Imagine being stuck in the same room, or worse yet, the same cage, day after day, year after year, and it’s not hard to understand why your bird becomes bored. Birds that are bored can exhibit negative behaviours, such as destructiveness, feather picking and screeching. However, there are many inexpensive and easy ways to keep your bird happy and busy.
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1. Toys – Choose toys made from safe, non-toxic materials, such as wood, rawhide, hard plastic or cloth. Use leather, rope or stainless steel to hold together and/or hang toys in your bird’s cage. Make sure your bird can’t break toys into small pieces and swallow them. However, it’s okay for your bird to pick at and eat pieces of food toys that contain seeds, vegetables, millet spray, fruit chunks or dried corncobs. Consider the size of your bird. Big birds can choke or get toes caught in little toys meant for much smaller birds, and small birds can get hurt from trapping their wings or heads in bigger bird toys. To ensure safety, always watch your bird when you introduce a new toy to their cage.
2. Household Items – Some birds enjoy tearing at empty paper towel and toilet tissue tubes. Cut into small pieces and use a thick leather cord to string them together to hang in your bird’s cage. Add small circular cereal shapes, like Cheerios, to the cord for even more interest. Other safe household items include measuring cups and spoons, ping-pong balls, and baby toys, such as hard plastic keys on a ring. Again, as with any new plaything, observe your bird when you introduce a new item.
3. Games – Some birds love games. My cockatiel, “Eddy,” loves to play hide and seek. I cover his cage and leave the front and part of one side uncovered. Then I sit next to his cage and peek around the cover. He responds by trying to peek back at me and whistles at me as if to say, “I found you!” We also play a game where he tries to imitate my whistle. In addition, there are books that can help you use clicker training to teach your bird tricks and games, as well as other positive behaviours.
4. Play Gyms or Foraging Trees – Play gyms, generally constructed from wood, are available in a variety of sizes. You can attach a play gym to the top of a cage or a nearby table and include ladders, swings, toys and ropes. Foraging trees also come in a variety of sizes and you can put them inside or outside the cage. The tree has small holes drilled into it that are large enough for you to hide seeds or treats inside. You then cover the hole with a small piece of paper or paper towel, so the bird has to work a little bit harder to get the treat. You can also hang treat cages or treat cups on them.
5. Hide a Treat – Take a non-toxic item, such as paper cups, paper towels, cardboard tubes, coffee filters or tortilla and put a treat or seed inside. Twist or crush it with your hands to close it up and punch a hole in it. Hang it or hide it inside your bird’s cage. Another hide and seek method is to place a paper towel or piece of paper on top of your bird’s treat dish. This way the bird has to figure out that it must pull it off to get to the treats. When the bird has figured out this activity, try using masking tape to secure the cover over the dish so the bird has to break through the paper to get to the treat.
6. Electronic Media – Some birds love music. Get to know what music your bird likes and leave a radio on during the time you are away. Keep the volume at a normal range so it doesn’t overwhelm the bird. Try changing the type of music to offer a variety of sounds. Television is also a good way to keep your bird happy, but keep it on an appropriate channel so your bird doesn’t pick up any bad words. There are also DVDs that can teach your bird to talk or sing a song, or just to entertain it while you are gone.
7. Other Pets – Birds like to watch fish or other pets kept in aquariums and cages. My bird loves to watch my water turtle swim around, my hamster running in its wheel, as well as my hermit crabs trundling about their tank. A word of warning for people who let their birds roam freely: keep tight fitting covers on all tanks and cages to avoid problems.
8. Windows – If you take the proper precautions, a window can be entertaining for your bird. If the window is free from drafts and sun exposure, some birds enjoy looking outside. If the window has a very secure screen, you bird will also enjoy the sounds of nature, such as other birds, people and trees rustling.
There are many ways to keep your bird healthy and happy. Try to keep a variety of toys on hand, so you can change them around from time to time. If you follow careful safety measures, you can provide your bird with years of fun and enjoyment easily and without a large expense. However, if you’ve tried many of these ideas and your bird is still unhappy or displays worrisome behaviors, such as feather plucking or agitation, contact your veterinarian for professional advice.