Solving Problem Parrot Chewing With Enrichment
NOTE: I have a new pet behavior blog located at http://www.SoMuchPETential.com/blog. Thanks!
(a Hyde Park Living column written a number of years ago when my dear Chester was still with us)
In the days before Barnaby joined our flock, there was just Chester, Dreyfuss and me living together in a large two bedroom apartment. It actually was a wonderful place with many of the rooms being larger than those in my house and the large sliding glass window in the dining room made for a scenic view of the woods in the back. Pink floor length curtains hung from its side with a hand made valence (made by me) stretching across the top.
Chester and Dreyfuss stayed in the dining room, their cages arranged on a wall at either end of the table.
It made for some interesting meetings (I work from my home) and dinners with the family. Whoever thought only dogs begged for food has certainly never met my guys!
That was long before I had ever heard of behavioral analysis, and creating an enriching environment, well, that meant putting some acrylic toys in their cages, right??? I got them at the pet store, and they were labeled ‘bird toys’ after all.
I did a lot of things differently back then, and, as a result, so did the guys. Take for example those flowing, opaque pink curtains that were no longer transparent to the sun’s afternoon rays by the time I bought a house. If you’re ever looking for an awesome playgym for your parrot, I’ve got a suggestion. To Chester, they were the greatest thing next to safflower seeds. He’d slide down his cage stand, waddle across the floor and climb to his heart’s content. Up, down, right, left. If he was on the outer edge, he could swing it around so that only his head would stick out. And, if I didn’t find him while he was playing monkey on the curtains, he’d make it all the way up to the valence. I can’t tell you how many times I’d walk out to find him hanging upside down. When he’d see me, he’d tilt his head up as if to say ‘look mom, look at me!’
I was so frustrated because I couldn’t stop him, but at the same time, if you’ve ever seen an Alexandrine hanging upside down with such a comical look about him, you can’t help but laugh. It’s just so funny.
Then there was the time when I was on the telephone in a back bedroom and suddenly I heard C*R*U*N*C*H. That was the sound of a dining room chair being disassembled by a beak that didn’t have anything better to chew on. <sigh>
Needless to say, I was determined when we moved, that history was NOT going to repeat itself. And thankfully now, I have the knowledge to prevent it. (at least so far – and it’s been nine years)
It’s easy to look back on the situation now and see how Chester’s environment wasn’t setting him up for success, at least success through my eyes.
With a behavioral analysis hat on, let’s look at his curtain climbing antics.
Background: Chester is activity and Lisa deprived.
Antecedent: curtains were in view
Behavior: Chester waddled over and climbed the curtains
Consequence: sensory feedback – stimulation from his having to use his beak and feet activity – he was busy and engage; social – if I came out, he’d get my attention
Probable Future Behavior: When Chester is activity and Lisa deprived, he’ll continue to climb the curtains
So, what have I done differently to set him up for success?
Well, honestly, I really just needed to do some antecedent changes to prevent him from destroying things here and it has solved our problem. I have created a much more enriching environment. I even keep their cage doors open while I’m working in my basement and the only reason Chester will come off his cage is if something scares him. But I’m prepared for that too.
Chester, and all of my birds, have a lot to do during the day to keep them busy. I spend hours each week making strands of knotted hemp and beads that I hang all over the inside and outside of their cages. I wrap almonds in cloth or a box or paper cup for Chester and Dreyfuss. I have portions of a phone book wrapped in string on the cage floor of Chester’s cage and hanging toys for Barnaby, my Timneh Grey, to hang from.
The list goes on but you get the picture. They are busy if they want to be, and if they want to nap, that’s fine too.
But in the instance that Chester should come to the ground (and now I put him there too when I’m cleaning cages or watching tv), I’ve made some play stations for him. I got a mirrored toy from a human baby store and he can spend hours with it, so much so that I got a second one for the television room. (Scattering some beads or resting a tub of activity items next to it makes it even more reinforcing.) I bought a cheap plastic round snow sled and placed an Orbit play gym on top, tying strands of beads to it. This is also in the television room, next to the mirror toy. Chester receives such positive sensory and activity reinforcement for playing with these toys that there’s no reason for him to search out a dining room chair or curtain.