In their natural environment, birds are very active during daylight hours, searching for food, nesting, and raising young. This instinct for busyness is still present in pet birds and needs an outlet in toys.
Pet birds love to chew, bang, climb, snuggle, and destroy their toys. Because of this, it’s important that their toys are safe—but not all bird toys are created equal.
The fact that a toy is marketed for birds does not necessarily mean it’s a safe choice for your bird. Far too many pet birds have suffered injury, illness, and even death due to a toy that may have seemed harmless at first glance.
A toy’s size and material, the way it is put together, and the way it is fastened to the cage all need to be taken into consideration when you’re deciding whether it’s a good choice for your pet.
The foremost thing a bird will do with his toy, is destroy it. As strange as it may sound to many pet owners, this is what he is supposed to do with it. Because toys are a replacement for a bird’s foraging and nesting instincts, the bulk of them should be for chewing, shredding, and yes, destroying.
This question will give you a good idea of how safe a particular toy is. When your bird attempts to destroy it, will he be ingesting anything toxic, creating any sharp edges, or be in danger of getting stuck or tangled?
First, be sure that the toy is created using non-toxic – preferably all-natural – materials and dyes. Here are a few specific dangers to look out for.
- Paint. Unlike colored dyes, paint can be chipped off, and this is exactly what most birds will immediately set to work doing. Most paints contain ingredients that are toxic to birds. Even if a paint is technically nontoxic, the paint chips can irritate or cause blockages within your bird’s digestive system.
- Glue. A bird toy should not have any parts held in place by glue. Like paint, it may contain toxic ingredients and can also cause havoc to your bird’s digestive system if ingested.
- Chemically tanned Leather. Leather is commercially tanned using a variety of acidic chemicals that are highly toxic to birds. While it may be tempting to use scraps salvaged from a local leather store to create toys for your birds, avoid doing this unless you know that leather has been tanned using a natural vegetable solution.
- Low-quality or galvanized metals. Many toys will have a metal clasp, central wire, or chain. Watch out for anything other than stainless steel or nickel-plated. Birds can be poisoned by anything containing lead, zinc, or copper and may be negatively affected by other metals as well.
- Treated or toxic wood. Treated wood and plywood are considered poisonous for all animals, including birds. Some woods like oak, cherry, or cedar contain natural toxins that can irritate or upset your bird’s insides. Also avoid branches from outdoors that may have been sprayed with pesticide or are near busy roads or industrial areas as they will have absorbed these dangerous chemicals.
Toxicity is not the only problem when it comes to unsafe bird toys. Some materials are dangerous because they can cause injury to your bird or be hazardous in some other way.
- Though many bird toys include cotton rope, most experts strongly advise against it. As the rope begins to fray, it is far too easy for a bird to become tangled and either choke or panic and injure himself even further.
- Nylon rope’s sturdiness can lead to cuts or abrasions, and if your bird becomes tangled, she is less likely to be able to chew her way free.
- Soft or fragile plastics and metals are another hazard as your bird may ingest them or create sharp edges from breaking or chewing them.
- Fasteners that use snap hooks, spring-loaded clips, or split rings can also be dangerous as your bird will undoubtedly fiddle with them and may catch or cut his tongue or toe on this type of fastener.
- Caution should always be exercised when choosing a bell that is appropriate for your bird. Sleighbells can be dangerous as your bird may be able to catch a toe or beak in the slotted openings. Many birds are also adept at removing the clapper inside of a bell, which can be a choking hazard. Make sure the bell you choose is sturdy enough to withstand your bird’s curious beak.
- Long ropes or chains your bird may get wrapped around her neck.
- Any kind of open chain link or small apertures in which your bird can catch a toe or some other body part can be a real danger.
Most toys are labeled for small, medium, or large birds. This will give you a general standard to go by.
While some toys labeled for larger birds are perfectly fine for smaller birds, you should almost always avoid giving a toy meant for a small bird to a large or medium-sized bird.
