Choosing Toys for Your Bird

Written by Deb White. Posted in Exercise & Play

Choosing Toys for Your BirdIs it Really Just a Bird Toy?

....or is it a magical device that becomes whatever your bird desires? One thing is very clear, bird toys are more than mere playthings when it comes to your bird.  What does a bird toy represent to your bird?   How can this help you to make better choices for your bird?

Is it Really Just a Bird Toy?

What is your bird's toy personality?

Observation is the key to understanding how to make the best toy selections for your bird.  Does your bird have preferences for certain materials, colors, textures or shapes?  Keep the following questions in mind while observing your bird interacting with toys and other objects of interest around the house?

Does your bird like to....

  • chew, tear, preen, shadow box, snuggle with or disassemble toys?
  • play with bells or other noisemakers?
  • hang upside down and do aerobatics?
  • climb the drapes?
  • hold things in his foot or toss objects?
  • rip and shred paper?
  • forage for treats?
  • solve puzzles?
  • chew holes in your clothes? untie knots?
  • snatch your earrings, eyeglasses and other shiny objects?
  • weave materials through cage bars?
  • hide behind or snuggle up to toys?

Answers to these questions can point you in the right direction when it comes to finding the perfect toys for your bird.

Other Considerations in Choosing Toys

  • Select toys of an appropriate size for your bird.  If a toy is too small it will not only be too easily destroyed but small parts could also present a choking hazard.    If a toy is too large it could pose a trapping hazard for small bird body parts.
  • Select toys from reputable manufacturers who take care to make sure only safe, non-toxic materials are used.   No toy is 100% safe but you can minimize potential risks by making smart choices.  Check out our Toy Safety Guide to learn more.
  • Know how your bird interacts with his toys and choose toys appropriate to his individual play style.  Make sure to supervise your bird whenever you give him a new toy to ensure he plays safely.
  • Be prepared to maintain toys as they may become unsafe after parts become chewed or frayed.
  • Provide your bird with a minimum of 4-6 toys at all times.
  • Choose a variety of toys (see below) and make sure to rotate and reposition them frequently (minimum weekly) to maintain a stimulating environment for your bird.

Types of Bird Toys

Birds should be provided with a cross section of toys from all of the following categories to ensure that their physical and mental needs are being addressed.

  • Foraging Toys
  • Destructible Toys
  • Exercise Toys
  • Manipulative Toys
  • Preening Toys
  • Comfort Toys
  • Teach & Learn Toys
  • Foot Toys
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Games to Play with Your Bird

Written by Deb White. Posted in Exercise & Play

Games to Play with ParrotsParrots love to play games with their human companions.   Interactive play is a great way to spend some bonding time with your bird and it’s healthy for you too.   More often than not, you will both be laughing as a result of spending this time together.   Here's some of our favorites:

Peekaboo/Hide & Seek

In our house this game is called “Where’s the Mama” and it has a few variations.  If playing with a bird on the couch or in bed, it involves covering up with a blanket whereby they must find me by pulling back the covers.  At other times, I’ll just leave the bird room and go around the corner and call to them until they peek around the corner.   This game is usually followed by a game of chase.

Chase (I’m gonna get a birdie…)

A favorite game for our greys is "I'm gonna get a birdie" where I chase after them on the floor or bed while wiggling my fingers and threatening them with a tickle when I catch them.

Toss & Catch (sometimes)

This games involves the gentle tossing of an item  as simple as a wadded up piece of paper or a whiffle ball such that it rolls near your birds feet.  Our greys love to grab the paper and fling it right back at us and it's pretty amazing how good their aim is (most of the time).  When their aim is bad it becomes a game of fetch, bend and pick it up for Mom which helps with the human exercise factor.                                   

Let’s Dance

Many birds love to dance to music especially when their companion is singing and dancing to the music.  We hold our birds on our hands and dance gently and before long they are bobbing and swaying right along with the beat.

Let’s Fly

Wing flapping is a great way to get your bird some aerobic exercise.   The routine in our house is to get the birds out at least once a day and run around the house with them on our hands while they pretend to fly.  They all love it as evidenced by their gleeful proclamations of “whee” while flying.

The games you can play with your bird are only limited by your own imagination.  Cut loose, be a kid again and have fun !!!!!!

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How to Get Your Perch Potato to Exercise

Written by Deb White. Posted in Exercise & Play

How to Get Your Parrot to ExercisePlaying games with your parrot, providing a variety of stimulating, interactive toys as well as exercise equipment and playgyms will all help encourage your bird to engage in healthy play and exercise.


