Placing a pet bird in an empty cage would be like putting a toddler in a room with nothing but carpet on the floor. Both would get bored very quickly and possibly sick, if they were not provided what they need to keep healthy—both mentally and physically. For birds, certain items should be provided in all cages, both at the store and in the home, to stay healthy and happy.
In the wild, birds have many items to chew on so their beaks, which grow constantly like a fingernail, do not get too long and cause problems with feeding. Beak conditioners—blocks composed of gravel or a fine grit on which birds can sharpen their bills—must be given to all pet birds to help keep their bills in shape. Smaller birds can also be given a cuttlebone that will help the bill, as well as provide calcium. As these items get old, dirtied or chewed down, they need to be replaced.
Some companies offer beak-conditioner or cuttlebone holders. The holders keep these products cleaner and make it easier for the birds to chew on them. Most cuttlebones are sold with a wire that does not hold well, especially once the cuttlebone has been gnawed down a bit, so having an adjustable holder, such as JW Pet’s Insight Cuttlebone Holder, allows birds to keep chewing longer, thus saving time and money for owners.
Perches, swings and ladders are also important to include in any caged bird environment. “Perches of different diameters are important for the health of bird’s feet,” says Shari Wise of Caitec Corporation in Baltimore, Md. “They should simulate branches in the wild, which are not all the same size.”
Wise adds that giving birds a variety of perches and swings made of different materials—such as plastic, plaster/grit, wood and rope—is also important.
Perches, swings and ladders need to be washed or scraped clean regularly, and those made of porous materials like wood or rope replaced every six months. This must be done with cages in the store as well as at home, and it is best to replace these types of perches more often to avoid health issues such as the transmission of scaly mites, which are seen most often in the smaller birds such as canaries and parakeets. It is best to send birds home with a perch or swing from their store cage (or one that is identical), as this “will make the transition from store to home life a little bit less stressful,” says Emilye Schmale, director of marketing for JW Pet Company.
Food dishes are a given with bird cages and should be cleaned and disinfected to keep diseases away. Another way to offer food to highly intelligent birds like parrots is with foraging devices, often considered a toy, to help a parrot avoid boredom. “Foraging devices are extremely important and have the distinct advantage of providing both physical and mental challenges for the bird,” Wise says.
Wild creatures spend a lot of time searching for food, and then must usually do some work to obtain that food. Giving parrots some of their food in a foraging device means that they must think and work to get to the food item.
“Of course the best way to sell these foraging devices is to show them in use,” Wise says. “Customers that see the devices being used by parrots in a store environment are more likely to visualize their own parrots using the device at home, therefore they will be more likely to buy them.”
Just as bird owners are encouraged to buy perches their new pets are already familiar with, these customers should be urged to buy foraging devices that the bird has been using in the store. This helps the bird transition to a new home and can prevent behavioral issues. A bird that is kept mentally and physically active will not scream as often, act badly or be destructive to itself.
An assortment of toys must be given to birds for the same reason. Schmale says that the best toys “offer a variety of mentally and physically stimulating tasks that will fill a pet birds’ time and satisfy their natural instincts.”
Wise agrees. “Toys have many uses, such as preening, chewing, weaving and shredding, just to name a few,” she says. “They provide acceptable substitutes for many naturally occurring behaviors.” All birds must be sent home with toys that are both new to them, as well as ones they have used in the store.
Accessories for any bird must be of the right size or a bird could be injured if given items that are too small or weak for them. Birds may also be too afraid to use a product that is too big. Jeremy Powers, product manager of bird and small animal products for United Pet Group, suggests that retailers merchandise toys and accessories by bird species. For example, one area would carry items for a very large bird such as a macaw, while another section would be for smaller parrots such as parakeets and cockatiels.
“Retailers show example toys, treats and accessories in a habitat that is size appropriate for each species,” Powers says. “This allows a new pet parent to see, for example, how large a parakeet cage is and the size of the appropriate items for parakeets.”
Using displays is a great way to be sure that new owners know what they need to buy to keep their bird strong and active.
“Birds are curious and busy by nature, so boredom can be a huge problem for pet birds,” says Schmale, and she is absolutely correct. Bird behaviorists have stated that many of the bad behaviors pet birds can demonstrate such as yelling, biting, feather plucking and so on are mainly due to two factors: poor nutrition and boredom. So it’s a win-win for the store and the bird owner to keep pet birds active and healthy by using the right accessories in the cage both at home and in the store.
Robyn Bright has a master’s degree in parrot biology and more than 35 years.