The buzz on the bird scene is designing and decorating your home with attention to your bird’s natural instincts and requirements. The way birds are being kept is becoming increasingly outmoded in light of the research and information on bird psychology and physiology that has deluged the bird community in the last few years. Today, people realize that their feathered friend is more than just a pretty face.
The latest trend, which seems to be here to stay, is environmental enrichment as a way to alleviate boredom, promote health, and offer a captive bird a little bit of what it’s missing from the wild. Using natural materials, offering room to fly, and trying to recreate, even in a small way, a bird’s organic habitat is what the who’s who of bird care is talking about this season.
“There are two integrated aspects to enrichment for birds: environmental enrichment and social behavioral enrichment,” said Greg Glendell a pet parrot behavioral consultant in Axbridge, England. “I have tried to ensure that all of my birds get both. Environmental enrichment refers to the physical accommodation provided for the birds—their ‘habitat’ in captivity. The social behavioral enrichment comprises the opportunities the birds are offered which allow them to perform as many of their normal social behaviors as possible.”
“The more we can provide the birds with facilities which replicate their natural habitats, the more we can ensure they will be stimulated to perform as much of their repertoire as possible,” continued Glendell. “This in turn results in contented, busy birds that are unlikely to experience the behavioral problems so often seen in captive birds.”
Creating a Bold Statement with Foliage
Today’s bird lover is savvy when it comes to foliage. Green never goes out of style. Whether your style is classic, retro, mod, or urban, foliage fits in to a “tree.” Taking its cue from exotic locales, today’s style revisits the rainforest, but with easily available flora.
“You can’t recreate the foliage the birds would have in their natural habitat,” said Bob and Liz Johnson, owners of the large free flight sanctuary, the Shyne Foundation, in South Florida. “The palm nuts we give our hyacinths aren’t exactly the same ones they get in the wild, but they are the closest to what grows here.”
Bob and Liz Johnsons try to give their over 100 large parrots a variety of nontoxic trees that grow faster than the birds can destroy them, but have discovered that concept to be difficult. “We’ve found that there are no plants that grow faster than they can destroy them, so we have to keep replacing the trees,” said Liz Johnson. “You can’t just put plants in with your birds and think it’s going to look like that forever. When Bob is putting up new trees, which we have to do every week or so, the birds are in the trees as he’s putting them up, clipping the tops. After the 16 foot high trees are up for about twenty minutes, the trees are lowered about a foot. If you replace the trees about every two weeks, you can have a fairly nice looking place.”
Glendell’s birds behave in much the same manner, making mulch of new trees in no time flat. His aviaries are densely planted with both live trees and bushes, and are refreshed with fresh live branches every few weeks. The branches are placed in large tubs of water, so they stay green longer. Glendell said that the birds are enthusiastic chewers of the branches and that he uses almost any deciduous type of trees, including oak, cherry, ash, maple, hawthorn, and hazel.
“First the birds chew up the leaves, later they get to work on the bark and small branches, leaving the aviary floors sprinkled with shredded leaves and
wood shavings,” said Glendell. “Even as I am carrying the new branches in [to the aviary] the Amazons and conures will alight on them and start calling enthusiastically.”
Glendell also makes sure that the flooring of the aviary is as interactive as the trees. “The floor is grass, earth, bark chippings, rocks and logs, plus small areas of concrete. Areas of the grass have to be mown to keep it short so the birds will use it. Some food such as favorite items like peanuts, banana chips and sunflower seeds is thrown onto the ground, rather than merely being placed in the food bowls, so the birds have to spend some time looking for these.”
It might seem like a good idea to add fake plants for ambiance in a bird room, but the Johnsons feel that the imposter plants could be dangerous if ingested. “The easiest thing to do is find a nontoxic pest tree and cut it down or cut branches off of it and stick it in the ground or put it in a Christmas tree stand or in a pot, but don’t use commercial potting soil because birds like to dig in the dirt and it might have fungicide and other things in it,” said Bob and Liz Johnson. “Don’t go out and buy expensive plants unless you have an unlimited budget. If you do buy potted plants, rotate them every week so that the plant has a chance to regrow.”
If your budget allows, you can perpetually grow and rotate the plants and trees in your bird’s environment, the way the owners of Feathered Friends Forever, Ron and Tammy Johnson of Appling, Georgia have. “With a natural habitat, the birds will eat and trim the plants sometimes too much in one area. You need a way to replenish some areas while you open up others to allow them to use the new plants in that area. A greenhouse works well for keeping replacement plants ready to add to the area and then return the others to the greenhouse to grow back to full bloom again.”
A Fresh Look with Lighting
Taking its inspiration from the natural world, illumination with full spectrum lighting is the stylish—and healthy—way to turn a lamp into a little piece of the sun.
“Lighting is important for psychological and physical reasons, just like plants,” said Liz Wilson, CVT, a parrot behavior consultant from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. “We can’t see into the UV spectrum so we don’t know what the world looks like to a parrot. If we light their rooms with full spectrum light, I would assume they are able to see better. That has to be a good thing for a prey animal. Dim lighting has to be frightening to them, as it’s very easy to startle a parrot in dim light.”
