Bird Toys and Exercise
Toys and puzzles stave off boredom by encouraging your bird to stretch their wings and take in some much needed mental exercise.
EXERCISE AND FLIGHT
Flight is important to your bird’s mental health. If you have a small aviary of finches, ensure that there is enough open horizontal space for them to fly around. If you keep parrots, the cage should have enough room to spread and stretch the wings, but the parrots require flying time with you, outside the cage every day.
Outdoor flight has some hazards that must be considered. Pet birds can be overwhelmed and confused by the open space, and in their panic, they might fly a considerable distance before calming down. “Considerable” may be read as “tens of kilometers”. Doves and pigeons have the best chance of finding their way home, but even they should be introduced to the outdoors in a semi-open aviary before they fly free. Some pet birds adapt well to a flight harness, which allows them to fly around while you still have a hold of them. Any time your birds are outside, whether they are confined or not, you need to be very aware of possible predators including cats, falcons, and rats. Keep your pet safe.
Water birds also require the opportunity to wade and swim.
Any bird cage ought to contain at least three toys. For doves and finches, the bulk of their toys will be ladders, swinging perches, and small wooden items that they can re-arrange like a miniature version of a toddler’s blocks. Don’t be surprised if your finch carries or pushes a certain toy around the cage repeatedly, for weeks on end. She’s indulging her nest-designing hobby. If you keep any of the jungle-types of parrots, there should be a section of the cage that is so full of toys that the birds can actually conceal themselves in the mess. And all parrots need items to chew into splinters, whether their wild cousins hail from the jungles or the deserts.
Loose wooden toys, acrylic toys, and wiffle balls are readily available at pet-supply shops, online and in town. In fact, there are online shops which are devoted entirely to safe bird toys. Craft stores also sell wooden shapes and craft-sticks that are beak-friendly. Wooden pieces may be stained with food-safe dyes, but avoid anything that is painted. The same is true of hanging toys made of paper, wood, leather, and so on. The birds will be pecking at the toys, and birds are easily poisoned. Chew toys come in various sizes and thicknesses for different sizes of beaks: a cockatiel might enjoy a toy made of playing cards for a few days’ worth of destruction, while an Amazon needs more solid pieces of wood.
There is a separate class of toys known as “foraging toys“. These are games and puzzles that hide the bird’s snacks, so the pet needs to figure out how to get to the treat. This makes his mealtime more interesting, and gives him some mental exercise. In the wild, most of his time would be spent looking for food, instead of just walking over to his dish. Let your bird feel clever!
Expect to replace a parrot’s toys every few weeks. If your parrot isn’t destroying his toys, and presuming you have provided “chewable” toys for him, consult your veterinarian immediately.
PERCHES AND CLIMBING EQUIPMENT
Almost all pet birds require perches to sit and stand on. Good perches have different textures and thicknesses, to give the bird’s toes a rest. The perches that look like natural branches are perfect, as long as most of the branch is thick enough that your bird’s toes don’t overlap while he is sitting. Many birds also enjoy rope-wrapped perches. These are available in many shapes and sizes. Wooden dowels ought to be avoided, because the smoothness is uncomfortable and hard on the feet for long-term sitting and roosting.
Ladders are available for all sizes of birds, from canaries to macaws. Try to include one in every cage. Parrots will also enjoy rope “nets” as climbing toys in their play areas outside the cage. These nets are just like the net-climbing obstacles in some military obstacle courses, except that they are sized for birds (and parrots enjoy them more than do most military recruits).
KEEP YOUR BIRD HEALTHY AND ENTERTAINED
A good selection of toys and perches is important for your bird’s health but be sure to keep some extras on hand. What’s the next step? Try a new foraging toy for your bird, starting off with just a bit of treat inside. For parrots, gradually work up to having half or more of the meal in foraging toys. For doves, hide some of their food around the dove cote.