The average parrot spends the majority of his time in his cage while his humans are at work or away from home. To keep our birds mentally stimulated and physically healthy we must provide an environment that offers entertainment and promotes activity.This means toys, toys and more toys.
The toys we put in our bird’s cages have multiple functions. They are there not only to entertain, but to teach new activities and to satisfy innate urges, such as chewing. I can always get a sense of the mental health of a particular bird based on the level of abuse it appears his toys have endured. A bird that does not have the means to occupy it’s time will improvise – perhaps with plucking or screaming.
Just as important as providing toys is the need to see that the ones you offer are safe. Toys should be thoroughly inspected before they are placed in the cage. Be certain that there are not pointed parts that might injure your bird during active play. Make sure the toys are size-appropriate for your species of bird. Toys that are meant for smaller birds sometimes get hung up on the talons of larger birds, and toys meant for macaws might have crevices that are just wide enough to trap a budgie leg or head.
When you aren’t able to personally inspect toys before you purchase them (such as in the case of online orders) be sure to choose toys from a reputable source. Most of the online toy sites I order from really personalize their service and will talk to you about your concerns and make recommendations. Some places will even custom make toys for birds with specific needs. .
Once you have found the perfect toys (and toy provider), your vigilence should not end there. Toys that are most loved are subjected to some serious wear and tear and you will have to be continually watchful for signs of potential dangers as they are broken down from use. Not only are broken toy parts a choking hazard, but as parts on hanging toys are destroyed and fall away from the central chain or rope, it leaves open the danger of hanging or entanglement. When a toy looks like it has outlived its usefulness, it’s time to remove it from the cage before it becomes life threatening.
I frown upon toys made of fabric more and more with each passing year. There are more deaths and injuries resulting in amputations coming from the use of these toys than any others. The problem is that cloth frays as it is manipulated and leaves long hanging threads in which toes, feet, wings and necks can become entangled. Unfortunately, most parrots love to play with fabric.
A Facebook fan recently posted about a friend’s tragic experience when a conure hung itself on excess fray from a cloth toy. She urged us to make everyone aware of the dangers. To that, I want to reiterate that anything that falls in a long strip is a hanging threat, whether it be fibers, rawhide or chains. We can’t be around to protect our birds 24/7, nor can we deny them things to play with because we fear a potential for harm. What we can do is always be on top of the condition of the toys that are present in the cage and remove them before they pose a danger.
Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.