There is nothing more amusing than watching a parrot play. Hanging from the top of the cage by one toe, while swinging from side to side and screaming, as he attacks a toy, is a favorite pastime. Parrots play not only for entertainment but for emotional well being too. Providing your parrot with plenty of ways to occupy his/her free time will lead to a happy, well adjusted companion bird.
Parrots must be taught to entertain themselves. Their extraordinary intelligence allows them to become bored quickly. Keeping them entertained will help prevent behavior problems such as screaming, biting, and feather picking. In addition to entertainment, wood toys provide an ideal medium to help keep beaks in good condition. A parrot’s beak is made of keratin which, like human fingernails, grows continuously. Offering plenty of destructible toys will give your bird needed opportunities to wear his/her beak down, thus avoiding a trip to the vet for a beak trimming.
Toys can also be used to train and socialize your bird. You can set up regular training sessions. If you prefer, your training method can be as simple as verbally saying the name of the toy, or the color of the toy.
I have a small basket that I keep old toy parts in and this is my birdie toy box. All of my birds know where the toy box is located. I use the toys in the toy box to train and socialize my baby birds. I put an old sheet down on the floor to make clean up of baby bird droppings easy. After play time is over I just toss the sheet into the washer and disinfect with bleach.
I place the toy box in the center of the sheet and I allow the birds to choose what they want to play with. By observing the birds I can get an idea of their personal preferences in toys. I can learn their favorite color and the types of toys they prefer.
Then, I get down on the floor and I play with the birds too. I will roll a ball across the floor and say “Go get the ball”. I also play 52 pick up with the birds. They toss all of the toys out of the basket and I pick up the toys. I roll the birds over on their backs and I give them foot held toys. Foot held toys such as dumbbells, natural rawhide bones, plastic rings , etc., are not only fun for your pet but will increase dexterity, flexibility, and strength in your birds feet and legs. Sharing play time with your bird reinforces the bond between the two of you.
When choosing a toy for your bird, safety should be the first priority. Remember, EVERY toy has the potential to cause an injury. Parrots are such intelligent and inquisitive creatures, that they find ingenuous ways of playing with objects, ways we have never imagined or intended. But there are proven safer materials for toy construction.
Look for toys with C-links (commonly called Quick links) as the hanging mechanism. Tighten the C-links with a wrench, not pliers. Other hanging mechanisms are easier to undo and have been know to hook birds’ beaks or feet. Chain should be solid welded and smooth. Jack chain is VERY dangerous, so do not purchase toys hung with Jack chain (a twisted, non-welded, 3 ply chain link).
All metal hardware should be lead and zinc free, including bells. Beware of the clappers inside of bells. These can be removed easily by most birds and accidently swallowed. Round rings should be too large or too small for your birds beak, head, and toes to catch. Split key rings should be removed from all toys. Parrots can easily separate the metal and entrap toes and beaks.
Leather pieces and strips should NOT be dyed and should be vegetable tanned. Other tanning processes use chemicals that are toxic to birds. Rawhide should be un-bleached.
Make sure the wood used is listed as safe for birds. Some safe woods are Apple, Arbutus, Ash, Aspen, Beech, Birch, Cactus, Cottonwood, Crabapple, Dogwood, Elm, Fir, Hawthorn, Larch, Manzanita, Pine, Poplar, and Willow. Oak is NOT safe for birds.
Acrylic and Marbella plastic are also used in toy construction. These products are considered safe as long as not ingested.
Cotton rope toys pose a SERIOUS threat to the safety of your birds. This author only recommends that cotton rope toys be used under direct supervision. As the cotton rope frays, it becomes a dangerous deadly trap. Birds can become entangled in the frayed pieces. Injuries that have resulted from being caught in rope toys range from amputation of single digits to an entire foot. The worst cases that I know of are birds who strangled to death while struggling to free themselves. Sisal rope is a safer alternative to cotton rope.
Choosing the appropriately sized toy not only increases the safety for your bird, but also increases the value of your dollars. Always start with the manufacturer’s suggested guidelines for size. Then consider how your bird plays with toys. Is your bird an avid chewer? Does your bird prefer preening over chewing? Does your bird prefer hanging and swinging? Does your bird do all of the above? If your bird is more destructive, then purchasing the next sized toy will help it last longer.
Always check the safety of the next sized toy whether smaller or larger. The next size toy may pose a safety concern for a bird if it’s out of the suggested guidelines. It has been my experience that most people purchase toys that are too small for their birds. The smaller sized toy may be a few dollars less in price but may also not last long enough for you to get any real value for your dollars. Toys which are too small may pose safety concerns such as having smaller pieces which can be easily broken and accidently swallowed.
Toys do not always need to be expensive and store bought to be fun and entertaining. Some safe household items that make good toys are plastic bottle caps, paper towels, plain white paper, frayed plastic milk jugs, cardboard rolls from paper towels and wrapping paper, newspaper, a new mop head etc. Other items such as natural whisk brooms, wireless clothespins and wooden balls can amuse birds for hours.
Making toys can be fun and save money for those who have time. Items such as wood pieces, pony beads, sisal rope, etc.can be found at most craft stores. Vegetable food coloring or unsweetened Kool-aid can be used to color the wood shapes. Use vegetable dyes only. Other dyes may be harmful if ingested.
If you are going to glue toy parts together, make sure the glue is non-toxic, such as Elmers Children’s glue. Plumbers glue can also be used as it is safe after it completely dries. BUT, it does emit toxic fumes during the application process and should be used in a well ventilated area that is in a separate building from your birds. Acrylic and Marbella plastic also emit toxic fumes during the cutting and drilling process so take special care while performing these processes.
You can also purchase toys marketed for human children and give them to your birds, such as rattles, plastic keys, building blocks, etc. Just remember that child safe is not necessarily bird safe.
Another fun idea is to take a plastic bottle from a beverage and put beads, clothespins, or other brightly colored safe objects, into the bottle and put the cap back on ( old toy parts work great for this toy). Watch your bird go nuts trying to get to the pieces. Be creative and come up with ideas that your bird finds challenging and stimulating.
One of the questions I am most often asked is “How many toys should I put in the cage at any one time?” The answer varies with the cage size. You want to leave enough room in the cage for your bird to extend his wings and be able to move freely, allowing plenty of room for exercise. Usually 3 to 4 toys at any one time is sufficient. I recommend having extra toys and rotating the toys. Changing the toys regularly will help prevent your bird from becoming bored with them.
A variety of different types of toys is a must for a well equipped bird cage. One acrylic or plastic toy per cage for durability also provides a source for climbing and swinging across the cage. Hang one wood toy for chewing, and one leather or sisal rope toy to satisfy preening needs. A swing is a must for any bird. Swings provide a source for amusement, exercise and a fun place to perch. Refillable toy hangers are a constant source of entertainment for those extra large beaks.
Many toy manufacturers sell refill kits that can be used to refill toys or repair existing toys. These toys are a real money and time saver. Foot held toys such as dumb bells, natural rawhide bones, and plastic rings are great exercise for your birds feet. Old toy parts come in handy for this use too.
Toys need to be washed, disinfected and inspected regularly for possible safety concerns. Make it part of your routine and change the toys weekly when you do your thorough cage cleaning. Remember, hookbills have powerful beaks and can snap or break toys creating sharp edges or other safety hazards. Use a 10% bleach solution to disinfect toys and rinse well.
Whether for fun, exercise, or socialization, toys are an important aspect of your birds daily life. Birds are individuals with different personalities and preferences and keeping a supply of your birds favorite toys on hand for his/her enjoyment will make for a happy, well socialized pet.