Habitat Enrichment: why our birds need a play area outside of their cage
By Karl Anderson, Zoologist & Animal Behaviorist
When establishing the ideal habitat for our feathered friends, specifically any of the Psittacines, it is ever so important to consider not just what we provide for them within their cages, but also beyond those confines.
The psychological wellbeing of all creatures, inclusive of our own species, is dependent on a variety of stimuli present in our environments, and the lack thereof becomes the “onramp to the freeway” for problems to arise. In the case of our birds this begins with boredom and can lead to feather plucking, chronic biting, and de-socialization…not to mention destruction of our own environmental accoutrements that we call furniture!
Of course the vast majority of birds fly. But inside our homes when they are out of their cages, we normally discourage this behavior by clipping their wings. This is all well and good for their adaptation to our own specific situations, but it also means that now we have converted these “frequent fliers” to permanent climbers and perchers.
Keeping any bird inside its cage perpetually, regardless of providing it with every kind of toy under the sun, may prolong but will ultimately not prevent boredom from becoming an issue, not to mention they will never consider it safe to be taken from their cages. Trying to bring them out at that point will be a fearful experience and often triggers defensive aggression in the form of biting. Besides, you really don’t want a cage-bound bird – so why create one?
The stimuli we provide for our birds outside the cage should be no less of a stimulating experience than what they have within – should it? (only one correct answer here)
Plain and simple, the only solution is a combination perch and play gym – with numerous climbing surfaces of varying height and angles.
As I said earlier, in the majority of cases these birds have been rendered flightless – or at least very limited in their flight with respect to where they can go. We have transformed them, as per their abilities, to perching animals.
Now let us consider the options as to what materials are best suited for this purpose.
PVC is one option, but is a good one? There are those who will argue that it is, but that is borne of the notion that it is the easiest material to keep clean. They are also forgetting that another need of a bird is to chew. Eliminate their ability to do this with what you have given them, and two things will suffer for it: their psychological well-being and your furniture!
In the wild, birds perch on branches. It makes perfect sense, therefore, to give them what feels the best to them, and what they ultimately desire: naturalwood branches.
Some softwoods may have an aesthetically pleasing appearance, but don’t be fooled; your bird will chew through these like they were made of cardboard. I have a Greenwing Macaw that went through a 1 ¼” diameter fir dowel perch in two days!
Of the hardwoods, Manzanita stands up much better to chewing, is all natural, and nontoxic. This kind of wood mimics your bird’s natural environment quite well and exercises his feet at the same time. In addition, Manzanita wood is easy to clean. Simply use a washcloth with warm water and a small amount of liquid dish soap, being sure to rinse it off and allow it to dry before returning your bird to it for his daily regimen of out-of-the-cage play time, that ever so vital factor to your bird’s continued well being!
With degrees in zoology and journalism, Karl Anderson has designed and delivered hundreds of shows and courses on exotic animals (inclusive of their natural history and behavior) for over 25 years. He also spent several years doing coast to coast shows for Animal Planet and worked on several occasions with Jim Fowler (Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom) including two appearances on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
His entourage of animals over the years has included Psittacines, primates, raptors, large cats, bears, reptiles, Binturongs, marsupials, and arachnids.
He has had many national and international newspaper and magazine articles published on various species of animals, and is currently authoring a fiction novel related to Psittacines.
He presently features an educational outreach program on Psittacines which he does for schools, libraries, nursing homes, and children’s hospitals – in addition to workshops and seminars on every aspect of caring for our tropical feathered friends.
He has also been a NAUI Diving Instructor for over 30 years and still teaches underwater courses.