Excerpts from PARROT TOYS AND PLAY AREAS: How To Put Some Fun Into Your Parrot’s Life
by Carol D’Arezzo & Lauren Shannon-Nunn
Providing projects that occupy busy beaks and stimulate avian Einsteins is one of the never-ending challenges of parrot ownership. The quest for that perfect bird toy takes us trekking to innumerable pet shops and bird marts, and pouring through countless catalogs. Keeping our feathered dynamo busy is indeed a top priority for companion bird owners. This is no easy task with a creature that boasts the intelligence of a toddler with an attention span to match! Whether he’s hanging out on a playstand with the flock or spending some quality time alone in his cage, your feathered friend needs to have something to do.
Everyone knows that parrots should have “toys.” It has been documented that just about every intelligent creature delights in “play.” For your feathered companion who is only a generation or two away from his wild cousins in the jungle, this “playing” takes on a whole different meaning. It might not be as much “play” as it is “work.” Just as we get up in the morning and have a job to do, so it is with the wild flocks of parrots.
Not Just a Toy, But a Parrot-Toy!
Without the jungle in which to play, work, and forage, your bird will need some awesome substitutions! Therefore, toys have a large role to play in the well-being of your companion parrot. That feathered dynamo in your living room is still “genetically programmed” with the same needs of its wild cousins. A parrot that spends his days locked in his cage with little to occupy his beak or mind is being deprived of the stimulation that he needs to stay psychologically healthy.
Refusing to buy a parrot a toy because “all he’ll do is chew it up” is to ignore the needs of these incredible companions. Toys for parrots are not really “playthings” or “rewards” — rather, they are a NECESSITY. They provide the essential activities that these inquisitive and intelligent creatures must have to stay physically and mentally healthy. Because many people tend to associate the word “toy” with something frivolous, from now on we will use the term “parrot-toy” to refer to these very important objects.
A parrot-toy is an object that provides opportunities for natural activities similar to those that would occur in the wild. A parrot-toy can be designed to be mentally or physically challenging, to teach, or to entertain. They are not an option for your parrot. They are a necessity! Although we will often use the words “fun” and “play,” we are really referring to a very ESSENTIAL activity for your parrot.
One of the reasons some pet parrots don’t have enough useable parrot-toys in their cages (or in some cases, any parrot-toys at all) is because it’s awfully hard to fork over hard earned cash and have the new purchase literally disappear overnight. But we can’t deny them their parrot-toys. We just have to buy smart; re-use; re-assemble; and be creative with the inexpensive and the free.
A parrot with nothing to do is a prime candidate for behavioral problems. A bird in a cage filled with stimulating things to explore will usually be more interested in chewing a new colorful array of wood blocks than screaming. Shredding a feather duster might prove more satisfying than shredding a feather. Set yourself up for success. Plenty of parrot-toys can help prevent some problems before they start.
Let’s Make It Easy
Open a catalog or go to the bird store and you will see an explosion of brightly colored wood, mirrors, and acrylic. They might be strung together with ropes, chain, leather, or cloth. Some are as tiny as your thumb and others weigh 20 lbs. and are almost as tall as you! Overwhelming? You bet! Where do you start? Which are the perfect parrot-toys for your feathered buddy?
To put some order into this bewildering array and to aid you in making informed decisions about what to buy your bird, we have divided the multitude of parrot-toys into 11 Parrot-Toy Categories. Just about every parrot-toy out there will fit into one of the categories listed below. Needless to say, these are not hard and fast groupings and there will be some overlap with certain parrot-toys. That’s OK. The idea is to furnish guidelines to assist you in providing the widest possible range of activities for your bird. In describing each category we also mention the natural parrot activity this parrot-toy might duplicate.
We recommend that you try to keep at least one parrot-toy from at least four different categories in your buddy’s cage at a time. This variety will give your bird a chance to use all his parrot skills. You may find that he prefers some varieties and has no interest in others. That’s fine. But every now and then, try a new category and put some spice in his life!
Is It Playtime Yet?
Are you ready to get your feathered friend chewing, swinging, puzzling, and cuddling? It’s time to explore the 11 Parrot-Toy categories! For maximum skill building and enjoyment, outfit your buddy’s cage with a parrot-toy from at least 4 of the Parrot-Toy categories. Use the groupings to help you shop at bird or pet stores or from catalogs. And don’t forget to check out the great ideas for parrot toys that you can make yourself.
