Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Enrichment Part III: Physical Activity

In the category of physical activity, there is much we can do to enrich our birds' lives! My birds get daily opportunities (and encouragement) to fly. In fact, just prior to sitting down at the computer, Coco flew from one end of the house to the other... from the bird room into the closet, turning into the bathroom, out the other bathroom door, down the hallway and to the very end of the kitchen. I like to encourage any physical activity in a variety of different locations as this also provides visual enrichment.

While my birds also enjoy climbing, it does not get the blood pumping in the same way as flight. However, I purposely place the fort elements and perches in such a fashion that they require climbing, stretching and even flight in order to access.

Because my birds live together, without cages, they can often be seen circling one another in figure-8 fashion in the bird room. It is a form of communication as well as a means of exercise. I refer to it as communicating on the wing.

They learn about each other and 'speak' during flight. Usually when one takes off flying, they all take off! (And, they do not run into one another or crash land!) Thus, their flight provides the ability to exercise and communicate at the same time.

The way my 3 are always flying around me, landing on me, zooming past me and each other... it is just a good thing that I always enjoyed (as opposed to being terrified by) the Alfred Hitchcock movie 'The Birds'. Otherwise, I might not be able to so easily live with my flighted birds!

I would be dishonest if I did not say that having a flighted bird (let alone 3) presents challenges to me as their companion. There have been times when they have tested me beyond what I thought were the limits of my patience and abilities (especially Coco).

It is at these times when a friend (a mentor, if you will), to whom we can reach out for encouragement, discussion of technique, and recommitting to positively reinforcing desirable behaviors, is a priceless commodity.

Since I personally choose to have flighted birds to enable them to get as much exercise as they can muster, and allowing them to fly for the enjoyment with each other, it requires me to strive to be a more effective behavior-changer especially in situations where I might feel challenged or overwhelmed.
A side note: This post is not a clipping vs. no clipping manifesto. I leave that up to the choice of each companion. To me, it seems logical that birds are designed to fly; no amount of climbing or walking can take the place of the physical and intrinsic value achieved during flight. I will also mention that there is a way to lightly clip a bird that does not prevent flight, but prevents high speed and excessive lift.

So my purpose is not to advocate for or against clipping, but to detail the value of physical exercise in our companion birds. The benefit is derived from the ability to keep physically fit, preventing obesity, promoting well being and offering visual enrichment opportunities. Birds are designed to walk on the air; their bodies operate optimally in this realm.
My birds are not harnessed trained, so their flight takes place in the house. I may (or may not) harness train them in the future. Harness training is a serious matter; one not to be taken on quickly or casually. The last thing anyone wants is their bird to have a negative experience (or worse) by getting hung up in the harness, tangled in a tree, or come to the end of the harness line and get jerked by an inexperienced handler. Birds must first be fully, fully, fully skilled at harness flight indoors before even contemplating going outside, and then only under the appropriate conditions. The advocacy of physical exercise is counterproductive if done in a way that results in a negative experience for our birds. This includes, in my book, the harmful practice of putting a bird on an arm and forcing it to flap by moving the arm up and down quickly. This is not flight.

So I thought it would be fun to introduce to you two birds who fly both indoors and out, and who have gone through the extensive, careful training using positive reinforcement only that is a requirement to keep them safe. They have a companion that made it his business to 'do it right' in every respect, including harness training and outdoor flight.

So without further ado, meet:

Nino (a blue and gold macaw):

And his brother Teo (a greenwing macaw):

Each sporting their Aviator Harnesses and those beautiful smiles!

Nino and Teo (or 'The Boys' as their companion Jim lovingly refers to them) have extensive flight training and experience with their harnesses, utilizing positive reinforcement. They visit the park nearly every day of the week in good weather.

If a car ride, a trip to the park, and the ride back were not exciting and enriching enough, Jim does not always go to the same park, or at the same time each day, or even walk the same path! In addition to giving The Boys opportunity for physical activity, he provides plenty of visual stimulation! (And, he follows rules - he keeps his 'pets' leashed!)

The Boys are able to sit in trees, chew on branches, fly, and show off their charm to interested bystanders. In fact, to save Jim time when speaking with park patrons, I plan to get him a t-shirt for Christmas that says:

Yes-my birds will bite the snot out of you if you stick your fingers in their face!

The combination of mental and environmental stimulation, coupled with flight, make for two tired little boys being ready for bed when they get home! But it is the best kind of tired; enriched and satisfied.

For Coco, Sammy and Strider, presently indoor flight is what I am able to provide them. So I take full advantage working on recall, taking trips around the house and allowing them to communicate with one another on the wing. Yes, it can be chaotic. Oh, most definitely yes! But it is also beautiful, and I believe an integral part of their daily enrichment quotient.



Marianne said...

I love it--the sign says animals must be leashed!

wolfgirl1987 said...

Allowing Jack to fly is my favourite form of enrichment. he just has SOOO much fun!

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