The sun peeked out briefly this afternoon, so I decided to take my two furry friends on a much-deserved excursion to the river. I grabbed my keys and loaded the thrilled mutts into the car. In my haste I forgot “the ball” — the toy we always take along. Turns out I needn’t have worried. My big guy immediately glommed onto a knotty stick that sent him into a frenzy of digging to the center of something. My little girl discovered a semi-deflated balloon snagged on a branch just out of reach. She jumped and lunged in crazed excitement to get at it.
The thing about dogs is it doesn’t take much to entertain them. In fact, as long as I’m there engaging in their play, they enjoy themselves. An added bonus is the enlightenment I get watching them revel in the moment of a found prize. I rarely buy expensive toys. I learned long ago that for my dogs, a stick, a tennis ball or a balled up sock is just as prized.
My parrots are another story. While they love spending time with me, I can’t always cart one around while tending to daily activities. Studies indicate that parrots have the mental capacity of a three-year-old child, which is to say they are intelligent creatures. Birds and especially parrots need quite a bit more stimulation than dogs. That’s not to say dogs are less smart than birds. For whatever reason dogs are just more easily amused, easier to please . . . a stick, a half-deflated balloon and your affection are more than enough for a GREAT afternoon.
Not so with our feathered friends. Birds need an active environment to compel them to use their brains and keep them enthused and healthy.
Birds will destroy their toys faster than you can replace them, so retail toys can be a tall order for a tight budget. Another challenge is the discovery that your bird has zero interest in the brand new toy you bought just for him.
The key is incorporating your bird’s favorite things into his or her toys. Birds love to forage, chew and shred. Every bird is different. Pedro, my Amazon girl, likes to gnaw and crunch. Lorali, my African Grey, prefers to swing, bang bells and tear things into tiny pieces. Taking the time to figure out what your bird enjoys is the biggest step in creating homemade toys he or she will love.
Ellen Gyberg of Vancouver, WA has 19 birds, mostly smaller, and makes all of their toys. She also makes toys for the birds at the Oregon Humane Society. A former president of a bird rescue in the San Francisco area, Gyberg is dedicated to helping birds live longer, healthier lives and educating people on proper bird care. “I used to volunteer at the humane society but it was too heart-breaking,” she says. “So I decided to help from a distance.”
Gyberg noticed that dogs and cats at OHS get the lions’ share of toy donations. “I decided to help improve the birds’ lives on some level,” she says. Now she’ll help even more, thanks to sharing her trade secrets with all of us.
Ingredients that top Gyberg’s list for homemade bird toys include inexpensive items such as beads, popsicle sticks, jute and hemp string, cotton rope, woven baskets and wooden craft pieces. Items can be found at local craft, thrift or dollar stores, as well as specialty bird shops. Parrot Perch, located in Vancouver, WA, sells a variety of fun bird toy parts, for those who would rather create higher-end custom bird toys. Keep in mind: toys need to be safe and fit the size of the bird. Toys with small pieces for smaller birds can be broken off and ingested by larger birds.
Gyberg emphasizes that ropes should be natural-colored (not dyed) and wood should be untreated and non-toxic. “Don’t overlook natural branches,” she notes. Birds can develop pressure sores on their feet from standing on even surfaces. “Prune some branches from an apple tree in your backyard, wash with hot, soapy water, and rinse well before setting up in your bird’s cage.”
You can even make parrot toys from household items. Be sure to use unscented, child-safe products and non-toxic glue. Toilet paper and paper towel rolls make great shredding toys. For years I have tied a knot in a paper towel sheet with or without a nut inside the knot. My Amazon gnaws on them happily for hours.
Gyberg likes tying string thru a roll of calculator tape and hanging it inside the cage. “And never underestimate the fun a small bird can have with a pair of shoelaces tied to the ceiling of its cage,” she says. There’s a ton of ideas for toys that are cheap and easy, that provide loads of stimulation.
Getting your pet bird accessories and toys isn’t just a treat, it’s a necessity. Birds require a certain amount of stimulation to ensure they are developing and staying fit mentally and physically. Like their canine counterparts, birds too delight in newfound prizes.
Gyberg has written several pamphlets on the care and feeding of birds that OHS hands out to prospective adopters. If you would like one, just ask! Contact Gyberg at firstname.lastname@example.org.