Tuesday, November 12, 2013
What I wouldn’t do for a nice cool smoothie on a warm day… I think sometimes our Lorikeets feel the same way! Giving food to animals can be a great form of enrichment. Food is an excellent motivator (it definitely works for me) and presenting it in a new or unique way can elicit foraging behaviors and even encourage problem solving strategies.
In Lorikeet Forest, visitors have the chance to feed these birds nectar—a major part of their natural diet. This feeding can be a great form of interaction and fun for the birds, but doesn’t always count as enrichment. When an activity happens often and becomes a regular thing it becomes less enriching. This doesn’t mean it’s not fun anymore, it’s just no longer new. It becomes normal and doesn’t take as much thinking to figure out. For example, consider going to your favorite restaurant… every single day. It’s still enjoyable (otherwise you wouldn’t keep going), but it quickly becomes comfortable, you don’t have to think about what to order anymore and it’s probably not as exciting as it was the first time you were there.
To bring some more excitement to feeding time (there’s already quite a bit of excitement!) and encourage problem solving in our birds, Enrichment Intern, AnnMarie, created a new feeding enrichment for the Lorikeets. Using fruits and vegetables, she carved several edible bowls and filled them with nectar, fruit, and fruit smoothies that the birds love to eat. These bowls were hung around Lorikeet Forest and the birds were allowed to explore, eat, and play. And make a mess.
This unique approach to feeding provided several different types of enrichment for the birds. Because the bowls were something new the birds had never seen before, it piqued their curiosity. They wanted to explore and find out what these things were. It definitely didn’t take them long to figure out the bowls were tasty treats.
Once the lorikeets determined the bowls were something they wanted, we could almost watch the wheels turning in their mind, trying to figure out how to get the food out of the bowls. Many of the treats were hung by plastic chain that allowed the bowls to swing and move. We could see the Lorikeets eyeing the bowls, stretching out as far as they could from the nearest perch to reach, trying to reach the bowl without making it swing. Some tried flying in at different angles to possibly land on the swinging bowls, flew off, re-evaluated, and flew in again. They were putting those problem solving skills to good use!
The Lorikeets rapidly reasoned that if one treat bowl was delicious, the rest must be too. When they realized there was more than one of these edible bowls, the search began! They were looking all over for more fun things to eat. The treat bowls did an excellent job encouraging foraging behavior and making the Lorikeets look for and work for their food like they would in their natural habitat.
The bowls themselves also provoked some thought on the part of the birds. In creating the bowls, AnnMarie used pumpkin and apple, which the birds have nibbled at before (they don’t really eat the fruit, but drink the juice and spit out the pulp, leaving quite a mess). She also tried out sweet red pepper, which was totally new to the Lorikeets. The Lorikeets did not hesitate to nibble on the pumpkin and apple bowls after they’d hurriedly emptied them of their nectar and smoothie treats. But they seemed to take their time with the sweet pepper bowls and didn’t completely shred them. It was as though the new flavor and texture of the pepper was something to contemplate, learn about, and maybe even savor. Or, maybe, like some young children, they just didn’t like new veggies.
One of the most important parts of the enrichment was that it was fun. Long after the birds had emptied the fruit and vegetable bowls, the Lorikeets were climbing on the bowls, gnawing at them and shredding them to bits. Plus it was a lot of fun for us to watch the birds engage, think about and overcome feeding obstacles, and be instantly and happily rewarded. I think one of the best things, particularly about successful food enrichments, is that the birds don’t even know that it is an “enrichment.” It’s just a fun, exciting, and delicious treat to eat and play with and then shred to pieces.
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