Just imagine if you were left in your room all day, every day. You would probably get very bored very quickly. Pet birds can also become easily bored when left alone for extended periods within an enclosure. That’s why we must provide what is known as bird enrichment—a wide variety of sights, sounds, manipulatives, food, and experiences essential for keeping your pet bird happy and healthy.

Video preview of Beak & Brain: Genius Birds from Down Under

If you have a bird, you know just how smart these pets can be. To get a better picture, check out this fascinating documentary called Beak & Brain: Genius Birds From Down Under (available now on Netflix or check American Public Television for other broadcasts). This film shows that birds analyze their surroundings, make MacGyver-like tools, and have rich social lives—just like us.

Make a bird enrichment schedule

Like humans, birds need to engage all their senses to be happy and well adjusted. I worked at a zoo in Decatur one summer and discovered that they had set up an enrichment calendar. This schedule ensured that each animal received enrichment for their senses several times a month. Creating a bird enrichment calendar is a great strategy for bird owners to adopt as well.

For instance, try to set aside one day a week set to provide visual enrichment, and two additional days for random sense stimulation. Here’s a sample schedule:

The Animal Store Bird Enrichment Schedule

In this example, each Monday you would provide visually stimulating items for your bird, such as brightly colored toys or a mirror. On Wednesday of the first week, you might bring your bird near your TV and put on a classical concert (sound and sight—a two for one). Hang a bell in the cage on Friday of week three. Be creative. The occasional food treat can provide taste enrichment. Variety is the key.

Provide brain stimulation

Green Cheek Cinnamon Conure playingBirds also need stimulation for their brains, just as we love a good brainteaser or a riddle. Manipulative toys and puzzles are great for touch enrichment and brain stimulation. Challenge your bird’s creativity and incorporate an analytical component into its life. Try using a toy to hide a treat that is too large to pull out easily. Your bird will use its feet and beak and brain to try to retrieve the treat. If your bird is curious enough, food is not necessarily the only motivator.

I recommend that you provide at least three toys in your bird’s cage each day, and change out toys daily. Keep a well-stocked bin of toys and replenish it regularly. Clean each toy when you take it from the cage and let it dry before returning it to the toy bin. The Animal Store carries a huge variety of toys, treats, equipment, and manipulatives for bird enrichment. If you are a DIY kind of person, check out the Pinterest boards.

Bird enrichment includes human interaction

When birds become bored, they can occupy themselves in unproductive or unhealthy ways. Feather picking, for instance, can sometimes be the result of boredom. Biting can reflect how your bird has been interacting with people at home. Birds can become a little too attached to just one person if they do not interact with a variety of people on a regular basis. Set aside time each day for some one-on-one time and teach friends and family how to play with you pet. Good Bird Inc. has a great website for bird behavior and recommendations on how to encourage behaviors you like, and discourage those you do not want to stick around.

Creating a regular, varied bird enrichment schedule for your pet will ensure many years of health and happiness, which will enrich your life, as well as your bird’s.

Ask the Vet, Kristin Valdes, DVM

Welcome to Ask the Vet, a regular feature on The Animal Store Blog. We have teamed up with Kristin Valdes, DVM of Chicago Exotics Animal Hospital, who will answer your most pressing pet questions right here! Do you want to see your question answered on the blog? Leave a comment below or submit it on our contact form.
IMPORTANT — If you have immediate health concerns about your pet, contact your veterinarian or local emergency animal hospital. The Animal Store Blog posts occasional questions to and answers from one of our favorite vets. This column is for informational purposes only, and should not be considered a substitute for regular veterinary care for your pet.