Safe Parrot Enrichment Toys
Why do parrots need enrichment activities and toys?
By nature, parrots are active, playful and curious. In the wild, they spend hours foraging, bathing, preening, climbing and socializing with other birds. Creating an environment that will fulﬁll some of their natural desires to ﬂy, forage and socialize is necessary to keep parrots mentally content and physically ﬁt in captivity. So, in addition to providing daily socialization and out-of-cage time, you’ll want to provide your birds with a variety of bird-safe toys and enrichment activities that will simulate the kinds of experiences they would have in their natural habitats.
If captive birds don’t have these opportunities, many different types of 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 often to change parrot toys
Because parrots are highly intelligent, they become bored easily and need variety. So, it’s a good idea to rotate their toys; many people change their parrots’ toys once a week. With that said, avoid placing so many toys in your bird’s cage that it results in overcrowding and prevents her from moving about freely.
Introducing a pet bird to a new toy
One way to avoid potential problems and prevent accidents is to ﬁrst introduce your bird to new toys outside her cage. You can then observe how your bird reacts and plays before leaving her 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.
Toys are meant to be fun and entertaining for your bird. 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 do I know if a parrot toy is safe?
First, select only toys that are specifically manufactured for birds. Keep in mind, though, that the fact that a toy is sold as a parrot toy does not guarantee its safety. Some of the toys commonly sold for parrots 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 closely all toys that you buy to make sure there are no spaces where your bird’s toes, feet or beak can get caught. Toys shouldn’t have sharp points, cracks, splinters, or slivers. Don’t use a toy with too many parts (which 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 attachments are 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 that you may be able to replace an unsafe attachment with a safe double-U attachment. 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 entangled in, 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 eight inches of rope or twine hanging.
- Avoid attachments that contain toxic metals (e.g., 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 parrot 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.
You can learn more about safe toys by consulting a variety of sources, and by paying close attention, over time, to how parrot toys are constructed.
What toy materials are non-toxic and safe for parrots?
Always check that the materials the toys are made of are non-toxic 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 non-toxic. If you purchase acrylic toys, choose items that are sturdy and well-made. Other good choices for 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. 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. Using an approved bird-safe bell means you won’t be providing one made of a toxic metal.
Some birds love to tear up cardboard or paper. Just make sure you use food-grade boxes (e.g., egg cartons), as the 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 well-being. So, it’s well worth the effort to take the time to learn about toys and choose those that are safe. If you’re making your toys, use your imagination, keep safety in mind and create different toys to challenge your bird. Nothing is more delightful than watching a happy bird playing with a toy that she loves.
- Avian Enrichment is a website where you can get lots more information about parrot toys and enrichment.
- For toy-making ideas and instructions, go to “The Parrot’s Workshop” Facebook group.