Toys are essential to the mental and physical health of birds, and yet historically little has been written about why they are so important. After all, leading pet bird authorities to consider foraging enrichment and nest building to be very important aspects of pet bird care.
Experts now say that toys are just as important to your pet birds as their diet; they are a necessary element in maintaining good health. Toys contribute to both the mental and physical health of your bird because they play an essential role in his life.
Not just “something to do
Interacting with a toy not only stimulates the bird’s mind but also keeps it physically active and engaged. In nature, birds of all species are always active, performing daily gymnastics. The world is their jungle gym. Sitting on a perch all day is not only unnatural and unhealthy but an unengaged bird can also be considered a neglected bird.
If you have a normally busy lifestyle, you simply can’t be there for your pet bird every minute of the day, which is why birds spend a significant amount of time alone. What do these intelligent creatures do with all that time? If they don’t have an outlet to keep their minds and bodies busy solving puzzles, most birds turn their frustrations inward.
Like all highly intelligent creatures, birds need stimulation and have reasons for being active. Having nothing to do with effects a bird’s state of mind. When boredom creeps in, birds may attack their feathers or simply become apathetic, depressed, and unhealthy.
The call of nature
All types of wild birds are constantly on the move, flying, jumping from branch to branch in trees, searching for food, and even playing. Yes, wild birds do indeed play. They interact for pleasure and play with other birds as well as inanimate and found objects. In the wild, birds have been observed tossing twigs, removing bark from twigs and branches, bathing in puddles, hanging upside down, swinging, and tagging; all of which are playful activities. Crows have even been known to sled on their backs on snowy slopes in winter.
Birds also have natural survival instincts that need to be trained; acquiring these “life skills” leads to many playful activities. They have the instinct to gnaw on wood, bark, leaves, and other objects. This instinct helps them learn to use tools, build nests, and create nesting cavities in trees because these building skills are not innate. The birds observe other, older birds and learn from each other. When they learn to gnaw accurately, they can also be better at foraging.
The physical puzzle pieces of the natural world.
In captivity, it is the toys that provide the physical material for these natural playful activities. By interacting with their toys, birds meet their natural needs for chewing, throwing objects, digging, and searching. Creating and engaging is what keeps them moving and stimulate their minds.
Just as a child exercises their body and mind by going outside, running, and building forts and castles, this time of play with toys is just as important to the bird’s well-being. Chewing actions help keep the bird’s beak in excellent condition, and physical exercise keeps its muscles, tendons, and bones strong and in good condition. Physical activity also burns calories, and birds simply need plenty of exercises to stay in shape.
Soothing birds with hormonal fluctuations during the breeding season
Does your bird ever become aggressive? Sometimes birds tend to get a little aggressive during the breeding season due to an excess of normal seasonal hormones in their bodies. Even if you have a single bird or a bird that does not breed, these animals are influenced by the season. Things like temperature and light changes, which result from normal seasonal calendar changes, are the trigger for these hormonal variations.
This natural surplus of energy has to go somewhere, and safe toys are the perfect outlet for them. They can burn off their energy and vent frustrations in a productive way. By providing this outlet for your bird, you can also calm his hormones and reduce his aggression toward you during these times.
The power of choice
Toys in a variety of shapes, colors, and textures are appealing to a bird because it has a choice, and that choice gives the bird a “mission” of sorts. The ability to choose is one of the most rewarding things you can give a pet of any species, but especially an intelligent bird.
Most birds are independent by nature and like to make their own decisions. Toys not only keep your birds busy, but they can also inspire confidence. A bird decides for itself which toys it wants to play with, what it wants to do with them, and how and when it wants to play with them.
What you may not realize is that a toy doesn’t have to be that complicated to be a good toy for a bird. Have you ever seen a child play for hours with nothing but a box? Birds play this way too. Surprisingly, even the simplest objects can make for very imaginative and engaging play.
For example, Alex, the Alex Foundation’s famous gray parrot, has never really liked toys. But if you gave him a cardboard box, he would spend hours punching holes in it, modifying it, and turning it into a pile of debris.
It is important to keep bird toys safe, but this is often overlooked. You must check toys condition. Toys are meant to be chewed, thrown, and pushed around, so it’s natural for them to wear out over time.
Look for frayed strings and materials, cracked plastic, or anything else that your bird might injure itself, poke an eye, or accumulate dirt on. Unsecured items such as electrical wires and cords should never be accessible to your bird. Keep toys clean by washing them with natural, fragrance-free soaps.
Buying toys from reputable suppliers with bird-proof products can also go a long way toward safety. For example, look for vegetable-colored and plant-tanned leather toys when reading toy descriptions.
If your toy is an “old hat” and your bird ignores it, pass it on by donating it to a parrot adoption and education foundation. Used toys are a great way to support the work of this foundation.