Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Rookie Files: Enrichment

At World Bird Sanctuary, enrichment is a key part of our birds’ lives.

Enrichment prevents the birds from getting bored, keeps them entertained and fosters natural abilities that they would use in the wild.  Enrichment can range from a cereal box to a new game or behavior; it doesn’t have to be complex, just different.
Something as simple as a head of lettuce to tear apart is enrichment
Last summer I presented a bird show at Stone Zoo in Boston, MA, and when you are away at shows like I was, enrichment items are a little more difficult to come by, so you have to get creative.  The good news is when you all live and work together like my staff and I did in Boston, in one house, you buy a lot of groceries, which leads to a lot of recycling.  Pretty much every paper board product that passed through our house ended up as a crow or raven toy.  Boxes, toilet paper tubes, ice cream tubs, shipping boxes, tissue boxes, paper towel tubes, Chinese takeout containers (no metal), to-go coffee cups (cardboard only), drink caddies; you name it, we probably stuffed newspaper and food in it to give to a crow or a raven. 

Enrichment is not just about objects though, it is also about timing.  Giving a bird the same thing over and over again or doing the same behavior over and over again is less enrichment and more routine; it is no longer as stimulating.  We had an issue this summer with Othello, our African Pied Crow and Hugnin our White Necked Raven not wanting to do their enrichment behaviors, since they did them every day that winter.  Once we invented new behaviors and found new enrichment toys for them to play with (thrift stores are an enrichment enthusiast’s best friend), they were more excited.

Enrichment is not just for crows or ravens, although their higher intelligence does demand more stimulating activities.  Many of our raptors got enrichment devices this summer as well.
Osiris our Egyptian vulture sometimes received her extra food in a soda box or collapsible box, both of which required her to use her long, narrow beak to find her food--much like she would in the wild.
 Clark standing on one of his enrichment toys
Clark, the Bald Eagle would get something different every night; boxes, bags, old towels, blue jeans tied in knots, sisal rope tied in knots, and even heads of lettuce.  Clark loved to rip, tear and nibble…kind of like a puppy. If he didn’t have anything to play with, he made his own toys…out of his jesses and anklets. Since it was no fun for us--or Clark---to replace his anklets, we always made sure that Clark had something to play with every night.
 Jesses and anklets were not an approved "toy"
Clark was not the only one who loved the heads of lettuce.   Mia the Spectacled Owl liked to tear them into shreds and Peabody a European tawny owl liked to eat them, after tearing them into tiny shreds (the lettuce is not bad for this carnivore).

Even when the raptors are not working, we like to give them fun things every now and then, like a chicken egg or crayfish.  Sometimes we go all out and carve pumpkins for Dorothy the Andean Condor and stuff them with food.
 One of Dorothy the Andean Condor's favorite toys
Enrichment can be simple, like a box stuffed with food or complex like designing a new game for a crow.  Regardless of the complexity, as long as it keeps the bird stimulated and all items or enrichment training is safe for the bird, it is like surprising the bird with a trip to the amusement park. 

Bet you’ll never look at a cereal box the same way again… I never have!

Submitted by Leah Tyndall, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist/Trainer

1 comment:

Photog said...

WBS presents an avian train workshop, starting 31 October through 3 November. We train those attending all about free flying birds, anklet and jess making, presentation style and enrichment. Please come to our workshop. You can read more about it on our web site or on this blog under the search key Avian Training Workshop. Thanks,
Jeff Meshach