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Parrot Toy Safety – How To Choose Safe Toys For Your Parrot Or Cockatoo

Toys are necessary for the mental health of your parrot. Without toys, a parrot or cockatoo will suffer extreme boredom which can manifest as aggression, self-mutilation or reclusive behavior. Toys are not optional. They are mandatory enrichment items that help an intelligent creature survive in our world. That said, it is important to note that they can also be a deadly hazard to their health in captivity. In the wild parrots are known to exhibit behavior that is strikingly similar to children playing with toys. They have a whole wild world of natural toys in the jungles and forests with which to play. They have parents, siblings and flock members to show them the safe way to enjoy their freedom; large parrots and cockatoos have a five-year juvenile dependency period in which they learn how to live. In our world, they are taken from their parents before they hatch, raised in incubators, handled by human breeders and then sold frequently to novice caretakers that have no idea that they are bringing home a wild animal. These captive intelligent creatures are like autistic children in many ways. They do not know safe from unsafe unless someone takes the time to teach them. It is up to us to teach them how to play safe, watch them to make sure that they do, and choose toys carefully to both enrich their lives and ensure that they remain unharmed.

Choosing toys using good judgment is one key to safety. Another key is vigilance. To be relatively safe a toy must be nontoxic, free of entanglements, and must not have easily swallowed small parts. As the director of a parrot and cockatoo sanctuary, I have seen many toys that appeared safe turned into dangerous weapons by a creative bird. Fortunately, keeping a vigilant eye on our flock has kept us from having deaths related to these “safe” toys. One such toy was a hanging wooden basket. This basket had nickel-plated chain so there was no danger of zinc poisoning. The chain attached to two sides of the wooden basket and came to a point with a small pear quick link to attach to the bars of the cage. One of our umbrella cockatoos, Snoball, broke the pear link and the basket fell. The basket wrapped around the umbrella cockatoo’s neck. He panicked. Running with the basket he twisted his neck from side to side and managed to wrap his neck with the chain; he could have choked to death. He had to be subdued with a towel and then carefully extricated from the toy. Because I was there and vigilant Snoball was not injured. I no longer have hanging toys of this type in the play areas.

Buying toys for your beloved companion birds is no easy task. There are many things to consider. I will go over the dangers in detail but do not let this make you paranoid. The issues that I will discuss are real and important. Nevertheless, you will need to make the best decision that you can based on available choices. This helps to limit the dangers arising from playing with toys; keeping an eye on them during play protects against unseen danger. Just do the best that you can; that is all that anyone can do. I make most of the toys for our birds myself both to cut costs and to insure their safety. I buy the wood, cut it into shapes, drill it, color it and string it on nickel-plated chain using split metal rings at the top and bottom. Next, I attach string and put on beads and plastic shapes. Sometimes I put colorful cloth ribbons or other adornments. A few of my toys have been misused by the birds, too. I just do the best I can. Again, safety is a combination of both caution in purchasing toys and keeping an eye on the parrots during playtime.

The toy has not been made that a parrot or cockatoo cannot use in an unexpected way. Cecelia, an umbrella cockatoo, takes dowels and matches toys with drilled holes to them. She inserts the toy into one end and then uses them much like a magic wand. In a way they are magic. Anytime Cecelia holds a toy the other birds run away. Cecelia becomes quite aggressive when she holds a toy, especially one of her own creation, and the other birds are aware of her nature. I filmed her once picking a toy boat with a wooden handle of the floor. I did not realize at the time that she intended to use it against Murri, our Congo African Grey parrot. Murri had threatened her when she was at the top of the cage and she had climbed down right after this for the boat. She ascended the cage with it and confronted Murri. Murri continued to make vocal threats and actually saying, “Come on! Come on!” while raising the feathers on the back of her neck, bending down and clicking her tongue. Cecelia started swinging the boat back and forth in front of Murri. I thought that this was cute as I filmed her. All of a sudden she angled the boat right at Murri. Bang! Murri jumped back. Cecelia pushed forward and hit her with the boat again. Murri began to climb down the door of the cage and Cecelia beat her with the boat on the way down. Cecelia was using a toy as a weapon! Now who would have guessed that a cockatoo could think that far in advance and use a toy boat as a tool? Only Murri’s pride seemed to be hurt. If there had been any chance of injury I would have dropped the camera but it was obvious that Cecelia only wanted to stand at the top of the cage. Never underestimate these intelligent creatures. The video is available at our YouTube page.

Let’s take on the three major categories of toy safety. The first requirement is that the toy be nontoxic. One question to ask is, “Where was the toy made?” Since most of the toys available now come from China it is often difficult to know if they are nontoxic. Most of us have heard horror stories concerning the products coming from China. The label may assure us that the toy is made of safe natural materials but can we be sure?

There is no way to be one hundred percent certain that a toy is nontoxic but we do have a few tools that we can use. Checking out the brand name online is one good way to see if anyone has had problems relating to that manufacturer. Use the search feature of your web browser (Safari, Firefox, Internet Explorer, etc.) to see what you can find out. Good search techniques are actually simple. Think of the keywords you will use to search in their order of importance. One example of a set of good keywords is: “parrot treasures,” toy, safety, (brand name, what the item is, and the issue at hand). I used quotation marks to tell the search engine that “parrot treasures” is a single search term: the manufacturer’s name. If you find many complaints about the company then you have an answer. No complaints at least is a step in the right direction. If you find loud praise in many places then you can relax a little.

Besides the origin of the product and the company background, we need to decide if we trust the material from which the toy was made. Should we get natural untreated wood or will dyes be safe? Paints are to be avoided but some dyes are rated as safe for parrots, such as VitaCritter. Even so-called natural wood may have been treated and often there is no way to be sure on an imported product. Natural wood may also harbor mold or bacteria. If you dye your own wood with VitaCritter then you can use isopropyl alcohol as the base for the VitaCritter dye and that will kill the mold and bacteria in the wood; it will also clean up any mouse or rat feces from the lumberyard. The alcohol evaporates quickly and the dyed wood is safe in 24 to 48 hours. Some woods are unsafe for birds such as Cherry wood.

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