Enrichment for Parrots
Vicki Baldrey BVSc BSc DZooMed(Avian) PGCert Vet Ed MRCVS
RCVS Specialist in Zoo & Wildlife Medicine
Enrichment for Parrots
Enrichment is the provision of activities that allow animals to perform behaviours naturally seen in the wild. For parrots, this includes foraging for food, chewing and shredding objects, social behaviours, bathing, preening and feather care, flying and playing.
Enrichment is easy to provide. Examples are shown below. Always ensure any toys you provide are safe for your bird (for example, ensure no metal fixings that may be a source of toxins). Some birds are nervous of new things, so take it steady and respond to your bird’s body language.
Birds spend a long time foraging for food in the wild. You can mimic this in captivity in various ways. The simplest is to provide several different food bowls spaced apart, so your bird has to travel between them to find their food. Puzzle feeders can be bought or can be made at home. The simplest options are scattering the food into shredded paper or egg boxes stuffed with shredded paper. Try covering the food bowl with a piece of paper the bird has to move to get to the food. You may need to start by partially covering the food bowl, then covering completely but making a small hole in the paper, then covering completely without a hole, to build up the complexity. Birds also love to shred and destroy things so try providing fruit tree branches, cardboard boxes and tubes or old books.
***Did You Know?***
Foraging behaviour is so highly motivated that many bird will choose to spend time interacting with foraging devices even when identical food is freely available. This is a phenomenon called “contra freeloading”.
Parrots are highly social and tend to live in small groups within larger flocks in the wild. Social interaction can be provided by talking to your bird and whistling when you go into another room, to mimic the ‘contact calls’ that would be made in the wild. TV or radio can be enjoyed and there are various bird specific channels on well known online music and video platforms.
In the wild, parrots are exposed to varying levels of ultraviolet (UV) light. Exposure to UVB has an important role in birds’ metabolism, to ensure strong bones, and UVA can help your bird’s vision, so provision of a bird specific UV lamp is recommended. The photoperiod provided can be varied throughout the year to mimic natural photo periods.
Bathing is also important to maintain feather quality. Your parrot may prefer bathing in a shallow bowl or being gently misted or showered. Offer this opportunity 2-3 times per week.
This involves increasing the complexity of the bird’s environment. Providing a choice of perches (fruit tree branches are ideal), swings and rope perches, climbing toys and plants can all increase you bird’s engagement with their environment. Be sure to rotate these to increase interest, as long as you bird is not scared of new things.
Whole food items can be offered, and oversized food encourages your bird to use their feet to hold a foot item whilst they work on it with their beak. This is called podomandibulation. Fruit and vegetables can be offered on hanging skewers rather than a simple food bowl. Small pellets can be baked into commercially available ‘bird bread’ for an interesting treat.
The only limit to avian enrichment is your imagination!