The best ways to provide outlets for exercise are:

  • Provide toys that stimulate movement (swings, ladders, vines, rings and bungees).
  • Provide destructible, manipulative and preening toys to engage your bird in activity and encourage movement.
  • Provide out of the cage play areas that encourage movement and play (playgyms, cargo nets).
  • Place foraging stations high and low around your bird’s cage to encourage movement (foraging toys).
  • Provide a cage large enough for your bird to fully flap his wings.
  • Purchase an indoor or outdoor flight cage.
  • With your bird securely perched on your hand, get a firm grip on your birds toes and encourage flapping by gently moving your arm up and down or swinging it in an arc while your bird hangs upside down.  Your bird will flap its wings to maintain balance.
  • Send your bird to "Basic Training" and work on step up's with your bird.
  • Play games with your bird such as hide and seek, ball toss and chase me.
  • Dance with your bird (it's good for you too!)
  • Flight training (Flight suits & Aviator harnesses)
  • Showers encourage wing flapping and preening activities (shower perches).
  • Work on Training Your Bird to Perform Tricks such as roller skating or playing basketball.

How much exercise is enough ?  We recommend a minimum of two 5 to 10 minute sessions a day that combines the above activities and games.  If your bird starts breathing heavily during wing flapping sessions make sure to stop and let him catch his breath before continuing. 

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Teaching Your Bird to Play

Written by Rebecca K. O'Connor. Posted in Exercise & Play

Teaching Your Bird to PlayOne of the most important things a parrot can learn is to play. Depending on their environment and personality, some parrots seem born to play with any and every toy. Other parrots take a little more convincing. Fortunately, with a little thought and a lot of positive reinforcement, you can mold your favorite bird into a parrot toy-aholic. Playing isn't just fun though, it is an important component to avoiding undesirable behavior such as screaming and feather destructive behavior.

In my home the most important thing a parrot can learn is how to use their "indoor voice." I work all day in my home office, talk to clients on the phone, transcribe interviews and try to focus on figuring out the perfect word to use. This kind of work requires not silence, but definitely a lack of repetitious ear-drum busting noises. I simply can't work with screaming parrots in the house. All three of my African parrots certainly vocalize all day, but on the other end of the phone people, say, "You have parrots, really? Why can't I hear them?" I've made a concerted effort to teach my parrots that they can get what they want (me to interact with them) without screaming. So they don't. I've also made sure that they have plenty of ways to keep themselves busy with enrichment. It's not impossible, but it is difficult to scream and chew at the same time.

Let's define this though. All parrots vocalize. Some parrots normal vocalizations have a much higher decibel level than others. This isn't "screaming." In the way most of us define it, screaming is not a normal behavior. Screaming is learned. Screaming is an extremely loud, repetitious noise that goes on and on and on. I'm guessing this isn't comfortable for any parrot. As Dr. Susan Freidman once said to me, "Imagine screaming at the top of your lungs for a half an hour in order to get what you want." Yikes!

TAO – A MINI MACAW WITH A NOT SO MINI VOICE

I was reminded of the importance of play to circumvent undesirable behavior when a new parrot recently joined my flock. I foster occasionally for Parrot's First, a rescue in Los Angeles and found myself bringing home a yellow-collared macaw named Tao. Not surprisingly this rescue mini-macaw can be loud. I didn't mind the little guy letting off a little steam now and then, but I had to make sure it didn't become a learned behavior.

Not reinforcing any screaming behavior was of course, my responsibility, but I also needed to make sure that he had more interesting things to do. I believe that parrots often scream as a means to control their environment. In other words, they're bored! Big problem with this little guy because he hadn't played with a single toy I have given him! Believe it or not, he had to learn to play. Quite possibly it is the most important thing he would learn while he lived with me. Playing was crucial for his mental and physical well-being.

So what had I tried to introduce to him? I tried chewable wood toys, plastic chains, dispensing toys, shredding toys. No interest. It was time to get proactive. I needed to find some inventive ways to create interactive toys and train him that investigating let to rewards.

DESENSITIZING FOR NEW TOYS

If you have a bird that is not playing, chances are that she is nervous around new toys. She will need to be desensitized or your chances of convincing her to play are minimal. Systematic desensitization involves gradually exposing your parrot to the object in question without arousing fear responses. This will allow a parrot to determine that the object in non-threatening. If you notice that your parrot reacting to something fearfully by thrashing, trying to flee, flapping her wings, leaning away, and/or growing, then back off. Place the offending object where the parrot can see it, but far enough away that she isn't reacting to it. Gradually move it closer, watching the parrot for avoidance behavior. Try interacting with the object yourself, so that our parrot can see it's non-threatening to you. Go slow, and be thoughtful. If you were afraid of spiders, you wouldn't want someone to throw one on you. Respect your parrot's fear as legitimate.

