September 22, 2014 § 4 Comments
Fall is here… which means some of Lola’s very favorite produce is also in season: cranberries, pomegranates, and squash galore! I dropped by our wonderful local farmer’s market today to see what I could pick up. I grabbed a whole bunch of fresh, delicious fruits and veggies, but was also introduced to something new: a cheese pumpkin! One of the farmers described it as a little creamier than normal pumpkins, and recommended I try it since I really like butternut squash. (I didn’t mention it was for my parrot!) I picked up a miniature one to try.
He’s a cute little guy, isn’t he? I decided I’d roast him up and serve him to Lola for dinner. One of my favorite ways to serve mini pumpkins to her is as a bowl, stuffed with her nightly mash. (One of the many wonderful contributors to the forum Avian Avenue, Saroj, shared this awesome idea!) Lola absolutely loves it. I like to roast them, then scoop out some of the insides, and replace them with her dinner. Of course, I save the insides too and especially the seeds, as she loves eating those as well.
Tonight’s dinner was the Avian Organics Quick Serve, one of Lola’s very combinations. I added some fresh pomegranate seeds to the finished product, then put it all inside her little cheese pumpkin and into her bowl.
Do you think she liked it? I absolutely love watching her go after her dinner with gusto! She actually ate and destroyed a huge amount of the pumpkin, more so than usual. Of course there is some waste involved as she’d probably burst if she consumed the entire pumpkin, but I think the foraging, enrichment, and nutritional value are worth it. Pumpkins are extremely high in Vitamin A, and contain others like Vitamin E and B. Plus, if you scoop out a good amount of pumpkin to save for future meals, you can minimize waste. It’s such a fun and creative way to serve meals, and even my picky eater goes after this healthy treat quite zealously!
January 16, 2014 § 2 Comments
2014 has only just begun and it already feels like a whirlwind! Goodness, sometimes life can really get in the way. 🙂 Anyway, just a few random updates here with no particular threading holding everything together.
First up, Lola has brand new all-time favorite foot toys! The wonderful Kris Porter of Parrot Enrichment designed some amazing and enticing foot toys, exclusive to Things for Wings. They are awesome! They are perfect for a smaller in shell almond (I usually buy Lola these chunky big kahuna ones because they are much more challenging, but these holes are only 3/4″ I believe, so only smaller ones will fit). I lodged a few inside the foraging holes and let her work away. They drive her nuts because she can’t get the almond out without actually breaking into the wood. It’s one of the few foraging toys that combines both visibility of the treat but also more of a challenge. I have trouble with increasing the difficulty rate of a lot of Lola’s foraging because for her, once it’s out of sight, it’s out of mind. But these give her visual confirmation of a reward, and also make her work much harder for it than a lot of my more simple foraging toys.
On the topic of Things for Wings, we’ve gotten two awesome packages from them in the past month or two, but keep forgetting to take photos. I did snap one of her gorgeous Sunflower Basket, which is both a toy and a forager and a perching area all in one! I’m wondering if it will fit in her cage. I’m planning on rearranging the whole cage soon, though, and will definitely be adding a lot of our new perches (like the Fantastic Foraging Perch or the chunky willow bark foraging perch!) so I will have photos soon. Sabrina also got some cute little toys.
What’s that? More toys? Well, I couldn’t resist placing an order with Oliver’s Garden before they shut down for new year renovations. This one was just a small one but we got some awesome goodies– Lola’s beloved crabby toy, an awesome new lobster toy that has stainless steel hardware to be side-mounted, as well as an awesome hitching post perch for Sabrina and a tiny maple candy toy too. To fit in with Sabrina’s all natural oasis, I switched out the colorful beads below the perches with some natural ones, but it still looks gorgeous. I’m thinking of using it as a foraging platform for her and putting some natural materials in it and maybe some sprinkles of seed or crumplets for her to pick at. I love that she will be able to perch on the small, natural wood perches on the side.
In other news, here’s a photo of a big batch of mixed veggies I made the other day. It had a mix of fresh and dry ingredients: sweet pea shoots, broccoli, kale, bok choy, watercress, coconut, pomegranate, red peppers, carrots, mulberries, mango, goji berries, figs, laver (seaweed), corn, peas, sesame seed, dandelion, and alfalfa. I think that’s everything. For some reason it was still very wet and my attempt to freeze it didn’t pan out well but I’ll keep trying.
