Toy Safety for Parrots

how to choose toy for parrots
how to choose toy for parrots

Toys of all kinds and purposes are essential to the emotional and physical health of our companion parrots.

There are many companies dedicated to producing quality parrot toys, and some people choose to make their own toys for their parrots. While there are toys that may not be safe for every parrot, most toys on the market today are safe for the type and size of parrots for which they are made.

Every parrot plays with toys in its own way. People should pay close attention to the way their birds play to know if specific toys are right for their birds. There are toys that people should be comfortable keeping in their birds’ cages, but others should only be placed on play gyms or hanging gyms, where the birds can play with supervision.

If people who have multiple birds watch carefully, they will realise that each bird may utilise their toys differently. However, and a caution, there are some parrots that will ingest much of what they chew on and need to be watched carefully so they don't end up with problems with toxicity and/or digestive tract impaction. This ingestion of toy materials seems to be more common in Cockatoos, particularly Umbrellas, so they need to be watched extra carefully in this regard.

In buying or making toys for your parrots, keep these considerations in mind.

Wood Toys

Parrots love to chew, and wood is one of their favourite choices for chewability.

People seem to be surprised when unsupervised parrots escape from cages and immediately go for the kitchen cupboards, wall boards or furniture.

Many companies use food dyes to colour wooden items, and they should be fairly safe. Painted wood could be a problem for heavy chewers, especially if they ingest it. Fairly soft woods are best because some harder woods splinter in ways that could cause injuries. However, if your parrot-family bird ingests the wood it is chewing, the wood fibres can actually cause dangerous Gastrointestinal Impaction (GI). Balsa seems to be controversial, but it may be one of the safest for birds that chew and ingest wood because I have heard it is so soft that it is actually digestible.

If you are looking for wood for toys or perches, they should always be made out of clean, untreated woods that you are sure are safe for parrots. Woods that are considered safe include, but aren't limited to: Acacia, Alder, Almond, Apple, Arbutus, Ash, Aspen, Bamboo, Beech, Birch, Bottle Brush, Citrus, Cottonwood, Crabapple, Dogwood, Elm, Eucalyptus, Fig Species, Fir, Fruitless Mulberry, Ginkgo, Grape Vines, Grape Palm, Guava, Hackberry, Hawthorn, Hazelnut, Hibiscus, Hickory, Larch, Lilac, Liquidamber, Madrona, Magnolia, Manzanita, Maple, Mediterranean Laurel, Mimosa, Mulberry, Nectarine, Norfolk Island Pine, Oak, Palm, Papaya, Pear, Pecan, Pine, Poplar, Ribbonwood, Sassafras, Spruce, Sweet Gum, Sycamore, Thurlow, Tree fern, Umbrella tree, Vine Maple, Walnut (not black walnut), and Willow.

A good way to keep your parrot in chewables is to make your own. Use a safe, chewable wood like clean, untreated pine either as 2in x 4in for larger parrots or 2in x 2in for medium parrots, and if you can find 1in x 1in, that would be great for the smaller birds. You need to cut them into lengths corresponding to the parrots they are for and what you think are most suitable for your birds. You can then screw in an eyelet, attach to a quick link and hang in the cage.

These toys serve three basic purposes. The first is to be chewed, the second is a bang around toy, and the third is for foot/eye coordination, which increases balance skills because the parrot has to hold it still to be able to chew on it.

Leather Toys

A lot of parrots, particularly Greys, love to chew on leather strips, but make sure such leather toys use vegetable tanned, untreated leather and that hasn’t been dyed.

Suede is also a problem and shouldn't be used for parrot toys. Most parrots that like to chew on leather, love leather strips tied to their cages. If leather strips are used as chewables, either cut them short enough that the bird can't tangle in them, or tie them in lots of knots.
Untying knots can be a fun challenge for many parrots.

Rope toys and perches

These are items that come with a lot of cautions because it is fairly easy for parrots to get caught and/or tangled in them. Like leather strips, ropes should always be cut to lengths that the parrot can't get tangled up in. Rope perches and toys should be kept trimmed as the parrot chews on them and if your parrot has rope toys and perches in its cage, make sure to keep its toenails trimmed.

