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Buying/Making Safe Bird Toys

By: WOH Volunteers
Why Parrots Need Toys
In the wild, parrots live in flocks and spend much of the daylight hours searching for food and interacting with other birds and their environment. In captivity, many companion parrots are often alone during the day and have their food provided in a container. For this reason it is up to us to provide our birds with activities that duplicate what they would find in the wild. Studies are clearly showing that parrots need daily interaction, toys, appropriate foods, and enrichment activities to thrive.

Enrichment is the term used for providing both natural and artificial objects to increase activity and stimulation levels in the captive environment.

In parrots, enrichment is used to encourage the bird to do problem solving, sometimes with food as a reward. For successful enrichment, it is important that an assortment of toys is available.

Visual and physical stimulation is important in a bird's life. Toys provide activity involving the beak and feet, and give the bird distraction from boredom. Toys are a necessary part of a bird's life.

Many toys are available from stores and many can be made or improvised at home. Some toys have wooden objects, which are designed to be chewed by the bird, but birds should not be able to break any plastic on the toy into shards. Have enough toys so they can be alternated and washed/disinfected often. Remember to check your bird’s toys daily for damage to be sure they continue to be safe.

Toys Can Be Classified Under Different Categories:
Food Finders
Movers and Shakers
Noise Makers
Push and Pulls
Foot Toys
It is a good idea to pick toys from different categories to put in the cage at any given time. This is especially important for birds that have a lot of time to fill while you are at work. It is also important to remember to rotate toys on a weekly basis.

Selecting Safe Toys
Potential Dangers - basically, there are three main problems that can make toys dangerous…
Toxicity - poisoning from chemicals or heavy metals in toys
Entanglement - getting body parts stuck in toys
Ingestion - parts can be chewed off toys and swallowed

A new toy should only be tried under close supervision to make sure the bird is not destroying and/or eating it.
Select only toys that are colored with USDA food grade food coloring and vegetable based dyes.
Select only toys that are made with vegetable tanned leather.
Select only toys that are made with 100% cotton rope made in the USA..
There are also some specific toy safety issues with juvenile parrots to be careful of. Small parrots like Parakeets, Lovebirds, Cockatiels, and Quakers that are 4 months or younger should be watched very closely with any new toy or especially any toy that has softer pieces that could be swallowed. Medium parrots like Pionus, Amazons, African Greys and larger parrots like Cockatoos and Macaws that are 6 months or younger (Medium sized birds) or 9 months or younger (larger species) should also be watched very closely with any new toy or especially any toy that has softer pieces which could be swallowed.
Make sure if the toys are painted that they are painted with ASTM approved paint (child safe paint)..
Make sure that the toys are NOT painted in other countries. Other countries might use lead in their paints. Always check what country your toys are made in..
All metal should be nickel-plated or stainless steel (NO LEAD OR ZINC). Stainless steel is best and will last the longest. Look for manufacturers that label their toys as lead and zinc free.
Be very careful of bells. Be sure to get the kind that is “bell-shaped” and open and has the clacker inside. Make sure the clapper of the bell (the hanging bit that hits the side of the bell to make the bell's sound) is firmly attached as these can be quickly removed and swallowed by a bird. Look inside the bell to be sure that nothing inside that looks like your bird will get their beak stuck on. Do NOT purchase toys that have spherical bells with slits for openings and a loose pellet of metal inside that makes a jingling sound can trap your bird's beak (the kind that looks like is has an “X” on the bottom).
Be careful of toys with hanging chains. Metal chains with small gaps in the links are a risk for snaring toenails and sometimes beaks. Also watch for links (metal or plastic) that are large enough to trap your bird's feet or head. Make sure that all chain is closed link chain, which means that each link is welded shut.
Avoid bird toys made with "S" links or bent wires as these can easily trap beaks, toes or nails.
Toys with metal rods should be evaluated closely to determine if the bird would be able to bend the rod once part of the toy is destroyed. It is sometimes easy for a bird to bend the rod into a fishhook shape and become impaled on the hook. This can cause severe injury or even death.
Be careful of clips and rings (lanyard type clips - the kind that are kind of tear drop shaped with the sides of clip overlapping and open by squeezing the sides of the clip and close again when the pressure is released). These can trap beaks and toenails. Split rings (key chain rings) are also notorious for trapping beaks on parrots. Parrots are at a much greater risk from these than other birds due to their beak strength and dexterity. C-links or "Quick Links" are a much safer choice.
But, even “Quick Links” with larger birds can be dangerous. They can undo them and possibly get hung up on the open hook. If you are at all concerned with this, you should replace the quick links with safer alternatives, such as Toy Hangers.
Be careful of toys with openings where the bird can become trapped or get their leg band, toenail, toe, foot, leg, wing, neck, beak, or tongue caught.
Be careful of toys with long ropes that can be unraveled should be allowed only with supervision. If the rope begins to unravel, it should be trimmed as short as possible. It is easy for a bird to get something caught in the rope and become severely injured.
Breakable plastic toys that might break into sharp pieces and hurt your bird.
ALWAYS buy the appropriately sized toy for your bird. Choosing the proper size can be tricky, but is also very important. A toy that is too small may be easily destroyed and may then cause problems if your parrot ingests the parts or if the loose parts can trap body parts. A toy that is too large may pose a risk of the bird getting a foot or its head caught.
Things Around the House to Avoid
Breakable plastic toys that might break into sharp pieces and hurt your bird.
Toys that contain lead weights.
Leaded glass.
Lead wine seals.
Toxic plants.
Fibrous synthetic materials such as pieces of looped nylon carpet or nylon yarn.
Food can be a play toy too
Foods can provide interest and nutrition. Food and toys are a natural combination. Fresh nutshells like walnut, coconut, almonds, filberts and Brazil nuts are excellent.
Granola cereals
Fresh corn on the cob with part of the husk left on
Peas in the pod
Fresh broccoli
Popcorn with no salt or butter
Crackers covered with a thin layer of peanut butter, topped with a favorite treat such as sunflower seeds (use sparingly), jelly, shredded coconut, or grated carrots.
Ice cubes with chunks of fruit or other treats in it.
Frozen bananas and grapes.
Pinecones can be given plain or covered with peanut butter and seeds. Remember though, some treats can be very sticky and/or messy! Use pinecones that you know have not been sprayed with chemicals or pesticides. Heat at 250 degrees in your oven for 2 hours before offering to your bird.
Small whole peppers or pepper cores (the part of the pepper that holds the seeds).
There are lots of easy, inexpensive ways to make your own toys
String your own toys by using the following: stainless steel chain, nickel-plated chain, cotton rope (many different sizes), sisal (many different sizes), Paulie rope, leather strips, or a skewer.