In the wild, most parrots like to be in physical contact with their mate, clutchmate, parents, or friends while roosting.
Examples: Cuddlers can be soft, furry pieces of material attached to the side of the cage to cuddle and sleep against. Included in this category are also little “huts” or tubes in which to hide and sleep. A Cuddler can be a perfect hide-away for a shy parrot. Huts may not be appropriate for some parrots during mating season as they may get a little too territorial about their favorite spot.
To impress a potential mate, a male Palm Cockatoo will beat a hollow log with stick. Parrots have also been observed screaming into hollow logs and drumming with their beaks. Parrots love noise!
Examples: This is any parrot-toy that rings, rattles, dings, or clatters. This can be as simple as a bell or as complicated as a parrot music box toy. Included in this category are sections of bamboo with wooden balls held by chains that clatter against the outside of the cylinder. Many parrot-toys in other categories have attached bells. Besides just banging a bell around, parrots often use bells to “make a statement” and even show emotion. Some birds may be saying “Hey, look at me!” or “Come back!”
All parrots are by nature inquisitive and curious creatures.
Examples: These are parrot-toys that require a parrot to solve a problem. The reward can be food, smaller toy pieces or the undoing of the toy itself. Some examples of Puzzlers are: acrylic holders that dispense or hide popsicle sticks or treats, a bell inside an acrylic tube, or a metal box held together with wing nuts and bolts. Another Puzzler on the market consists of a metal “basket” with a removable lid into which paper, wood, and other treasurers can be stuffed and then pulled out through the bars. When filled with dried fruit or nuts it becomes a Food Finder parrot-toy. Puzzlers can also be parrot-toys that require some degree of manipulation to move beads or marbles in acrylic tubes. Puzzlers can keep your feathered friend occupied for hours!
In the jungle, parrots engage in such activities as chiseling away at nest holes and tearing up branches looking for food.
Examples: These are parrots-toys that are primarily made of wood, rawhide, or any other chewable material that can be destroyed. Destructibles are important parrot-toys. All parrots, from little budgies to Hyacinth macaws must have access to wood they can chew. Making toothpicks is critical to the psychological well being of our feathered friends. Even Libby, Carol’s blind Timneh African Grey, does an admirable job of chewing up her Destructible parrot-toys. Because wooden parrot-toys are meant to be destroyed, it is important to note that wood varies in its “crunch potential”. Some woods are harder than others to chew are. Pieces of manzanita, bamboo, and arbutus are appropriate for larger birds. They are pretty tough for smaller birds to destroy. For the little guys or birds that aren’t big chewers, buy toys with smaller pieces of softer wood such as pine or cholla. Because parrots are so visually responsive, the bright colors of these wooden parrot-toys are very attractive to them. Be aware of the fact that some parrots tend to be more destructive during certain times of the year – usually during their breeding period. Non-chewers may begin to chew, and heavy-duty chewers may turn into buzz saws. Be sure to have plenty of Destructibles on hand.
In the wild, parrots use hard substances to hone and clean their beaks.
Examples: These are generally parrot-toys made of acrylic, PVC, rawhide, plastic or heavy nylon. Many are dishwasher safe. Non-Destructibles are often brightly colored and fashioned into mobiles or puzzles. Some examples are acrylic mobiles with dice or keys hanging from them, mirror cubes, dangling men figures, and marbella bead and plastic ring or chain toys. Because some folks don’t understand the need for parrots to chew and destroy their toys, they fill their cage with Non-Destructible parrot-toys. As you can see this is only one category of the 11 that we have listed and your pet should have the opportunity to sample parrot-toys from all the categories. However, for the parrot that is prone to ingesting his toys, these may be the only safe alternative.
The “Food Finder”
In their natural habitat, this activity occupies most of a parrot’s day!
Examples: The Food Finder is any parrot-toy that requires your bird to “work” for his food. These parrot toys can be PVC peanut holders, acrylic, leather, or coconut treat hiders, nuts imbedded in wood or clay, and food skewers to make kabobs. If you use foods other than nuts, dried fruits or seeds remember to remove the treat before it spoils, in case your bird hasn’t already done that for you. As we mentioned earlier, our 11 parrot-toy categories are not hard and fast divisions. Just ask Baby the Umbrella cockatoo. He was given a large PVC tube peanut hider by his owner. He promptly unfastened the Quick Link and dropped it to the floor of the cage where he proceeded to drag it along the bottom grate making as much noise as possible. It just shows — one parrot’s Food Finder can be another’s Noisemaker. He had no intention of trying to remove the peanuts — he just loved the racket it made!