Cloth toys

Many parrots love chewing on fabric. The fabric should always be washed multiple times to make safe, as dyes or colours can create problems for a chewing bird. Sometimes the simplest cloth toys can keep a parrot amused for hours. Examples include a small paper bag or a clean cotton sock stuffed with pieces of wood, wadded paper or knotted leather strips. These can be hung in the cage or just given to parrots to explore. A cloth toy with a lot of texture can be made with a clean, pre-washed flannel (wash cloth) or small towel. Cut it into strips and then tie them in knots leaving one long enough to hang it in the cage, or it can make a foot toy. Some parrot family birds like to wear their bells on their heads. This seems to be most true of Cockatiels and smaller Conures. Make sure that the bells on bird toys are safe and the right size for your parrot. The first thing that many birds want to do is to remove the clapper. Larger parrots shouldn't be given small bells. Years ago many bird toys had jingle bell type bells. They are very dangerous because it was easy to get toes or beaks caught in them.

Soft stuffed animals are great toys with supervision. Many parrots love to wrestle or cuddle with them, but be sure to remove any parts that the parrot could swallow or could cause injury. Some eyes are attached with sharp metal parts that can present hazards.

Metal toys

Metal toys can be controversial. For years many toys and attachments were made with cheap plated metals that the parrot could ingest. Zinc flakes caused a lot of problems for parrots. After that realisation, there was a strong demand for the use of stainless steel, particularly in toy attachments.

There are other metal materials that are used in components and which are inert and don't flake off, but stainless steel is still the best bet. Not all of the things that parrots love to play with are safe. For example keys are a fun toy because they jangle and move, but the metals in keys can be toxic. It is best to find a set of hard plastic keys that are made for babies unless you have a parrot with a big, powerful beak. If you want to make your own toys, be very cautious about the metals, and other materials that you might use. For example, stay away from the use of any costume jewellery parts because they are often made from materials that are problematic for parrots. Lead can be a real problem, particularly when used with leaded glass beads.

Although they are not commonly used in quality bird toys anymore, split rings, like those used in key rings, can be very dangerous for birds who want to take every little thing apart.

Parrots such as Cockatoos and Macaws, and even smaller parrots with busy beaks, can easily spread the metal and get it caught on their beaks, tongues, and toes.

Rubber and plastic toys

Soft rubber toys like squeaky toys can also be very dangerous for parrots that may ingest the material. If the parrot eats the soft rubber because it is food-like, it can result in a gooey mass in the digestive system. This can make a parrot very ill, preventing proper digestion and metabolism of nutrients and it can be expensive to diagnose. Unless you are 100 per cent positive that your parrots don't ingest the rubber in these toys, don't give one to them.

Some plastic toys, especially ones made for little parrot-family birds, can easily splinter becoming dangerous if given to a larger parrot, so it is best to buy toys that are sized appropriately for your parrots. Rigid PVC is chemically inert which means the components don't break down, so it is considered to be safe. There is a hard nylon material that has been used, as extensive research considered it was one of the safest materials for bird toys.

Acrylic and Lucite can be used for bird toys and accessories.

The material, Marbella, is used for beads and shapes and is a safe hard plastic although larger parrots can wear it down with their beaks. ABS plastic is dense and hard and is safe for parrots as are several other hard plastics. The key is basically that if the material remains solid and inert when your parrot works it over with its beak, it can be regarded as safe.

Hanging Rings

Acrobatic parrots love to play in rings and some of them become very acrobatic. Make sure that the rings you give your parrots are either too small or too large for them to get their heads, wings, or bodies stuck in. There have been many instances where birds have got stuck in a ring because of incorrect sizing.

Foot toys

These are important for parrots for several reasons. Besides providing fun play, they increase their balance and dexterity.

Instead of letting a young parrot chew on your fingers when you play with him, hold a foot toy for him to chew on. The knotted toy made from strips of a clean wash cloth works very well for this purpose. Placing an extra food bowl in the cage as a toy box will help keep foot toys clean.

Foraging toys

These have a dual purpose by providing both nutrition and fun for parrots. Put dry foods in a piece of pre-washed fabric and tie it up with some vegetable tanned leather strips. Wet foods tied up in a tortilla are also fun to work for, as food or treats can contribute to wonderful safe play toys. Sopping wet greens placed on the top of a cage can inspire a spontaneous bath and be fun, as well as greens laced through cage bars. Hanging food on a skewer can be of great interest, and nutritious, but make sure it is removed after a couple of hours if the parrot hasn't devoured it.

Cage floor play

Many parrots love to play on their cage fl oor and can roll on their backs and wrestle with toys. This is one reason that I am not a fan of grates on the cage fl oor. Of course, if there is no grate, the paper on the bottom of the cage needs to be changed frequently.

Many parrots poop in the same place so the rest of the cage stays clean. I have not yet heard about a parrot that will play where they have soiled their cage.

Toys have become increasingly popular over recent years and provide a great deal of therapeutic value, as well as much fun. They are very benefi cial to the happiness of your birds.

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