Foraging and enrichment toys need not always be expensive, store bought toys. Some can be made from items found around the house or purchased from the dollar store.
An easy foraging toy would be to take some treats, like a Nutriberry or a nut (just a few items, so they make noise) and put in a paper cup (not wax coated) or cardboard toilet paper roll and twist the top shut. The bird gets a treat, but has to work for it.
Toilet paper tissue flowers. Use 6 tissues, fold like a fan, tie in middle w/ sisal, pull the 2 tissue layers apart, and fluff. Make sure to use white non-scented tissues.
Straws or chopsticks - Simple things like empty cereal boxes (with any glue strips removed), full box of tissues (remove the plastic at tissue opening), and baby safe bathtub toys. Many toys that are safe for babies are also safe for parrots - like those large keys made for babies. Many of these items can be found at your local dollar store. Sometimes you can find other baby safe plastic things that you can make into a toy or give them as foot toys. Just be careful that your parrot isn’t going to break the item into dangerous pieces that he or she might swallow.
Toilet paper and paper towel rolls. For smaller birds, please split the rolls lengthwise.
Rolls of toilet paper can be put in the bird’s cage to give a bird that plucks their feathers an alternate activity. Make sure it's white and non-scented.
Adding machine paper rolls (full of course).
Clean plastic twist off bottle caps and the bigger caps from Gatorade bottles (birds love getting the plastic liner out first before destroying the cap).
Paper lollipop sticks and craft/popsicle sticks. Birds love to shred the layers of lollipop sticks once they get it started.
Larger sized natural river decorative stones (they are very smooth, but irregularly shaped) from the dollar store and wash/sterilize them really well, then put them on top of your bird's pellets so they have to forage in their dish for their pellets. These are NOT GLASS and are 100% natural and smooth. Make sure you use large enough stones so that your bird CANNOT possibly eat them. Make sure they are not varnished and do not have any coating on them!
Use 100% cotton socks from the dollar store and put treats in them. Machine sew them closed or tie with sisal or shoe laces so your bird has to open them to get the items out. You can use nuts, pieces of wood, and other treats. Just be careful and take the socks out when they become too shredded so toes don’t get stuck in the socks.
Try putting treats inside a whiffle ball so your bird can work on getting them out.
Hang your phonebook from the top of your bird’s cage, as that can provide lots of hours of tearing time for a large bird. Smaller sections can be used for small birds.
Take a small section of newspaper (not colored print) and make a fan out of it. Place the fanned paper through an empty toilet paper roll or simply put it through the cage bars. You can also use napkins or folded computer paper. This makes a wonderful shredding toy for your bird.
Cornhusks used to make tamales make excellent crinkly, chewy shreddable toys. They can be folded through the cage bars or incorporated into other toys that are already in the cage and treats can be wrapped inside.
Suspend a container, a small stainless steel bucket, or ALL NATURAL willow wicker basket from the cage and fill it with small foot toys and treats. Make sure the wicker basket is NOT stained or varnished.
Most birds love to make noise. A small stainless steel bowl makes a good toy. A bird can hold it in their foot or beak, and can bang it and make lots of noise.
Stainless steel nuts and bolts can be used as a foot toy. Grind the threads after putting the nut on the bolt so that it cannot come off.
HINT: sometimes to get your bird to notice a toy you can try putting it in their food dish or somewhere that it will be in their way.
Warning: One of our avian vets told us that paper towels have formaldehyde in them because they are not something that is meant to rub on our skin. He told us that napkins and tissues are safer because the manufacturers know that people are going to rub their face and body with them.
* PLEASE consider safety when giving toys to your bird and
only allow your bird to play with appropriately sized toys that are safe and non-toxic.
All birds should be supervised when given new toys. *