To keep their feathers in tiptop shape, parrots preen themselves and also each other.
Examples: These are parrot-toys that can be preened, shredded, chewed, and woven. Often a bird will sit on his perch quietly chewing a leather strand that dangles nearby. These toys can also be great stress-reducers. A Preener parrot-toy may provide the added benefit of being a problem solver for those birds that over- preen or pull their feathers. Examples of Preeners include parrot-toys that are made of or contain peacock feathers, leather strands, cotton rope or jute, and cloth strips. Parrots seem to enjoy different textures and parrot-toys with a combination of these materials usually earn an avian “thumbs up”. These are best hung close to a bird’s face near a roosting or nighttime perch. Some of the Preener parrot-toys consist of relatively long strands of jute, cloth, or leather.
The “Push ‘n Pull”
In the jungle, parrots pull, twist, and push branches, twigs, and leaves as they look for food.
Examples: These are parrot-toys in which pieces can slide back and forth or move up and down. These can also be mobiles that can be pushed and twirled, or “busy boards” of wood or acrylic that can be attached to the side of the cage. Abacus-type parrot-toys may consist of one or more acrylic rods on which wood or plastic pieces move back and forth. Push ‘n Pulls can provide a mini physical workout in addition to mental stimulation as a parrot figures out what parts move. These parrot-toys can be made of wood or acrylic so there might be some overlap with other categories.
The “Movers & Shakers”
The parrot’s zygodactyl foot design (two toes forward and two toes back) give it a remarkable ability to firmly grip branches and allow for all sorts of wondrous acrobatic feats.
Examples: These parrot toys will really get your feathered friend swinging! Movers and Shakers include swings, ladders, rings, perches with attached toys; perch toys (toys with a hole to slide onto a perch); spiral perches, plastic chain, and knotted ropes. There is no end to the variety in this category. These can be made from virtually any bird-safe material. Parrots should have a Mover and Shaker in their cage at all times. The exercise potential is unlimited.
Again, that unique toe design with two toes forward and two back provides a parrot with a “fist” with which to hold things. The beak also is used as an extra “hand”.
Examples: Foot Toys are small parrot-toys that are suitable for grasping. These can be anything from small pieces of wood, rattles, barbells, hard rubber chews, rawhide pieces, small chunks of cholla, and hard plastic toys that roll and wobble. Foot Toys can go into the toy bowl or toy chest in the cage. They’re great to have on hand as a beak distraction to keep your parrot from nibbling on your fingers. And they are fun to play with on the floor. Some parrots love to play on their backs and wrestle with their Foot Toys.
The Toy Chest
This last category isn’t really a parrot-toy but rather a box, bowl, or container that can be placed inside the cage that allows your bird to pick out his own Foot Toys to play with. The Toy Chest is a good place to put the chunks of old toys that still have some “chew” left in them.
Examples: It is simple to designate a bowl in the cage as a toy bowl. Baby, the Umbrella Cockatoo has one and this is the first place he looks when he returns to his cage. There is always something new to chew in there! Toy bowls and boxes provide another place to forage and foraging keeps bird brains busy!
Try this one: “Cane Curls”
Cane Curls are actually made from basket weaver’s reed. Reed can be purchased from craft stores and online at basket making web sites. It is easier to work with the narrower reed (1/4″ to 1/2″). These websites also have other parrot-friendly materials available such as seagrass, raffia, bamboo, and cane.
Cane Curls can be added to toys; tied in bunches and hung in the cage; or twisted through the cage bars. Birds love them!
You will need:
- Bucket of water to soak reed
- Dowel 1/4″ to 1/2″ diameter. You can experiment with other sizes.
Soak reed in water for about 30 minutes until pliable. Secure end of reed on dowel by wrapping it with a rubber band or by wrapping the reed around itself on the dowel. Continue wrapping the reed tightly around the dowel. Secure bottom end by tucking back up into coils. Let completely dry (could take several hours ), remove, and let the fun begin!