free toys that you can make with things that you already have, such as old / obsolete telephone books (a favorite of my birds - albeit messy for me to clean up). A basket filled with dry grass (I place grass in the microwave for several minutes to kill any pathogens) and twigs from safe wood trees, with some treats and favorite foot toys hidden in between are often appreciated and enjoyed by birds who don't like the traditional hanging toy. Bottle tops, wooden pegs, anything can be accepted as a toy by pet bird.
 
  • Changing Cage Location:
Caution should be used especially in a timid bird with little self confidence. Some birds are so frightened of change that a cage move will cause picking. However, if your bird is already picking providing variety in the cage location may give them other things to think about and provide some distraction to slow the picking. Of course, it is best to start out early with a baby bird but even older birds can lean to tolerate change if the introduction is gradual.

Don't have your bird in the kitchen or in the center of activity but rather on the periphery of activity so that they can be a part of the family but can also "escape" for some quiet time.

 
  • A companion bird????

Whether or not to get TWO birds instead of one is a tough question. It really depends on the individual bird and the owner. In cases where the owner is able to spend a lot of time with his or her pet, having one should be fine. But if this is not the case, purchasing or adopting two birds that will then be companions for each other makes sense as these intelligent creatures crave companionship and shouldn't be deprived of that.

The birds that are considered as pets should be well socialized and friendly (unless the owner is experienced at rehabilitating abused / neglected, poorly socialized birds).

In order for both birds to remain tame, you must interact frequently with both of them. The down side of having two pet birds is that they can become aggressive with each other (especially if introduced later in life) and, obviously, breeding activity can be stimulated once they have reached reproductive maturity. Breeding activity or hormonal changes can occur with two birds of the same sex of even with a single bird that has a mirror. The negative aspects of these hormonal changes are potential aggression, feather picking due to hormonal stress, and reproductive problems such as egg binding in females.

The situation with respect to giving a bird a companion might be different for an older bird that has lived solitary for most of his or her life, which then resulted in behavioral problems, such as feather picking. In this case, we don't necessarily recommend getting a second bird. The original bird is often very jealous of the newcomer and fighting may result. There is also a risk that the new bird might develop the same behavioral problems as the first. It is best to work exclusively on the original bird to improve its general health both mental and physical.

 
 

Please also see the following:

 

Research by Sibylle Johnson

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