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Bird Care Facts - Enrichment for Birds
ENRICHMENT: IDEAS TO ENHANCE FORAGING BEHAVIOR
Enrichment involves providing an environment that allows your bird to express its natural behaviors in a captive or caged condition. Natural behaviors generally include social interaction, foraging, and feather care. Foraging often includes flying from place to place for the gathering of food. For example, some species of wild Amazons spend up to 8 hours/day involved in foraging, while in captivity, they may spend approximately 30–72 minutes per day eating a pelleted diet without traveling, manipulating food items, and not attempting to balance their own diet(s).
Studies indicate that linking a food item with an object or toy that allows for the expression of their natural behaviors are more successful. That means that the frequency of use of toys not linked to a food item often diminishes over time so the bird just loses interest. That means it is important to provide daily enrichment opportunities that involve chewing and manipulating a food item. It is important to get your bird(s) used to these new enrichment techniques before leaving them for the day.
To satisfy their natural foraging behavioral repertoire, birds in home environments need to learn to forage in their cages to acquire their food. One technique to start the bird off is to offer them Nutri-Berries and Avi-Cakes by Labeber Company in a feeding dish with large, smooth stones or crumpled paper while keeping pellets in a separate and accessible feed dish (if they eat pellets). Other foods that are their favorites can be used as well.
For larger species, there are a number of puzzle enrichment toys that you may try. These involve putting treasured foods into the device. Other ideas are suggested below.
• Wrap food bowls with newspaper or heavy paper with a piece of twine or rawhide. You may have them start by punching a hole in the top.
• Try wrapping twine, jute rope or the paper twine for making bows around an Avi-Cake to the bars of the cage to get them to eat while chewing the rope or twine. You may also try small strips of paper. This is great for the smaller birds like budgies, cockatiels, lovebirds, and small conures.
• Wrap Nutri-Berries in a square piece of paper like a wonton and adding them to the food bowl. You may also try wrapping the treasured food item in a small paper cup for them to manipulate.
• Use a portion of the Nutri- Meals Bars for each meal. This provides variety with whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and nuts, while providing balanced nutrition including balanced omega 3 & 6 fatty acids.
• With birds the size of conures or larger, a Jungle Joy may provide great chewing enrichment. The Jungle Joy satisfies natural foraging behavior combining food with chewing wood.
Companion birds are often weaned onto an all-seed diet. These seed mixes lack the normal complement of nutrients including vitamins A, D3, E and K, certain amino acids (the building blocks of protein), calcium, and some of the other minerals. Recent studies show that the balance of omega 6 and 3 fatty acids are also important for health of the immune and cardiovascular systems. Seed diets, fed over time, often results in a vitamin A deficiency, poor feather quality and a reduction in the competency of the immune system, making the bird more susceptible to infections.
Getting your bird to eat balanced foods daily helps them to stay healthy and improves the sheen on their feathers. A healthy bird is a happier bird! Balanced bird foods include pellets (not those included in seed mixes), Nutri-Berries, Avi-Cakes, and Nutri-Meals. Adding some fresh vegetables and/or greens each day is healthful. A smorgasbord may stimulate pair-bonding behavior (including screaming and territorial biting). Blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, and pomegranates add flavinoids to the diet but should be limited due to these reproductive issues. Keep away from large numbers of choices each day as your bird may interpret this as the time to think about raising a family. Warmed soft foods may also stimulate this behavior in adult birds and should be avoided.
Small Birds such as Budgerigars, Cockatiels, Lovebirds and Conures
Cockatiels and budgerigars are ground feeding seed eaters in their native habitat. They are able to balance their diet because of the large numbers of seeds that they eat (over 60 types). The number and the types of the seeds offered in our homes, however, are significantly less and are not similar so they need a balanced diet to maintain health. To stimulate their interest, try sprinkling a few small pellets on the table along with some crumbled Nutri-Berries. Both pellets and Nutri-Berries are balanced foods. To get them interested, act enthusiastic as you start pecking at the scattered foods on the table using your forefinger and your thumb to pick them up. That excitement translates into curiosity for these new foods and helps them to accept them.
Once they start pecking and eating Nutri-Berries and/ or pellets, mix these new food items into the food bowl with their seed dish. Crumbled Nutri-Berries may also be used as they look like the seeds that you are substituting. Slowly add increasing amounts of the balanced diet, so that over time, the seed is replaced with these new balanced foods. You may also be able to wedge an Avi-Cake, another balanced food, into the bars of the cage or tie it with some ribbon. Many of the birds like the texture of the Avi-Cakes and they can be used for enrichment as well.
Large Birds such as African Greys, Amazon Parrots, Cockatoos and Macaws
Getting these birds to accept new foods presents a different type of challenge. In general, they are not ground feeders so the technique described under small birds often does not work. But, the curiosity factor is very important as well as the visual impact of you seeming to eat this new and great food. Birds are highly visual and like drama, so the two combined stimulate their interest in trying this new “thing.” Pick up the food with great drama and show interest in relishing these morsels. Offer the food for several seconds and if the bird does not show any interest, you need to be very dramatic about coveting this special food. Then present the food again. This may take several sessions at home to get the bird to try these new balanced foods.
Eating with your bird and giving some of these foods while eating helps them to understand that these are foods to eat. Providing vegetables, cooked or hard scrambled eggs, cooked meat and fish and some of the true berries, mango and orange, and nuts, particularly walnuts, are great additions. Store-bought peanuts should be avoided. Try to keep the table foods to no more that 25-35% of the diet, with the balanced foods making up the remainder of your bird’s daily food consumption.