By Anna Lawrence
Parrots are incredibly intelligent and inquisitive animals. It is important for parrots to receive adequate mental stimulation in order to keep them from becoming bored, depressed or destructive. Parrots need toys and foraging toys for enrichment and can easily be made with eco-friendly materials.
As a rescue with several parrots in our home, each needs at minimum five toys and many of those birds will destroy those five toys every single day. The costs would be staggering if we had to purchase these already made. Also, toys sold for parrots in large pet stores and dollar stores are not always safe.
In order to save money, we make our own selection of toys for each specific species of parrot and we only use bird-safe materials. The safety of your bird is the most important thing and you need to ensure what you are using is safe for them physically and also internally in case they ingest it.
Care also needs to be taken with size of toy: a toy for a small parrot like a Green-cheeked conure might have beads, bells, chain, and strings that are appropriately sized for that bird, but would be inappropriate and dangerous for a large bird. Small beads can even get stuck in the lower mandible (beak) of a large bird.
No glues, coatings, residues, or dyes that are not food dyes should be present in your toys or supplies. Many items can be purchased from the dollar store, but be careful of the ingredient list and where it came from. Most items from outside Canada and the U.S. have been treated and could be potentially dangerous. If any wood objects are shiny or have a detectable smell, do not use them. The same rule applies to wicker baskets and products that may be sprayed, glued, or assembled with nails.
Chewing is a natural instinct and vital to a bird’s mental and physical well-being. Many parrot toys are sold as being “indestructible” and are made out of acrylic or very hard wood. If you provide only these kinds of toys, your parrot will find other ways to satisfy their chewing needs such as your walls or furniture.
Some safe woods we regularly use include pine, birch, balsa, poplar, apple, cholla and manzanita. Unsafe woods include cedar, oak, plywood, red cherry, and any lumber scraps that may have been treated for fire or moisture resistance. The list goes on and there are a few websites with the authoritative list of safe and unsafe wood. And if you are ever unsure, just ask your avian vet.
Another popular and favoured toy is a phone book. Phone books use a safe, soy-based ink and are great for shredding and provide hours of fun. The pages can also be used to wrap treats which can be hidden around the cage. Coffee filters, popsicle sticks, tree branches cut into longer pieces with holes drilled to hide treats are also great things to use (make sure branches have not been treated with ANY kind of sprays, and avoid branches from trees that are near a main road and would have residue from truck exhaust.). Cardboard is also a favoured toy but stay away from egg cartons as there is a risk of salmonella and paper towel or toilet paper rolls that have a glue residue on them.
Most products are not manufactured with the idea of being used as parrot toys. You need to use due diligence when selecting items and research the Internet. When in doubt, consult with your avian vet. But with care, and a little bit of research, you can recycle lots of materials to make many amazing toys that your parrots will love.
—Anna Lawrence is the executive director of the Birdline Parrot Rescue. Visit www.birdline.ca.