Hearing Dr. Orosz lecture is like eating a huge, delicious meal. It takes a while to digest. She served up another mental feast at the Wellness Retreat, held in Ashevile NC, October 21-22. Here is one tasty nugget I learned from her.
A filoplume is a type of feather that grows in clumps at the base of flight feathers. It’s small and has a long shaft. Here’s an excellent description. This feather, unlike other feather types, has no associated muscles, so a bird cannot move a filoplume independently. Instead, a filoplume is a sensory receptor attached to a nerve bundle, which provides information to the bird about the position of the feathers surrounding it, and by extension, the bird’s own position in space.
Think of a filoplume like a cat’s whisker. Around each flight feather are many of these whiskers, which give their owner a lot of information about where she is, how to navigate, and what to do next to continue flying or to land. When a bird flaps, those filoplumes go to work, sending her brain tons of information that she must process, and making her think and react in ways that challenge her.
Why is this important? Because a bird denied flight in our homes does not receive much of the filoplume’s message: She does not get to think about and figure out how to fly, perhaps the most essential part of what a bird is. She was meant to be challenged by the constant decisions that flight requires and without them she may be bored or crazy or both. Of course we can never know what our birds are thinking, but we can imagine how we might feel about the world if our legs were tied together from the time we were born. What would it feel like to crawl everywhere? What if you could only get somewhere when someone else took you there? And what if you could only interact with what someone else decided you might like?
How do we address this problem in our homes? Give your bird many opportunities to exercise. If she is not allowed to fly, give her a hanging gym or a boing to encourage swinging and play. Provide her with a cage that is wide enough for her to move around in – and give her plenty of out of cage time. Most importantly, remember how essential sensory stimulation and the opportunities for choice are for your bird’s mental health.