Thursday, February 11, 2010


What do cereal boxes, tennis balls and termite mounds have in common?

They are all enrichment items for the birds. What is this enrichment you may ask?  Enrichment is a way to keep the birds from being bored.  Even though we are around the birds all day long, the staff can’t spend every moment with our ‘favorite’ birds.  Instead, we can give them toys to play with.

One of the most popular "toys" at WBS--Move over WII!
Most of the birds are similar to young children, some have short attention spans and are easily bored or on the flip side of the coin, are geniuses.   But never fear, an empty cereal box is here.  After the holidays or birthdays rather than play with the present, many kids like to play with or in the box the gift came in.  Now, downsize it for a bird.  Parrots love to chew and shred the cardboard from the boxes we give them.  Other parrots will crawl into their new ‘cave’.  The crows and ravens enjoy trying to get their food out of a cereal box.  Afterwards, they proceed to shred the boxes and use the cardboard pieces to hide any uneaten food.  (Parents, it is kind of like watching children hunt for Easter eggs and baskets and then devouring all the chocolate.)

So how do tennis balls and termite mounds fit in?  Every bird manipulates their ‘toys’ differently. Some birds pick up balls, others carry them around, and a few bury them.  Balls can come in different sizes like tennis balls, wiffle balls, and playground balls.  Toys can be hung from the perch or the top of the pen.  One of our Trumpeter Hornbills likes to poke at his while he is sitting on his perch.

Our Trumpeter Hornbill practicing his ball handling skills
The red-legged seriemas are sometimes a challenge.  Recently a staff member and volunteer constructed a device into which we can place crickets.  The toy looks like a termite mound and has internal piping. When the crickets want to come out they can. There are many holes in the termite mound so the crickets can find their way out of any hole, on their own time. The seriamas learned really fast how patience gets them the tasty treat. They also learned it was a great perch from which to watch.
If you're a Seriema, watching this "termite mound" can keep you busy for a good part of the day
Enrichment is more than toys.  It can also be in the presentation.  An open box versus closed, open from the side, upside down, or upright.  A box for one bird might not have the same excitement value unless it is tied to the side of an enclosure.  This can also be used on kids in food preparation.  The food they don’t enjoy eating, say cauliflower, can be changed to a tasty treat by adding cheese on top, or by mashing it so the consistency is similar to mashed potatoes.  It is even a good way to fool adults.  Trust me on this one.  I saw an older gentleman duped into eating his veggies in this fashion.

Looking for other ways to entertain your children (or adults)?  Stop by the sanctuary to visit the ever changing exhibits, programs and more.  Maybe you’ll see a red- legged seriama calling from his or her termite mound perch.

Submitted by Christina Lavalee, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist/Keeper


Photog said...

Thanks to one of our sharp-eyed readers for catching our misprint. The photo is of a Trumpeter Hornbill, not an African Ground Hornbill.

Jen in Belgium said...

I have a question about eagles in captivity. A toddler would like to know, Would they or have they ever eaten cheese? It's a fatty thing. I know keas will sit on a sheep's back and eat its backfat without killing it. Ew gross, yes, but it seems like a lot of birds like fatty things from suet on up. Here you mention cauliflower and cheese.

Photog said...

The reference in the article to cauliflower and cheese was an example of getting a human toddler to eat his veggies--not a bird. Here at the sanctuary we try to feed our birds what they would naturally eat in the wild. With bald eagles, that would be primarily fish.