Tag Archives: foraging

Empowering Our Birds with Training & Enrichment

Rocky, our 17 year old shelter bird
Rocky, our 17 year old shelter bird

Rocky is my seventeen year old Moluccan Cockatoo that came to live with us about eight years ago from a shelter. When I first brought Rocky home, and several weeks after that, he showed so many signs of not being comfortable with the change in environment, our home, and his proximity to people in general. By this I mean each time I walked near his cage he would hiss and hit the side of the cage with his beak very hard. If I continued to move closer he would quickly run to the part of the cage I was closest and lunge. I couldn’t get him out of his cage for over three weeks. So the training began inside of his cage. Rocky would interact with nothing inside his cage except his food and water bowl and the side of his cage where he repetitively did flips. Through observation, I believe I clearly identified his abnormal repetitive behaviors (such as cage bar flipping, screaming, and methodical movements) were due to lack of enrichment and from being housed in a cage too long. Through consistent training and introduction to individualized enrichment, I was able to start changing these behaviors.

Enrichment is individualized. What one bird prefers, the other may have no interest or simply not understand. So many times I see intended enrichment in cages that the birds pay no attention to. If your bird is not interacting with a specific toys, it doesn’t like it, it’s afraid of it, or it doesn’t understand it.

It took me a few months to get Rocky actively interacting with toys. By ‘actively’ I mean spending at least 25% of his day interacting with toys or a specific toy. I would watch and observe what parts of the toy he preferred. Those were the parts I needed to focus on while introducing small consistencies of other toys parts.

Sometimes I forget how far we have come with him. My videos and notes remind me. He now actively forages for his food and prefers to forage for his food than eat it from his bowl. This is a term called ‘contra-freeloading’. Contra-freeloading is when an animal prefers to work for its food vs. taking identical free food requiring less effort. Contra-freeloading helps keep parrots mentally enriched and involved in their environment. I see this behavior making a difference in the confidence levels of parrots and so many other animals I train. If I observe a parrot that is unsure of its environment, the first thing I do is add choice and reinforce behaviors I want to see increase. This is also why I train using the methods I do. I want to see birds and other animals empowered through choice, control and learning.

Here is a photo I snapped this morning of Rocky foraging through a toy that he would have not interacted with eight years ago when I first brought him home. How long it takes a bird to learn depends on your fluency in training, the history of the bird, the frequency of training throughout the day and more. I see Rocky’s confidence levels rise through interacting with puzzle feeders that he can accomplish. Mastermind Heart Forager.

Continuing to reinforce Rocky with praise for raising the moving part of the foraging toy where it needs to be to dispense treats.
Continuing to reinforce Rocky with praise for raising the moving part of the foraging toy where it needs to be to dispense treats.
Reinforcing Rocky with praise for touching the part of the foraging toy that needs to move.
Reinforcing Rocky with praise for touching the part of the foraging toy that needs to move.

 

‘Tis the Season To Address Those Hormones

Recall training Suki and Murray, a bonded pair of parrots.
Recall training Suki and Murray, a bonded pair of parrots.

A few times a year many parrot owners and caretakers see and experience the behavior changes hormones can have with the parrots we live with and love. Are you seeing these changes now? I know I am seeing them with the a few of the birds we have here. I want to share some of the key factors we implement when we see these behavior changes arise.

One of the first things we will do is bump up the training, complexity of training, or amount we are training. Training is the best form of communication we have with our parrots and we all do it whether we know it or not. With each time we walk by a cage, talk to a bird or if the bird can hear or see us, we are training that bird. The key question is “What exactly are we training?” Are we training the bird to lung quicker as we walk by? Are we training the bird to scream louder, longer, and earlier each day? Are we training the bird to run longer distances in chasing us? So many times I see people unknowingly train undesired behaviors and train them very well.

Colleen, a client, teaching her amazon to touch its beak to a stick. This is a great way to get a bird to move from point A to point B with no contact, if desired.
Colleen, a client, teaching her amazon to touch its beak to a stick. This is a great way to get a bird to move from point A to point B with no contact, if desired.

