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Parrot Playtime - Getting the Most From Toys

Watching our pet birds manipulate their environment and learn from it is one of the greatest joys of caring for them. When we think about how a bird “plays” we usually refer to when they chew, toss, and explore their curiosities with the objects and others around them. The process in which they do so can vary from moving, chewing, and shredding objects to completely obliterating them in what seems like no time at all. It’s all an important part of a parrot’s daily life and helps keep them enriched and healthy. In this article, we’ll learn more about how a parrot uses objects to stay busy and some ways that we can help them to safely get the most from their environment.


How Can Toys Provide Enrichment and Encourage Natural Behavior?

Parrots can be found doing all sorts of interesting things in their native habitats. Aside from socializing with flock mates and raising their young, they also keep busy by searching for food and water and exploring their environment.

If a bird that is living in our homes gets hungry, all they have to do is waddle or fly over to their food bowl to eat. But in the wild, birds have to work a bit harder. Let’s talk about foraging for a moment. Foraging describes how an animal locates and accesses food. Some of the ways that they do so are picking through trees and sorting through vegetation and grass.

Depending on the species of parrot and environmental conditions, they spend a large percentage of their day foraging for food. If we can try to replicate that behavior, we are helping to provide an environment where our birds are living a life that is more natural and comfortable for them. It is helpful to understand the species-specific behaviors of a bird when considering what kind of toys to provide. For example, Budgies tend to forage for grass seeds. So, something that simulates that behavior such as a flat surface on which to run around and search for food can be very enriching for them. I know the budgies in my house especially like to rummage through shredded paper to look for treats. A great option to add to foraging toys is Bird Street Bistro's Organic Hulled Millet! 

Some other ways birds keep busy and solve problems in the wild is by climbing, swinging and chewing on the things around them. Getting to the food they want or gaining access to a good resting or nesting site sometimes means they need to chew on and shred wood, etc. Parrots show us time and time again that they are impressively intelligent animals. Those powerful brains seem to find a lot of enjoyment in exploring objects.

There are all sorts of toys marketed for parrots, but you don’t have to purchase expensive toys to provide fun opportunities for your birds. A little creativity and research can help you save some money and give your bird something fun to do with items you might have on hand.


Getting Creative - Buying VS Making Toys

Finding a new toy for our birds, bringing it home, and seeing how they respond to and interact with it can be exciting. But going to a store isn’t the only way to get a parrot playing. There’s lots of ways to create fun and interesting toys using materials from around the house. You can also buy toy parts that are sold individually - allowing you to put them together how you want. This isn’t only fun for the human, it’s also a great way to personalize toys and ensure they are as safe as possible for our birds. Cardboard pieces, paper, and other safe materials laying around can be a great way to get a bird shredding, chewing, and exploring. Getting the same old toys from the store might get boring for a bird. But making something new can get their brains and bodies going.

I personally love creating new ways for my birds to play with. Because I have parrots that are on the smaller side, some of their favorite materials are balsa wood, yucca, and mahogany pod slices. These types of wood are easy for them to tear into and never last long in my house. If you have a larger parrot, stronger wood can survive (a bit) longer than those that are more easily destroyed. You can put toys together to hang in their cage or on their playstand, and you can also create what are commonly referred to as “foot toys”. These are toys that birds can grab hold of and chew on.

When using toy parts or items found around the house, it’s important to know exactly what they are made of and if they are a safe option. If you choose to buy toy parts, choosing a vendor that provides them in a bird-free environment free of chemicals etc. is important. Know who you’re buying from and what their process is to help keep your birds safe.


Toy Safety

Just because an object might be interesting to a parrot does not mean that it is an acceptable thing for it to interact with. Due to various sensitivities, there are certain materials and mechanical dangers that some objects present to our birds. I won’t be going into a lot of detail about the specific dangers some objects have, but it is important to know a few things when choosing toys. Just because you can buy a toy from a store or online doesn’t necessarily mean that it is free from danger. Here are a few things to consider:

Heavy metal toxicity is a serious issue and many parrot owners aren’t aware of the danger. Toys that are made with certain types of metal, most commonly lead, zinc and copper, can make a bird seriously ill or even kill them. Common sources of these metals when it comes to toys are the hooks and clasps that are used to attach a toy to the cage, chains, connectors and other hardware used in their construction. Since it can be hard to know the exact composition of the metal used in what we buy, it’s wise to avoid toys that are easily deconstructed exposing those metal pieces. If you see your bird chewing on or licking an exposed metal on a toy, it’s best to remove and deconstruct it. You can offer the safe parts of the toy instead. Some hardware, such as “quick links” used to attach toys to cage bars can also cause physical injury to a bird if they unscrew them or the parts become loose. The same goes for bells and any exposed wire used to put toys together.

Certain fibers and long materials can be deadly such as the fibers from rope perches and things like cotton rope used to keep toy parts together. Fabrics and toys made with long pieces can become wrapped around the bird causing them to become entangled. Arguably one of the most dangerous cage accessories that are still being sold are the fluffy tents or huts that you can find in nearly every pet shop that contain long fibers that easily come loose if chewed on or used over time. These fibers have been reported by countless bird owners to have become wrapped around the bird. Fibers can also pose a danger to a bird if they are ingested, many times by accident, and can cause blockage inside of the bird’s body. Because we know birds explore their environment by chewing and shredding, these toys simply aren’t a safe option.

There are other things to consider when it comes to toy safety such as the types of wood used in their construction, the spaces and methods of manipulation that the toys have and much more. Toys that a bird can stick their head through, get caught on or that obstruct their movement can all pose dangers. That’s why it’s important to always look at a toy and determine its safety before putting it in our bird’s cage. You always want to look at a potential toy from the perspective of the bird. Knowing its behaviors and how it interacts with its environment is key to keeping them safe.