Thursday, May 21, 2009

Enrichment Part IV: Visual

Birds have a richness of visual perception far beyond what some might casually imagine. In the wild, a bird's vision is critical to their survival.

Visual skills allow them to determine the ripeness of fruit, the sex of other birds, the location of predators, see a meal crawling on a branch, and much more. Research even points to migratory birds actually 'seeing' the magnetic poles of the earth to determine direction as opposed to 'feeling' direction as was previously considered.

In other words... there is more to a bird's eye than... meets the eye! And it is much different than the human eye.

The avian eye differs from ours in that the lens is optically clear and appears to allow in lightwaves down to a much lower level than the human eye. It is quite probable that birds see in the ultraviolet range, and it is surmised that birds with a uropygeal (preen) gland secrete a substance that, when spread on the feathers, is visible within the ultraviolet range. This may play a part in allowing birds to differentiate the sex of one another.

How can we take visual enrichment into consideration for our companion birds?

The first step is simply the awareness of the valuable role vision plays in their everyday lives. When to us they may appear to be sitting like bumps on logs just looking out the window, their eyes are experiencing a kaleidoscope of informational enrichment.

With this perspective, what are some of the ways we can offer visual enrichment to our beloved companions?
  • Providing opportunities for them to watch our daily activities.
    • Housework
      • Laundry
      • Dishes
      • Vacuuming, etc.
    • Crafts
    • Hobbies
    • Shower time (they might even want to join!)
Watching our daily activities is listed first because it is also a relationship builder. I am big on building relationships. My birds need a chance to get to know who I am and what I do, in each and every room.

I think it is not only important that we include them in our day to day activities, but that we explain to them what we do and why we do it. I speak to my birds as if they understand 100% of what I say. Of course, I do not know exactly how much they do understand. But in much the same way we would speak to a comatose person as if they were fully aware (in case they are), I do the same with my birds.
  • Providing opportunities to experience life in different rooms
    • Movable play gyms, or
    • Perching areas in several rooms
    • Guided tours around the house allowing the bird to 'lead' you through its body language to what areas or objects it would like to further explore.
  • Providing opportunities to view the outside world either in person or through a window
Visual enrichment now becomes more than moving the cage from one side of the room to another, or changing the wallpaper. They enjoy participating in our lives and derive enrichment from it. Whether watching children do their homework or play a game of scrabble, birds will find things we consider simple and mundane to be quite entertaining! Especially if they involve noise (which is tomorrow's topic)!

Coco loves to watch me vacuum, and strives to out-noise the big machine! She is fascinated by something as simple as watching me sew a button on a shirt (perhaps because it is such an oddity), rearranging a room, or folding clothes. Hanging out on the shower curtain rod while we are getting ready for work can be intriguingly fascinating!

Get ready though... sometimes they may want to do more than just watch!


LunarLass said...

I've just discovered the joy of birds at 36 years of age, and have made my first small step into that world by becoming an owner of one budgie...after I get the hang of things I may add to my flock. I'm looking to increase the quality of my captive bird's life and have found your blog to be a WONDERFUL resource...thank you so much for putting it all out there. :)

One thing I'm curious about: you talk about your birds testing your patience at times but don't give many details. As someone who will be looking to purchase more birds in the future, I want to know exactly what I'm getting into...but many bird owners don't want to discuss the downsides. Perhaps a future post could be about that? There are plenty of websites out there that discuss the horrors of caging and owning these beautiful creatures, but I want the real-life opinions of someone who loves their companion birds. Just a suggestion though!

Robin said...

Welcome, LunarLass, and thank you for such a wonderful comment! Congratulations on your new budgie!

I think your idea for a future post is absolutely excellent! Birds are much like the bundle of joy that comes home from the hospital, and then turns two, then four, then starts dating!

It can be a difficult subject because inasmuch as I take credit for what my birds do that I like, I also assume responsibility for their behaviors that I don't care for (they learned the good and bad from me). I would have to be brutally honest and tell you that I have made (and continue to make) my share of mistakes... hopefully not the same ones, and hopefully fewer and farther between as I learn and grow with my birds. Thank you for such a great idea!

LunarLass said...

Thanks Robin! I'm sure I'm making many mistakes myself...I just don't know what they are yet because this is a learn-as-you-go kind of thing for me. I do as much research as I can though, and your blog is always at my fingertips. I strive to be as good to my small birdie as you are to your feathered companions, and I may at some point go cage-free as you do. :)

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