November 21, 2013 § 1 Comment
My latest batch of fresh veggies looked particularly colorful and lovely. I normally steer clear of things like beets because I personally find them vile, but they are quite healthy and they do add a rich color, so when I saw some gorgeous ones on sale at the farmer’s market, I decided to add them. I also added another ingredient that normally I’d never buy for myself: radishes. I think they’re gross but I do think texturally they add a nice variety to the chop.
Otherwise everything was pretty much as usual: kale, broccoli leaves, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, acorn squash, delicata squash (my new favorite squash!), pumpkin, butternut squash, assorted colorful peppers (sweet and spicy), and pomegranates. At least I think that’s everything looking at the photo.
And that’s the finished product. Looks nice, doesn’t it? I think the beets and the turnips really do add some depth, purely visually speaking. Normally it doesn’t look quite as lovely as this! I like to chop everything extra finely so that Lola can’t pick out the bits of things that she likes and only eat those. My arms were aching by the end of this but I think it’s worth it.
That photo of the mix didn’t include the squash, but that’s because I’m still having trouble figuring out how to both cook it and chop it very finely without it simply turning into mush. So as you can see I have it cubed, but it’s still pretty large. So I guess Lola can pick those out… thwarting my best attempts. Anyway, I mix all of this good stuff up with their fresh sprouts and some supplemental foods, and that’s their morning meal.
As some of you might know I don’t freeze any of my veggie mixes because Lola refuses to eat it and because the texture gets disgusting, but I recently read this awesome blog post by Laura Ford and it gives me hope. I actually feed a lot of different dryer supplemental foods as is, so adding them into the mix is an interesting idea. I might try to make a big master batch of veggies along with all of the dry stuff and see how it freezes and more importantly what the girls think about it!
November 15, 2013 § Leave a comment
No big projects being tackled right now, but we’ve made three small improvements this week: a much better grain bake, a softer perching area for Lola, and yet another cool foraging pot for Lola’s cage!
After my first failed grain bake, I got some suggestions from friends about how to make the texture of the grain bake a bit more palatable. This time, I used the same ingredients, but added sweet potato puree rather than chunks of sweet potato, and mixed it into all of the grains. I was told this would create a more risotto-like texture, which would resemble my birds’ usual nightly mash quite a bit more. I also sprinkled some Totally Organics pellets on top.
It doesn’t look pretty (and the pellets got very puffy!), but Lola liked this one a lot, lot more! The texture is much softer and although still not like my normal mashes, Lola really enjoyed it and even ate the pellets. Sabrina still wouldn’t touch this, but she also isn’t a big fan of sweet potatoes, so I’m not surprised. But at least this one won’t go to waste! I don’t think this will replace my nightly mashes, but I might decide to make some every once in a while and keep some in the freezer since it is a nice option that Lola seems to enjoy.
The next mini project was wrapping the top of Lola’s cage door with some extra comfy hemp rope. I’ve noticed that she has taken a liking to sitting on top of the cage door a lot. Unlike a lot of cages which have a larger square metal bar on top that provides a more substantial perching surface, Lola’s is just one of the 3/16″ stainless steel bars. I was worried that it wasn’t comfortable or good for her feet to be perching up there so much, so I wrapped it in thick hemp rope. It took a while but the rope is very thick and durable and provides a much nicer perching surface for her.
Lola seems to approve!! I think it adds a nice touch to the cage as well. She also likes to chew on it a little but thankfully the rope is very thick and durable.
Finally, I added yet another foraging pot to her cage, but this one is big!! It’s the awesome Coconut Foraging Pot from Things for Wings. It’s awesome. It’s actually an entire half of a coconut with the husk and everything still in tact. Because it’s split in half, there is a lot of natural fiber exposed– so it’s both a chew toy and a smooth foraging pot in one. Lola loves chewing on coconut pieces with the husk still attached. It’s shreddable, tear-able, and tough, and she loves this pot. I’m trying to encourage her to use all of the space in her cage more (she typically uses the upper perches and then goes to the ground floor to forage, but doesn’t use the middle to much), and using foraging pots is a great way to do that. I’ll put a noticeable treat in there for her and she’ll get wandering over.
