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Different Strokes for Different Birds

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Animal Updates | Birds | Enrichment

Tuesday, December 24, 2013


Different Strokes for Different Birds
Lola using the enrichment item to get to the thing he really wants!  | Dominique Richardson

A while back, I made a textured enrichment item for the Lorikeets. I took one of their favorite materials to shred, raffia, and gave it a new texture for them to explore. It took a while, but I crocheted over 300 feet of raffia into a thick chain that was sturdy, but stretchy with a wonderful give that I knew the birds would enjoy. To prevent any possible tangles, I wrapped the chain tightly around and sewed it to a heavy postage tube that I sealed off at both ends (to keep a happy couple of Lorikeets from turning the toy into a nest). At first, the birds were hesitant of the new object, cautiously eyeing it from afar. But soon over a third of the aviary had flocked around the toy. The Lorikeets swung from it, bit at it, and tugged at it. They seemed to really enjoy exploring the newly textured toy while it lasted (they’re very good at shredding). It was a great success.

Recently, I figured I’d duplicate this wonderful success on another bird that loves textures and shredding things: Lola the Sulfur-crested Cockatoo. I spent a very long period of time crocheting to re-create the fun enrichment item I’d given to the Lorikeets. I hoped the new texture would be just as exciting to Lola as it had been for the other birds. Ready for another great hit, Lola’s trainer and I introduced the toy to Lola. His trainer used a long bolt (that is safe for bird use) to fasten the enrichment item to Lola’s exhibit, as Lola requires something a little sturdier than the rope used for the Lorikeets. And then I waited eagerly to record his responses and behaviors.

But Lola just looked at me. I looked back at him, mentally urging him to start exploring. He scooted over to the other end of his exhibit and nibbled on some pumpkin. His trainer told me to give him some time. Maybe he needed time to get used to it like the Lorikeets did. So I waited some more.

Finally, Lola showed some interest in the enrichment device! He looked at it for a bit and then he started pulling at the textured raffia with his beak. I was all ready to record how he used the item when I realized that clever bird was only using the raffia as a handle to lift up the toy and get to the bolt holding it in place. Once he had positioned the enrichment item so the bolt was close to him he began playing with that. He explored it with his beak, then, as though a light went on in his head, he quickly and dexterously unscrewed the bolt, letting the enrichment item I’d worked so hard on fall to the ground. He looked at me as he proceeded to play with the bolt, as though saying “Why did you hide the cool toy under that other strange thing?”

I was told that a few days later, Lola did shred the enrichment item a little bit. Although my enrichment didn’t quite work out like I’d hoped, Lola was still engaged, interested, prompted to think and had quite a bit of fun (even it if was with the bolt instead of the enrichment “toy”).

Sometimes our enrichment items don’t get the responses we’d like. And while it can be disappointing because of the work we’ve put into them, it is also perfectly fine. Different animals have different needs and curiosities. Sometimes, something that enriches one bird (or otter or sea lion), doesn’t capture the interest of the others. This just emphasizes how important it is for us to observe our animals and record how they respond to their enrichment items. We record how they use the items, what things mentally stimulate them and what things they don’t seem interested in. We observe how animals respond to enrichment items. Are they cautious? Excited? Completely indifferent? Even “no response” is still a response and important information for us to collect. It helps us better develop engaging enrichments that will challenge them and excite their curiosity. Our animals can have specific behaviors and preferences (and these can sometimes change, just like with people) that are important for us to be able log and refer to so that we can build better enrichment items in the future.

Even though Lola didn’t seem to like this enrichment item (or rather, he liked the bolt a lot more), that’s alright. I’ll be able to use the information I learned and recorded to ensure Lola’s next enrichment will be bettered suited to his interests. Next time I’ll build him one with a screw and bolt.

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