Toys are crucial to the mental and physical health of birds and yet, historically, not much has been written as to just why they are so important. Leading authorities on companion birds are finally sighting both foraging and nest building enrichment as very important aspects of companion bird care.
Experts now say that toys for your pet birds are just as important as their nutrition; they are a necessary part of maintaining good health. The reason is that toys contribute to both the mental and physical health of your bird because they play a critically important role in the bird's life.
Not Just "Something to Do"
Interacting with a toy not only stimulates a bird's mind, but it also keeps them active and engaged physically. Birds in nature of all species are always active, doing gymnastics on a daily basis. The world is their jungle gym. Sitting on a perch all day is not only unnatural and unhealthy, but an unoccupied bird might actually 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, so birds spend a significant amount of time on their own. What do these smart creatures do with all of that time? If they do not have an outlet to keep their minds and bodies busy solving puzzles, then most birds will turn their frustrations inward.
Like all very intelligent creatures, birds require stimulation and having reasons for their activity. With nothing to do, this affects a bird's state of mind. Once boredom sets in, birds may take it out on their feathers or just become listless, depressed, and unhealthy.
The Call of the Wild
All species of birds in the wild are constantly on the move, flying, hopping in trees from limb to limb, foraging for food, and even playing. Yes, birds in the wild do indeed play. They interact for fun and play with other birds as well as with inanimate, found objects as well. In the wild, birds have been observed flinging twigs around, stripping the bark off of twigs and tree limbs, bathing in puddles, hanging upside down and swinging as well as playing tag; these are all play activities. Crows have even been known to go "sledding" on their backs on snow-covered slopes in winter.
Birds also have natural survival instincts that need practicing; getting these "life skills" just right leads to plenty of play-like activities. They have a natural instinct to gnaw on wood as well as bark, leaves, and other objects. This instinct is what helps them to learn how to use tools, build nests, and create nesting hollows in trees, as these construction skills are not innate skills. Birds will observe other older birds and learn skills from each other. Learning how to gnaw with precision also allows them to be better at foraging for food.
Physical Puzzles of the Natural World
In captivity, toys are what provide the necessary physical materials for these natural play activities. By interacting with their toys, birds are acting out their natural urges to chew, to toss things around, and to dig and search. Creating and busyness are what keeps them moving and stimulates their minds.
Just as a child gets exercise for body and mind by being outside, running around, and building forts and castles, this play time with toys is just as important for the bird's well being. Chewing actions help to keep birds' beaks in top condition and the physical exertions keep their muscles, tendons, and bones strong and in good condition. Exercise also burns off calories and birds simply need lots of activity to stay in good shape.
Calming Hormonal Birds During the Breeding Season
Does your bird ever get aggressive? Sometimes birds in breeding condition tend to get a little bit feisty due to an excess of normal seasonal hormones in their bodies. Even when you have a single bird or non-mating birds, these individuals will still be affected by the season. Things like temperature and light changes from normal seasonal changes of the calendar are the cue for these hormonal fluctuations.
This natural extra energy needs to go somewhere, so safe toys are the ideal outlet for them. They can burn off the energy and let out any frustrations in a productive way. Giving a bird this outlet may just calm those hormones too and lower its aggression level toward you during these times.
The Power to Choose
Toys of many different shapes, colors, and textures provide interest to a bird because they offer choice and that decision gives your companion bird a “job,” so to speak. Choice is one of the most enriching things you can provide to a pet of any kind, but especially the intelligent birds.
Most birds are naturally independent and enjoy making choices for themselves. Toys not only keep your birds busy, but the choices can also instill confidence. A bird will decide things such as what toy to play, what exactly they want to do with it, and how and when to play with it.
What you might not expect though is that a toy does not need to be all that complicated for it to be considered a good toy to a bird. Have you seen a child playing for hours with nothing but a box? Birds play this way as well. Amazingly, even the simplest of objects can inspire some very imaginative and dedicated play.
For instance, the famous Gray Parrot, Alex from The Alex Foundation, was never too fond of toys. But if you gave Alex a cardboard box, he would spend hours of time making holes in it, customizing it, and turning it into a pile of rubble. Parrots can be especially fond of playing with paper plates.
Ensuring that bird toys are always safe is important and yet often overlooked. Keep an eye on the condition of the toys. Toys are meant to be chewed on, thrown around, and banged, so it is only natural that toys get worn out with use.
Be vigilant about frayed cords and material, cracked plastic, or anything else that might injure your bird, poke an eye, or collect grime. Hazardous or unsafe items like electric wiring and metal wiring should never be accessible to your bird. Keep toys clean by washing with natural, scent-free soaps.
Purchasing toys from reputable suppliers with bird-safe products can also go a long way in assuring safety. For example, look for vegetable-dyed toys and vegetable-tanned leather when reading toy descriptions.
Once your toys are "old hat" and ignored by your bird, pass them on by donating them to a parrot adoption and education foundation. Used toys are a wonderful way to support their mission.