That’s all from us for today. More next time 🙂
November 6, 2013 § 9 Comments
One of my good friends over at Avian Avenue recently inspired me by her purchase of the DVD, Enriching Your Parrot’s Life, by Robin Shewokis. This sent me on another researching spree about all types of parrot enrichment. I found some awesome articles on the web (all linked below), and also ended up purchasing the DVD too, from Busy Beaks. I so very highly recommend it for all parrot owners! It was an excellent resource and a great learning opportunity for me. This new dose of learning has really provided me with some fantastic enrichment ideas and made me re-commit myself to making sure that Lola and Sabrina lead fulfilling and enriching lives. I’m going to sum up some of the things I’ve learned in this entry, and then in part two (a separate entry), I’ll talk about actually implementing these ideas and my plans for Lola and Sabrina.
Getting Started: Enrichment as a Process
First I’ll start off with a concept that Robin’s DVD explained: “enrichment is a process.” I loved how she focused on researching natural behaviors and targeting those evolutionary habits in the enrichment process. For example, as I mentioned earlier, Lola is more of a ground forager who prefers climbing over flying. Budgies too like to forage on the ground for germinated seeds and grasses. One of the things I’m working on for both of them is creating a foraging tray or shelf, where I will put natural materials like wood, vine balls, maybe some dried branches or leaves, etcetera, and also hide some treats in there, like a few sunflower seeds or in shell nuts for Lola, or millet and canary grass seed for Sabrina. Lola’s wild counterparts also like to carve out cavities in trees. To reflect that behavior, I’ve been giving her more opportunities to forage in wooden cavities.
Another concept I really liked, that that almost all of the articles and the DVD explained, is the idea of different types of enrichment. Robin identifies six herself, but in my research online I’ve found that everybody categorizes them differently. Of course, a lot of them overlap. I actually liked the way one of the articles, by David Woolcock, classified them, as I think his umbrella categories capture a lot of what the other articles cover and then some: social, occupational, physical, sensory, and nutritional. I’m going to discuss each one in turn, but this discussion is fairly repetitive of the articles linked below, with a few of my own thoughts thrown in.
But as a caveat, importantly, Robin stresses that you don’t need to provide every single type of enrichment every single day. There is such a thing as “over-enrichment.” The goal is to offer choices, as every parrot would have in the wild, but not necessarily to overstimulate. Instead, she suggests maybe assigning one type of enrichment to everyday of the week in particular. I think that most of us will find that some of the tactics we use will actually enrich in more than one way, so that we are enriching in multiple ways each day inadvertently, but I think it’s important to keep in mind that we don’t need to be running around trying to activate every possible type of enrichment all the time.
The Types of Enrichment
Now let’s start discussing each type. First up is social enrichment. We all know that our parrots tend to be flock animals. Cape Parrots, for example, typically travel in smaller flocks of up to 20 parrots, but flocks of 80 can gather at food sites. Budgies, on the other hand, can be found traveling in flocks of hundreds and even thousands! And then there are some parrots that tend to stick in pairs. The important thing, however, is that they all have some sort of social interaction and group dynamic. For those who have their own flocks, and in particular same-species flocks or parrots in pairs, social enrichment is an easy one to check off the list. But for those of us who do not, or for those of us with two parrots that are dramatically different in size and originate from completely separate continents, I think we should strive to do a bit more to provide social enrichment for our parrots ourselves. Some examples are easy: talking to your bird, playing, giving scratches, and other interactions. But things like training and positive reinforcement, or flight recall practice can also count. More ideas include reading to your bird, singing with your bird, dancing (if your bird is so inclined, as Lola is!), and more.
Bottom line ideas for social enrichment: same-species friends, other species friends, talking/singing/dancing to or with your parrot, training and positive reinforcement, flight recall, interacting with your parrot in general.
Next is occupational enrichment. This one is less intuitive by name, but I think the concept is pretty easily understood. As David Woolcock describes it, occupational enrichment is enrichment that exercises the mind or the body, such as giving your parrot challenges to overcome, and allowing your parrot to fly. Foraging opportunities probably come directly to mind: giving our parrots foraging opportunities challenges them to work for their food, enriching them and preventing boredom all the same. Even something as simple as covering the food bowl with some kraft paper and securing it with some tape, or just switching up the positions of the food bowls, would create a foraging opportunity. Some very talented parrots also seem great at working on puzzle toys or more mechanical toys. This isn’t Lola or Sabrina’s strong suit, but would definitely count as occupational enrichment.
Exercising the body is, of course, equally important, but I’d like to expand it beyond just flight to also include climbing, swinging, and swaying opportunities. I am a big proponent of free flight and try to give my parrots plenty of opportunities to fly. But as I said above, Lola naturally prefers climbing to flying, so I also give her climbing opportunities through vine-like ropes that she can climb and swing from, boings, climbing nets, and swings. She absolutely loves these types of “perches” and often prefers them to stationary, bolt-on perches. Sabrina, interestingly, even prefers to sleep on swings rather than stationary perches.
Bottom line ideas for occupational enrichment: foraging opportunities, changed food bowl positions, puzzle toys, training through positive reinforcement, other challenges, flying, climbing, swinging, and other exercise.
Third is physical enrichment, in relation to the type of enclosures we keep our parrots in and the elements of them. I think it should also count play areas and play stands (perhaps a more intuitive name for this category might be environmental enrichment). So your parrot’s physical environment can certainly be a source of enrichment: is the cage big enough for your parrot to spread its wings? Sabrina’s is even big enough for her to fly (although that’s a lot easier with a tiny bird like her). What types of elements are in the cage? Perches, swings, boings, toys, etcetera all fall under this category. How often do you change the environment? This is something I am working on doing more of: rearranging the cage setup, even if it’s just switching around a perch and a few toys a week. Beyond cages, play stands and play areas and gyms are certainly another sort of physical enrichment. Likewise, those lucky enough to own outdoor aviaries provide an excellent source of physical enrichment. But even just taking parrots outside for some natural sunlight and a change of scenery is another great way to provide physical enrichment. Another thing I like to try to do everyday is make sure that Lola visits at least one different room everyday, for a simple change of scenery.
Bottom line ideas for physical enrichment: thinking about cage size and setup, thinking about cage elements, rearranging cage toys and setup, changing orientation or position of the cage, providing play stands and gyms, providing an outdoor aviary or just making trips outdoors, visiting a different room everyday.
Next up is sensory enrichment, which I think includes several of Robin’s categories (auditory, visual, olfactory, and tactile). Auditory enrichment is something that I definitely wasn’t really thinking about before reading these articles and watching this video. Some suggestions from the DVD included baby toys or bird toys that say phrases or make the sounds of wild birds or other animals. But even more simply, noisy toys like bells or stainless steel toys (my girls love the ones from Avian Stainless) can provide ample auditory enrichment. I’ve also found that Lola and Sabrina absolutely love watching YouTube videos of their own species that make their own natural sounds, which also leads me into visual enrichment. Videos and photos of other birds really get my two’s attention, but even things like moving the level or position of perches in the cage, which will in turn change a parrot’s line of vision and view, will provide visual enrichment. Changing the toys in the cage too will provide visual enrichment as it will change the “look” of the cage.
Olfactory enrichment is another type of enrichment I really didn’t think about. I would be very careful about this one, as obviously many fragrances (candles, oils, etcetera) can be very harmful to our parrots. But essential oils certainly fall under this category, and as I’ve written about before, my two have responded very well to diffusing bird-safe essential oils. My friend also suggested some natural scents like rosemary, and I would throw in other fragrant plants like eucalyptus or mint. Even some ceylon cinnamon sticks or other fragrant herbs like star anise would be sources of olfactory enrichment.
Lastly, tactile enrichment is something we’re all probably pretty good at. This would include many different things we probably already do: a variety of perching surfaces, different textures in toys (hardwood, softwood, natural wood with bark, types of rope/twine, cloth or cotton, plastic for those who use it, metal parts, etc.). But so many other things can also fall under this category: bathing, foot toys, utilizing feathers in toys, varying the size of the food we provide our parrots (e.g. tiny pieces or big chunks or even whole fruit!), and even giving ice cubes to our parrots.
