Enrichment Corner: Ideas and Examples

Posted by Raz on Sep 2nd, 2009
Sep 2

For most birds — clipped, flighted, or even ones who freefly outdoors — a good deal of their day is spent on their own, whether in their cage, in an aviary, or alongside us as we’re busy doing other things. Enrichment is necessary for all companion birds. In the wild a great deal of their time is spent foraging through trees, bushes and for some species on the ground. As part of making connections to excellent parrot resources, this new feature will showcase some favorite sources for enrichment ideas, examples of interesting foraging setups, and visits to cool aviaries.

The first is Kris Porter’s site, ParrotEnrichment.com. Kris is the author of the enrichment bible, The Parrot Enrichment Activity Book (1st and 2nd editions) which is available there as a free download. Her web site gives many other ideas, both simple and involved, as well as short videos and tips on starting foraging activities with birds.

Enrichment doesn’t have to be complicated or costly, but providing places to climb around and search for food or other things to chew on or explore can occupy parrots happily for hours. I could not believe the difference that including food foraging in my birds’ cages and gyms made in their behavior. Not only are they busier with activities that are not destructive to my own things, but they are also much calmer overall. And it has made keeping them with me in the office at work a more relaxing experience for all involved (including my neighbors along the hall!)

Some previous foraging posts show examples of some of my birds’ favorite items. The more you think like a forager, the more you will find yourself stopping mid-toss to the trash can. Throw-away no-no’s at my house: bottle caps, small plastic bottles, small cardboard boxes, small paper bags, little hardware bags, broken toy bits, paper from the shredder. Some essential items from our local 99-Cent Store or Michael’s: tiny plastic zip-ties, sisal twine, and wooden clothespins for attaching things to toys; coffee filters for hiding things; miniature wooden boxes ($1.00!), mini ziplock bags (used for beads), unpainted wooden ornaments, and many more.

In addition, when you find yourself saying “don’t chew that!” to your little devil, is that another enrichment possibility? Your bird likes your toothbrush but you prefer to keep it to yourself? How about getting a pack of bright colored kids’ toothbrushes (make sure no metal under bristles). Always rushing to save that pen or pencil from certain death? How about saving old pens and removing the innards. Do your birds have a taste for fine literature? Phone books are quite tasteful too.

One of the main principles of applied behavior analysis is to show birds what TO do, instead of telling them what not to do. Providing an enriching environment is one of the most basic pro-active ways to prevent undesirable behaviors and keep both you and your birds more sane.


nom nom nom — our foraging stuff

Posted by Raz on Mar 27th, 2009
Mar 27

Breakfast is served: our morning foraging tray

breakfast tray

Those little brown paper things contain seeds, sprouts, pellets, and are stuffed inside things everywhere. Sometimes they’re also put inside little plastic zip bags with beads & small toys.

I try to put small quantities (1/2 tsp or so) in each pack, so there are enough of them to spread out well and keep them busy for a long time. Afterwards, a lot of the goodies, as well as the paper, beads, etc., have fallen on the cage floor and they go down there to rummage the scraps. I also hide some things inside their buckets of toys so they don’t find them until later.

Some long lasting things help keep things available during the day too, like carrots, and branches of parsley or kale stuck in their hanging toys.

nom nom

Sometimes they are still going back to rummage through stuff in the evening after I’m home.

Yep, it takes 20-30 min to get all this ready in the morning (or night before), but they enjoy it so much it’s a battle to keep them out of their cage once it’s set up. I bring the same things to work with me when they come along, and I can’t tell you how much calmer they are during the day. It’s well worth the time!

An excellent DVD on foraging for pet birds: Cative Foraging for Parrots


Feathers, Foraging, Food & Fog

Posted by Raz on Feb 1st, 2009
Feb 1

The last two days we have had no feather snipping. What’s changed? A few things, though I don’t know if any of them are related.

  • Moisture: I’ve been using the new humidifier a lot this week, including right next to the Grey’s perch at night. Last night we had thick fog — which means we had a relative humidity swing from around 20% to 100% and back again within 24 hours. But at least part of that time was moist.
  • Exercise: We’ve flown 3 days in a row, with very good behavior every time. Though flying well may not be directly related to decreased snipping at all, it has resulted in longer outings, which in turn has made her calmer and sleepier in the evening. It also makes me happier and more relaxed being able to allow her more exercise again.
  • Even more foraging! I stocked up yesterday at Whole Foods with fun greens like parsley, kale, dandelion greens, whole topped carrots, and have been stuffing them in more places around their cage, toys, and rope net, along with tissue paper for shredding, and a few treats hidden inside. Here’s a new foraging toy I found at Parrot Festival that’s a big hit.

  • foraging

  • Preening: more vigorous! Yeah, sounds counter-intuitive. Carly used to preen so rambunctiously that she’d occasionally break feathers. But she does far more damage with the focused, careful preening which often ends with a snip at the end lately. If I encourage her verbally or with physical roughhousing, she can get very excited preening: fluffing and shaking and hanging upside down. So now instead of pleading “pleeeease be careful with your feathers” I ruffle her up or tease her, “careful with those pretty feathers!” The occasional broken feather sure beats going bald.
  • Diet change. While providing more intersting foraging, I’ve changed to a less varied base diet of Lafebre’s pellets, which she used to get in small amounts. This was motivated by wanting to increase the value of some of her training treats (see previous post). Again, I don’t know if this is causally related to her snipping. But it does seem to increase her interest in other foods, both those used as treats, and those used for foraging. Both she and Piper are shredding their veggies with gusto, and spending even more time playing in and around their cage and gyms.

new foraging toy

So, while I’ve been writing several posts, Carly and Piper have been sitting on me preening for a long time, and not a single feather tip has come floating down. (Though my head is covered in Piper dandruff.) Hoping this continues.


Toys shown in pictures are the refillable Foraging Surprise and Star Bird’s Lovely Bunch of Coconuts. Here is a good sample of the many foraging toys available. But remember, even the good ones are only as good as you make them by filling them up daily!