Enrichment and the senses

Enrichment and the senses

One of my favorite speeches at the American Federation of Aviculture (AFA) conference in 2018 was one called “The Great Foraging Experiment” and was given by Robin Shewokis.

When most people think of enrichment, they think of toys to shred or techniques to make it a challenge to obtain food. Robin’s speech opened this up to more than just that.

The rest of this post comes entirely from my notes on her speech.

— from Robin Shewokis —

The major types of enrichment are: visual, auditory, olfactory, social, exercise, and dietary.

Variety is the spice of life. Change and move toys and food dishes, even to the bottom of a cage for ground feeders. Change dietary elements such as fruits and vegetables.

Tactile enrichment would involve having to move objects around. For example, a food bowl that has wood block or glass beads in it that birds can touch with their beaks. One specific suggestion made was a large water dish on the floor of a cage that contained river rocks. In the middle would be a food dish.

Visual enrichment could be achieved by moving cages around so a bird has new things to look at. It’s OK if the view involves potential stressors as birds have evolved to react to them and it’s part of being a bird.

Auditory enrichment can be a matter of playing YouTube videos with bird or nature sounds or just any type of music. Predator sounds are also OK for the same reason that seeing predator is part of being a bird. Establish a contact call with your bird whenever you arrive home or they are in a different room. If they fly from room to room, play hide and seek with them.

Olfactory enrichment can just be exposing them to natural scents, like flowers, spices, and herbs. Most of these are safe and edible but it’s worth reviewing lists of safe products for your birds (even though most of them do go overboard).

Social enrichment was something I didn’t take good notes on other than the importance of letting a flock of birds, if you have one, socialize with each other and not just with you.

Exercise enrichment means make the bird work for food. Move seed cups and hang toys away from perches. Get rid of opportunities to be perch potatoes.

Dietary enrichment is the one most commonly employed. The ultimate goal would be to encourage 100% of feeding to be done through some foraging mechanism. I’ll break the suggestions of foraging items them could be filled with food and hidden with something like paper. For bonus points, add something that makes noise or has a natural smell.

  • Empty latex glove box
  • Hang a bag from the edge of a table
  • Biodegradable paper cups with things it or under it
  • Straw toys with treats embedded in them
  • Salsa cup with lid
  • Plastic or paper tube
  • Egg crates
  • Coffee holders
  • Cardboard boxes
  • Brown paper lunch bags
  • Paper straws
  • Finger traps
  • Skewer

One important thing to do is research your bird and find out where it eats in the wild. If they eat in trees or on the ground, present foraging opportunities to match that.

There’s research to back the concept called contra freeloading that basically says that animals prefer to forage rather than just be presented with it.

— end of notes on Robin Shewokis —

Be sure to check out her store called The Leather Elves for some interesting toys, including a foraging starter kit that can be used to dip your toes into the concepts of enrichment.