Bottom line ideas for sensory enrichment: (auditory) noisy toys, sounds of wild birds, youtube videos, music for parrots; (visual) videos or photos of other birds, shifting perch levels, changing toys; (olfactory) bird-safe essential oils, fragrant plants and herbs; (tactile) varying perching surfaces, varying toy textures and parts, bathing, providing foot toys, utilizing feathers, varying the size of food, providing whole fruits, creating foraging trays, giving ice cubes to our parrots.
Last one: phew! Nutritional enrichment. Like sensory enrichment, a lot can fall under here! Of course, I think there is a lot of overlap with this one and occupational enrichment, at least as far as foraging goes. I think that encouraging our parrots to forage for their food is such an important part of keeping them happy, “busy,” and enriched. Although I still haven’t figured out a really good way to get Lola to forage for her fresh food, aside from covering her food bowls, she does have to work for her dry food and her treats. I skewer a lot of foods, put them in foraging toys or boxes, wrap them in dixie cups or cupcake liners, etcetera. She’s not a brain surgeon, and hasn’t figured out those really complicated foraging toys. But that’s okay with me. In the wild, parrots might just be flying to another branch on a tree and picking a fruit off of it– that’s still foraging. Something as simple as sticking fresh veggies in the hole of a foraging toy, but with the veggie still easily accessible (see above), counts as foraging– the toy will swing as the parrot tries to pick at the vegetable, requiring a bit more maneuvering than simply picking food out of a bowl or being spoon fed. Foraging can be simple!
But there’s a second aspect of nutritional enrichment, which is the source of the nutrition, or the food itself. Robin talks about how important it is to keep diet choices novel and exciting: if you read my previous post containing my ponderings about variety, you’ll know this is something I’m thinking a lot about lately, and I still haven’t come to a conclusion. But Robin believes that we can prevent food boredom by offering variety and saving favorites to encourage foraging or reinforce training. (The logic is, ice cream sundaes might be your favorite food. But you’d probably get tired of them too if you were fed one every single day.) Another idea is to make sure we are utilizing seasonal produce, which will naturally force us to keep the diet more novel and exciting as the months change.
Finally, we should also be thinking about food presentation or size. In the wild, our parrots aren’t getting all their fruits and veggies pre-chopped. Lola loves diving into and destroying a whole fruit, or most recently, a whole mini pumpkin. Obviously, there is more waste involved with this, so I don’t do it all the time, but she really loves it when I do. I think Sabrina might have a heart attack if suddenly an entire apple showed up in her cage, but she does love it when I stick an entire huge leaf of chard or kale in there.
Bottom line ideas for nutritional enrichment: foraging, foraging, foraging!, keeping dietary choices novel and exciting, offering a variety of foods, keeping food seasonal, offering food in different sizes, offering whole fruits or veggies.
What’s Next and Resources
As you can see, I really learned a lot. (As a side note, there is even more in the DVD!!) And I feel like this research really invigorated my desire to “do right” by my parrots, and make sure that they are being enriched everyday– maybe not in every single possible way, but making sure to keep things fresh and interesting for them. Like I said above, as I begin to implement all of these types of enrichment, I hope to write a second entry that discusses practical and easy tips to help you enrich your parrots too. There are tons of fabulous resources out there already (Kris Porter’s enrichment books come to mind) to get you started, and I’ll throw in a few of my own tips. Until then, enjoy the excellent resources below!
- Laura Ford, “Go Outside!” available at http://www.phoenixlanding.org/blog/2012/06/go-outside/
- Peggy’s Parrot Place blog post, “Enriching your parrot’s life,” available at http://zoologica.wordpress.com/2011/07/07/1186/
- Robin Shewokis, Enriching Your Parrot’s Life (DVD)
- Kathleen Snipes, “Natural State Aspects of Avian Foraging,” available at http://www.phoenixlanding.org/blog/2009/07/avian-foraging/
- Liz Wilson, “Enrichment for your Parrot,” available at http://www.northernparrots.com/enrichment-for-your-parrot-blog75/
- Karen Windsor, “Not doing enough for your parrot? Get creative!” available at http://www.parrots.org/pdfs/all_about_parrots/reference_library/behaviour_and_environmental_enrichment/PS%2018%204%20Nov%2006%20KW.pdf
- David Woolcock, “Enriching lives: One parrot at a time,” available at http://www.parrots.org/pdfs/all_about_parrots/reference_library/behaviour_and_environmental_enrichment/Enrich_PS19_4.pdf
November 4, 2013 § Leave a comment
Patricia Sund’s blog post on her grain bake has been spreading like wildfire. I decided to give it a try and see if it was something that my girls would like, too. Normally, their dinnertime meal is a cooked mash that I make fresh every night. My little princesses have never taken well to eating anything that has been previously frozen and reheated, with the one exception of bird bread. But I figured I’d give it a shot, at least a miniature one in case it wasn’t a hit. I made mine in a small (about five inch) pie plate, rather than one of the larger baking dishes, just to test it out.
