By Lisa A. Bono
By Cioli/Bowtie Studio/Courtesy Jennifer Ketchersid
Give your African grey parrot different toys and see which ones it likes.
My first baby African grey parrot did not play with bird toys. He had various toys: rope toys, leather toys and wood toys. No matter what I offered, he showed no interest. I offered them to him when he was at a young age and. I thought sooner or later he would figure out what to do with them. Sadly, he died young, and he played with very few toys in his short life.
When baby African grey number two, Sydney Bell, entered my life I took a different approach to pet bird toys. Sydney was also offered a variety of toys when he was young. They were smaller toys with easy items to play with such as straws, plastics and beads. I chose different textures and colors to interest him. Most importantly, I played with the toys as well. I would offer Sydney a new toy, but kept it outside of the cage while Sydney and I were interacting. As with any grey, if an item or food belongs to someone else, it usually is of interest to them.
I would sit with the bird toy in my hand, trying to make noises with the toy to peak his interest.
Little by little, Sydney would come over and eventually try to steal whatever I was holding. He became so used to this little game that he would start to climb down to investigate whatever I had in my hand to see if he could use it. To this day, I have yet to find a toy in which Sydney is either afraid or disinterested.
Most times he does not even give me a chance to hang a new toy in his cage before coming down to chew on it, which often results in my fingers being play with because of his excitement.
On the other hand, African grey parrot Emma Lynn is a bit more cautious of her bird toys. I have learned to understand her limitations. I did not have Emma as a baby so I am not sure what she was accustom to. The few toys I had sent down to the breeder had been small and less “scary.” Emma is accepting of toys that are smaller than her head. Finding African grey-safe toys that are small can be a daunting task, but that did lead me to the discovery of a wonderful little stainless-steel toy that has fast become a hit within the African grey community.
A large percentage of cliental that frequents my pet store happen to be African grey owners. As with any species owner that comes in, I will extend a consultation about toy “dos and don’ts.” Many African grey parrots enjoy acrylic toys or bell-type toys. They seem to gravitate to bird toys that make noise. This includes shredders because of the crunching noise produced while destroying it. If a person purchases or makes a toy out of woods that are too hard or too large to chew, an African grey will not play with it. This often leads the bird owner to believe the pet bird does not like to play with toys when, in fact, it is the incorrect bird toy for the bird.
Because of personal experience, several bird toy companies have been willing to work with me to create toys that would be readily accepted and enjoyed by African greys.
When choosing a bird toy for your pet African grey, look for:
- Softer woods, no larger than an inch thick.
- Clinking or noise-making toys.
- Foraging, interactive or shredding ideas to stimulate the mind.
Avoid toys that:
- Are made with cheap bells that the clacker can be removed easily by curious beaks.
- Thick woods — bigger isn’t always better!
- Dowel-type toys.
- Large wooden beads/balls.
- Are made with products that may contain lead or zinc.
When introducing a bird toy to an African grey, sit down and play with it yourself. Invite your bird to play. If you have a frightened bird, do not push the toy onto the bird. Greys are naturally cautious birds and trust plays a big part in bird toy acceptance. Once they understand the toy will not harm them, they should engage in play with you shortly thereafter.
To encourage interactive play between you and your bird, make noise with whatever toy you are holding. For instance, if you have a shredding toy, crunch the toy a bit and watch your African grey’s eyes. They should dilate and you will see their mind working even if they don’t immediately come over to investigate. Dilation of the eyes is a sign of curiosity and interest in the African grey parrot.
Inspect toys regularly and remove any loose threads, ropes, excessive chain or any other dangerous remains. Be respectful of your African grey parrot’s space. Condition them slowly to new toys. Do not rush a new toy into their cage and expect them to understand what they are supposed to do with it. Take your time to play and make it fun!