Enriching your parrots life is the key to a happy parrot. So, today I'm sharing with you 5 enrichment categories that will help you dream up LOTS of fun and creative activities for your birds.
We're not saying you need provide EVERY type of enrichment into your birds life EVERY day.
The goal of enrichment is to give our parrots choices (like they'd have in the wild) and to draw out their natural behaviors.
(To learn more about enrichment and the incredible benefits it can have, check out the blog post The Benefits of Enrichment and How to Get Started.)
Each of the categories below describe how the activity encourages your parrots natural behaviors.
First up is social enrichment. Parrots are very social creatures in the wild and we can strive to provide them some social interaction. This includes safe interactions with other birds as well as human handling. Training could also fit into this category.
Next is physical enrichment, which consists of changes or improvements to the areas they spend time. This can be a cage or a room. Your birds physical habitat can be enriched with perches and other things to climb on, as well as light and shade. It also includes having space to move around in, especially room for them to stretch and flap their wings.
Our third category is sensory enrichment. This involves activities that stimulate a parrots senses. Within this category we have:
-Sight: Things they can see in and outside of their cage.
-Sound: Things they can hear, like birds outside, audio recordings or music.
-Smell: Things they can smell, like adding a new herb or spice to their food bowl. Be watchful of the smells that aren't good for them though...because birds have a very efficient respiratory system, so many common household items like tobacco smoke, aerosols, perfumes, incense and scented candles can be harmful to our parrots. Teflon is a particularly dangerous one, and when heated it generates toxic fumes (it's in cookware, some irons and hair dryers etc.)
-Taste: Things that are new to their taste buds. Of course, there is lots of overlap here with the food category (below).
-Touch: Having access to touch a variety of textures like plastic, different types of woods (like balsa and pine) and other bird safe materials.
Food is our fourth category. A variety of foods should be presented to parrots in different ways. They should also be placed in various places throughout the cage (also known as foraging). We can make their feeding time challenging, just as it would be in the wild.
A fun fact...parrots can distinguish sweet, sour, bitter and salt, much like we can. However they have about 350 taste buds, whereas humans have about 9000. Since they have a poor sense of taste, it is thought that parrots select foods to eat based on their texture. So varying the size of the food pieces you offer can be helpful in getting them to accept different fresh foods.
Our last category is cognitive enrichment. This involves activities that stimulates problem solving. Puzzle toys fit into this category as does offering any new item that your bird needs to figure out. Work up to more challenging activities, but don't do complex ones exclusively. Have some activities that are at their current level and some below, to prevent frustration.
Keep in mind that activities can overlap from one category into another. For example, giving your parrot a new type of food would fit in the "food" category, but also in "cognitive" because it's a new item that the bird has to explore. Talking to your bird would fit under "sensory" since they are hearing you, but also "social" because they are interacting with you.
Sometimes it can seem like a big mystery to figure out what engages our birds. It might take a lot of trial and error, but watch what types of things they're chewing on and playing with. Do they ignore their bright colored hanging toy but chew up their wood perch? Then try more natural items like branches, coconut toys and natural shredables like pine cones.
If they're just not interested in ANYTHING (as was the case with Baby, our Meyers parrot), start to really watch what they DO interact with throughout the day. Baby was very leery of anything we put into her cage (even some of the items that were similar or exact to what she had at the rescue). So, we started out by giving her toys made of wooden spoons (because that's what was in her cage at the rescue and I saw some had been shredded and were laying on the floor of her cage). I also quickly found that her favorite treat was safflower seeds. So I gave her a plastic toy with little buckets hanging from it and put a single safflower seed in some of the buckets. Still, it took months for her to play with either toy once she was in our home. Now she interacts with both of them every day. Did it take forever? Yes! Did I try other things in the mean time? Yes! The long wait was SO worth it. It sure was sad to watch a plucking bird that doesn't play with anything, so it was very much worth the time and energy I put in to finding something that was just right for her.
And hey, I know it gets so frustrating to buy or make things that they ultimately ignore, but I keep trying and I hope you will too. I always feel better if they ignore something I've made inexpensively, than if I spent 20 bucks on it. So I work toys made from free stuff into their daily enrichment. Some of the free things I use are cardboard paper towel rolls, paper, thick tissue paper and newspaper. I only use things I feel are safe for my birds, and know that my birds just shred these items without ingesting them.
Make sure you feel comfortable with any enrichment items you give to your birds and be watchful of how they interact with new items you introduce. Nothing is 100% safe for every bird. But remember, the benefits of providing enrichment far outweigh the risks! They can suffer when no enrichment is offered too!
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