THE IMPORTANCE OF ENRICHMENT
Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post. All opinions and recommendations are my own.
Parrots are extremely intelligent, and just like our human toddlers, need lots to do to keep them entertained and out of mischief. The dictionary definition of enrichment is this: "the action of improving or enhancing the quality or value of something." Owning a parrot means we are required to meet their physical, mental, emotional needs and improve their quality of life. When it comes to birds, this can mean a few different things, including exercise, provision of toys, foraging opportunities, ability to chew and destroy, and - if they are companions - human interaction. Birds that do not have their needs met will begin to suffer; they may pluck their feathers, self mutilation, screech excessively, gain weight and become nippy or aggressive.
Parrots require a decent level of exercise to keep in shape, in the form of free flying around your home, on a flight harness (we use this one) or on a play gym with ladders and swings. In an ideal world, it is optimal that your parrot remains flighted, however we understand that this may not be a safe option for your bird or situation.
Parrots love to explore, and anything that you are doing is certainly interesting to them! Take your bird along with you while you do safe household activities, like watching tv, folding washing, vacuuming and mopping, or even in the shower! You are a part of their "flock" and they love to feel close to you and included.
In the wild, parrots spend a significant amount of their day searching and foraging for food, but in captivity it is so readily available that they don't have to work for it. There are many foraging systems available to encourage natural behaviours such as treat boxes, baffle cages and acrylic designs. Foraging usually includes a food reward, like finding a nut or seed within a compartment, or could be as simple as wrapping some of their pellets or chunk of vegetable or fruit in some craft paper. Empty toilet rolls can also be filled with crinkle paper and seed/pellets then wrapped in paper.
There are so many different designs for foraging toys, and they can be purchased online and in store relatively easily.
Pet City Mt Gravatt (store and online)
Parrot Supplies Australia (store and online)
eBay (search forage feeder or parrot forage toy)
Click through below to see more information on these products:
Tactile enrichment, or enrichment that your parrot can touch and physically interact with, is also extended to their perches and cage environment. Branches should be of varying shapes, widths and textures, in replicating their natural environment the best we can. Not only does this trim their beaks and nails, but it also helps with to exercise their balancing and climbing abilities and gives something to chew and shred. Perches hung from the top of the cage with wire (stainless steel is 100% safe, unlike galvanised) simulates branches that move and sway in the wind, as do swings. Plastic and dowel perches that come with most bird cages should be discarded or repurposed into toys (see Toys section below) and replaced with natural branches. The general rule of thumb is if its native, it is fine for your bird. Some common examples are Banksia, Beech, Bottlebrush/ Callistemon, Palms (they especially like the fruit fronds), Grevillea, Gum, Ironbark, Bunya, Lilly Pilly, Paperbark, Pine and Jacaranda. Fresh branches should also be given, either as a new perch with the leaves on, or placed into a holder on the side of the cage to destroy as well.
In addition to foraging toys, regular interactive or shredding toys are excellent for keeping the mind of your parrot busy. Their natural instinct to chew, shred, and tear apart their environment can easily be directed to toys, and away from things like towels, furniture and themselves (plucking). It is a misconception that it is "inconvenient" or "too expensive" that a parrot is destroying their toys. This is good! A busy parrot is a happy parrot, and it is so important they are given these opportunities to express natural behaviour.
Parrots are also naturally independant and love making choices; provide ample toys made of different components and colours. Switch out with spare toys each week or fortnight to keep them engaged, and always check toys over for safety.
Our toys are purchased through Rose Askew of Unique Beaks Handmade Bird Toys, which are 100% safe and extremely economical. Join her community here!
DIY Toy Components
Making your own bird toys can be rewarding, economical and a great activity to do with children and family. When choosing components, it is important to ensure they are chemical free and kid-safe approved if applicable. You can find inexpensive pieces in common department stores here in Australia, like Spotlight, Woolworths, Bunnings and Officeworks. Colourful beads, soft balsa or pine wood, seagrass and jingly bells are amazing enrichment products for your parrot. Avoid any items which are already painted (ie painted wooden beads); opt for the natural finish instead and colour them yourself. It is important to use stainless steel wire when constructing toys, as this is an item designed to be chewed. Stainless steel is a non toxic metal, as opposed to zinc (galvanised), copper and lead which, if ingested, can cause heavy metal toxicity and possibly death.
Dyeing wood pieces and beads at home is so economical, and only requires a few items from the grocery store. You don't need any fancy equipment or products; simply Queen food colouring (comes in red, pink, yellow, green and blue) for $1.10 and some white vinegar (2L for $1.20).
Simply mix 300mL of warm water, 5-10mL of colouring and 100mL of vinegar in an old container (this may get stained) and stir to combine the colour. Place your wooden pieces in, give a quick stir, and allow to soak for a few hours or overnight. The longer they soak the more vibrant they will become. After they have soaked, remove from the solution and place on paper or paper towel to dry (dependent on weather, temperature and humidity).
Are you ready to make your own toys? Check out some of my favourites: