Mind your beak - April Edition

WELCOME TO THE FIRST EDITION OF MIND YOUR BEAK

A monthly column to help bird owners provide the best life possible for their feathered friends, keep them happy and healthy and to give you tips and ideas to make the most out of your relationship with them. I am a passionate bird advocate and owner myself and I would love to be able to help you have a loving and lasting relationship with these sometimes forgotten and misunderstood pets.

To get us started we are going to explore an important and fun topic that is at the very crux of having a healthy and happy bird.

Parrot Enrichment

Let’s start off by looking at the benefits of enrichment:

  • Reduces boredom
  • Allows the bird to engage its natural instincts 
  • Reduces and helps avoid behavioural issues, such as feather plucking, screaming, separation anxiety, aggression, biting and over sexualisation
  • Provides mental and intellectual stimulation
  • Keeps your bird healthy and happy
  • Builds a strong bond between you and your bird


Now that you can see the benefits of providing enrichment let’s explore exactly what enrichment is

Put simply enrichment is providing an environment for your bird so it can live similarly to the life it would have in its natural habitat.

To be successful with enrichment, it needs to be tailored to the species of bird you have where possible, as each species has their own different likes and needs.

To help you get started on providing adequate enrichment for your bird I have broken everything down into four parts. Simply follow these steps and you are almost guaranteed a happy healthy bird. 

Tactile 

Just like humans, birds respond to how things feel against their body especially their beaks, feathers, and feet. Therefore, it is important to provide objects in their environment that satisfy this need.

For instance, Conures love the feeling of snuggling up to soft materials, and will quite often go to sleep cuddled up to a fluffy piece of material or toy.

Some species of birds relish the feeling of crunching and chewing things, most notably the cockatoo and Asiatic Species.

Other ways to provide a satisfying tactile environment are offering different sizes and materials of perches, providing foot toys and giving your bird access to a bath or shower. Most birds especially the rainforest species, adore the feeling of having water run over their feathers.

Remember birds are highly intelligent, and emotional animals just like humans, so giving them these opportunities not only address health issues but also keeps them mentally happy.

Sound

Birds love to talk, mimic sounds and yes at times scream! This is a natural thing for them, especially at dawn and dusk, and is something they love to do. Mostly it will be a few quick screams and they are done till the afternoon, this is normal and natural and no discouragement is needed. However, if the screaming is going on in between these hours, something else is going on and we will address this in a later issue.

Talking to your bird, is so important, you will often see them watching your mouth closely and you will be surprised what sounds they love, these will often end up being your birds first words.

In general birds tend to love sing song melodic tones - just watch how excited your bird becomes if you sing him or her a song. If you are leaving your bird home alone for long periods of time, leaving the radio on for them is a great way to combat boredom and keep your bird happy while you are away.

Incorporating toys that make lots of different sounds are also readily enjoyed. Try out different size bells, toys that play tunes, or bird safe chains and buckets so they can make their own noises by bashing the toys around.

Dietary 

Providing a fun, healthy and varied diet on a daily or at least weekly basis will keep your bird very happy indeed. Birds love food, they love the smell of it, the taste of it, the sight of it and as most bird owners know the mess of it!

Providing dietary enrichment can be as simple as chopping fruits and vegies in different shapes and sizes from one day to another. The location of how you provide the food is also important.

Don’t just give your bird food in a bowl, whilst some food in a bowl is fine, teaching your bird to forage and hunt for their food makes for a much happier and busier bird.

Foraging can be as simple as stringing green vegies between the cage bars, putting food on a long stainless steel skewer (you can buy safe bird specific ones) or hiding food and treats in pinecones, perches, artichokes or in branches. You are only limited by your imagination when it comes to providing foraging activities.

I will be doing a whole article on foraging for our next issue.

Visual

Providing your birds environment with brightly coloured toys, natural foliage, and access to the outdoors where they can watch their environment changing, provides great mental stimulation.  

Think about how boring it would be if you were subjected to the same view day in day out, birds are highly intelligent and get bored very easily.

Some birds love being in amongst it, so being able to have access to a window to watch the world go by, and placing their cage in a family room so they get to see different people and feel like part of the family is important.

Most parrots also love watching TV, especially children’s programs - the bright colours and the melodic tones can give hours of happiness to an otherwise bored bird. TV can also make a great babysitter if you must work long hours and your bird is home alone.

Social

Lastly and most importantly birds are very social animals (some species more than others) spending quality time with your bird both inside and outside the cage will not only help build the bond and relationship with your pet bird, but it also fills their need for company and social interaction just as it does for people. There are many fun games you can play with your bird, and even some quick and easy trust building games that we will go into in another issue also.

 A bird left alone with limited human and bird contact, can become very unhappy and depressed just like people - this leads to all sorts of behavioural issues that could have been avoided.

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