How to Pick Safe Bird Toys

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pet African gray parrot with a colorful, wooden safe bird toy

Birds are active, playful, and curious. Creating an environment that will fulfill some of their natural desires to fly, forage, and socialize is necessary to keep pet birds mentally content and physically fit. So, in addition to providing daily socialization and out-of-cage time, you’ll want to provide your feathered friends with a variety of safe bird toys and enrichment activities that will simulate the kinds of experiences they would have in their natural habitats.

If pet birds don’t have enrichment opportunities, many behavioral and medical problems can arise, including screaming, feather plucking, self-mutilation, compulsive repetitive behaviors, biting, destroying furniture or other household items, shutting down and withdrawing, obesity, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and sores on the feet (from sitting in one place all day long).

How do I know a bird toy is safe?

First, only select toys that are specifically manufactured for birds. But keep in mind that just because something is sold as a bird toy does not guarantee its safety. Some toys commonly sold for pet birds can be dangerous; they can cause serious accidents — the most common of which are catching a toe or a beak in the toy or choking.

Examine toys to make sure there are no spaces where your bird’s feet or beak can get caught. Toys shouldn’t have sharp points, cracks, splinters, or slivers. Also, don’t use a toy with lots of parts that could become twisted or tangled, with tiny parts that could be pulled off, or with metal chains with tiny gaps in the links. If the toy just looks complicated, flimsy, or badly made, don’t use it.

You’ll also want to look at the attachment that will hold the toy to the cage. The safest kind of attachment is shaped like a double U, commonly referred to as a C-hook. It consists of a metal U on the bottom joined to a metal U on the top, and one side can be screwed open or closed. These attachments come in different sizes and are often sold separately, so you might be able to replace an unsafe attachment with a safe C-hook. Similar attachments that are pear-shaped are also generally safe.

Some additional safety tips:

  • Always ensure that clips are fully closed and replaced as needed.
  • Avoid using long cords or chains that birds can become tangled in.
  • Avoid split-ring or dog-clip type attachments that birds can get their beaks stuck in.
  • Ensure that any knots are tied as close to the toy piece as possible, and avoid any open loops.
  • Leave no more than about 8 inches of rope or twine hanging.
  • Avoid attachments that contain toxic metals, such as copper, silver, zinc, or iron, or toxic materials, such as wax coatings, treatments, or dyes.

In addition, a toy must be made especially for the size bird that you have. A cockatiel toy is always unsafe for a larger parrot like a macaw because of the danger of choking and injury. Parrot toys are generally labeled for small, medium, or large parrots. 

What can I use for bird toys?

Always check that the materials the bird toys are made of are nontoxic and bird-safe. A few good choices are wood and acrylic. Birds love to chew wood and are particularly attracted to colors. However, make sure that the wood is untreated or that the dyes used are nontoxic. If you purchase acrylic toys, choose items that are sturdy and well-made. 

Other good choices for bird toy materials are vegetable-tanned leather and rope made of 100% cotton or sisal. Don’t use materials with wax coatings.

Cowbell-style bells and jingle bells are toys to avoid, as well as any bell made of a metal that's toxic to birds. Jingle bells are never a safe choice because the slits in them are shaped so that round openings narrow into smaller slits, which can easily trap a toe or a beak if it slides along the slit. Make sure other toys don’t have a similar configuration of a large opening narrowing into a smaller one. Instead, use stainless steel bird-safe bells, which have long tubes to discourage parrots from breaking off the clapper and swallowing it. They also use a clapper made like a bolt, rather than a small piece of metal.

Some birds love to tear up cardboard or paper. Just make sure you use food-grade boxes, as any inks and glues used on those boxes are safe for human consumption. Other safe paper products are paper plates and cups, newspaper, brown-paper lunch bags, finger traps, and plain coffee filters. 

One idea for a DIY bird toy: Take a paper cup or a piece of paper; put a treat, pellet, veggie, or special toy in the middle; and crumple the sides to cover.

Remember, toys are not just a luxury for your bird; they are essential to your bird’s mental and physical health. So it’s well worth the effort to learn about choosing safe bird toys. If you’re making DIY bird toys, use your imagination, keep bird-safe materials in mind, and create different toys to challenge your bird. Nothing is more delightful than watching a happy bird playing with a toy.

Introducing a pet bird to a new toy

One way to avoid potential problems and prevent accidents is to introduce your bird to new toys outside of the cage. You can then observe how your bird reacts and plays before leaving the bird unattended with new toys. If anything on a toy seems to momentarily catch on your bird’s beak or a toenail, take the toy away and do not use it.

Bird toys are meant to be fun and entertaining. However, as with all new things, it is possible for a bird to react to a new toy with fear. If this happens, move the new toy to a lower height and far enough away so that the bird is no longer fearful. You can move it closer as the bird becomes used to it.

How often to change your bird's toys

Because birds are highly intelligent, they become bored easily and need variety. So it’s a good idea to rotate their toys often. Many people change their pet parrots’ toys roughly once a week. With that said, avoid placing so many toys in your bird’s cage that it results in overcrowding and prevents the bird from moving about freely. Variety, rather than an overabundance, is the goal.