Construct Enrichment Goals, Part 1

by Robin Shewokis

from a 2013 edition of In Your Flock pet bird magazine

In the parrot-human relationship that takes place in our homes, zoos, aviaries, veterinary waiting rooms or sanctuaries, the human has a great responsibility to provide what the parrot is missing by being in human care. We want to make the birds we’re responsible for “happy.” We can observe a parrot interacting with elements within its environment, but we can’t actually observe it being happy. We strive to make the bird happy—and that’s a good goal.

Start by knowing your bird. What would your bird’s species be doing in the wild? Research and learn its wild traits in general and use those traits and behaviors as the base of knowledge when building an enrichment program for your bird. Think of your knowledge as a triangle with the tip pointed down. The wide base is the general knowledge of the species’ quirks. Then move down the triangle narrowing the behaviors, traits, likes and quirks to your bird at the “tip.”

For instance, Amazons (Amazona) and Eclectus come from different regions of the world, but have similar behaviors. Both species are arboreal foragers. The Amazon parrot is typically found in the upper levels of the canopy. The Eclectus also hangs out in the upper regions of the rainforest.

If you’re designing a dietary enrichment device for an Amazon or Eclectus parrot, you might put food in a small paper bag and hang the bag from the top of the bird’s cage. This will encourage the parrot’s natural behavior of foraging in the canopy.

If you determine that your Amazon dislikes foraging in the “treetop,” you could present the device in another way that still offers your bird exercise and activity. This is where knowing your particular bird is important. It’s the tip of the upside-down triangle that helps you decide what to offer your bird.

When offering enrichment devices, remember that nothing has to be permanent. You have options just as your bird should have options. By giving your bird enrichment opportunities, you put choices back in for your birds. In the next article, we’ll take a closer look at the types of enrichment and specific ideas you can try.

Editor’s Note: An Example—In the wild, cockatiels spend time foraging on the ground. They eat a variety of grass seeds. To that end, I suggest setting up a natural grass carpet section with cockatiel food sprinkled upon it as a foraging/feeding station. The staff at In Your Flock companion parrot magazine bought a 1-foot-wide strip of plastic grass carpet at the local Home Depot hardware store for about $8. They cut a square to place in the floor of CoCo the Cockatiel’s cage. With a few river pebbles ($3 for the bag; a few cents’ worth for this station) on top of the square, CoCo can pick her seed treats out of the grass and pebbles in a natural foraging action.  Check out the pre-cut, washable Foraging Green at The Leather Elves.

Robin Shewokis is the proprietor of The Leather Elves parrot enrichment toy company and works with parrot groups and zoos/animal facilities both in the United States and abroad teaching people how to enrich the lives of the animals in their care.