If you’re a bird-parent then you already know how important play is for your pet. Toys not only provide a fun excuse to play with bells and foragers, they are crucial for the well-being of your feathered friends. It is important to know how to choose the right toy for your bird, so let’s dive in and start with why bird toys play such an important role in raising a happy and healthy flock.
Parrots need an enormous amount of cognitive and physical stimulation throughout the day, as boredom is know to trigger depression and anxiety (exactly like it does in humans). This may result in your pet picking up bad behaviors like plucking their feathers to kill time, and these behaviors are very difficult to overcome once they become a habit.
Why are Toys so Important?
Bird toys are a perfect replacement for natural behavioral activities such as foraging, nest building, and interactions with the flock, and will make time fly while you’re busy doing human activities and unavailable to your pet. Toys are good for bird’s physical health - for example, birds who have swinging toys are more active and get more physical exercise. Also, chewing on wooden toys helps sharpen beaks. Birds who have access to a variety of toys tend to be more independent and show fewer signs of aggressive behavior such as screaming and biting. If your bird struggles with these behaviors it’s probably a great time to spice up their life with some new play-items, and don’t worry - these don’t have to bust your bank account. Plenty of bird toys are best home-made from materials you probably already have lying around.
Types of Bird Toy
Foraging Toys - In my experience foraging toys are easier to make at home than to find in a typical pet store. A forager for parrots or pet birds should hide a reward (most often a food item) behind some puzzle or within something that must be opened (one of my favorites is hiding treats inside cardboard toilet-paper tubes with the ends sealed and a few holes poked through). Hiding food means your pet bird has to work for their treats, making time zoom by when you aren’t around to hang out with them. Also, as animals that forage for food by nature your bird will get a great amount of satisfaction from ‘working’ for their feed.
Chewing Toys - Just like dogs, pet birds need chew toys - those beaks aren’t going to keep themselves strong and sharp without something to grind on! Chew toys can range from destructible wood or paper to more durable metals and of course chew-blocks like cuttlefish bones to assist beak cleaning and polishing. Each of these is important, and having a range of toys and materials for your pet bird to ‘chew’ will be a blessing in the long run as they will have less motive to chew on your curtains and furniture!
Preening Toys - Toys that help your bird mimic preening behavior are very important, especially for solo companion parrots and birds with history of over-preening. These bird toys contain safe rope fibers which offer your bird something to pull, preen and ‘fuss over’.
Comfort Toys - If your bird lacks physical contact with other flock members they might enjoy a comfort toy - basically any toy that allows them to ‘snuggle’ with, and perform social rituals with like preening (similar to preening toys). Some examples include soft fabric hammocks and huts (as long as these are made using bird-safe fibers).
Mechanical Toys - Bells and chew-toys are great for physical stimulation, but mental simulation is equally important for your bird’s well-being. Foragers make a great boredom-busting puzzle for your pet, but they are usually very destructible and require replacing regularly. Mechanical puzzles and bird toys are usually made from study materials, and provide a great source of mental stimulation. Bolts and other fasteners are good options if your bird enjoys un-screwing the nuts from their cage, and other electronic toys like the BeakBox challenge your bird to use their brain throughout the day.
What Else Should You Know?
Did you know? There are three main issues that make bird toys extremely dangerous - toxicity, strangulation, and ingestion. Parrot poisoning from chemicals or heavy metals in toys is no joke, and unfortunately it happens quite often as many bird toy manufacturers don’t comply with high safety standards and use whatever material is cheaper.
Lead and zinc are two main toxins that are extremely dangerous - the poisoning might happen very quickly depending on how much metal is ingested by your bird. Stay away from these metals!
Strangulation or trapped body parts are the second risk posed by many bird toys. Small holes can easily trap a small foot, and a neck can easily become wrapped by un-safe threads. Ropes, cords, strings, and threads are the main source of strangulation but it’s very easy to avoid - keep all the ropes short to avoid a noose.
The last risk is ingestion. Parrots are like 2-year-toddlers - their curiosity and desire to destroy everything, including the toys, always takes over as they try their best to get their toys into the smallest possible pieces. This can be very dangerous especially if your bird toys have a lot of small parts that can be easily ingested! Make it a rule that your bird toys are checked on a daily basis for missing parts.
How to Choose Safe Wood
Birds love chewing but many types of wood used in toys are toxic and shouldn’t be introduced to your feathered friends. If you are buying a wooden toy for your birds, make sure that the wood is untreated and non-toxic. For example, wood from apricot, peach, prune, or nectarine trees are all considered to be toxic. It belongs to the so-called Prunus species and might release cyanide if chewed by a bird. Never present your bird with wood that has been treated with chemicals or that has been painted.
How to Choose Safe metal
Stainless steel is a very durable and safe material that can resist even the most curious beaks. Many cheap bird toys use metal with a galvanized coating which can flake as your bird uses it, meaning your pet may ingest this and develop zinc or other metal-based poisoning. Sticking to stainless steel is a safe option, and one that is smart in the long run as your parrot will not be able to bend or snap a strong piece of steel!
So What Bird Toys ARE Safe?
For peace of mind when purchasing bird toys, always go with a reputable and trust-worthy retailer. Many online shops and pet stores which do not have dedicated bird specialists on hand will not be able to tell the difference between a toy that is safe, and a toy that is dangerous. An even safer (and cheaper) option is to make your own toys from materials you know for sure are safe - these might be zinc-free nuts and bolts leftover from a renovation project, or un-treated wood that’s lying around in your garage.
If you’re struggling to find something that will last forever AND keep your bird entertained, try our interactive musical bird toy, the BeakBox.