Color, color, color is key this season—as it is every season—so you should give your bird the opportunity to see as many of the colors in its visual spectrum as possible, either by providing natural light or appropriate artificial lighting. “Most parrots can see several thousand more colors, hues and tones, than we can,” explained Glendell. “The ‘extra’ colors are made up of uv ‘a’ and uv ‘b’ light mixing with the red, green and blue combinations that we also see. So the lighting provided should reflect this situation. Birds should have access to unfiltered natural daylight. Where artificial light is provided, this should match daylight color temperatures as near as possible. Fluorescent lights are quite good at doing this, but sadly, most operate at only 70 hertz. This means they flash on and off seventy times every second. To humans, the flashing is imperceptible because we have a flicker-fusion rate of a mere 15Hz, the maximum number of images our eyes and brain can process per second. Birds have a flicker-fusion rate of up to 170Hz. They probably need this to facilitate high speed flight through trees.”
Remember to replace your full spectrum bulbs every six months, when you change your clocks, because their effectiveness wears off even though they keep providing light.
Frequent Flyer Miles
Flight is more than a fancy this year, with more and more bird lovers providing their birds with large, safe spaces to fly in, complete with plants and natural branches.
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Substantial size is in this year, with bird lovers expanding cage and aviary sizes to accommodate their birds’ flying requirements. “When someone asks me how large a cage they should get for their African grey, I tell them they need one as big as Africa,” said Becky Margison, board member of the Avian Welfare Coalition in Albany, New York.
That’s a pretty big cage, indeed! Realistically, form and function can merge with to turn available space into a safe flying area. “We have built outdoor flight aviaries to accommodate full flight,” said Ron and Tammy Johnson, “The benefit is stronger wings, better blood flow, and more exercise. We have birds that have never been out of their cages in ten to fifteen years and now they can use their wings and leg muscles for climbing and flying as they once did in the wild. We have added waterfalls with a misting rain sprinkler system complete with rain forest noises.”
Innovations in Indoor/
Many bird lovers are expressing themselves with an untraditional indoor/
Patty Finch of Phoenix, Arizona has housed her loveable Quakers in a large indoor aviary which is connected by a PVC tunnel though an outside wall to a larger outdoor aviary. “An electrician was hired to bore through the wall and then he put in the PVC pipe and plastered around it. My birds love to go in the tunnel to talk because it echoes,” said Finch.
“Quakers build with thorny branches in their native habitat, and sure enough, their favorite twigs to build with are citrus, which have thorns,” Finch continued. “They also have a bird bath they can use at any time. The birds are fully flighted and the outdoor aviary just has plants on one side, with most of the area clear for flying. I can close the tunnel to the outside, which I do at night, via plastic dropped in a slot in the tunnel. Since we are in Phoenix, it is warm enough for them to go outside some of each day, even in winter. An aviary made of wire screwed on to metal doesn’t cost that much more than expensive cages.”
Low Budget Luxury Living
Not everyone can add an enormous rainforest habitat to their home, nor can most people bore through their walls—not without disturbing the landlord, at least. Fortunately, designing with your bird in mind on a budget is as easy as ordering untreated wood.
“Make lots of table-top perches,” suggests Glendell. “Small home-made stands which comprise a natural branch attached to a base. I use an affair which looks like two bookends joined with a short branch. Birds like to be able to perch with their tails clear of the ground and this type of perch encourages this. Being portable, you can move the perch to different rooms with the bird, or have more permanent types in each room. Also, provide the bird with ‘disposable’ toys made out of cheap or free natural materials. Toys made out of natural wood, pine cones, cardboard tubes, hard nut shells, natural leather, cotton, sisal, and jute are ideal.”
Margison suggests using Plexiglas on the walls of your bird room and to line the floor with linoleum. “If an entire room is not available, the largest cage possible should be used for birds and they should have ample opportunity to fly every day,” said Margison. “If it’s possible to build an indoor aviary, it should be as big as possible, with plenty of bird-safe wood, opportunities for foraging, chewing, and so on.”
Missa Capozzo, an artist from Worcester, Massachusetts, has turned one of her spare bedrooms into a bird room, which she has equipped with items that roughly simulate a bird’s natural furnishings in the wild.
“I have a hanging bird gym to simulate high tree branches in the wild,” said Capozzo. “To make a jungle-like atmosphere, there are several artificial palm trees in various areas of the room as well as a CD player which plays sounds of the Amazon during the day. The room has two large windows which allow sunlight to pour in during the daytime. The windows are covered with room-darkening black mini-blinds to keep any light out when it’s bedtime.”
Capozzo also has several large bird stands throughout the house. “This allows the birds to be among the action and activity in the household,” said Capozzo. “Because they are made of large wooden ‘perches,’ the birds are able to climb and play as they would in a tree. These stands also hold several toys so the birds have wood to chew on and play with wherever they go.”
Whatever your taste, a successful interior design concept should make your space—and your bird’s space—a place that you both want to come home to. Bright, open spaces are in, cramped living is out. Plants and greenery are hot, artificial materials are not. Getting stylish isn’t difficult . . . just ask the expert — your bird.