Image via iStock.com/Lusyaya
By Dr. Sandra Mitchell
When shopping for your bird, you’ll find so many types of bird toys—mirrors, ladders, swings and ropes—that the choices are almost overwhelming. Some of the bird toys might seem flimsy, making you wonder if your bird will break them on the first use.
Other toys look like fun, but you remember that she hid from the last thirty-dollar toy you got her. So, how do you decide what to buy? How many bird toys does a bird really need, anyhow? Are all of those ropes and artificial colors safe?
Picking Bird Toys Based on Cage Size and Function
One of the first things to decide is where your bird’s new toy will go—inside or outside the cage—and in what section of the cage. Make sure your bird’s cage is large enough for the bird toys you want to introduce. Bird toys that are going to stay outside the cage can obviously be larger and more elaborate than those inside the cage.
For larger birds, there are many bird playstands, bird perches and toys for the top of bird cages. As a rule, I prefer moving a bird away from the cage and allowing him to play on a freestanding playground as opposed to being on top of their cage.
Whenever a bird is in their cage, they should be able to freely fly from end to end. Flying is a natural bird behavior, and they should be allowed to fly anytime they wish to. This means that not only do large birds need really large bird cages, but small birds need pretty big bird cages, too.
Most birds are kept in cages that are much too small and do not allow them to actually fly. First evaluate whether you have an appropriately sized cage. Even with a cage that has plenty of room to fly, you must also make sure that any toy that is placed inside the cage should be situated so as not to interfere with this activity.
Designate a “flying area” of the cage (usually the top half) and keep it free of all hanging bird toys. Then reserve a corner or area in the bottom half of the cage for bird toys.
Which Type of Bird Toys Should You Get?
The type of bird toys you pick will depend on your bird’s species, personality, likes and dislikes. Watching your pet and some trial and error will help you to sort this out.
As a rule, bigger birds like toys to grapple and chew on. Smaller birds like bells, mirrors and swings. All sizes seem to like soft fleece toys that have come on the market in recent years, like the Super Bird Creations peekaboo perch bird. That being said, my African grey parrot adores his swing, and my Lutino Lovebird has a big rope chew toy that he gnaws on for hours.
See what your bird likes, and purchase similar bird toys. Don’t be afraid to throw something different into the mix on occasion. Bird toys are made for mental stimulation and environmental enrichment. Even if your bird decides not to use a new toy, he undoubtedly thought about it for a while, which equates to mission accomplished!
How Many Bird Toys Should a Bird Have?
Don’t clutter the cage with bird toys. Most birds really only need two to three bird toys at a time to keep them busy. However, playing with the same toys over an extended period of time can become very boring for them.
My general routine is to tear all of my cages apart for a complete top-to-bottom cleaning once per week. When I do this, I remove all of the toys and replace them with new ones. I keep a stash of eight to 12 bird toys in a box and rotate them on a weekly basis.
Now, if there was a favorite toy—like the swing for my African grey—I might not take it away, but rather move it to a different part of the cage. Or I might replace it with a similar swing that is just different enough to make him explore it as if it was new. You might want to remove and replace one toy a day.
Do whatever works for your routine and your pet—just switch the toys often enough to keep life interesting for your bird. With some bird toys, something as simple as turning a toy upside down makes it “new”! Use your imagination!
What Should You Look for in a Bird Toy?
Above all else, you want your new bird toy to be completely safe for your bird. Look the toy over carefully—are there any strings or strands of rope which could be pulled or chewed free and wrap around a leg or toe? I have amputated many bird legs and feet thanks to dangerous toys constricting the blood flow to a leg.
Could your bird break off a piece and swallow it? Some of the rawhide chews on the market are soft enough that bigger birds in particular can rip chunks off, which then get stuck in their intestines.
Are there any flimsy pieces of wood that they may swallow? Check how the bird toy hangs very carefully—sometimes toenails, toes or feet can become trapped in the catches or chains, causing severe injury.
Also look to see how easily the toy can be cleaned. Many birds like to sit over their toys and poop on them … or regurgitate food to “feed” their favorite toy … or yes, sometimes even try to mate with them. All of these favorite bird activities can leave the toys pretty soiled.
So it is smart to make sure that you can clean the toy easily. If it is one that you will have to dispose of once it is dirty, that gets expensive quickly.
Things to Consider When Choosing the Best Bird Toys
In short, try to think like a bird when picking out bird toys. If someone hung this thing in the middle of your living room, would it be in your way if you were flying to the kitchen for a snack? Does it look like something you’d have fun climbing around on or looking at? Is there anything about it that might snag any part of your body if you were playing with it? Is it tasty and okay to eat? If not, will I get sick if I do decide to eat it?
Bird toys don’t have to be expensive. You can try out new bird toys and also make a few of your own. Cutting some bird-safe fruit branches (pesticide-free!) to use as bird perches and chewing toys counts perfectly well as mental stimulation and enrichment. Some birds even love paper towel rolls stuffed with newspaper.
Watch what your bird likes to do and watch what wild birds do with their time, then let your imagination take over! There is nothing more fun than trying to think like your companion bird and understanding what (and why) they do what they do.
Bird Toy Options by Size
Here are some ideas of potential bird toys to get you started. Be sure to keep your bird in mind—what is safe for my zebra finch may well not be suitable for your Parakeet, even though they are both considered small birds.
- JW Pet Activitoy Birdie House of Mirrors toy
- JW Pet Activitoy Birdie disco ball toy
- Super Bird Creations Wiggles and Wafers bird toy
- Planet Pleasures spiked piñata natural bird toy
- Bonka Bird Toys foraging heart bird toy
- Bonka Bird Toys paci pull bird toy