Monday, May 18, 2009

Enrichment Part I: Food

Having chosen to live with birds, in companionship and relationship, we want to give them the best possible environment we can offer. One aspect includes the multi-faceted topic: enrichment. It is something I consider every day as a basic, fundamental need of each of my birds.

Naturally, enrichment is more than switching toys or providing a variety of toys, although that can represent a small part. We could give our birds 10 new toys each day and if they ignored them, then they would have a total enrichment value of zero!

One 'toy' that is enjoyed is better than ten that are ignored (quality over quantity).

Some areas of enrichment include:

1. Food
2. 'Toys'
3. Physical Environment/Activity
4. Visual Environment
5. Auditory Environment

For today's post, we'll look at the first of these 5 topics. Then each subsequent day this week I will develop another topic. Who knows... by the end of the week I might think of 5 more areas, because as I mentioned, enrichment is multi-faceted!

Topic #1: Food
As we know, the quality of our birds' diets will affect every other area of their lives. So it is the perfect place to start. Without a quality diet, our birds could be subject to a compromised immune system, sluggish digestion, malabsorption of nutrients, illness, and a whole host of other potential problems. They certainly won't feel their best or be in a position to live life to the fullest.

Obtaining information, from qualified avian professionals, as to what constitutes a healthy, nutritious, fresh and varied diet, taking into consideration a bird's particular needs, activity level, physical conditions, etc., is a worthy use of time.

The focus of this post will be ways in which to utilize that healthy, wholesome, nutritious diet as a part of their daily enrichment.

Muffin Treats:
Coco (yellow crowned amazon parrot) eats a wide variety of foods including certain nuts and seeds. Here is a small piece of walnut, pecan, a slivered almond, a pine nut and two sunflower seeds placed in a muffin paper.

When Coco sees the muffin papers she knows a special treat is coming her way, and she is ready to dig in! A few twists of the top of the muffin paper, and I can throw it into the back of her house, place it in a slightly difficult place to reach or simply hand it to her:
Look at that happy-face... and yes, she does prefer to use her right foot!
Her eyes pin with excitement and anticipation as she carefully manipulates the paper to obtain a piece of food while not spilling the remaining pieces. It presents an intellectual and dexterity challenge, in addition to being a part of her daily nutritional intake. Once the food has been consumed, further enjoyment may be received from chewing the paper.

I can further increase her interest if I prepare the muffin treat in her presence while 'talking it up'. But it is also fun to 'hide' them so that she finds them while I am away. With only placing a few small pieces of nut or seed in each muffin paper, I can place many of them around her fort increasing her foraging activities throughout the day. Instead of placing all of the pieces in a bowl from which she may graze. Using the muffin papers, she must search and work to obtain the tidbits many times over throughout the day. This is one aspect of her daily foraging.

Foot Food:
While Coco has a water dish, she does not have a traditional food dish. Certain 'messy' vegetables I serve in a bowl, but many others are perfect foot foods that increase interest and dexterity. Chunks of fresh corn on the cob, a piece of okra, a small serrano pepper or a grape are just a few of the many options for foot food.

Foraging Toys:

Foraging 'toys' can be purchased, but it is equally easy (and free) to make natural foraging toys. A bottle cap turned upside down becomes a foraging device. In addition to muffin papers, I also like to use cardboard egg crates and plastic/paper straws and again they provide enjoyment after the food is consumed. Straws are great to use for stuffing pieces of nut or seed. Here you see an egg crate which has some nuts and Harrison's Power Treats. Once a bird becomes accustomed to finding food in the bottle caps of the egg crate, either the bottle caps and/or the egg crate may be turned over to increase complexity. (In the upper right corner of the egg crate is a muffin paper treat.) The sky is the limit when dreaming up foraging toys.

Food enrichment also includes serving a number of different foods, colors and textures to create interest and nutritional variety. I purchase my bird goodies at a local organic grocery store, where I am able to get 2 serrano peppers, 3 green beans, 1 okra, 4 snap peas, 2 brussell sprouts, etc. I occasionally will explain to the obviously curious, but polite clerk just exactly what I intend to do with such strange quantities!

(One cashier thought perhaps I was making a strange, unique soup)... hmmm... that would be quite strange!

I try to buy different (or at least several new) vegetables each week; ones they have not eaten for a few weeks. Not only does each have a unique set of phytonutrients, but variety is the spice of life nutritionally and intellectually for our birds. Uneaten portions of fresh vegetables are removed after one hour.

Foraging Enrichment is Gradual:
Since Coco does eat some pellets, I place these all over the fort and she must search for them each day. As is the case in the wild, a location that contains food today may or may not contain food tomorrow. While Coco no longer has a food bowl, and spends a great deal of time each day foraging/searching for food, it was a gradual process. It would not be realistic to suddenly remove a bird's bowl one day and expect that they would figure out where we may have stashed their food! My role was to methodically provide her the experiences needed to allow her foraging instincts to develop naturally, and to encourage more foraging each day. At times, this involved showing her where to find food, how to find food, and provide incentive to continue looking in the midst of increasingly challenging circumstances.

Any foraging opportunities we provide to our birds are valuable, they add up, and they equal enrichment. This may mean foraging opportunities in a different room, on a play stand, through a foraging toy, or hopefully a variety of many different techniques.

Once a bird's foraging instincts are ignited, the fun, success and intrinsic reward of obtaining the food they seek support and reinforce the process automatically. Thinking of new ways to offer food enrichment such as foraging experiences is what we, as their companions, bring to the table.

Natural Foraging Foods:
A nut in the shell is a perfect foraging device; the bird must work to obtain the prized nut.

A rolled piece of green leaf lettuce can house several pieces of fresh corn, nutmeats, snap peas and the like, tied with a piece of sisal rope for extra interest and continued play after the food is consumed.

A carefully sliced snap pea can be stuffed with all sorts of veggies or even cooked and cooled brown rice! Imagine your bird's surprise when the small sugar snap peas are combined with some tasty brown rice!

Likewise, most small peppers such as jalapeno or poblano can be used to house a variety of chopped veggies. A bird that is hesitant to try veggies can usually be convinced by initially tossing them in a very light amount of natural, no-sugar added applesauce or even plain yogurt.

Food Participation:
Allowing Coco to participate, if she chooses, in fresh food preparation is also part of the enrichment process. Watching increases her interest and excitement of what she is about to consume. Additionally, the food preparation takes place in a different room where there all sorts of visual and auditory enrichment opportunities.


As in any restaurant, color, texture and presentation make for a great meal! The same is true for our feathered friends! From spending time with us watching meal preparation, to 'working' to obtain a prized morsel, there are many ways to enrich our birds' lives through the food they eat each day. It is both nutritional and intellectual stimulation!

Coco 'helps' prepare food.

(The ovaltine, tomatoes and granola bars are mom's!)

Wait! Did you say a prayer first before you started eating?!!


1 comment:

wolfgirl1987 said...

I love offering food in many different ways to my birds. Great blog!

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