Pet Bird Enrichment Ideas
If you have recently adopted a bird, you will want to do your best to ensure their well-being. While food, water and a suitable cage are considered the basics, environmental enrichment is not optional. By taking birds from the wild into the domestic environment, we remove the stimulation and enjoyment they have from their natural habitat. To compensate, we need to enrich the domestic environment in which we place them. Without such environmental enrichment for birds, they will develop symptoms of stress which can threaten their well-being and reduce their lifespan.
At AnimalWised, we provide some pet bird enrichment ideas. These are the elements in a bird's environment which can help them to life a full and happy life in our homes.
The importance of environment for pet birds
Although there are a minority of exceptions, birds are known for their ability to fly. While some of us may have homes where our pet birds can be allowed to fly at will, most will need to remain in a cage. This is for the safety of the bird, as well as allowing us the ability to keep them as a companion animal. No bird should be kept in a cage permanently. They should be allowed opportunity to fly in a larger space when possible.
A pet bird's cage needs to have some basic features. For example, although they will not be able to fly freely inside the cage, they will need to have plenty of room to spread out their wings and beat them enough to fly from one area to another.
Necessities of a bird's cage
At AnimalWised, we mainly recommend large cages with lots of horizontal space to allow a flight over longer distances. Round cages are not suitable as they produce insecurity and a feeling of exposure in the birds. Aviaries and large individual cages are ideal if we really want our bird to feel they live somewhere as close to their natural habitat as possible. It must be made from non-toxic materials as birds will chew on their bars.
The bird cage must also have the following elements without interfering or hindering the movements of the bird in the cage:
- Water dispenser
- Cuttlefish bone
The perches we place inside a birdcage should be made from natural materials where possible. Actual branches from trees are ideal and inexpensive. This is because the bird will need to wear down their claws, something which is not possible with most plastic perches. Cuttlefish bones for birds are important pet bird enrichment as they allow them to maintain conditioning of their beak.
Toys can be especially entertaining for large birds, although swings and bells can be enjoyed by virtually all types of pet bird. These toys should be kept in their cage, but they should also be given different objects to play with when outside. Many birds will enjoy playing with objects which are not designed to be toys for birds, but you must ensure it is something safe for them to play with.
Finally, an often overlooked factor in a bird's environmental enrichment is cage placement. Too often a bird's cage is placed somewhere convenient for their guardian, not for the bird themselves. Do not place them somewhere with a draft, changeable temperature, loud noises, distraction, contamination or other factors which can cause stress in birds.
Remember that birds must be able to receive sunlight on a daily basis to synthesize vitamin D and calcium either outside or with the window open. However, too much direct sunlight without shade can also be harmful.
Physical exercise for pet birds
As we have stated above, the facilitation of flying is a very important part of a pet bird's enrichment. If a bird is unable to fly, they are not exercising their nature, something which can be very harmful to birds. The amount a bird will want to fly will depend on the individual, but providing the opportunity is important.
Facilitating flight will vary according to the space and the bird themselves. If you have brought upa bird from birth, they are less likely to fly away as they know have always associated their environment as home. If you have adopted an adult bird, they may be more of a flight risk.
When allowing the bird to fly within the home, ensure they are unable to escape from the room they are in. If you have other pets such as cats which may try to catch the bird, ensure they are not in the same room together. Also, provide as large a cage as possible to facilitate flight when they are enclosed.
Learn more about pet birds and flying with out article on whether you should clip a bird's wings.
Most birds love to swim and enjoy playing with water. It is a fun and relaxing activity they regularly do in their natural environment, usually in groups. In addition to providing them with some fun, bathing also prevents mites and other external parasites.
In any good pet store, you will find small containers exclusively for birds to bathe in. This is a shallow, but stable bath which allows the bird to dip into the water, bathe their wings or simply play. We can also fashion a bird bath out of a dish which can serve the purpose of a drinking water dish. We must ensure there is an edge to the bird bath so the pet bird can perch on it. Proper maintenance is also required to ensure hygiene with the water best replenished every day.
Food is part of a bird's environmental enrichment. A bird's diet should always be quality and accurate according to the nutritional needs of the specific species. Before going to the store and buying any kind of seed, research about the required nutrition of the given species. Each type of bird requires certain seeds and does so in a particular ratio.
Some birds, for example, are insectivores at certain stages of their life (robin, blackbird or lark) so they will need this extra nutrition that only insectivorous paste or dried insects can provide. Likewise, many species benefit from eating certain types of green shoots, fruit and vegetables.
We can incorporate food into there environmental enrichment by providing birdseed hangers or dispensers. Again, these should only be incorporated with the needs of the specific bird or birds in mind. Speak to a veterinarian with experience of exotic pets to learn more.
Learn more about what you can and cannot feed a pet bird with our article on what food parrots eat.
Birds have very sensitive hearing. They love the sounds of the environment and the music their fellow birds emit. For them, it is not simply a way of communicating, it also relaxes them and makes them happy.
This is why it is very important to give your bird sound stimulation. The most suitable times of day for this are at first light, noon and in the evening. These three timeframes are when they are most active and receptive.
You can search the Internet for songs from members of their own species, conventional music you like and even sing yourself. What is most important when choosing music for your bird to see what they respond to. If you see signs of stress in the bird when playing loud music, stop and play something more gentle. Just as we have our preference for music, so do our pet birds.
Most birds are very social animals living in large communities. For that reason, if you notice your bird is listless or does not actively respond to the stimulation we have proposed, it is possible they are depressed due to a lack of stimulation.
For this reason, researching your bird and their needs is vital. It should be done long before adopting of the bird takes place, as we need to ensure we are able to provide the right environment for them. For example, it may be ok to have certain species of parrot living on their own, as long as they have the right physical and mental stimulation from their guardians. However, caring for Gouldian finches or lovebirds means providing a partner for them as they will not be able to live on their own.
Mirrors for birds
Mirrors are a controversial subject when used as pet bird environmental enrichment. Some guardians think they are a great way to provide distraction, especially for birds which live on their own. Others think that mirrors confuse birds and can make them stressed as they think the bird in the reflection is real.
Although controversial, the answer as to whether mirrors are suitable environmental enrichment for pet birds is fairly straightforward. We simply have to see if our bird responds well to them. Some birds may enjoy looking in a mirror and will play with it for short periods of time. Others can become wary of it and even scared of light reflection. There are even birds which become unhealthily obsessed and stare into the mirror all the time.
If your pet bird enjoys the mirror, but doesn't become obsessed with it, it can provide suitable environmental enrichment. If they are too distracted or even stressed by the presence of a mirror in their cage, remove it immediately.
Now you know how to best provide an enriched environment for your pet bird, take a look at some of the ways they can benefit our lives.
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