Toys made for smaller birds are often made of acrylic and may have small objects attached. A large bird may splinter the acrylic and swallow or choke on small objects like bell clappers.
Also pay attention to the size of any loops or openings in a toy. Your bird should not be able to get his head, toe, wing, or any other body part stuck in any of them.
If he will be climbing through an opening, he should be able to do so with no danger of getting wedged.
Although the above lists may appear intimidating, there are plenty of safe, delightful, non-toxic materials that can be used in bird toys that your bird will thoroughly enjoy. Birds love an assortment of textures, shapes, and colors that are readily available and completely harmless.
Every part of a bird toy will end up in your bird’s mouth, so all materials must be nontoxic. Other concerns when it comes to materials are whether they may entangle a bird or be broken or swallowed.
- Natural dye. Though it is unclear whether the color of a toy makes any difference in a bird’s interest in it, natural dyes are safe.
- Vegetable tanned leather. Birds seem to enjoy the texture of leather. As long as it has been tanned in a vegetable tanning solution, it is safe for bird toys.
- Stainless steel. This is a good material for fasteners, connectors, and bells.
- Shreddable, plant-based materials like paper, jute, or straw weave.
- Nontoxic wood like pine, maple, beech, and balsa wood. Fruit tree branches are also safe, and many birds enjoy being given fresh branches as perches or chews. Just make sure they have not been sprayed with any chemicals or pesticides and wash them thoroughly before allowing your bird to play with them.
- Natural materials like coconuts, pinecones, and clean shells.
Birds will get the most enjoyment from toys that they can chew and destroy. They will soon grow bored and stop playing with their toys if they are all indestructible.
However, many enjoy having at least one ball, bell, or some other hardy, familiar toy that will last for a long time. These may be made of a sturdy plastic, stainless steel, or rubber material.
Simply make sure that the long-lasting toys you give adhere to the same safety guidelines as those that will be destroyed or consumed.
Like children, birds sometimes want to play with everything except their toys. And perhaps at some point you’ll come across a toy meant for a dog or cat that you think your bird would enjoy.
Is it possible to press objects and toys not specifically made for birds into service as bird toys?
As long as all of the safety stipulations you would apply to a bird toy can also be applied to a toy meant for another pet, the toy is probably safe for a bird. Again, it’s best to avoid rope toys that can easily fray or become tangled as well as stuffed toys because of the danger of the bird ingesting fuzz and stuffing.
You’ll also want to be sure that the fastenings and openings of the toy leave no danger of your bird getting stuck.
Also be aware that toys made for some pets like cats may have small parts that a cat would not remove but a bird definitely will. Be careful to avoid this type of toy if you’re shopping for bird toys in the nonbird section of the pet store.
Because babies also put everything in their mouths, strict guidelines are in place concerning what kind of material may be used in the toys, so toxicity is not usually a problem.
A bird’s beak, however, may make short work of a toy meant for a baby, so avoid these toys if it’s possible that your bird could bite off and swallow any part of the toy.
As long as the toy is fairly indestructible and there are no rings or other things your bird can get stuck in, baby toys can make safe bird toys. A bird needs only a few such indestructible toys, however.
They should also have plenty of safe toys meant to be destroyed.
Some birds will happily play with a toothbrush, a spoon, a popsicle stick, an old telephone book, or a crumpled paper. Do avoid things like paper towel tubes (due to toxic glue) and heavily inked magazines or newspaper inserts.
Pinecones, clean branches, and other safe, nontoxic goodies brought from the outdoors should be washed before you allow your bird to play with them. You can also bake them at a low temperature in the oven to remove any germs.
Always use common sense, check and double-check for any of the dangers discussed above, and if in doubt, pass up a dubious toy for one you know your bird will be safe with. It’s also a good idea to supervise your bird as she plays with a new toy or one you’re unsure about to make sure no hazards emerge.
If a toy becomes worn or frayed, err on the safe side and replace it. The good feeling you’ll have knowing your bird is happily and safely occupied will be worth all of the thought and effort you put into choosing interesting safe playthings for her.