Some Random New Things in the New Year

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.

fantastic foraging foot toys!

not the greatest photo, but lola working on her almond

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.

lola’s sunflower basket

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.

nautical goodies from oliver’s garden

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.

veggies and more!

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.

Implementing Parrot Enrichment: No-Brainer Foraging

November 11, 2013 § 7 Comments

A few posts ago, I summarized a few excellent articles and a DVD on parrot enrichment.  (You can read that post here.)  Although I included examples in that post, I thought it would be helpful to show how I’ve since integrated what I’ve learned about parrot enrichment into my girls’ lives.  I personally felt that the biggest takeaway from my research was just how important foraging is: it covers four out of the five major categories (occupational, physical, sensory, and nutritional) and is a natural behavior that all birds exhibit in the wild.  So I have begun integrating as many foraging opportunities as possible for my two, making sure to switch them up and to keep them guessing.

There is a myriad of excellent information about foraging on the web, and tons of sites with fantastic ideas.  My ideas draw from many of them, and are only a drop in the bucket compared to just how many brilliant ideas there are out there.  But I try to focus on natural materials, and easier foraging opportunities.  My parrots are beginning foragers, and foraging is a particular challenge with a bird as tiny as Sabrina is, so these are the few foraging tips that I’ve decided to implement for right now.  Those with more advanced parrots will probably not find this entry particularly illuminating, but if you are getting started with foraging or just looking for different, easy tips to expand your foraging repertoire, I hope this helps!

Lola’s food bowl covered with kraft paper

Lola sticking her head under the paper instead

Some of the easiest foraging toys involve simply adding paper.  The first thing I’ve started doing with Lola is simply putting some paper on top of her food bowls, and securing it with a little masking tape.  I use natural Kraft paper and Japanese washi tape.  (As a side note, I find Japanese washi tape particularly useful because it is reusable, and also because you can find it in about a billion colors and prints and patterns!  To go with my natural theme, I use natural tones [browns, tans, dark leafy greens] and a wood grain washi tape.)  It costs next to nothing and it takes about two seconds, so there’s no excuse not to do it– except that Lola absolutely doesn’t get it.  For some reason, she doesn’t understand what in the world she is supposed to do.  I can lift up the paper a million times to show her the food underneath it, but once I re-secure the paper, she stares at me like, “Well??  Where’s my food?  What am I supposed to do with this?”  She even walked on top of the paper across the bowl and looked under the bowl as if the food was hiding from her.  Silly bird.  I’ll keep trying 🙂  This is something I really want her to learn how to do because it’s one of the only ways I can think of to combine her fresh foods plus foraging.

more easy paper ideas

In fact, there’s an entire world of foraging ideas out there that just use paper.  An assortment of some of the things I use is photographed above: mini kraft paper boxes, tiny tiny kraft paper bags, slightly larger kraft paper bags, one of my rolls of washi tape, and natural mini cupcake liners.  The possibilities are endless.  For an incredibly easy fix, wrap treats, squares of bird bread, or anything else in cupcake liners or dixie cups.  If I hand Lola any nut wrapped up in a cupcake liner or a dixie cup, she knows exactly what to do, and she wastes no time getting to it.  

miniature (2.5″ x 4″) kraft paper bags

Lola foraging with her paper bag almond treat

Another thing I absolutely love are these tiny little 2.5″ x 4″ kraft paper bags.  They perfectly fit most in shell nuts and are adorable!  I wrapped one up and secured it with some thin leather cord, and Lola loved it.  The paper is actually a little bit thicker than most kraft paper bags, so it makes for a good treat wrapper.  My good friend at Avian Avenue made a post about these bags and I have been obsessed ever since.  (Actually, a lot of these ideas are things that she came up with first!!  She is a truly inspirational parrot owner and has endless ideas for foraging toys and enrichment.  The paper wrapped toy below is an original of hers, and I only found out about washi tape because of her as well.)

I buy all sizes of kraft paper bags now, and they are so versatile and easy to use.  With a slightly larger bag, you can fill it up with any assortment of treats or foot toys or anything else and just hang it up in the cage.  It’s like a parrot pinata and by changing the contents with each bag, you’ll keep your parrot guessing.  (And again, it’s something that takes about 5 seconds and costs very little!)

diy paper wrapped foraging toy materials

step two: tie knots between each treat

the finished product!

But you don’t only have to use kraft paper bags as bags.  I have some larger ones around 9″ long and I will cut them in half (so that they’re two detached sheets rather than a bag) and use them to create this paper wrapped foraging toy.  In each section, there’s a treat: in this one, an almond, a hazelnut, and a dried cranberry.  I am going to hang this up in Lola’s cage and she’ll have to forage her way to treat-dom.  You can make even longer or shorter versions of it, or put anything you can dream up in each pocket.

a ton of different foraging ideas

Those paper boxes are also great.  I put them together and poke holes through to skewer them (see the toy on the right in the above photo), but I am also going to try to side mount one with some stainless steel hardware.  Above the cardboard box in the photo is a little wooden treat box that opens.  There’s another super simple idea.  You can find little wooden treat boxes or cups like this at most craft stores, or you can buy them online.  I purchased this one from Things for Wings, where Danita is kind enough to drill holes through them, or add some stainless steel hardware to make a side-mounted foraging cup like Lola has in her cage.  And on top of that there is a vine ball, which has endless possibilities (more on vine balls below).

In the center of the above photo is actually a deconstructed toy that I skewered.  It’s actually a Planet Pleasures two that’s much larger (has two of those coconut feeders) and comes on a long piece of metal chain.  I’m not a big fan of chain and I don’t use any non-stainless steel metals, plus the toy was ginormous, so I took the toy apart and made a smaller, skewered version.  I actually really love the parts to this toy because aside from being made from great natural materials (just bamboo and coconut shells), it’s an awesome foraging feeder that requires Lola to stick her head in the coconut hole, but the upper coconut piece actually moves along the skewer and can be lifted up, so that there is no chance of her getting her head stuck.  With a lot of the foraging toys out there that consist of a wood, bamboo, coconut, plastic, etc. base with a hole in it, you must be very careful to make sure that it is properly sized for your parrot and that your parrot won’t get his or her head stuck in it while busy foraging.  This one bears no such risk and I think it’s a great toy.  Plus the bowl is very generously sized, and is a great alternative to just putting a seed mix or pellets in a normal bowl everyday.

Finally, on the left in the photo up above is another toy that I deconstructed and made my own.  I actually don’t know the name of this toy or the brand, but in store it comes with a bunch of dyed parts and other things stuffed inside the cardboard peanut base and attached to it elsewhere.  I took all of that stuff off and skewered the cardboard peanut.  I’m going to stuff it with some paper and other materials, and use it as a treat cage.

One more awesome foraging material: skewers!  Skewers are so easy to use, and they’re reusable, and they make the perfect safe toy base for any size bird.  Unlike rope or cord or chain, there’s no chance of a skewer getting tangled around your bird’s neck or toes, and they are great for toys or simply for skewering fresh veggies or food.

Lola and her cornucopia toy

Now back to vine balls.  Vine balls area amazing.  Strangely, I didn’t know this until I ordered this very cool toy from Things for Wings called the Cornucopia.  Lola has always been such a wood chipper and has never really taken to shredding, so I had really stopped buying toys with vine balls or using them on my DIY toys.  I’m not sure what possessed me to buy this toy– probably how cute it is– but it’s awesome.  It’s a whole bunch of delectable parts in a basket (which is yet another great foraging toy part), which Lola loved to begin with, but she truly went nuts for it when I finally thought of putting treats inside the vine balls.  Not only did it turn her on to a new toy part to play with, but it also got her exploring a lot more.  I would put treats in some of the vine balls on some days, other vine balls on other days, and sometimes nothing, but every single day, she checked the entire toy without fail.  And the more I introduced vine balls in other toys, she did the same thing.  One of the best things about foraging is that when your parrot learns that there could be treats lurking in anything, they are way more willing to try new toys and to dive right in, and they are willing to go to different parts of the cage to explore and find them!

