Bird Toys and Playgrounds
Toys and mental stimulation are imperative to ensuring the neurological health of pet parrots.
All pet parrots—from parakeets, cockatiels and conures to Amazons, cockatoos and macaws—need to be physically and mentally challenged every day to keep them healthy, and the best way to accomplish this is through play. Thankfully, there are many types of playgrounds and activity centers offered by manufacturers made of bird-safe materials, and in different sizes, to suit all parrots. These playgrounds give parrots the mental stimulation and physical exercise they need to live long and happy lives.
Toys play a critical role in these parrot play areas and are always included—usually in a number of designs like puzzle, foraging and chewable toys—to work the mind and body. Nuts and other favorite healthy treats can be put in the foraging toys, while puzzle toys often keep a parrot entertained for long periods of time. Parrots also have a need to chew, so toys must be offered that are made with materials such as wood, rope, paper and other natural things safe for birds.
Sometimes the activity area itself is made from materials that can be chewed on, like a net of rope or wood branches that can be replaced. Perches, swings, ladders, platforms and bases can also be made of hard plastic or metal with destructible items placed around or on them that can be replaced when chewed apart. Note that all toys, whether in the bird’s cage or part of a playground area, need to be changed out every month or so to avoid boredom. If they are in good shape, then the toys can be reused after a few months.
Parrot activity areas can be inside the parrot’s cage or outside. Some larger homes have built-in play gyms on the top of the cage that often include food and water dishes. Separate playgrounds are readily available for all sizes of parrots and may sit on a table, hang from a wall or ceiling or sit on its own stand. There are often cups included in these play areas and they will have easy-to-clean platforms or trays to catch any food bits or droppings.
Playgrounds inside the cage can hang on the side—like netting—or can be suspended on their own from the ceiling. Note that play centers can only be put inside the cage if the cage is large enough to allow for plenty of open space in the bird’s home, and only if the play area can be placed so there are no perches above it to keep it clean. If the cage is not large enough, then the bird owner should use individual toys in the pet’s home and a separate playground when necessary.
Most parrot play areas share many common characteristics. They usually have a number of different and brightly colored toys, as parrots can see color well. A climbing apparatus is also part of a playground and can be made up of rope and wood perches, ladders, nets, and swings that are often brightly colored as well. Parrots love to climb and swing which gives them the exercise they need. Think of these playgrounds as a fitness gym for birds.
A parrot’s playground needs to be kept as clean as their cage. Besides changing out any toys or climbing materials that are destroyed, any porous material must be kept clean and be replaced if dirtied—usually every six to eight months. Any plastic, metal or other hard materials can be used for much longer periods of time, as long as they are cleaned occasionally with bird-safe cleaning and disinfecting products. Any food and water cups need to be washed at least twice a week.
Location is Key
It is important to consider the placement of a stand-alone activity center as much as the location of the bird’s cage. Parrots like to get into everything—since they have the curiosity of a cat and the intelligence of a young child—so they can get into trouble quickly and easily. Be sure parrots are out of reach of any items that can harm or poison them, like certain house plants and painted or stained surfaces. Certain metals—like zinc and lead—can poison parrots, as well as certain food items, so these things must not be around the play area.
If a bird can fly, be sure any windows or mirrors are not in the same room since they do not see glass as solid and can be injured or killed flying into them. It is best to keep a parrot’s wings trimmed so they cannot get to places where they may be hurt.
Like their home cages, any play areas need to be placed out of direct sunlight and away from vents and drafts. The playground should not be close to any doors that may suddenly open and scare the pet bird. Also, keep the bird away from any air pollutants—spray cleaners, air fresheners, candles, smoke, etc. Birds have a respiratory system where there is fresh air coming through their lungs all of the time with no residual air left from the last breath, like us. That is why birds react so strongly to anything airborne and can be dead in seconds if exposed to certain items such as burning Teflon or certain scented candles. Therefore, bird owners must be sure any playgrounds are placed in an environment that is safe for pet parrots.
Toys are as much of a necessity as food and water for these intelligent birds. Offering adequate playgrounds is necessary to keep parrots, especially the larger species, mentally and physically stimulated. This will ensure the birds remain sane, healthy and active all of their long lives. PB
Robyn Bright has a master’s degree in parrot biology and more than 40 years of pet industry and retailing experience.