I’ve heard people toss the word enrichment around at different bird-centric events conferences, seminars, festivals expos. “Yes, but is this toy enriching?” “You really should provide that flock with more enrichment.” “Are you going to the seminar on enrichment and foraging?”
Many people hear this word, but they really don’t think about what it means.
I first heard the term about a decade ago when I read a paper written by Steve Martin (No, not that one…) of Natural Encounters Inc.
(NEI) NEI is, according to their website, “…a company specializing in animal behavior and visitor experience.”
It’s actually a pretty interesting little company that Martin started. Here is his website if you’d like to learn more: Natural Encounters
Martin began designing bird shows for theme parks and zoos. He then expanded his repertoire by training both the professional handlers and the civilians like me in training techniques with animals including birds. I took two of his seminars when he featured Dr. Susan Friedman lecturing as well. It wasn’t easy. There is a lot of science involved and some of the concepts of operant conditioning are difficult to understand at first. But once you get it, it stays with you. You find yourself using it in everyday life and you tend to become more observant of the world around and the behaviors of people in particular.
Martin’s show approach is unique in that his shows only include birds exhibiting natural behaviors so you won’t be seeing any cockatoos riding a bicycle on a tightrope.
In other words, if they don’t do it naturally in the wild, it isn’t included in his show. However, nature being nature, there are still a lot of natural behaviors that are not only interesting, but entertaining.
During the show, Steve or one of his trainers working the show will explain a bit about the bird and then ask for a behavior from the bird.
Most of the time it works. Sometimes it doesn’t but that doesn't happen very frequently. The trainers are pros and the birds know what is expected of them so it’s usually always an excellent show you can learn from.
Aside from the entertainment value, Martin’s productions are geared to education about wildlife and conservation. He talks about endangered species and what is being done to protect them.
When I was getting ready to attend these seminars, I read everything that wasn’t nailed down written by both Martin and Friedman. One of those papers that Martin had penned was titled: Enrichment: What Is It And Why Should You Want It?
It was an interesting paper and it expanded the definition of what enrichment is. Essentially it is anything that stimulates, enhances and optimizes the mental and physical well being.
And what could possibly do that? For companion parrots, that would be toys, games, direct attention, ambient attention, companionship from a flock, training, challenging puzzle toys, as well as room to move and play. It’s pretty much anything that makes their life better.
Because their lives are not in need or self-preservation and survival, these stimulating factors are not present and must be replaced with other methods of stimulation.
Parrots in the wild do a lot of hunting for food and this often involves shredding apart wood in search of grubs and insects. They also work on holes in trees for their nests by enlarging or customizing the hole. So a wonderful substitute for this activity is shreddable toys. Toys for parrots are meant to be destroyed. They are built to be chewed on, tossed around and completely decimated. Not unlike a a bone or a chew toy for a dog, they enjoy chewing and gnawing on these toys. This activity also helps keep their beak in good condition.
Showers and baths are not only for keeping your bird clean, it is a way for them to be physically stimulated simply by getting wet and playing in the water. It makes them feel good as well as removing dander and loose feathers.
Training your bird using positive reinforcement is a wonderful way to interact with your parrot.
You are teaching a behavior that can be positively reinforced and they get satisfaction out of being praised and receiving a treat for their effort. And don’t we all love to be rewarded for our work? Our companion birds are no different.