All birds need toys to stay happy and active, but having a dedicated play space can be essential to a parrot's wellbeing.
Most parents can appreciate the convenience of having a local playground where their kids can stretch their legs and go a bit crazy swinging, climbing, sliding and just playing. All intelligent creatures need to play and should have access to a place where they can get a bit wild. Birds are no exception. All birds should have toys in their home cage at all times; but for parrots, playstands are essential.
Admittedly, smaller parrot species such as budgerigars (parakeets) and cockatiels are rarely given a separate play area, as their cages can be large enough to accommodate flapping wings for exercise and plenty of toys to play with all day. However, this does not mean they would not benefit from having an alternate place to be freer than is possible in their cage. Play gyms come in many sizes, and those that are made for smaller species are usually set up on a tray. This tray can be placed on almost any flat surface and even on top of a cage if it is flat.
Like cages, the playstand needs to be the right size and strength for the bird or birds being placed upon it. These play areas can be made from various materials including wood, plastic, metal or a combination. Most include a food and water dish, and they have a tray area that can catch any waste. Ladders, swings and/or perches of different diameters should be included, as should a number of toys—or at least places where toys that are bought separately can be attached.
The toys used on the playstand should be different than those in the bird’s cage. The number of toys depends on space in both places, but a minimum of three types of toys made of different materials for each place is a good start. Toys should be the right size and strength, just like the playstand and cage. Toys that are too small for a parrot can be easily demolished, and swallowed parts can cause digestive issues or worse problems. Toys that are too big can be hard for a smaller bird to play with and, in some cases, too intimidating for them. For birds that are sensitive to changes, placing new toys next to the cage or playstand first and playing with the new toy in front of the bird can help relieve any nervousness.
It is vital to change out toys in a cage or play gym every month or so. Many toys—such as some made of wood—are designed to be destroyed, as birds must be able to chew to keep their bills in top shape/ Therefore, these toys need to be replaced. Toys made out of plastic and metal can be cleaned, sanitized and put away for a few months, and then reused again. Toys made of porous material like rope and wood are hard to clean, so they should be placed where they cannot be pooped on, and they should be thrown out every six to eight months. The same is true of perches, although those made of very hard wood can be scraped and used longer.
Large, bare tree limbs are a favorite to use in play gyms for larger parrots. Not only do they look beautiful, they also give the parrot a lot of options for climbing. They are also great for a parrot’s feet, since each branch is a different diameter. With some playstands, the limbs are so large that they act and look like a small tree growing out of a platform, while smaller limbs are usually placed up on a stand. The type of wood used is not only safe, it is also extremely hard, although parrots will still chew on it. Using a lot of toys with wood in them can help keep the birds from destroying their perches too quickly.
Birds can be territorial about their cage, but a pet owner that has two or more birds of the same size can often safely put them together on a play gym. Obviously, supervision is critical at first, to be sure none of the birds are being harassed or acting too much like a bully. It’s best if the birds are young, so they can get used to each other and become friends more easily when put together on a playstand. The owner needs to be sure the play area is large enough and that there are plenty of toys and food dishes available, allowing birds to have their own space and playtime when wanted.
When selling smaller parrot species, retailers should encourage owners to set up a play area for their new pets. If a customer is buying a larger parrot, the playstand and toys need to be part of the package and should not be considered optional. Although toys and play gyms cannot take the place of the large amount of attention a bigger parrot needs from its owner every day, it can certainly help relieve boredom that can lead to behavioral problems such as excessive yelling, biting or feather plucking.
When possible, try to keep some birds that are for sale at the store out on play gyms that include a nice variety of toys. This shows customers how important it is to have a play area for the bird and offer their intelligent pet a lot of toys. The store will also sell more playstands and toys when customers can see how much the birds are playing with them. Stores can offer space-saving cages that have built-in play gyms, as well.
Intelligent creatures, including parrots, need to be able to play in order to stay physically and mentally healthy. This fact must be made abundantly clear to new bird customers, so they understand the importance of offering a variety of toys, changing out those toys, and using playstands when needed, especially for larger parrot species.
Robyn Bright has a master’s degree in parrot biology and more than 35 years of pet retailing experience.