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Bird Health: Enriched Environments Speed Healing and Affect Behavior

A study published this month (May, 2009) by the Massachusetts General Burn Hospital establishes for the first time that a stimulating captive environment can reverse the negative health effects of injury and isolation.  Although rats were the study subjects, the results are believed applicable to a wide range of animals, including birds.

Stress and Captivity

Stress has previously been shown to significantly delay wound healing in humans and many animals.  Students of ethology (animal behavior) have long advised that providing captive animals with opportunities to play, explore, build nests and otherwise remain stimulated improves overall health.  In fact, the American Zoo Association now requires member organizations to incorporate “behavioral enrichment” into the husbandry protocols of most species.

Environment and Health

In the current study, 92% of young rats raised in group situations exhibited normal to rapid healing abilities.  Only 12% of those raised in isolation (a stressful situation for young rats) healed well.  However, when rats raised in isolation were provided with stimulating environments (in this case, the opportunity to build new nests twice weekly), 64% healed normally.

Environmental stimulation was also shown to reduce hyperactive behavior and even to positively affect gene expression in the brain’s hypothalamus, which is important in regulating stress response.

Parrots and other Birds

The implications for parrot owners are clear – provide these intelligent, social birds with companionship (human or otherwise) and as stimulating an environment as is possible.  But don’t forget finches, doves and others not deemed as “intellectually gifted” as our Psittacine friends – my experience has shown that a host of animals, including frogs, lizards and fishes, utilize and benefit from behavioral stimulation.

Enriching Your Pet’s Life

For ideas on improving your bird environment and, it follows, health, please check out our extensive line of bird toys, playpens and cages.

Further Reading

For more on this important topic, please see my article Behavioral Enrichment for Parrots and Finches Use Parrot Toys Too!


Images referenced from Morguefile.

About Frank Indiviglio

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I believe that I was born with an intense interest in animals, as neither I nor any of my family can recall a time when I was not fascinated by creatures large and small. One might imagine this to be an unfortunate set of circumstances for a person born and raised in the Bronx, but, in actuality, quite the opposite was true. Most importantly, my family encouraged both my interest and the extensive menagerie that sprung from it. My mother and grandmother somehow found ways to cope with the skunks, flying squirrels, octopus, caimans and countless other odd creatures that routinely arrived un-announced at our front door. Assisting in hand-feeding hatchling praying mantises and in eradicating hoards of mosquitoes (I once thought I had discovered “fresh-water brine shrimp” and stocked my tanks with thousands of mosquito larvae!) became second nature to them. My mother went on to become a serious naturalist, and has helped thousands learn about wildlife in her 16 years as a volunteer at the Bronx Zoo. My grandfather actively conspired in my zoo-buildings efforts, regularly appearing with chipmunks, boa constrictors, turtles rescued from the Fulton Fish Market and, especially, unusual marine creatures. It was his passion for seahorses that led me to write a book about them years later. Thank you very much, for a complete biography of my experience click here.
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