Guest Author - Melissa McIntyre
There are two general groups of enrichments: physical and mental. There are three categories in the mental enrichment group: social, puzzle solving and choice. By offering a variety of mental enrichment opportunities, we can improve our bird’s mental health, increase learning capability and attention span; address certain behavioural issues, and more.
Please be sensitive to your birds when offering new enrichments. Know your bird, and take introductions slowly if your bird appears nervous. By gently encouraging them to explore possibly “scary” things, we can foster self-confidence and decision-making abilities.
Social enrichments are vital for almost all bird species (only possibly excepting naturally solitary species). It’s believed that birds that do not have their social requirements filled are more subject to behavioural issues, obsessive behaviour (such as feather mutilation or screaming), poor appetite, apathy or- conversely- aggression, and may be more prone to illness. Different species, and individuals within each species, differ in how much social interaction they require. In many captive species, human interaction can fulfill the social need; whether that is simply my observing people in their daily activities, or actively interacting with them. Species that naturally lead a more solitary life, such as some quail, pheasants, and canaries, should be watched for signs of stress reactions to these enrichments. Some possible social enrichment options are:
- Personally talking to, playing with, and otherwise interacting with the birds in your house. This is essential for human-bonded birds, but can also be a valuable enrichment for flocks or aviary birds. In time, some aviary birds may even eat treats from your fingers.
- Allowing birds to have a friend. This should be offered only with great thought, research and care, especially to human-bonded birds, which may become jealous or intolerant of a “usurper”. Additionally, some species are known to resent having cage mates. However, for some birds, having a friend to spend time with, even if they are cages separately, can improve their lives greatly.
- Some birds may appreciate a bird-safe mirror. However, watch your bird carefully for possessive or romantic behaviour towards the “bird” in the mirror, as some birds (notably budgies, lovebirds, parrotlets, and amazons) may become overly enamoured of their new friend and become hard to handle.
- Training, be it for tricks or another purpose- can also be viewed as “social learning” and can be a fabulous way to help meet a number of social needs in most species.
Puzzle solving is an often overlooked enrichment option that is incredibly important for all animals. Birds in particular are excellent puzzle solvers and seem to relish the challenge. In the wild, every species of bird would have to use puzzle solving skills in a variety of ways; to get food, attract a mate, escape predators, create a nest, etc. It’s not surprise, then, that birds often do best with varied puzzle solving enrichment options, such as:
- Foraging is an easy way to add puzzle solving to any bird’s day. Whether this is green woven through the cage bars, fruit and vegetables stuck on to a kabob stick and suspended in the aviary, or an intricate foraging toy, almost all birds can learn to anticipate and enjoy foraging enrichments. Foraging can be for food, or any other item the bird desired, such as a toy.
- Puzzle solving can also be introduced by environmental management. By changing perches around, you can make is easier or harder to get to a particular area of the cage, and thus encourage your birds to use their puzzle solving skills on how to get there best. This is particularly useful on play gyms and large aviaries.
Choice is the basis of every other enrichment option; whether that option is mental or physical. The choice to use or not use an item, or to participate or not participate, is the basic point of enrichment. A high level of choices positive outcomes in a bird’s life is what makes that life enriched. The choice of what, where, when and how to use an enrichment option allows the bird to have control over their environment, which allows them to be more comfortable in their surroundings, to utilize their natural abilities, instincts and desires, and allows them to behave in appropriate and rewarding ways. Self-rewarding choices are the basis to having a rich, rewarding and healthy life.
Mental enrichments can be complicated, or simple; costly or inexpensive. As physical enrichments lay the groundwork for a healthy body, mental enrichments help keep the mind in top condition and are absolutely necessary for the well-being of every captive bird. By offering a variety of mentally stimulating opportunities, you may find your bird more balanced, easier to work with, and generally happier all around.