It is never a good idea to take the attitude of, "Oh, she'll just get over it." If you force your parrot to deal with objects she reacts to as frightening, she may get over it eventually, but she may also start to react to everything new as something that will be forced on her. For example, if you can't swim and your best friend pushes you into a pool, you may learn to swim and even get over your fear of water, but you probably aren't going to trust your best friend as much. Being associated with aversive experiences could quite easily ruin your relationship with your feathered best friend.

THE INCREDIBLE IRRESISTIBLE EGG CARTON

I had recently finished up a carton of eggs and after checking that there had been no egg leaks on the carton, I cut it up for a little parrot fun. My own guys are familiar with this toy so it went directly in their cages, but Tao is afraid of everything and had to be desensitized first. After I was certain he was confident with the odd blue contraption, I filled it with treats and zip-tied it to the cage.

This little guy didn't know yet that there is much to be gained by investigating new things in his cage. He wasn't too sure he wanted anything to do with the egg carton. A couple of molluca nuts on the top of it gave him reason to investigate and reward himself. I had discovered in his first few days with me that white-striped sunflower seeds, molluca nuts and almonds were great motivators for Tao. Nutriberries, healthy people food, vegetables and fruit were of no interest to him. It is possible though, that when he learns to investigate new things he may have more interest in investigating these "strange" foods. Another great reason to train Tao to play.

Despite the rewards on top of the egg carton, he wasn't too sure about ripping it up to get to the goodies inside. So I kept putting nuts on the top now and then throughout the day, in different places, shoved in the holes so he could pry them out, etc. Every time he investigated and got a little more adventuresome with his new toy he would get a reward.

Over two days he went from cautiously grabbing a nut from the edge of the egg carton, to reaching across it to grab one, to prying an almond out of a crevice, to finally beautiful destruction. I got up an hour after dawn on the third day and the egg carton was destroyed, its innards plundered. The next egg carton I gave him was annihilated in a matter of hours.

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

The egg carton was a means of teaching Tao to investigate. Now I can try giving him boxes loaded with treats, paper bags, treat dispensing toys and anything else that will continue to encourage this behavior. If I can catch him investigating other new toys that don't dispense treats, I can be the treat dispenser instead. If I see him chewing on the new wood block toy I can call out "good" to mark the event and bring a treat. It's going to take some time still, but at least we are on our way!

Egg cartons can now be a part of his enrichment rotation, but it is important to understand that there MUST be a rotation. A recent article in the journal Applied Animal Behavior Science authored by Rebecca A. Fox put science to me and my colleague's assertion that change is critical to molding well-adjusted parrots. The results of their study at UC Davis with orange-winged Amazons demonstrated that the rotation of enrichment objects was much more successful in reducing fearful behavior than simply providing enrichment objects. Fox also noted that the types of toys and individual preference must also be considered for success. So teach your parrot to play, assess her playing preferences, offer variety and change it up frequently. You will both have tons of fun!

REFERENCES

Fox, Rebecca A. and James R. Millam, "Novelty and individual difference influence neophobia in orange-winged Amazon parrots (Amazonia amazonica)." Applied Animal Behavior Science 104 (2007) 107-115.

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Rebecca K. O'Connor has been training birds for over a decade. She has worked and consulted at free flight bird shows in Mexico, Australia, Ohio, Florida, Texas, and California. Believing in empowering parrots and their human friends, she is a frequent contributor to Good Bird Magazine and her book, A Parrot for Life! Was released in February 2007 from TFH Publications. She consults with parrot owners helping them to problem solve and enjoy an enhanced and meaningful life with the birds in their home. Lectures and workshops are also an important aspect of the work that she does. She is a falconer, constantly working with her own birds, occasional foster parrots and lives with three African parrots, a flock of homing pigeons and a Brittany spaniel. Read more about Rebecca at: www.rebeccakoconnor.com and be sure to check out her blog Heckled by Parrots (Examining, Surviving and Loving Life with Parrots)

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The Importance of Exercise

Written by Deb White. Posted in Exercise & Play

Parrots and Exercise In the wild, parrots fly many miles a day in search of food, mates and safe resting spots as well as in defending nesting sites and fleeing predators.    In the process, they get a lot of aerobic exercise.

Exercise and play are critical to a parrot’s physical, mental and emotional well being.   Exercise enhances physical conditioning (cardiovascular & muscle health), stimulates the brain and offers an outlet to alleviate boredom and stress.  The risk of too little exercise is heart disease, obesity, depression, lethargy and behavioral problems such as aggressiveness, screaming or plucking.

