Environmental Enrichment; a Mark of Maturity
Abstract: Amazon breeding today has begun to take on the luster of a maturing enterprise. Although we have yet to reach our goal, the dust choked, over crowded, dung heaped, cagecluttered bird room dungeons are becoming the mark of a crumbling insensitive and unenlightened era. Today, more and more breeders have compassion for their birds and place them in roomy well-lit flights with stimulating physical and visual surroundings.
Total indoor facilities are now more frequently equipped with spacious flights for flying, fans for air movement, built-in or manual rain simulation for showering the birds. Air-conditioning in the summer or an exhaust fan in the window keeps the dust and temperature down. Hepa air filters are the best for dust control. These rooms are painted, even decorated with interesting visuals for these highly visually oriented and stimulated birds. The florescent full spectrum lighting used in the modern indoor facility closely approximates the full visual spectrum of the sun. While the half-hour twilight period in the morning and evening is facilitated by switching on a low wattage light to ease the birds into and out of their daily routine. The additions of hanging real and artificial .Plants in the indoor facility mark that modern breeder as a person of insight, compassion and distinction.
Indoor facilities are still the most common arrangement and, to be fair, some individual circumstances will not allow otherwise. However, many bird keeping facilities could at least have indoor/outdoor facilities if more information were available.
I am a staunch advocate of outdoor facilities. In the vast majority of cases, outdoor facilities of some kind can be constructed for the birds, if only for part of the year. No amount of indoors environmental manipulation and stimulation can match the refreshment of being outside. The sights, the sounds, the smells, wind and rain are all free and stimulating to all creatures. We humans all feel the compression of being indoors too long and even named it "Cabin Fever."
Totally neglected or purposely avoided in the parrot literature is the subject of thermal tolerance (weather tolerance) of the parrots in general or Amazons in particular. Frosty nights in the early spring or fall are of no consequence to a healthy Amazon residing in an outdoor flight constructed with wind and rain protection. Here in western Washington State, during the late fall or early spring, if the weather forecasts frosty temperatures, the hanging water bottles are brought in to avoid freezing and glass breakage. The Europeans tend to treat their birds with
much greater discipline then Americans, but Amazons can handle UDSA growing zone eight with considerate cage site selection location and zone seven with proper cage site placement, wind and rain protection and judicial use of heat lamps during those really cold nights. Parrots in general are a lot tougher than most people think. A parrot that molts out completely while residing outside will grow longer (not more) down feathers for added insulation against the elements. But as in all advice, don't over do it. Fleshy feet cari be injured in extremely cold weather and heat lamps or indoor residency are necessary during winter weather.
We bring the Amazons in every winter during the few coldest weeks (here in UDSA Growing Zone seven) and flock or semi-flock the Amazons to allow these highly social creatures of socialize in the manner they have done for uncounted thousands of generations. Typically, all the Amazons go back out to their breeding flights in mid-February in preparation for the Spring Reproduction Festival (lasting from late March to early July in our latitude).
Food caloric requirements change with cooler weather.
During the cooler or colder periods, the caloric intake of the Amazons is adjusted upward to account for the additional calories metabolized during cold weather. Typically, we use peanut/Canola oil mixed in with the cooking mix and increase the amount of high fat seeds (sunflower/safflower). The weather forecasts are monitored daily and the food is adjusted to fit the weather on a similar bases.
All flights are up off the ground by 3.5 feet to facilitate the guard dogs' rapid passage beneath. Our six outdoor dogs consist of two Rat Terriers for vermin control and barking assistance when needed, two German Shepherds, one Rottweiler and one Border Collie. The larger dogs are extremely well pedigreed for their guard duty tasks. The Border Collie may seem out of place but she is on constant alert to be sure a new employee is not mistaken for an
intruder by the less discriminating Rottweiler. In the 17 years at this location no one has successfully penetrated the perimeter fences although a few truly foolish have tried.
Heavily thorned blackberry bushes have been planted along the fence line of the less patrolled and assessable areas of our seven acres to assist in discouraging trespassers. The three farm access road gates are always locked and entrance is by appointment only during most of the year.
We are open to the public from August to December, without appointment for four hours each Saturday afternoon only. One gate is opened and the dogs are enclosed. During this period as many as five breeding compounds are open to visitation with an experienced employee as a tour guide. The compounds are inspected in advance of every visitation for any sign that would lead to possible closure to the public. Bird concerns take precedence over public wants. No visitor or group is allowed to be unescorted to avoid the habit of fingers thrust into cages or dallying in front of a flight with a hen on eggs or small hatchlings. Groups are kept small for ease of management. Farm rules are clearly spelled out on footpath signs. All buildings but the bird show room is off limits to all but employees.
All flights are under the boughs of Douglas fir trees or partitioned with PVC lattice with vines growing on them to facilitate privacy. The vines used at White Mt. Bird Farm here in Graham, Washington include grapes of several varieties, hardy Kiwi vines and Hops (beer-type). Grapevines are the most commonly used vines here due to their great adaptability to our soil and climate. These varied species of vines not only provide abundant fruit in the fall but also serve as an endless distraction for the birds by toying with or feeding on the rapid growing tips as they twine into the cages. Cheap entertainment indeed.