So how do we know if our bird finds a toy enriching? If the bird interacts, or is attracted to the toy, it is enriching the bird’s life and environment. Sometimes a toy may wear out its welcome. Keep a toy box handy as a place for these toys to reside until a later date.
If you would really like to find the perfect toy for your bird, pay closer attention to which parts of particular toys your bird interacts. Many birds will single out favorite “parts” or “pieces” of a toy and leave the rest hanging. If this is the case, search for toys which contain more of those “parts” or “pieces”. You may then want to add additional “attainable” challenges to the enrichment and the environment. What I mean by this is, if your bird loves a particular toy, add a little challenge to the toy such as not hanging it in a convenient spot. Hang it just out of reach of the perch, or from a boing in which the bird has to keep his balance while interacting with the toy, or even hang it on the outside of the cage. I suggest the additional challenges for the birds already used to being challenged. For those not used to the challenge, try teaching them with more basic challenge (see March 2008 issue).
Perches are also a part of enrichment to a bird’s cage. The size, placement, and substrate of the toy could be very enriching to your bird. I have a mix of perches within by birds’ cages ranging from rope, cement, Manzanita, plastic, etc. Perches, along with toys should be rotated on a regular basis to keep the cage exciting, changing, and mentally stimulating for your bird. How often should we rotate? Your bird will tell you. Once you get to know your bird, you will be able to recognize their interest level and where it begins to fade. I try to keep one step ahead of that point and change at least one toy and/or perch to make their environment consistently stimulating. If you notice your bird not going to a particular perch or a particular area of the cage, try hanging their favorite toy near the perch or in that particular area.
Another type of enrichment I find for my birds while they are inside of their cage is training. One behavior I may focus on training is asking them to go to a certain area within their cage while I open their door. I may train them to wave while they are inside of their cage. All of my birds’ cages are in the same room. When one bird is being trained and getting the attention, the others are usually very eager to vocalize their desire to be a part of the training action also. Training from within the cage really works in enriching their environment and the options are endless in what to train. One more positive association related to being inside the cage.
So since we have briefly touched on the issue of a bird’s sense of security, or lack thereof, I would like to take the opportunity to continue to discuss this behavioral issue and how enrichment within the cage could help the bird in overcoming its fears.
In the wild, parrots have many predators and their survival depends on their attention to prey and awareness of danger in their surroundings. This is a behavior in which wild birds have had to pay much attention to through the evolution of their history. It should be of no surprise that this behavior could be an instinct passed down through the generations.
In the wild, parrots have the opportunity to escape in many different forms, but the main form of escape would be flight. In most instances within our homes, our birds are housed in their cages. If they perceive danger within their environment, and that environment is also the room in which their cage is located, what opportunities do we provide them for escape? This is a common situation that is often overlooked and one that I can lead to many behavioral issues within our birds. One behavioral issue in which I see it leading, is to a behavior many people label as “phobic”. A bird who is often faced with an insecure environment can most definitely develop behavioral issues. In many situations, I see the caregivers unaware of the early onset of behaviors developing. Some of these behaviors exhibited by the bird may be harder to recognize than others.
I think it is very important to provide, even to the most confident bird, the opportunity to retreat to an area in which they feel safe and secure within their cage. For example, many birds may feel more secure in the highest area of their cage. A perch can be placed at the highest part of the cage. If the bird’s cage is in a corner, a perch can be placed at the highest spot in the cage located in that corner. The bird now has the shelter of two walls on either side. A larger toy can be hung next to this perch to provide the bird something to go behind and hide. Additional toys could be hung surrounding the perch to give the bird the opportunity and sense of security in hiding behind the toys. Yet another added bonus that accompanies a positive consequence to being in their cage.
Interacting verbally with your bird can be one form of audible enrichment. My birds’ cages are all in another room in the house. They are in a room where I frequent, walk by often, and from anywhere in the house the birds can easily hear me. This could be a challenging situation if I were dealing with any type of screaming issues with my birds and if I was the one for which they were screaming. This is currently not the case because I have since modified this issue and will discuss and explain this in an upcoming newsletter.
For the most part when the birds are in their cages, they are either busy interacting with some type of toy, resting, or socializing with each other. Many times though, I use their “in cage” time as a way for us all to interact verbally with each other from different areas of the house. These could be considered as contact calls, but I believe these vocalizations, between my birds and I are much deeper than that. Our vocalizations back and forth are more of a game. Rocky will call out “Peek A Boo”. I will reply back with a “Peek A Boo to you too, Rocky!”. He’ll start laughing. I start laughing. My Greenwing, Murray will chime in with an “Ahh Ahh Ahh!”. I’ll reply back with the same to Murray. Soon Rico, my Umbrella Cockatoo will pipe in with an exuberant “HI!”. Of course I yell back, “Well hello there Rico!”. By this time the house is full of all sorts of echoing noises and phrases that send the neighbors gossiping about the house on the end of the block. Before you know it, the birds are all interacting vocally with one another and “HEY!” I realize I’ve suddenly been cut out of the conversation all together. This is one time it will bring a smile to my face to be left out of the conversation and to hear it carry on without me. Yet another positive enrichment they associate with being in their cage. Cage time doesn’t seem so bad after all does it?
Enriching the Cage, What is that?