Many bird owners take great care in providing an enticing and nutritional diet for their birds. Additionally, they physically play and cuddle with their birds and spend hours teaching them to talk, sing and whistle. However, many birds belong to a single parent or parents who both work and as a result they also spend a lot of time alone in their cage. What does a bird do during the 8-10 hours that he is alone? Many become bored and lethargic, others pick their feathers and others develop an attitude and act it out when Mom or Dad come home. Providing stimulating and fun toys is an answer to the above problems by providing the bird with hours of entertainment and exercise, thereby keeping it alert, happy and healthy.
As a pet in captivity, birds don’t have the opportunity to engage in the activities that they naturally would in the wild. Avian behaviorists who have spent time observing parrots in the wild have reported that playtime ranks second only to food gathering in priority. Birds have a natural craving to chew and a daily need to forage for food. In the wild, a parrot’s behavior is very active and playful. They have been observed stripping bark off trees, biting off and flinging leaves and twigs, swinging from and climbing on vines all the while chattering gleefully with the rest of the flock. Instinctively, companion birds are still very much like their wild counterparts. Playing with toys is a vital substitute for natural behaviors such as foraging, nest building and interactions with their flock. Toys and playtime address several important functions:
- In young birds, playtime is part of the learning process in which birds start to identify textures, colors, shapes and it also helps to develop coordination and dexterity. Exposure to a wide variety of objects at a young age helps to create a more confident less fearful bird.
- Toys provide an outlet for natural aggression and an opportunity to expend energy through exercise. Instead of directing aggression towards their owners they can instead direct their aggressions towards the toy by shadow boxing, flapping and swinging.
- Playtime helps to foster better mental health and a sense of independence. Birds provided with a variety of toys are less self-absorbed and exhibit fewer negative behaviors such as:
- Feather picking and self-mutilation
- Screaming for attention
- Fear of unknown objects
- Aggressiveness towards humans
- Destruction of household furniture, moulding, etc.
- Toys promote exercise and therefore physical health and longevity. Birds who play by climbing and swinging on their toys reap the benefits of increased movement. Playing with and or chewing toys also helps with beak and nail conditioning. These activities also provide for "off-perch" time and flexing which helps with dexterity and foot health.
Confinement of parrots without providing outlets for exercise, entertainment, comfort and mental challenge will result in boredom, depression, poor physical health and ultimately in an unsuitable pet!
Your bird should own a wide variety of toys but remember it is important to rotate the toys in and out of the cage weekly to stimulate curiosity and prevent boredom.
Now that you know how important toys are, learn how to choose toys for your bird and make sure you check out what makes a safe toy both in regards to components and design in our toy safety article.