The Essential Toy Chest
For birds, toys are not only fun and games, they are a key component to living a happy and healthy life.
For most people, toys connote fun and joy, and they would not be wrong. However, for captive birds, having access to a frequently refreshed collection of toys means so much more. Parrots require a variety of toys to keep them mentally stimulated and physically healthy. Toys are also key to the development of healthy behaviors and habits in birds.
“Avian behaviorists who have spent time observing parrots in the wild have reported that playtime ranks second only to food gathering in priority,” says Erin Silk, project manager at Caitec Corporation in Baltimore. “In captivity, without enrichment that closely mimics their natural behaviors, parrots can develop mentally and physically damaging behaviors.”
Pet birds need to play is a testament to their intelligence. “Parrots have an innate need to investigate the world around them,” explains Silk. This means that not only must pet birds have access to several types of toys, but pet owners should provide their parrots with new toys as needed and rotate existing toys to generate continued interest.
Deb White, chief executive “bird brain” at Super Bird Creations in Grand Junction, Colo., agrees. “It is important to rotate the toys in and out of the cage weekly to stimulate curiosity and prevent boredom,” she says.
A fresh rotation of toys is especially critical for young parrots. “Exposure to a wide variety of objects at a young age helps to create a more confident and less fearful bird,” says White. Those pets that are not given new toys frequently will often be scared of any changes in their environment as they get older, which can cause stress and lead to physical and mental ailments.
Silk agrees, noting that, “Giving your parrot new toys as needed, and rotating existing toys, will keep their interest focused on their toys rather than on other, less-desired behaviors.”
A lack of stimulation and play can cause an avalanche of unwanted, unhealthy behaviors in pet birds. “Birds provided with a variety of toys are less self-absorbed and exhibit fewer negative behaviors, such as feather picking and self-mutilation, screaming for attention, fear of unknown objects, aggressiveness toward humans, and destruction of household furnishings and such,” says White.
The main reason many parrot owners feel the need to let go of their pet is due to the development of bad behaviors, and many of these can be avoided if a pet bird is given enough mental and physical stimulation to keep it from getting bored.
Variety, of course, is crucial. “Birds should be provided with a cross section of toys from all of the following categories to ensure that their physical and mental needs are being addressed,” says White. “The key categories are foraging toys, chewing toys, exercise toys, comfort toys, preening toys, manipulative/mechanical toys and foot toys.”
In the wild, parrots will chew on bark and branches for fun, and to keep their beaks and feet in good condition. Therefore, they need to have these types of destructible toys available in captivity. Bird owners may complain about the need to replace these toys more often, but it is well worth the price if it means avoiding any negative behaviors that may crop up from being denied the opportunity to satisfy the need to chew.
Birds also benefit from having toys that are constructed of a wide range of materials and offer varying degrees of destructibility and challenge. The diversity helps keep parrots engaged and interested in play.
Pet owners still need to consider their pets’ individual needs. For example, smaller birds should be given softer wood to gnaw on, while large parrots can be given harder woods to chew. White adds that pet owners need to determine their bird’s “toy personality.” She says it is imperative that a bird owner observes their pet carefully to see what its preferences are when it comes to toys. Retailers can help by asking questions such as: Does your bird like to chew, tear, preen, shadow box, snuggle with or disassemble toys? Does the bird like to play with bells or other noisemakers, hang upside down and do aerobatics, climb, hold things in their foot, or shred paper? Does it like to forage for treats, solve puzzles, untie knots, grab at shiny objects or weave materials?
White points out that pet owners should purchase appropriately sized toys for their birds, as well. “If a toy is too small, it will not only be too easily destroyed, but small parts could also present a choking hazard,” she says. “If a toy is too large, it could pose a trapping hazard for small bird body parts,” or it could frighten the bird.
There are so many color and material options, ensuring that there are great toys for every pet bird. “Parrots desire constant stimulation, and Caitec has developed products that relieve boredom and encourage physical activity by constantly exploring new materials and designs to maintain excitement, all while continuing to produce products with the durability needed to keep parrots safe,” explains Silk.
In addition, White advises retailers to “select toys from reputable manufacturers who take care to make sure only safe, non-toxic materials are used.”
Parrots are very curious and are often considered too smart for their own good. Offering at least four to six toys that are changed out frequently or as needed after being chewed apart is the best way to keep any pet parrot mentally and physically healthy and to avoid bad behaviors—therefore keeping parrot owners happy, as well.
White adds: “Confinement of parrots without providing outlets for exercise, entertainment, comfort and mental challenge will result in boredom, depression, poor physical health and ultimately, an unsuitable pet.”
Robyn Bright has a master’s degree in parrot biology and more than 35 years of pet retailing experience.