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Learn How Your Pet Bird Likes To Play

Parrots love to play, so learn what types of bird toys to provide your small-, medium- and large-sized parrot.

Jessica Pineda

African grey playing with toys

Your pet bird’s wild parrot cousins spend most of their days flying, foraging and socializing with their flock. You have the socializing covered, but how do you provide the rest for your pet bird? The answer is easier than you think. One thing parrots like to do is play, and you can provide bird toys to help them do that!

Natural Parrot Behaviors
Toys and play offer your pet bird an outlet for hard-wired behaviors, such as chewing, shredding and destroying things. Chewing and shredding also keeps your pet bird’s beak trimmed and healthy. Without toys, your furniture, books and other items can fall victim to your pet bird’s beak. Save your valuables by providing toys that can be ripped apart, shredded and chewed on by your pet bird.

Another natural behavior is foraging. In the wild, parrots spend most of their day looking for food. In our homes, for the most part, all our pet birds have to do is go to the food bowl for their meals. This means they have a lot of time on their hands (or wings), and need to fill it with something.

Along with toys that can be destroyed, provide toys that offer an intellectual challenge for your pet bird. These are aptly called foraging toys (and/or puzzle toys). They come in all shapes and textures, but they have the same principle. They are designed so your pet bird has to work for a treat/toy inside that it really wants. This involves chewing things, opening up compartments or moving parts of the toy around until it opens up.
 
Teach Independent Play To Your Parrot
One of the most important things to teach your pet bird is how to play on its own. This is called independent play. When you are not home, your pet bird needs things to do and toys help keep it entertained. Also, when you are home but have chores to do, such as cleaning, toys keep your pet bird occupied and not demanding your attention.

Keep several types of toys in the cage (minimum three). Vary it week to week by switching a toy or two out and replacing it with another type. If your pet bird isn’t interested in a particular toy, replace it, and then introduce it to your pet bird at another date — or change the presentation. You can hang toys outside the cage so your pet bird can only play with the toys through the cage bars. You can also wedge things between the cage bars so your pet bird has to work on pulling the items inside.

Playgyms For Parrots
Have a separate area for your pet bird to hang out and play. This can be your pet bird’s playgym — a stand designed to hold toys and other goodies. Most gyms are made of hardwoods like Manzanita, and you will also find some made of other hard-to-destroy materials, such as PVC. A playgym is your pet bird’s home away from home or an activity center filled with tons of things for your pet bird to do.

Playgyms also make it easier — and safer — to socialize your pet bird. Your pet bird can be very territorial in and around its cage (another natural instinct!), and a playgym can serve as a neutral area where you can interact with your pet bird away from its cage. Give an incentive to your pet bird to leave its cage by offering a yummy treat or toy it only gets at the playgym. You can teach your pet bird tricks on its playgym and reinforce behaviors like Step up and target training.

Your Pet Bird’s Play Type
So how will your pet bird like to play? Look to your pet bird to find out! See what toys it naturally gravitates to, and provide variations of those toys. You can also try different things that other pet birds seem to like, based on species sizes.

Small Pet Birds
Budgies, cockatielslovebirds and other small pet birds enjoy toys made from softer materials, such as yucca, balsa, wicker, paper, palm leaves, sea grass, etc. Small pet birds shred and chew these toys.

They also love bells, and you will often find your small pet bird going after its shiny bell, ringing it crazily and pushing it around. Leather and bead toys are also favorites, and no cockatiel or budgie will ignore a mirror. You’ll see your small pet bird singing away to its reflection in no time!

Medium Pet Birds
Mediums pet birds include conurescaiques and lories. These parrots all have something in common: they are hyperactive and love to play. They play hard, too, loving to wrestle, bounce, jump and tackle their toys. Keep your medium pet bird occupied with many different swings, foot toys, boings (springy looking perches), anything that makes sounds and more! Chances are, if the toy is made for a pet bird or is safe enough that it won’t get a wing or nail trapped, your medium pet bird will love to play with it, and ultimately, destroy it — the pet bird equivalent of a good time. Expect destroy toys to be shredded quickly, so keep plenty on hand.

