Guest Author - Melissa McIntyre
Alternate territories are places that a bird can go in addition to its main enclosure, cage or aviary. These can include sleeping cages, play stands or gyms, travel cages, outside aviaries, etc. They are useful as enrichment and behaviour management tools, as well as fun to create!
Almost all wild birds must travel to and from various territories during the day. Many birds roost in communal sleeping trees, or in their nests, at night. In the morning, they travel to the closest source of water for a drink, then to the morning foraging area. Birds may have to travel long distances to find adequate food or water. Birds caring for young may have to go from the foraging area to the nest up to 60 times a day to feed the chicks! Most birds feed until early afternoon, when sociable birds will flock together again to play, socialize, preen and nap. Another foraging session occurs after this siesta. The birds then return to the roost or nest in the evening to settle in for the night.
Providing your bird, or birds, alternate territories is an excellent way to offer enrichment in their lives. Birds are predisposed to send time in various locations during the day and most benefit from having the opportunity to do so. Alternate territories are particularly useful in cage-protective birds. Animals that are natural territorial become vastly more so when their territory is limited. Having additional areas to explore can help “dilute” the tendency towards aggression in the cage, particularly if access to those areas is controlled by the people in the bird’s life. This generally won’t solve the problem entirely, as cage protectiveness is an issue with multiple causes, but it certainly can help a great deal. The “dilution” effect is especially useful when colony breeding, which is often fraught with territorial issues. It can also help prevent birds from becoming bored or even “cage-bound”, where a bird refuses to leave the cage at all.
Adding alternate territories can be fairly simple for companion parrot owners. They can be as simple as play gyms in various rooms in the house, as useful as a sleeping cage, or as expansive as outdoor cages or aviaries, and more. With tame birds, new territories are really only limited by the ingenuity of the owner.
Non-tame parrots, finches, canaries, gamebirds, waterfowl and softbills can be a little more challenging. Many people have had excellent success with custom cages, where various small cages are attached to a larger communal cage. The idea with this kind of set up is that nests, food and water are placed in the smaller side-cages, while additional food and water sources (often foraging opportunities) are provided in the larger flight. This allows each pair their own “territory” with every thing they need in it, as well as the option to socialize in the larger communal area. Highly social species are best with this kind of set up, as pugnacious species (like pheasants, or most parrots) may still squabble. Other options are allowing décor in the cage to create visual screens; thus allowing various birds to “claim” an area, or building an aviary that is partially outside (this is most viable in warmer climates).
Offering your bird or birds different places for them to spend their time either foraging, socializing, playing, grooming, napping or plain just hanging out, has multiple benefits. Decreased stress, decreased cage possessiveness or resource guarding, as well as increased activity and general interest are all possible products of offering new areas for your birds to explore. Why not consider a new territory for you birds today? You may be pleasantly surprised at the outcome.