The cutest things on the planet may very well be (and not necessarily in this order): a baby cracking up laughing, kittens doing just about anything, and birds playing. Some of the very best memories I have of my birds are of them playing, especially when it involves me. There’s something so precious about watching the determination of a 100 gram bird tug on something twice its size, and the lengths they will go to to accomplish an nearly impossible task. I am always on the lookout for things that will peak the curiosity of a nosy bird to inspire play.
Here are some things you can make quickly and inexpensively that can change and grow with your imagination, all of which work best with your involvement:
1. Birdie tunnel (budgies/finches):
You can make this simple toy from a cardboard paper towel roll and two shoeboxes. Remove the lids from the shoeboxes and place them open side up. Cut a hole in one short side of each box just large enough for an end of the paper towel roll to fit through. Connect all the pieces together with the paper towel roll in the center. It will look like a dumbbell when you’re through.
I have a friend with 3 little budgies that spent hours with this bird toy. Eventually she raised the height of the tube to the top of the box and created ramps and steps and climbing ropes for her budgies to reach it. They went to great lengths to get to that tunnel, they’d race through and start again from the other side.
2. Birdie Maze:
These can be both fun and interesting for your bird. If you have smaller birds, budgies to conures, the walls to the maze are easily constructed from Legos. At first make the maze more of a winding tunnel and coax him through it with treats. As he gets better at finding his way, make dead ends and false passageways that cause him to have to evaluate his moves. If your bird is a cheater, and flies to the top of the wall to find his way, you can cover the top with a towel if he feels comfortable with that.
For the larger bird, you will need taller, more sturdy walls. You’d have to have A LOT of Legos. My daughter’s umbrella cockatoo, Abu, actually taught me this game while I was packing for a move. She created her own maze from the cartons that were slowly overtaking the living room. She had a ball. I told a friend about Abu’s game. This guy had the largest record collection I had ever seen and he used the milk crates he stored his albums in to create a maze for his amazon. Last I had heard from him, he had still not returned his record collection to it’s original spot. This game might not work well for some macaws because their tail is always dawdling two feet behind them.
3. Play Mat:
What bird doesn’t have the time of his life trying to remove the buttons from your clothing? Or trying to disassemble your jewelry? The play mat offers all of those opportunities and more…
Take an old blanket and sew beads, buttons, bows and bells to it. Or you could be a rebel, and use things that don’t start with a “B”. You could use a towel and sew on plastic rings, keys, leather strips with beads, wooden cutouts and pretty much anything else you can think of that your bird would enjoy. The fun for the birds seems to be in tugging on the items, just like the buttons on your shirt. When you are done playing it folds right up for storage. If it becomes soiled, you can put it in a lingerie bag and machine wash it, depending on the durability of the items you have sewn on.
I had made one of these for the cockatiels years ago and this post inspired me to make another. I did make one for Linus, my umbrella cockatoo, a short time after he arrived to live with me. His efforts were spent trying to fold it back up or dragging it around behind him by one of the plastic rings. I wasn’t yet aware of what a tyrant Linus was with toys, always trying to bend them to his will and make them do things they weren’t designed to do. He had a good time, though, and that’s the point.
I read about this guy somewhere who made a little city out of appropriately sized Legos for his African grey and made up this game called Greyzilla. It was the grey’s role to come along to destroy and terrorize the city and all it’s tiny, little people. It was the human’s job to portray the little Lego people running from Greyzilla and begging for their lives. As Greyzilla crashed his way through town, he showed little mercy for the Lego-ites. If I remember correctly, though, this compassionate monster tried to reassemble the city when he was through, although probably not to Legoville building code standards. I can only imagine how much fun they must have had.
Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.