When we increase the interaction through training, at the same time we are also modifying food. By modifying I do not mean taking food away. I mean we observe which foods the bird eats first out of its dish or foraging toys, then we set those foods and other desirable treats aside to be delivered in the same amount throughout the day but as positive reinforcers for behaviors we want to see increase. Why not positively reinforce the behavior of the bird being calm as we walk by the cage? Why not reinforce the bird for doing behaviors other than screaming?

Another major key is to give the bird something other to do than regurgitate on toys or practice other behaviors associated with ‘being hormonal’. We provide choice and complexity into the bird’s environment through foraging and gradually increasing the complexity in the foraging toys as the birds continue to figure out how to get the food or treats out of the toy. Keep those toys changing and keep the bird engaged in and with those changing toys. The same toy can become extremely predictable to a parrot. Studies show that predictability can lead to boredom and when a parrot is bored they will then move on to other behaviors that are usually not desired by us. I always say “If your bird is not engaged with the toy and just walking by them, they aren’t toys. They are objects in their way!” Give them less opportunity to practice undesired behaviors. Do this by replacing the opportunity to practice them with other behaviors.

Flight or other equivalent exercise burns off a lot of built up energy. Flight mixed with training is a great way to give the bird other things to do beside screaming or lunging. Recall train them, meaning train them to run or fly to you when called. Train them to hop to your hand and each time they do, reinforce that behavior. Gradually increase the distance until you are in another room and they are running or flying to you from other rooms. This burns off a lot of energy and mixes all of the above suggestions into one. Training, foraging for food through training by flying to your hand, and flying or running to you.

Keep your birds trained doing the things you want them to do rather than letting them practice behaviors you don’t want them to do. The longer they practice an undesired behavior, the more well practiced it becomes. One thing I have always noticed though, it doesn’t take near as long to change a behavior concern than it did for the bird to learn the undesired behavior in the first place. Keep them used to looking for behaviors from you and reinforce those behaviors.

Foraging for the Feathers

Teaching Suki, our blue-fronted amazon how to forage.
Teaching Suki, our blue-fronted amazon how to forage.

Enrichment is one of the most important things we can provide any animal under our care, especially parrots. Enrichment is anything that keeps our parrots engaged, involved, mentally and/or physically stimulated, occupied, and learning. It is the one thing that I think is of the most important to provide to our parrots.

In our initial blog post, I had suggested that you, the reader give me suggestions on what you would like me to address. One of the responses was what we can provide our parrots to help prevent feather destructive behaviors. Enrichment! That is one of several things we should be focusing on for the prevention or redirection of feather destructive behaviors. One of my favored forms of enrichment to provide to the parrots in my care is foraging toys. Foraging is the act of searching for food or treats. I’ve had to teach all of the parrots in my care to forage for their food. It is a learned behavior and in the wild, it is taught by the parents.

When beginning to teach a parrot to forage for their food, there are

While your bird is learning to forage, make the treats easy to see and start with a toy that is easy for your bird to manipulate.
While your bird is learning to forage, make the treats easy to see and start with a toy that is easy for your bird to manipulate. Item used: Natural Vine Ball.

several steps to take and one is to make it easy and another is to start with their favored treats while leaving their primary form of nutrition in their bowl.

If our birds are foraging for their food they are: 1) learning from their environment, 2) mentally and physically enriched, 3) foraging vs. screaming, biting, plucking, pacing, etc. 4) given a sense of more control in their environment, also know as empowered! I want to empower the birds in my care and I want them having as many choices in their environment as I can give them, and this is exactly what foraging can do.

Foraging can also help with getting parrots to want to go back into their enclosures. I love it when the parrots in my care eagerly step off of me and back into their enclosure for the opportunity to figure out or interact with a foraging toy. I need and want the birds to be and play independently from me. I love them to want to be with me too but just as important is for them to be confident and independent. The independence helps prevent anxiety behaviors when I am not with them. THIS is the importance behind foraging.