I used a base of several organic and GMO-free grains and legumes. I think all in all there was tricolor sprouted quinoa, three kinds of sprouted lentils, wheat berries, brown rice, rye berries, spelt, pearled barley, bulgur, and buckwheat groats.
Next, I threw in a variety of fresh, organic, and seasonal fruits and vegetables, including several of Lola’s favorites: butternut squash, carrots, cranberries, and pomegranate arils. I filled it up with water and into the oven it went at 350 degrees.
It cooked more quickly than I’d expected, but then again it was a very small portion. I just let it bake until all of the water had been soaked up by the grains and legumes, which probably took no more than 30 or 35 minutes. I’m not sure why, but I thought that when it came out of the oven, it would be solid in texture like a bird bread or like a baked cracker, but instead everything keeps its own independent consistency. (It makes sense; there is no agent to stick any of it together. Not sure why I was expecting any different.) It is actually somewhat similar to their normal mash, but the grains are harder and less mushy than I typically got on the stovetop.
The bad news is, my girls haven’t taken to it. I knew Sabrina wouldn’t go for any of the veggies but she snubbed the grains too. I think they are a bit al dente for her tastes. Lola, too, wasn’t impressed, which surprised me, because she is generally a pretty good eater. She completely ignored all the veggies and fruits with the exception of the squash. That one threw me for a loop because she loves them all fresh. And she isn’t a huge fan of the grains, but she does love the baked lentils. Not sure why she is being so picky about the rest.
The good news is, I made very little, so there isn’t too much waste, and I’m letting Lola pick the lentils out of it since she does like those. All in all, it’s a great recipe and it’s very easy to make, but my guys wouldn’t eat it. I might try again with more water to see if maybe a mushier consistency is more palatable to them, but until then, I guess I’m cooking them a fresh mash every night!
November 2, 2013 § 3 Comments
I was asked by a friend to help her out with how to get started sprouting. As a big believer in sprouting, I am more than happy to help! It’s intimidating at the outset, but with the right sprouter, it can be really simple. These photos are admittedly pretty boring but I figured they would help with the exposition.
To get started, this is all you need. A sprouter of your choice, and some seeds or grains to sprout. I use the BioSnacky glass jar sprouter, but another easy option is the Easy Sprouter. (I did a comparison of the two sprouters here.) My sprouting mix of choice for convenience purposes is Totally Organics All-in-One Seed Mix, which I like (and think is particularly good for beginners) because it contains only seeds and grains, and no legumes. This is important because with seeds and grains, you can feed them simply soaked before they are fully sprouted, whereas with legumes, you need to actually sprout them before they are safe to feed. For this reason, I always sprout my legumes separately.
Now that you’ve got your supplies, the first step is to portion out how much you want to sprout. I have a small flock, so I don’t sprout all that much. This is probably about half a cup or so? Remember that once you soak and sprout, the portion will at least double in size, if not more.
Next, you have to rinse them a few times. I fill up the sprouter with water, put the cap on, swirl it around a few times, shake it up as vigorously as I can, and drain. Repeat that two times. This is to clean off the seeds/legumes initially (notice that the water is a little bit cloudy the first time).
Then, you can fill it up with water one last time, put the cap on, and set it on the counter to let it soak overnight (or 8-10 hours).
Here they are the next morning– the photo doesn’t show it that well, but the sprouts really expand and soak up a ton of water.
Drain one more time, and now you’re ready to feed! At least, the initial feeding is good to go. I only fed a small portion, so what’s left you can leave on the counter to continue draining. Make sure that two to three times a day, you are doing one more rinse and drain, just to make sure that the sprouts stay damp and the atmosphere in the jar stays humid.
And that’s it!! So easy, and your parrots will thank you for it!