vine ball foraging toy

For example, once she learned that vine balls could contain treats, she would seek them out wherever she could.  I threw together this ugly skewered vine ball and wood toy in about 10 seconds, and it kept her busy for hours.  She could chip away at the wood and she could break for snack time, all from one spot.

a skewered plastic cup, vine ball, and natural box

Here’s another easy peasy foraging toy using a vine ball.  This one’s also got a plastic cup and a little foraging box too, but it was still a breeze to make.  With plastic cups nowadays I will usually wrap the treat in paper first (like one of those mini paper bags or mini cupcake liners), unless I know the plastic is food safe.

natural foraging materials

Those little boxes are really great resources as well.  A lot of bird toy stores carry little boxes or containers in all shapes and sizes, made out of great shreddable material.  These are just a few examples.

foraging toys made from natural shreddables

Stick them on a skewer, and suddenly you have a new toy!  Lola loves this one in particular for some reason, and it’s really funny to watch her stick her whole head and half her body into this toy to fish out one measly sunflower seed.  She pretty much always has some variation of this toy in her cage, and she forages for all sorts of dry foods out of it.

Similarly, natural baskets make great foraging toys.  You can skewer them, hang them, or side mount them, and throw some stuff in there.  Alternatively they also make great foot toy buckets.

shreddable bags

In the same vein, little shreddable bags also make great foraging toys, in particular for the little guys.  I often find it challenging to create foraging opportunities for Sabrina, but this is one of her favorites.  If I stick natural items or treats or anything into a little shopping bag like this one, Sabrina will go in and fish it right out.  She loves these little bags and has gone through a ton of them.  This one in particular is from Things for Wings.  Be careful about the handles when using them and make sure they are either too small for your bird to get his head through, or large enough for him to get his whole body through.  If they are somewhere in between, I’d snip the handles.

soft balsa wood toys

Soft woods make awesome foraging toys.  Just like the balsa wood toy on the right from I Got a Woody, I often take all sorts of soft wood and push little treats into them to embed them in the wood.  It will get your bird foraging but it’ll also help get them started destroying their toys and playing more.  I do this with yucca and cork as well, as they are both very soft and great for embedding sunflower seeds or pine nuts.  Mother Pluckin’ Bird Toys carries corks in all sizes, but they also carry jumbo size ones I haven’t seen anywhere else that make awesome foot toys.  Loofah is another cool toy part that also makes a great foraging base.

an extra small fantastic foraging block

Soft woods are great for embedded treats, but hard woods can do the trick too!  The wooden block toy above is an awesome (and actually very cost effective toy) from Kris Porter called the Fantastic Foraging Block.  (They also happen to be on sale right now!)  As you can see above, you can stick hole veggies in the holes (like I did with the carrot tops), or you can put pieces of them in the slats (like I did with the actual carrot).  Another great choice is are the wood toys from Parrot’s Treasure.  I’m sure if you were handy with a drill, you could also make some awesome ones on your own.

DIY foraging toy 1

DIY foraging toy 2

DIY foraging toy 3

Don’t get me wrong– I’m absolutely not handy with a drill.  But if you’re like me, you can still buy the parts for cheap and with a little patience, turn them into really cool toys!  Here are three toys that I’m extra proud of.  The one on top has a longer channel in it and three big hole openings, but you can make them more challenging by tying leather cord in them like I did so that the treats don’t just fall out and require some manipulation.  Below that, the middle toy has a ton of fun wood to chew and destroy, but also holes embedded in the center blocks for treats.  And finally, the one below it has two long foraging tubes that also have leather strips in front of the holes to make them more challenging.  Notice that all three of them are based on my trusty stainless steel skewers as well!

DIY bridge / ladder swing

detail shot of the foraging blocks on the swing

My masterpiece is the DIY bridge / ladder swing above, which also marked my official retirement from DIY toys.  (Just kidding.  Sort of.  I don’t take anything ambitious on anymore, at least.)  But this is a really cool project, and I even managed to slip some foraging opportunities in there for Lola while she’s hanging out and swinging.

