I am very passionate about providing enriched environments for animals under my care. Anyone who has been to my house is very aware of this. I am very passionate about enriched environments for many reasons. I see the direct effect an enriched environment has on behavior. In my instance, the animals I keep under my care are birds and birds are fascinating to me for many reasons. Their intelligence and uniqueness are two of those reasons. Obviously the more intelligent the animal, the more difficult some may claim it is to keep them. I can understand this, I live with four parrots on a full-time basis. I observe behavior and I provide individual and unique enriched environments based on the individual bird.
I remember the first bird toy I bought when I brought home my first bird, my Umbrella Cockatoo. The toy was three large colored blocks of wood all strung together by a rope. “A cool looking toy” I thought. I hung it in my cockatoo’s cage and there it sat untouched for several days. He never did touch it and it didn’t hang in there for long.
Appropriate enrichment is as individual as you and I. Sure, there may common popularities but there are going to be many differences. These differences in enrichment are so unique to each individual bird also. If one were to take an intelligent animal, such as the parrot and provide little to no enrichment, one will see the effect on behavior or lack in activity. Behavior issues tend to sky-rocket and even more sad is to see a parrot not interacting with anything in its cage.
Animal minds work, they think, they function. The animal behaves, it moves, it explores. With exploring comes learning and birds learn from exploring their environments. Their bodies contain all the appendages they do because those appendages serve a purpose in how they eat, move, and react. Putting these appendages to work naturally will have an effect on behavior. A lot of things about many animals living in captivity may not be natural…what that animal would find in the wild, like containment walls. We can incorporate choice and learning potential back into captive animal environments by providing enriched environments based on that individual animal. For example, Rico, my Umbrella Cockatoo is a good flier. He loves using his wings to transport himself through his environment. Flight is only one form of enrichment to him, solving tasks is another. I can literally watch Rico think about figuring out a task before he attempts it. I watch what tasks he enjoys attempting and those are one type of enrichment I provide to him. Because living in captivity is not natural for them, I need to think outside the box and go beyond natural enrichments to provide stimulating and thought-provoking behaviors. I provide the natural enrichments, but I also provide increasing complexities to offer stimulating choices for them to make.
Last summer I used an example of enriching his environment by increasing complexities in his environment. I made sure I kept these complexities solvable but not solvable without much thought. I kept the complexities within reach and without inducing much frustration. He loves taking apart plastic hose nozzles. Think outside the box…a hose nozzle could be a hose nozzle or it can be a $10 enrichment toy for an inquisitive cockatoo. He liked taking this hose nozzle apart and then putting the pieces back together again. So to increase the level of complexity in this toy, I chose to have him hunt for the pieces and have to think about how to get to those pieces in addition to putting them back together.
Here’s the video of me showing Rico where one part of the hose nozzle is located. There is no place for him to land. This is on purpose and this is a type of enrichment shaped specifically for Rico and his abilities to solve tasks.
Now here is the second video of Rico figuring out how to retrieve the nozzle part. An additional complexity is now traveling with it in his beak and looking for a place to manipulate it.
My point is, the behavior of animals in captivity is reflected on the environments we provide them. It gives the eye somewhere else to look besides the animal when we hear someone say “The dumb dog” or “The stupid bird”. An animal is only as intelligent as the environments in which we provide them. Sure, Rico keeps me on my toes. He keeps my mind ticking to continually provide an enriched environment for him. Let’s think outside the box in our approach to enriching animals in captivity. Let’s think outside that containment box. When we do, we’ll see them no longer paying attention to that containment. When this happens, we see behaviors showing contentment, not boredom.
*Note: Please give attention to safety when providing enrichment to animal environments. Make sure toys and toy parts are not toxic. Make sure enclosures are safe from predators and harm to themselves. Research enrichment safety before incorporating them into animal environments.