Unfortunately, in captivity, our pet birds live a relatively sedentary existence which can lead to obesity and related long term health problems.    The risks of obesity are well known: circulatory problems, heart disease, respiratory distress, fatty liver disease, fatty tumor formation, kidney disease and joint disease (arthritis).   Avian obesity can be avoided by increasing exercise levels and by providing an appropriate diet that isn’t too high in calories or fat content.

For optimal health, we need to provide our birds with opportunities to move, climb, flap and fly to help keep their muscles toned, joints healthy and heart conditioned.  Providing outlets for exercise will also help them reduce their stress level, improve their balance and coordination as well as enhance their mental alertness.   

For some suggestions on how to increase your birds exercise level check out our articles "How to Get Your Perch Potato to Exercise" and "Games to Play with Your Bird"

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The Importance of Play

Written by Deb White. Posted in Exercise & Play

The Importance of Parrot PlayIn order to ward off dependency problems later in life, it is very important to foster the ability to play independently within young birds. Parrots who are exposed to and encouraged to explore a variety of safe toys with novel colors, textures and shapes at an early age often grow up to be more confident, less fearful and more independent.

Often we hear of older birds whose owner's insist that they "don't play with toys". Many of these birds were raised without opportunities to explore a varied environment. Many of these birds also exhibit negative behavioral traits (feather plucking, screaming, biting, etc.)

For these reasons, we believe that providing opportunities for play is only second in importance to addressing diet and nutrition. The benefits of play crossover multiple enrichment categories:

  • Physical health is improved through increased exercise
  • Emotional well-being is enhanced by providing opportunities for mental stimulation and social interaction
  • Instinctual needs to chew and forage can be fulfilled by proving the appropriate toys.

Is it possible to teach an older bird to play? You bet. The key is not to give up if your bird doesn't play with the first few toys you've bought for him. There are many types of toys that fulfill a wide range of needs. Just like we humans have different hobbies and play preferences, our birds also have varied interests, personalities and play styles. Once you find something that grabs your bird's attention then they may be interested in expanding their horizons.

Here's some hints on other ways to stimulate your bird's interest in toys:

  • Start out with easily destructible toys and items such as those made of paper or vine materials.
  • Weave shredders between bars or hang an old phone book through the bars on the top of the cage.
  • Once your bird enjoys the "easy chews" then introduce toys with increasingly more durable toy components such as cardboard toys, wooden balsa or pine slats and other fun parts to manipulate.
  • Hide your bird's favorites treats within foraging toys to encourage exploration.
  • Model play behavior and stimulate your bird's interest by playing with and showing interest in a particular toy yourself.
  • Play fun games with your birds. It will help foster a happier, more rewarding relationship with your bird.

Keep your bird's mind stimulated by providing a variety of toy types and periodically introducing new toys and rotating old toys.

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Why Birds Play

Written by Deb White. Posted in Exercise & Play

Parrots at PlayIn the wild, much of a parrot’s day is consumed by the task of finding food.  In captivity, this task has been reduced to a bare minimum leaving a lot of “free time”.   This down time often leads to boredom which in turn has been shown to lead to the development of behavioral (screaming, feather plucking, aggressiveness) and both mental and physical health problems.

Without an outlet for their normal level of foraging and survival activity, it is imperative that alternative enrichment opportunities be provided that encourage engagement in other stimulating activities.   This is paramount to their mental and emotional well being.    

Birds also do find time to play in the wild, play is a natural activity for parrots. Avian behaviorists who have spent time observing parrots in the wild have reported that playtime ranks second only to food gathering in priority.   They have been observed stripping bark off trees, biting off and flinging leaves and twigs, swinging from and climbing on vines all the while chattering gleefully with the rest of the flock.

Specific types of play behavior noted in the wild are object manipulation, balancing games, locomotory play, acoustic play and social play.  Social play, in which two or more birds or species interact, often involves scenarios such as “chase me”, “I want what you are playing with” and “let’s pretend to fight”.   Play fighting usually involves “beak fencing”, pushing with feet or nipping at the feet and feathers of their play partner.  For older birds, mock fighting helps to keep them fit and ready to fend off predators.

Do birds play because they are intelligent or are they intelligent because they play?  Millicent Ficken, stated in her paper on avian play, “the answer is probably both”.  Because they are intelligent, they are capable of diverse and complex play activities, and it is also probable that through play they learn relationships with the environment that contribute to their plasticity of behavior and great ecological success in many different habitats.”

Through play, a young parrot learns to experiment with and expand his physical limits, how to interact with his environment and his flock mates.  In young birds, playtime is part of the learning process in which birds start to identify textures, colors, shapes and it also helps to develop coordination and dexterity.  Exposure to a wide variety of objects at a young age helps to create a more confident, less fearful bird. 

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