Retailers should offer a wide variety of toys to help bird owners keep their clever pets happy, entertained and well-behaved.
Play is essential for intelligent pets like parrots. These birds, like us, need to have mental stimulation every day to keep them from getting bored and developing bad behaviors like yelling, chewing or destroying things they should not, including their own feathers. To keep their feathered friends entertained and happy, bird owners need to supply many different types of toys wherever the bird hangs out.
The species and size of the bird will determine the size, strength and type of toys that are best to use. Small birds may be too intimidated to use a larger toy, while a large bird can destroy a small toy and might ingest plastic, metal or other materials that can easily cause injury or health issues. Toys must be able to withstand a bird’s beak strength, so the larger the species of parrot the toy is made for, the thicker the material needs to be. Plastic and metal are generally used in bird toys that are considered “indestructible.” To keep the bird from getting bored with these kinds of toys and to avoid developing a sensitivity to new items, these durable playthings should be rotated out every month or so, starting when the bird is young.
There are also toys that are meant to be chewed up, which are as crucial to offer as durable toys. Materials for chewing toys can include everything from straw, paper and softer wood for smaller species to hard woods, rope, coconut husks and more for larger parrots. Toys that are meant to be worn down give these intelligent birds something to work on and keep their bills in excellent shape.
Chewable toys are often brightly colored, as parrots can see color as well as we can. They are especially attracted to the bright colors of ripe fruit, such as yellow, orange and red. Some companies will also include natural flavors to make the toy more enticing, while others incorporate treats like nuts, requiring the bird to chew the wood away to get to the snack. Any toys that are supposed to be destroyed should be replaced as needed.
Some toys are made of both soft and hard materials, such as those that have replaceable wood pieces on a metal rod. This design extends the life of the toy and changes it around enough to entice the bird to keep playing. It is usually best, however, to rotate out toys that cannot be substantively changed, or the bird will likely get bored.
Foraging and puzzle toys are fantastic to use with larger parrot species, which generally are more intelligent and need more mental stimulation than smaller species. These types of toys offer a puzzle that the bird has to figure out, usually to get to a favorite food item hidden inside. Sliding doors, moving pieces and/or repositioning the toy may be necessary for the bird to uncover its treat. These toys provide a huge amount of mental stimulation and are essential to use with smart parrots. Swapping out these toys is just as important as with other types, because once the puzzle has been figured out, it may get too easy for a clever parrot.
Changing Up Playtime
When introducing new toys, be aware that some species of parrots, such as African greys, and some individual birds are more sensitive to alterations or additions to their environment, especially if they weren’t exposed to many changes when they were younger. That is why it’s important to change out items in the bird’s cage and in the surrounding area, so the pet will not get stressed when something new is introduced.
Parrot owners can help their pet adjust to a new toy by playing with it themselves in front of the bird. The toy can also be left near the cage where the bird can see it for a few days before putting it inside. The owner should watch how the bird reacts to the new toy or one that it has not seen for a while, as a parrot will normally lean forward and show interest in a toy it wants to play with. If the bird leans or moves away from a toy, let the bird watch you handle it, leave it near them for a few days and then try again. Don’t put any item with a pet bird until it appears unafraid of it or, better yet, interested in it.
At least three types of toys should be offered to parrots at all times. If space allows it, have more, but don’t crowd the inside of the cage so much that the bird cannot move around and flap its wings freely. The same is true for any play-gym areas for the bird. When traveling long distances by car, bird owners should bring stable, non-swinging toys that the bird knows well, and offer any favorite items when the destination is reached. Like kids, parrots need to be kept busy and entertained at all times—boredom can only lead them into trouble. PB
Robyn Bright has a master’s degree in parrot biology and more than 40 years of pet industry and retailing experience.