But there’s so much more.  I recently mentioned the acrylic drawer toys from Parrot Island Inc.  Still love ’em!  They do admittedly require more of an upfront investment, but they are so well made that I am sure they’ll last forever.  Another easy toy to make yourself: a measuring cup or stainless steel spoon toy.  You can use what you already have, or buy a cheap set from the store.  I also recently purchased some paper straws, which I’ve seen really cool toys made out of.  I haven’t gotten them yet but will post some ideas once I receive them and figure out how to make something.  Another thing I’m working on is creating foraging trays for my guys, both Lola and Sabrina.  They’ll be wooden trays and I’ll fill them up with wood pieces, fresh branches and leaves, and other foraging material, and hidden will be some seeds, nuts, etc. that they will forage for.  It’s a similar idea to creating a foraging food mix rather than just a dry food mix, which I’ve seen some manufacturers actually create now.  I first learned about it here (a really cool link!).

Well, that’s all I’ve got for now, until my guys advance to more difficult foraging tasks.  I hope this has given you some ideas.  For me, the key thing is to keep them guessing and keep changing it up!  You might have noticed that Lola has about a billion different types of “bowls” in her cage: three food bowls, two foraging bowls, a coconut cup (will post about that soon), skewered boxes that serve as food bowls, acrylic drawers, a stainless steel toy bucket, etc.  (Yes, Sabrina has a ton too.)  They’re never all full at once, but she knows that I might put food or treats in any of them on any given day, so she checks them all.  This keeps her busy and hunting around for food– foraging!  It’s all about keeping her mind and body busy, and keeping her enriched.  

For way more ideas and inspirational articles, definitely take a look at the following: Desi Milpacher’s article on foraging toys and Kris Porter’s two awesome enrichment books.

Lola’s Latest Cage Setup!

November 9, 2013 § 3 Comments

I have to tell you, getting my S.O. to watch the enrichment DVD from my last post with me was about the smartest thing I’ve ever done.  We were rearranging Lola’s cage yesterday (which he insisted so that we can “make sure she is fully enriched!!”) and he basically took over the operation!  I was only there to put washers in place and screw on a few wing nuts.  Actually, he did a really great job.  He configured some things in new ways that I hadn’t thought to before, and Lola really seems to be enjoying it.

the whole view!

I couldn’t get a very good photo of the whole thing because of the way the room is– this is about the best I could do.  But it’s the whole picture, with Lola on the top left in the photo.

with the door open

So here it is with the door open. The first thing you see is that there’s her trusty double-sided ribbonwood perch from the Birdsafe Store right on the door, and a cute little flagstone porch at the bottom from Bird on the Rocks.  Her foot toy bucket is next to it, on the left.  (Unfortunately, the company that made this awesome stainless steel bucket– Grey Feather Toys– is no longer in business, it seems.  It’s really a bummer because it was one of our absolute favorites.)

the upper left-hand side of the cage

On the upper left, there’s an awesome grapevine wood perch that you can’t see too well here, but Lola loves, and a mini side-mounted foraging pot, both from Things for Wings.  The stainless steel toy in the back there is a MegaFone, also from GFT and no longer available, and the toy that Lola is playing with in the photo is one of Kris Porter’s fantastic foraging blocks.  The big wooden slab toy with the coins is from I Got a Woody.

left side view

Here’s a better view of that mini foraging pot.  Isn’t it cute?  Right in front of that,  the little stubby perch is an awesome willow step from the Little Perch Company— she is obsessed with ripping the chunky bark off of these.  I actually originally purchased them for Sabrina but it turns out Lola likes them a lot more.  Below that is a pretty beat up Things for Wings toy that she loves, as usual, and then a gorgeous sandblasted manzanita forked perch also from Things for Wings.

the center / back of the cage… and Lola photobombing it

In the center there’s her absolute favorite supreme cotton rope swing from Big Beaks Bird Toys, a perennial favorite.  Sadly, it’s blocking a great Avian Stainless noisy toy, the Major Tude.  Behind all that is one of those extremely cool shelf-style cork perches from I Got a Woody.  I was going to stick it in the like a normal shelf perch, but my S.O. insisted that we angle it so that she had to climb it.  I was skeptical that it would be wide enough for her to be able to do so, or that my clumsy bird would be able to make her way up, but I let him try it.  To my surprise, Lola absolutely loved it!!  She spent a good while on the perch climbing, inspecting, and chewing it up.

