Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Captive Enrichment Part 1

We are going to be doing a multi-part post on captive enrichment. We find that a lack of enrichment in captivity is the source of a lot of friction and issues when keeping a parrot (which is a wild animal) in a home. This first post is going to focus on what captive enrichment is and why it is important. Future posts will cover various ways you can provide enrichment to improve the life of your parrots.

One of the challenges we constantly see with parrots is keeping them entertained. Most people know how smart parrots are, but they don't realize exactly what that means... it means that they are smart all of the time! Not just when you are home.

Imagine, being stuck in a room for 8 hours a day that is just big enough for you to spread your arms out and turn around in - not hard if you have a job with a cubicle - only you don't get a lunch break and all you get to do all day is interact with a small number of things. Let's say you have a TV (which does not change channels), a rubix cube, a deck of cards, one book, a gallon of water and a bucket of grape-nuts. How long would it take you to be bored? OK, so parrots aren't as smart as you... how long would it take a 5 year old to get bored? (There have been several studies that have shown that parrots have the intelligence of 3-5 year old children.) Even a 2 year old would be bored fairly quickly.

This is the daily life of the average parrot in captivity. Think about it and let it sink in. Imagine yourself in that situation, or your child, or your niece or nephew or the kid down the street. It wouldn't take long for it to become utterly boring would it?

You'd get tired of eating grapenuts, drinking water and watching TV all day. The rubix cube might be a challenge for a while but eventually you'd either learn to solve it so fast it was no longer interesting or if you're like me you'd just pull the blocks apart and try to fix it and end up with a broken mess. How many times can you play solitaire before it loses it's shine... and eventually it would be more fun to draw faces on the pictures in the book than it would be to read it. BORING!!!!!

So what happens to a parrot when it has nothing new to do? The same thing that happens to small children. Some of them become sedentary and eat without expending any energy. They may become obese and suffer from health problems. Some lose interest in their surroundings and themselves and no longer groom properly. Others become hyperactive and develop stereotypic (obsessive compulsive) behaviors. Some destroy their feathers. Some look forward to seeing their people and leaving their cage that they develop separation anxiety type behaviors and then become overdependent on their human companions. Some become so used to their cage environment that they refuse to leave it and become cage bound or phobic. Once these behaviors set in and a pattern develops, they can be extremely hard to work with. But whether the behaviors are already there or whether you're trying to prevent them from developing, captive enrichment is a good place to start.

Captive enrichment is a billion ways to make life more interesting. It covers a lot of things like foraging, toy rotation, new types of toys, opportunities for destruction, ambient noise and visual stimulation and bigger things like adding "conspecifics", novel climbing opportunities, flight opportunities and aviaries. It's a big umbrella term for anything that enriches the life of an animal in captivity. The reasons it's needed are pretty obvious when you think about it. However, very few people actually think about it and work towards making an enriching environment. It's an important thing to do and the good news is no matter if you've never even thought about it before you can start today and there are a lot of small changes you can make that will make a big difference.

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