What is Enrichment?
The act of making fuller or more meaningful or rewarding.
A gift that significantly improves or enhances the quality of life.
Enrichment, in terms of the lives of our parrots, refers to simple actions we can take to vastly improve their lives in captivity and is an integral part of responsible parrot care. It has everything to do with how we keep our parrots happy, healthy and active as well as intellectually and instinctually challenged. To do this we must first understand their physical, mental, social and psychological needs and then, based on this understanding, devise activities and provide our parrots with enrichment devices that help them meet all of these requirements. Enrichment offers the benefits of decreased stress, improved mental and physical health and reduction of behavioral problems.
Effective enrichment activities and devices make our parrots lives more interesting by stimulating natural and instinctual behaviors, encouraging physical activity, presenting them with mental challenges and allowing them to make decisions/choices as well as to develop a sense of control over their environment.
Parrots living in the wild are focused on four primary things:
- Foraging (finding food)
- Social interaction with flock
- Defining and defending territory
In captivity, all of the challenges they would be faced with in the wild have been conveniently solved for them. Unfortunately, in simplifying their lives we’ve also deprived them of the opportunities to do many things for themselves that would make their existence more fulfilling. It's critical for our bird’s well being that we attempt to provide them with opportunities to face many of the challenges that they would face in the wild.
According to Dr. Joy Mench, director of the Center for Animal Welfare at UC Davis, "for animals left without anywhere to go and nothing to do, it is not surprising that these animals begin to demonstrate what are known as abnormal and "stereotypic" behaviors, actions similar to those seen in people who suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder and other psychiatric disorders".
The good news is that studies conducted on Orange Wing Amazons at UC Davis (Cheryl Meehan) have demonstrated that providing enrichment devices to satisfy your birds instinctual needs to forage and chew as well as devices to stimulate movement and exercise can reduce stress and help avoid or eliminate undesirable and abnormal behaviors such as feather picking.
Fortunately, many of the solutions are fairly easy to implement and there are a growing number of products available to assist parrot owners accomplish many of these objectives. Some specific examples of enrichment activities we can undertake are:
- To satisfy their foraging instincts, we can provide our birds with a variety of foraging devices that need to be manipulated and that will require them to "work" for their food.
- Staging these foraging devices at multiple locations and levels throughout the cage will encourage movement and exercise
- Varying the placement and types of foraging devices will challenge them mentally.
- To provide an outlet for their natural instinct to chew, we can give our parrots a wide selection of safe, novel destructible items such as toys, cardboard boxes, and large tree branches to explore and destroy.
- We can give our parrots an interesting and varied selection of fresh fruits, vegetables and treats that will allow them the opportunity to make choices and simultaneously provide them with a nutritious diet.
- We can challenge their intellect by providing puzzle and interactive toys.
- Because our parrots are highly socialized to humans and greatly enjoy our companionship, we can spend one on one "quality time" with them for longer periods each and every day, doing with them whatever they're in the mood for at the moment and enjoy the most.
- Our parrot’s cages can contain places for them to retreat for some shelter and privacy.
- A variety of natural perches of various sizes can be provided to promote movement as well as good foot health.
Additional suggestions on enrichment activities are provided throughout our series of articles.