Jodi's Exotic Birds

Toys & Enrichment
By Jodi Montaño

Have you ever really watched the wild birds in your yard? If you have, you’ve probably noticed how busy they are, flying here and there, chasing a bug, looking for food, taking dust baths in the dirt, playing in your sprinklers, or taking a dip in a puddle of water. They are amazingly active from sun up until sun down.

Now imagine a bird hatched into captivity. Their cage is their world, except when they are spending time with you. Their food is given to them daily in a bowl, as is their water. They don’t go anywhere, or do much of anything. Is it any wonder many pet birds pluck their feathers in frustration or turn into screamers? They have little else to do with their time.

So what can we, as their owners do about this? Well, obviously there is no way we can substitute for the kinds of freedom and experiences they would have in the wild. But the silver lining to this, is that pet birds should live much longer than wild birds, providing we care for them properly, by feeding them a healthy diet, giving them clean, fresh water, and keeping them in good health, both physically and mentally. But of great importance is providing enrichment and mental stimulation. We can do this by offering a variety of safe, interesting toys, and other environmental enrichment.

Toys should be made of safe, non-toxic materials, and be of the appropriate size for each species. You might think that any bird toy which is sold in a pet store would be safe, but this is not always the case. They should not contain fasteners that can be pulled apart, then trap a toe or beak. A key chain fastener is NOT safe for birds. “C” Clamps are the best way to fasten a toy to the cage, and may be purchased at your local hardware store in a variety of sizes. Toys should not contain long, loose strings or threads which can become wrapped around toes or body parts. Your bird should not be able to become trapped in a toy. For instance, a toy that is the appropriate size for a Macaw may have a circular part which would be just the right size for a Conure to get its head or body stuck in, but would be too small for that to happen to a Macaw. A toy containing a bell may be a potential danger, because birds will remove the clapper, which could be swallowed. Never offer toys with jingle type bells! Birds’ tongues can easily become cut or stuck in the slits.

Before giving your bird any toy, really look at it, and ask yourself if you can see any way it could become a danger to your bird. Also, birds should not share toys with other birds, unless they can be sterilized first. Toys made of porous materials, such as wood and rawhide cannot be sterilized, whereas plastic and acrylic can be disinfected.

Toys can be quite expensive, especially for the larger birds. But even so, some of the most enjoyable toys are those which can be destroyed relatively quickly, such as soft woods, corn cobs, straw baskets, etc. You can make your own toys and save a lot of money, but you need to use safe, non-toxic materials.

Non-toxic branches, complete with leaves, can be stimulating to birds, but will be a big mess for you to clean up! Occasionally I will take the trimmings from my eucalyptus trees (washed first!), complete with leaves, flowers & seed pods, down to the aviary and let my breeding pairs have at them! They love it, but it’s a mess to clean up from under the cages.

Food can be offered in a variety of stimulating ways. There are skewers that can be used to offer fruit & veggies, which would be hung from the top of the cage. This can occupy a bird for quite some time. There are also toys that will hold treats, such as nuts, where the bird has to work hard to get to the treat. This too can be quite time consuming.

Other ways to enrich your bird’s life would be to play your stereo, or the TV, from time to time. I like to set the TV or stereo on timer before I leave the house. I don’t want to subject my birds to continuous stimulation, day in and day out, but I do like to offer it for variety.

Cage location is another way to offer stimulation to your birds. My pet birds are located in a room with 2 large windows and a sliding glass door. I almost always leave the blinds wide open for my birds. They wake with the rising of the sun, and go to sleep with the setting of the sun, unless I keep them up longer with lights on. (Note: Birds need 8 – 12 hours of darkness each night) One window looks out to where I feed the wild birds, and keep a bird bath. Another window has a hummingbird feeder hanging in front of it, and the sliding glass door looks out onto my patio, which is my dog’s favorite hangout. So even when I’m not home, and it’s quite, my birds have a window to the world, with plenty to see. Please note, this may not be a good idea for a bird who is fearful of what it sees outside. Always observe your bird for signs of stress, and if it’s scared of activity outside a window, do not subject it to that stress.

Use your imagination, observe your birds for their favorite toys and foods, and do your best to provide your birds with enough activity that they don’t get bored, and your birds will appreciate it. Be observant, and sensitive to the needs and reactions of your individual birds. Never force a bird to accept a toy that it’s afraid of, but try to gradually introduce it, from a distance. Never subject a bird to any situation that is scary to that individual bird.