Lola on her cork shelf

Below that is a rope perch, the last one we have left from GFT 😦  We are really sad about that.  But the S.O. took it and wound it in a cool way so that it goes from the center back of the cage all the way up to the front, right-hand side of the cage, almost like stair case.  I think Lola likes this mode of transportation from one side to the other.  It also means that I can hang more toys in the center area of the cage and she can actually reach them!

the right side of the cage

Here’s the right side.  You can see that the rope perch goes all the way up, and there are several skewered toys around it.  First is just a simple pandan box on a skewer, which is one of the ways I get Lola to forage for some of her food.  Behind that towards the back is the Basswood Stairway to Heaven from I Got a Woody, which I skewered.  You can barely see the last skewered toy I just realized– you can kind of see a wood chunk on the far right– but that’s an ugly foraging toy I made for Lola.  In that back corner area there are two food bowls (one you can’t really see, but it’s on the left of the pumice perch), and of course the very noticeable pumice perch.  The look of those perches still cracks me up, but hey, they get the job done.  Down below, there’s a big beautiful Things for Wings Toy, cornered by a lovely sandblasted manzanita perch and a Manu Mineral perch on the left.

view from the right side feeder door

One last angle so that you can see the acrylic foraging toy in the corner.  I absolutely love these toys, made by Parrot Island Inc.  I am very conscious of using food-safe plastics for foraging toys, but the vast majority of foraging toys on the market are all made with polycarbonate, which has BPA.  Parrot Island Inc.’s toys are all made with acrylic, which is food safe.  They are also incredibly thick and durable and very well made!  I highly recommend them.  You can also see another adorable little foraging pot on the right, and then a cool natural wood perch that actual swivels and can be configured to point at any angle!  That’s from Expandable Habitats.  I had forgotten about that perch for a while but it’s great for those hard to reach spots when a straight perch just won’t do.

And there it is!  I think he did an awesome job of designing it.  There’s a great mix of natural wood perches, from sandblasted manzanita to grapevine wood to cork to willow to ash, a pumice perch, a flagstone perch, a soft cotton rope perch, and platforms as well.  There are snappy wood toys, foraging toys, skewered toys, softer cork toys, noisy toys, shreddable toys, pretty toys, and ugly toys.  There’s a nice swing and even a crooked perching surface.  Lola seems extremely pleased with the new look herself, which is of course what matters most.

Learning about Parrot Enrichment

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

social enrichment: Charles (rest in peace) and Sabrina telling secrets (this is a travel cage, not their regular cage)

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.

occupational enrichment: exercising the mind through a foraging opportunity

occupational enrichment: exercising the body by climbing

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.

physical enrichment: a separate play area, outside of the cage

physical enrichment: getting outside for some natural sunlight

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.

sensory enrichment: her first time trying loofah, a new tactile sensation for Sabrina

sensory enrichment: olfactory enrichment through bird-safe essential oils

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.

nutritional enrichment: Lola foraging for some fresh veggies

nutritional enrichment: an ugly but simple and effective homemade foraging toy

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!

  1. Laura Ford, “Go Outside!” available at http://www.phoenixlanding.org/blog/2012/06/go-outside/
  2. Peggy’s Parrot Place blog post, “Enriching your parrot’s life,” available at http://zoologica.wordpress.com/2011/07/07/1186/
  3. Robin Shewokis, Enriching Your Parrot’s Life (DVD)
  4. Kathleen Snipes, “Natural State Aspects of Avian Foraging,” available at http://www.phoenixlanding.org/blog/2009/07/avian-foraging/
  5. Liz Wilson, “Enrichment for your Parrot,” available at http://www.northernparrots.com/enrichment-for-your-parrot-blog75/
  6. 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
  7. 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

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