Birds still don’t get as much enrichment as they need to have, this is largely due to the fact that many owners don’t think they need their lives enriching. However there is a group of Birds that even enrichment providers overlook, the tiny Birds eg. Finches & Canaries. In this article I will cover Zebra Finches (Taeniopygia guttata) as they are the only Finch species I can find in a scientific study of enrichment & its benefits. We are only just starting to give avian species the recognition they deserve when it comes to intelligence, but we only think of pet psittacine species when we think of giving enrichment.
Zebra Finches are sensitive, social & remarkable little Birds who are intelligent & interactive, just in a different way to their parrot counterparts. They too live in extremely complex social groups & often mate for life. Being smaller in size means their chicks can lose heat quicker, this something that Zebra Finches instinctively know. A 2016 study showed that mothers communicated to their eggs, a term known as embryonic communication, & their calls made their chicks smaller in size compared to chicks who didn’t hear this particular call. When kept in hot conditions the smaller chicks went on to produce more fledgelings in the first breeding season than the larger chicks that didn’t get exposed to the call. This is thought to be a tool to overcome changing climates & is the first time scientists have found any animal using sound to affect the growth, development, behavior & reproductive success of their offspring.
When you look at the scientific information we have on Zebra Finches there is no doubt that they are intelligent, live in a complex social structure & benefit from environmental enrichment. But how can we prove that such a tiny Bird has such great benefits from an enriching environment? In February 1995, animal welfare volume 4 published a study by a team of scientists that was titled ‘Zebra Finch behaviour and effects of modest enrichment of standard cages’. The aim of the study was to find out if modest environmental enrichment would change the behaviour displayed by Zebra Finches in cages. They compared 4 plywood box cages of 2 different lengths, one big & small for the barren environment typical of many pet Zebra Finches, & one big & small for the enriched environment.
The Zebra Finch behaviour was observed closely for one hour a day for a period of four weeks. The results of the study found that locomotive activity, vocalization & singing were all increased in the enriched environments compared to the barren environments. The biggest change of all occured in the big enrichment cage, where flight was significantly increased too. This study proved just how effective enrichment can be in the daily life of Zebra Finches & how it increases the range of natural behaviours they exhibit. Many may hold the view that Zebra Finches don’t need enrichment & they are not an intelligent species, but scientific evidence completely disproves that view. It is vital that we listen to the information we are fortunate to have access to, that we move away from an outdated mindset. Please choose enrichment today.