Not all medium-sized pet birds are so hyperactive — pet birds like the Pionus or Eclectus are far more laid-back and will not be as hard on their toys. Keep foraging toys and foot toys on hand for these calmer pet birds.

Large Pet Birds
Mix it up for pet birds such as cockatoos and the larger macaws. With bigger beaks, they have more destructive power in them. They need larger destroy toys, like a chain of large wooden blocks or a thick tube of wood filled with items that can be shredded. Just as with the medium pet birds, expect destroy toys to be gone within a day (some owners even have claimed 10 minutes).

You might think to provide your pet bird with toys that aren’t so easy to destroy; however, your pet bird might grow bored if it can’t destroy a toy. An acceptable balance is to have a few toys that aren’t easy to destroy in the cage, along with the destructible toys.

Large parrots also need foraging toys to give their mind a workout. Many owners report that their pet birds figure out their foraging toys fairly quickly, so be on the lookout for toys that offer increased difficulty. Again, as with the destroy toys, if the toy is too hard, your pet bird will grow bored with it. Keep both easy ones and really hard ones on hand.

Smaller toys make great foot toys (toys that pet birds hold with their feet and chew on). Many cockatoo owners say that their pet birds like a simple nut-and-bolt toy, where the nut never comes off.

Parrots like to play, and your pet bird is no exception. Bring on the toys and let your pet bird have at them. 

My Pet Bird Doesn’t Like To Play
Many pet birds have been exposed to toys from a very young age and love to play. But what about a pet bird that doesn’t? If you have a pet bird that seems to ignore its toys, that doesn’t mean its natural instincts have gone away. Instead, you might notice your pet bird going for materials that are not safe: furniture and electrical cords.

To keep your pet bird and your valuables safe, feel the texture of the materials your pet bird likes to chew on. Your furniture might be really thick wood, but not strong enough to withstand your pet bird’s beak. The electrical cords have a rubbery feel to them, etc. Once you know those textures, look for toys that replicate those. For example, a good substitute for electrical cords is a strap of leather.

Also, teach your pet bird to play with those toys by playing with them, too. In full view of your pet bird, bat around the toys and, for the brave, chew on them, too. Have fun, and act happy. If your pet bird thinks you’re having fun, it will want to give it a try, too.
Place the toys in different areas, like at the bottom of the cage (electrical cords are typically on the ground, after all!). Hang them outside the cage so only parts of it dangles through the cage bars. With a little patience, your pet bird will soon be playing with the best of them.

Why Are Toys So Colorful?
When you first go toy shopping, you might notice how colorful the toys are. Bright colors attract pet birds, and the more vivid the color, the more they seem to veer toward it. Pet birds see more colors than we can, because they can see UV light. What might be simply blue to us could be a vivid neon-blue to your pet bird. Experiment and see what colors your pet bird really likes.

Bird Toy Types
Destroy Toys: The description of these toys is in the name. They are meant to be destroyed. These are toys you should always have on hand.

Noise Toys: Like destroy toys, the description is in the name. A noise toy is anything that can make noise, like bells or music boxes. This can also include things like CDs, which you can play for your pet bird when you are not home.

Interactive Toys: Any toy with which your pet bird interacts. This is a broad definition, and it can include the destroy and noise toys. But this also includes the foraging and puzzle toys, and non toys, like mirrors.

Exercise Toys: Again, these toys can fall into the other types and non-toy types, like swings, boings or playgyms. These toys keep your pet bird active and healthy.


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Posted: August 22, 2013, 3:45 p.m. PDT

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Learn How Your Pet Bird Likes To Play

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Reader Comments
great article - play is so important for a happy bird. My 'keet loves the little plastic balls with bells inside that are usually sold as cat toys!
Sue, Chicago, IL
Posted: 8/26/2013 6:25:39 AM
Most birds are attracted to their own colors first. Knowing this helps in the selection of toys. I teach this to my club members and they tell me that this results in better purchases on their part.
Charles, Orlando, FL
Posted: 8/25/2013 7:31:40 AM
great article
n, n, TN
Posted: 8/25/2013 5:38:13 AM
nice article! good info
stephanie, north smithfield, RI
Posted: 8/23/2013 8:22:18 AM
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