In the wild, much of a
parrot’s day is consumed by the task of finding food. In captivity, this
task has been reduced to a bare minimum leaving a lot of “free time”.
This down time often leads to boredom which in turn has been shown to lead to
the development of behavioral (screaming, feather plucking, aggressiveness) and
both mental and physical health problems.
Without an outlet for their
normal level of foraging and survival activity, it is imperative that
alternative enrichment opportunities
that encourage engagement in
other stimulating activities. This is paramount to their mental and
emotional well being.
Birds also do find time to
play in the wild, play is a natural activity for parrots.
behaviorists who have spent time observing parrots in the wild have reported
that playtime ranks second only to food gathering in priority. They
have been observed stripping bark off trees, biting off and flinging leaves and
twigs, swinging from and climbing on vines all the while chattering gleefully
with the rest of the flock.
Specific types of play
behavior noted in the wild are object manipulation, balancing games, locomotory
play, acoustic play and social play. Social play,
in which two or more birds
or species interact,
often involves scenarios such as “chase me”, “I want what you are playing with”
and “let’s pretend to fight”. Play fighting usually involves “beak
fencing”, pushing with feet or nipping at the feet and feathers of their play
partner. For older birds, mock fighting helps to keep them fit and ready
to fend off predators.
Do birds play because they
are intelligent or are they intelligent because they play? Millicent
Ficken, stated in her paper on avian play, “the answer is probably both”.
Because they are intelligent, they are capable of diverse and complex play
activities, and it is also probable that through play they learn relationships
with the environment that contribute to their plasticity of behavior and great
ecological success in many different habitats.”
Through play, a young
parrot learns to experiment with and expand his physical limits, how to interact
with his environment and his flock mates. In
young birds, playtime is part of the learning process in which birds start to
identify textures, colors, shapes and it also helps to develop coordination and
Exposure to a wide variety of objects at a young age helps to
create a more confident, less fearful bird.