When we hear the word enrichment, the first thing that comes to mind tends to be things like toys and foraging enrichment that we provide our birds with on a daily basis to keep them busy. However, the physical environment: how we have built and decorated the habitats our parrots will be living in, is one very important aspect. You could say it’s the very foundation that all other kinds of enrichment is built upon! By thinking carefully about how we put it together, we can increase the chances of parrots in a group getting along (Social enrichment) and encourage them to move around and explore more, and many other things that help keep them happy and healthy. In this blog post i’ll give you some quick tips on what to think about: this is one area where details can make a difference!
1. Let’s start with the obvious: size.
The bigger the enclosure, the easier it is for us to do a good job making it into a good habitat for our birds. Parrots are (should be!) very active birds, and they need a lot of space to thrive: even when you’re not home. I do realize the definition of “a lot of space” differs depending on where you are in the world. In Sweden, where i live, the minimum cage size for a large macaw is by law 6,3 square meters, and that’s minimum! Many people with large birds therefore choose to enclose a whole room, or part of a room, instead of going for a traditional cage. This is often much, much cheaper, better for the birds, and let’s you design the area in such a way that it is much easier to clean. I’ve always built my own cages as well, and highly recommend it. It’s a lot easier than people think.
2. Forget about dowel perches.
Just toss them out or burn them; they’re completely useless! If you have to buy your perches, make sure you buy ones that have different shapes, sizes and textures. Personally I would never buy perches at a store, though. It’s super expensive and also not necessary if you can get a hold of fresh branches from outside. The reason for this is that natural branches are uneven in size and texture, and provides lots of exercise for their feet. It is not uncommon for parrots to develop gout from sitting on dowel rods. Fresh, natural branches, especially if there are leaves and twigs still on them provide a lot of free enrichment as the birds de-bark and chew them, and they also help keep claws trimmed.
3. Look at trees!
Ever seen one with branches that just shoot out from the stem in a 90 degree angle? Me neither. A good guideline is to try and mimic a tree as much as you can when decorating. Position the branches in different angles, fasten them so that they move a little as the birds use them. This adds dimension to the enclosure and lets the birds move around in a way they have evolved to, using their muscles and their whole body in different ways, as opposed to just walking back and forth on a steady, horizontal surface all day. Please note that if your bird is clipped or can’t fly it migth have trouble moving normally, keepings it’s balance or flying away if it were to trip, so use caution.
4. Don’t clutter.
If the area is large enough, the birds should be able to climb as well as spread their wings and flying without hitting things in it. There really is no reason to hang toys, foraging enrichment, swings etc only from the ceiling and in the middle of the cage. Don’t put a whole toy store in there at once – put only a few enrichment items in at once and rotate often (if your bird is okay with that) to keep them interesting. Hang things along the sides, and you can also use stainless steel eye-screws to easily and safely hang toys from branches anywhere in the enclosure to create more room for movement. This is also good because…
5. Scatter resources!
A parrot has no reason to use all of the available space if you don’t give him a reason to. Many people often assume that their bird doesn’t need a large cage since “they just sit there anyway”. Parrots are not mindless, winged zombies that just climb around aimlessly: they want to explore and do stuff; important parrot stuff! By distributing toys, food and water, foraging devices and more, you are giving your parrot a reason to move around, explore, and make use of the space. This also provides healthy excersize and let’s them practice balance and coordination, if you have decorated properly!?
So, here were a few tips, hope you found them helpful! Also remember that It is always important to look at your bird, watch them interact with their surroundings and provide them with as many reasons as possible to make use of it in healthy, safe ways!