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Tag Archives: Behavioral Enrichment

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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.

Behavioral Enrichment for Parrots: Adding Zest to Your Pet’s Life

The concept of behavioral enrichment encompasses a number of techniques designed to encourage a captive animal to live, for lack of a better word, a “fuller” life. We do this by exploiting natural behaviors in a way that encourages the animal to stretch its mind and body by exploring, exercising, hunting, trying new foods and so on – activities outside of the basic necessities of captive life.

The Importance of Enrichment Opportunities
Blue & Gold MacawParrots, with their limitless curiosity and energy levels, are ideal enrichment candidates. This is fortunate, as enrichment activities go beyond “nice to do” for such highly intelligent birds. Most animals that I have worked with in zoos, from fish to mammals, benefit from “BE”, as zoo keepers term it. However, active, inquisitive, social species – parrots, crows, primates, wolves and so many others – need physical and mental stimulation if they are to not just endure but thrive in captivity.

What’s more, opportunities to explore and think stave off boredom, and in parrots this often translates into a well-adjusted pet that does not pluck its feathers or scream.

Following is a review of the major categories of BE. You’ll notice that the various types overlap, and most stimulate parrots in more than one way. Please see our large selection of unique parrot toys, play pens, perches and CD’s – many will be useful in organizing a BE program for your pet.

Physical Enrichment
I really favor this with parrots – after watching several species in the wild, I’m convinced that physical movement should be a key component of any pet parrot’s BE program. Parrots, even those long confined to boring cages, take well to wing and leg-stretching opportunities.

Provide a complex cage, and remember that you can vastly increase the cage’s usable area by adding climbing surfaces. Birds that flit from perch to perch, such as finches, make good use of spacious cages. But caged parrots move about mainly by climbing – a huge cage is not much good if the bird can merely sit on a perch or two and stare into space.

Install vines and perches of varying widths and sizes, so that your pet can make full use of the space afforded to it. Wild grapevine is particularly useful as you can find nearly any shape and size needed – just be sure you can distinguish it from poison ivy! Parrots will also delight in using and shredding branches from fruit and other non-toxic trees (please see Pet Birds and Plants – Avoiding Toxic Species).

When adding toys to your parrots cage, don’t just attach them within reach – try making your pet work, by installing the toys in locations that can only be reached by hanging, climbing sideways, etc.

Social Enrichment
Amazon ParrotThis category of BE includes interactions with other birds, people and (if safe!) other pets. When your parrot is left alone, a training CD, TV or radio may provide some diversion.

Mental Enrichment
Anything that stimulates your parrot to “figure some thing out” qualifies as mental stimulation. This can range from hiding its food, supplying a foraging toy within which a treat is secreted or simply introducing a safe, novel item into its environment (i.e. a pine cone or cardboard box).

Nutritional Enrichment
Hiding and varying the diet works well with any animal – just watch a group of guppies habituated to a fish flake diet react to a chunk of frozen prawn if you have any doubt as to the universality of the technique. Nutritionally based enrichment is also very easy to introduce, and the possibilities are limitless.

Please browse our parrot food selections for unique items to offer your pet, and consider using whole fruits and nuts as opposed to pre-cut pieces. Research your pet’s wild diet and then search for some foods it might appreciate – food markets in Asian, Latin American, African and Caribbean communities offer a wealth of nutritious fruits, nuts and vegetables, some of which might be part of your pet’s natural diet.

Time and time again, I have been surprised by the very noticeable change in an animal’s level of excitement when offered a new or natural food item. This applies whether the animal in question is a toad or a tiger – I’m sure you will be delighted at your parrot’s reactions.

Small meals spread over time and food items hid about the cage or, if safe, the house, are other tried and true methods of keeping your parrot on his or her toes.

Sensory Enrichment
Pay attention to those noises that stimulate your bird to call, display, bathe or just sit up and take notice. Play these and similar ones to rouse it to activity.

Of course, avoid using noises that might startle or instill fear in your pet – your macaw might not appreciate a recording of the scream of a harpy eagle, for example…then again, it would be interesting to see if a captive born macaw might respond to a predator’s call!

An excellent article on the natural foraging and social behaviors of the kea is posted on the web site of the University of Nebraska’s Avian Cognition Center:

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