While birds are fantastic companions, they aren’t technically domesticated animals like cats and dogs. They’re certainly tame, but they hold onto many of their natural preferences and tendencies. Because of this, they don’t slide as easily into a household as the aforementioned companions. It’s up to their owner to mimic the enrichment opportunities of their natural environment as much as possible. This curbs annoying and destructive behaviors, and it’s the only ethical way to provide for a bird under your care.
Food and Foraging Enrichment for Birds
One of the most seamless ways to improve enrichment in the enclosure is by providing ample foraging opportunities. Like many other animals, pet birds exhibit a behavior known as contra freeloading. This means that they prefer working for their food rather than simply consuming the same type of food, freely fed.
To meet this behavioral need, you should create situations in which they need to search for their food and manipulate items to uncover the food. You can start small by simply hiding the food in cups around the enclosure.
As your bird gets better at foraging, up the challenge by hiding food inside items like stacked cups, crumpled paper, or even commercial food puzzles.
Larger birds benefit from foot items that they need to pick up and hold while opening it with their beak.
Enriching Toys in the Enclosure
While nutritional enrichment is a major part of caring for your pet bird, there are non-food toys you should add to your bird’s enclosure. These toys allow your bird to interact with items and solve puzzles without making eating a goal of enjoyment.
Pet stores keep a decent stock of manufactured toys, such as mirrors and cascading toys. Bells and beads are another common theme, and most items are quite colorful.
You can mimic these ideas by lacing enriching items (i.e. coffee filters, paper plates, paper cups, brown bags, corn husks) on a length of sisal or a leather strip. Hanging old books from the top of their enclosure gives them something to tear up (but prepare for the mess).
Birds should also have foot toys, or loose toys they can pick up and move around with their feet. This helps with balance and dexterity while meeting those enrichment goals. Infant rattles and key rings make great use of what you may already have, as well as stacking ups, wiffle balls, and measuring spoons on a ring.
Cycling through toys every few days keeps everything feeling new and allows you to replace items more easily when needed.
Adding Movement and Stimulation to the Enclosure
Designing your bird’s enclosure sets the basis for their enrichment opportunities. If you set a solid foundation by mimicking their natural opportunities, your bird will be much happier and healthier.
Your bird should have plenty of space and opportunity for climbing and perching when secured in their enclosure, and perches should provide a variety of textures. Perches should be an appropriate size and properly secured.
Branches from outside are a cost-effective way to brighten up their enclosure, but they should be free of pesticides. Do not collect branches near roadways; while they may appear fine, they’re likely contaminated with vehicle emissions that will make your bird sick.
Perches do not need to be stationary, and your bird will likely enjoy having a swing to manipulate as they perch. This isn’t a replacement for flock time out of their cage, but it makes the time inside much nicer.
Training Your Pet Bird
What you can train your bird to do largely depends on the type of bird you have, but everyone can benefit from this bonding time. More intelligent birds, like parrots, will behave poorly if they don’t have this social opportunity to learn and connect.
Training includes everything from teaching a shy bird it can trust you to more simplistic commands like “wave” or “fetch”. How you approach the issue depends on your connection with your bird, your bird’s personality, and what you’re trying to teach.
At the very least, set up a system utilizing positive reinforcement to ensure you don’t damage your relationship with your bird. Target training is an especially popular technique that teaches your bird to touch a certain object to guide them through certain behaviors.
Putting in the effort to enrich your bird’s life always pays off in the end.