Birds, like people, need stimulation. Sitting day in and day out in the same environment without any change can be monotonous to our feathered friends. They need change, stimulation and a chance to exercise their bodies and minds.
Bored birds become unhealthy birds. Some may grow obese or ill from lack of exercise. Others may become aggressive to their cage mates or human care givers out of frustration from being bored. Some will chronically pluck their feathers, or further injure or mutilate themselves.
Socializing and spending time with your bird is the best way to keep it cheerful, but with jobs, school and other responsibilities, it's just not possible to be with a pet bird every minute of the day.
That's where toys come in. Just as with dogs and cats, there are a variety of toys on the market designed to keep birds happy and healthy.
There are also many items birds can play with that don't require purchasing because they may already be around the house. Most birds love anything they can shred, such as cardboard boxes, paper bags, empty paper towel rolls and old phone books.
Rope is always a hit, and usually the bigger the bird the more they like it. Rope can be knotted, hung or tied across the cage to form a ladder or bridge. Just be certain the rope is made of natural and not synthetic materials.
Tennis balls are fun for birds to play with. Some of the bigger bird species can even be taught to retrieve balls, just like a dog playing fetch.
Blocks of wood in various sizes and shapes can be stimulating for birds to manipulate and gnaw on. Ensure that all wood hasn't been chemically treated.
Oak and cedar should be avoided due to their natural oils, which are often toxic to birds. Check with your veterinarian if uncertain about which woods to use.
Natural foods can be fun toys for birds, as well as a tasty treat. Corn on the cob with the husk left on can lead to hours of activity.
Cubed fruit and vegetables can be hidden around the cage or in some of the previously mentioned items like paper bags. Seed balls and fresh nutshells can also be used to a add a little variety to a bird's daily routine.
Plastic baby toys also make great bird toys, so long as they cannot be broken.
With any toy, avoid items that can be toxic, broken, swallowed or catch a bird's tongue, beak or toes causing injury. Stay away from things with tiny parts such as beads or small rings.
When putting a toy in with a bird, think about how it will be attached to the cage, because connectors can be more deadly then some toys.
Key rings and spring loaded snaps or clips should never be used for fear of injury or ingestion of parts. Quick links, also called C-bolts, found in most hardware stores are much safer.
Avoid strings or loops of material that a bird could become tangled in or get its head through.
Remember that a bird will eventually become bored with even the best toys if they are always accessible. Try rotating toys, giving a bird just one or two items, and then not the same toys for a few days to a few weeks.
You can also rearrange cage furnishing by putting in more perches and branches and varying the size and location of the material used.
Joseph Robertia, is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion. He has worked with wildlife and domestic animals for more than 10 years as a veterinary technician, a zoo keeper, and most recently as a zoologist for the Wildlife Conservation Society. He welcomes any pet-related questions or story ideas, but please none of a veterinary nature. Ideas and questions can be sent to his attention by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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