Enrichment Tips

Compiled by Jeff Meshach
Director of Animal Management, World Bird Sanctuary

Keep in mind that some of these tips may not be enriching for every bird, and some may work better for some species, and not for others. Always keep safety in mind. If you think any of these tips would not be a safe form of enrichment for your bird(s), then by all means, don't use them. Also, always make sure whatever you give your bird cannot harm them if it is injested.

Enrichment for a bird can be as easy as giving it different kinds of foods on a daily basis. For, example, world bird sanctuary feeds mostly whole or cut up rats and mice to birds that would naturally consider rodents for food. We will sometimes substitute these items for a piece of raw chicken or a whole Coutournix quail, mostly with feathers still attached. Feathers may make more clean-up work for trainers, but most raptors seem to like to pluck the feathers. We also feed rabbit to most birds that will eat rodent, and we feed fish, such as whole trout and coy to vultures and condors. If you feed frozen and thawed fish be sure to vitalize it with brewer's yeast, since freezing breaks down B vitamins in fish. During cooler months we feed deer meat to eagles, condors and vultures. It is amazing to watch a condor turn a deer head (minus antlers) inside out! With any new food be observant, for your bird may not like the taste or texture of a new food. Never sacrifice the basic needs of your bird for enrichment.

There are many non-food items you can give a bird for enrichment. I am sure anyone who has come to an IAATE conference has seen the many parrot toys sold in the venders area. Parrot toys are sold at most pet stores, too. To put it lightly, parrots chew. Always make sure your parrot is provided with something to chew on. Chewing also helps maintain proper beak length. Some of our amazons will chew on cabbage leaves. We have macaws that chew through their perches. I have seen some organizations change to a perch that cannot be chewed on so perch-changing work for trainers is minimized. I feel changing perches is much less a problem than the potential of your parrot chewing on something you don't want it chewing on (ie. Its own feathers). We provide white pine 2x4's as perches for many of our macaws, and just change them when the bird gets close to chewing through the perch. Never use pressure treated wood for anything in or even close to a parrot's enclosure.

World Bird Sanctuary utilizes southern ground hornbills in education programs. We provide them with stumps to pound on. Our hornbills and king vultures seem to like tearing apart Aspen shavings bags, minus the big, copper staples that hold the shavings in the bag.

For basic raptor enrichment, it is usually best to provide them with an enclosure or a perch that gives them a view, especially a view of the sky. Since raptors are naturally very visually oriented, it is usually best to let them see. I am sure most of you have seen a perching, jessed raptor tilt its head to one side as it looks to the sky with one eye. It is almost always looking at another bird flying by, even if you can't see it. We also give raptors tennis balls, soft balls and hard balls to foot at (especially young birds which seem to be more curious than adults). During the nesting season, some raptors will move sticks around and may build a nest. With jessed raptors, don't give them sticks so long that they may become entangled with jesses or the leash.

Water is not only vital for any bird; it can definitely be a form of enrichment. Provide your bird with a water bowl large enough so it can take as bath. Make sure the water bowl is placed correctly so a jessed raptor can get into the bowl, but can't get its jesses or leash caught under the bowl.

There are many, many more forms of enrichment for birds and we would love to hear about them. If you have an idea that you would like to share with iaate, please e-mail Jeff Meshach at jsmeshach(at)aol.com (email modified to save me from spam-bots - copy & paste into your email program and replace the (at) with @). Your enrichment idea may be placed on the web page with credit given to you. Lets all help in making the lives of our birds even better!

I have recently received several enrichment articles (as of early September 2004), and I want to thank all of you who gave me your ideas! Please keep them coming.

  • Rob Carmichael, Curator at the Wild Discovery Center at Elawa Farm, Lake Forest, IL, moves his raptor day perches, and free lofted raptor perches regularly, so he can give his birds a "new look" at their world. He has a Harris Hawk (Parebuteo unicinctus) that loves to play with dog chew toys. Rob, his staff and volunteers also take their jessed raptors for daily walks. This definitely gives his birds a new look at new things, and keeps human/bird bonds strong. Thanks, Rob, for the tips! You can write to Rob at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more information on his enriching ideas.
  • Rusty Copeland from the Valley Zoo in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, throws meal worms and crickets around the bottom fo his Burrowing Owl (Speotyto cunicularia) enclosure once a week. Not only do the owls like to chase them, the public loves to see the chase! For more information, visit Rusty at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 
  • Michelle Beaver who works at SeaWorld of San Diego cable ties cardboard boxes in her large (6'X6'), Psittacine enclosures. The parrots not only chew on the boxes, they will even sleep in the larger ones. Michelle also hides parrot food wrapped in paper towels inside the boxes. She and staff have had their adventure camp kids make parrot toys made from small boxes, dixie cups, rawhide pieces, leather scraps, colored popsicle sticks and paper towel rolls, all threaded on rope. This is a great way to use "cheep" labor, and most kids enjoy doing these things because they are helping a bird. Michelle gives her Black Vultures (Coragyps atratus) hard, plastic baby toys, such as rattles. She also smears bird of prey diet in the links of a hard, plastic chain. The birds will spend a lot of time cleaning up the chain. For more great enrichment information from Michelle, visit her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • Here's a great probe feeder (ie. Hadada Ibis) enrichment idea from Natural Encounters, Inc. (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) Purchase a large (2 ft. X 1.5 ft. X 1 ft.) plastic container, like those used for cement mixing. Fill the container half full with dry sand. Then, sprinkle mealworms over the sand, and then fill the container full with more dry sand.
  • Here are a few more ideas for enrichment from Erin Estell (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.). For those of you that enrich Penguins, Tie plastic 20 oz. pop bottles to a string and hang the "toy" in their enclosure. They also like large, bouncy balls. Eurasian Eagle Owls like to shred phone books and cereal boxes. Bald Eagles like to have fish floated in kiddie swimming pools. Corvids, especially Crows and Ravens, love snowballs (for those of us that put up with the stuff for a few months of the year). They will also shred paper and paper towel roles.
  • Here's an interesting idea from Matt at Grant's Farm, in St. Louis, MO (he writes from This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.). Parrots like to chew on the thick ends of fresh corncobs and pineapples.

A few more enrichment ideas:

  • 20 oz. soda bottles, remove label, wash out the inside and dry it out. Add colorful confetti and superglue the bottle top shut so the birds cannot get the bottle opened. Especially penguins love to poke and chase this, but any bird that would not chew or break open the bottle could play with this.
  • Wicker balls with feathers stuffed inside them. Place feathers inside the wicker balls so that they stick out. Birds preen and pull out the feathers.
  • Non-toxic children's play bubbles. Use the bubble maker that comes with the bubbles and blow the bubbles into the bird's enclosure. Eagle Owls, Hawks, Pied Crows, White-necked Ravens, chickens, parrots and penguins will chase and try to catch the bubbles.