Why do birds destroy toys? Have you placed an order (or went to the local petstore) for bird toys, redecorated your birds' enclosure with the new goods, only to find that when you return from work all the toys dismantled and on the cage floor?
Well, SOMEONE had a great day! We may be feeling bummed at this point, but rest assured, our birds have had an active day working their minds! Destroying those new, pretty toys is actually the best compliment your bird can give you!
Now this can become a problem for us humans, because toys obviously cost money, and as much as we'd like for it to, it doesn't grow on trees!
Let's talk about WHY our birds destroy (and how we can ENCOURAGE them to destroy!). Then we'll go over some money saving tips!
Why do birds destroy?
Birds are highly intelligent animals and therefore need to be kept engaged and provided with opportunities to problem solve and use their brains! Some studies have shown that parrots often have the intelligence of a 3-5 year old child. Think of your companion bird as a toddler who never grows up. Imagine having a toddler in your household for over 20 years, maybe even 50 or 60!
Playtime for parrots can take on a form that's a bit different than we're used to. That form is usually destruction! Why destruction? It goes back to foraging, which is the act of searching for one's food. Our companion parrots are only one or two generations removed from the wild, and in the wild they would be searching and working for their food for hours!
A bird in a cage with not much to do will most likely start to exhibit problem behaviors due to the lack of mental stimulation and just plain boredom. This can result in unwanted behaviors such as feather plucking and screaming. When your bird is outside the enclosure they may seek out these destructive opportunities themselves; chewing shelves, counters, doorways and anything they can get their beak on to satisfy that urge. This not only ruins your house, it's also dangerous for your bird (paint, electrical cords).
Back to the thought of our parrots having the intelligence of a 3-5 year old child- what would they start to do if left with NO mental stimulation or activities? I'd hate to imagine that! When we think preschools or daycare centers, we often think of bright colors, activities involving motor skills and an abundance of play items that feature different textures. Let's apply these same concepts to our birds lives to provide them with the mental stimulation they so desperately need.
Encouraging Toy Destruction
Often when we have birds in our homes that are older and from a rescue situation, we find that they won't 'play' or destroy their toys at all! They may leave toys unused within the cage and just avoid them entirely.
These birds are especially prone to problem behaviors, and while toy destruction won't solve all their problem behaviors, it WILL provide them with a temporary distraction from those unwanted behaviors!
Older birds or wild caught specimens often just need a little bit of encouragement to get started with toy destruction. Try using toys that feature much smaller components than what you would normally use with that species. The easier a piece of toy part breaks, the better! You can even show your bird that the toy or piece is breakable, by demonstrating that in front of them. Speak to them as if you're actually talking with a toddler- act excited! Breaking toys is fun!
Good materials for getting started are thin pieces of wood, such as pine blocks or rectangles. Balsa is a very soft wood that breaks almost as easy as a potato chip and is a favorite among small birds. Mahagony Pods and vineballs are also loved by most birds.
Working food items into toys is also a great motivator. Look for foraging toys or toys that can 'hide' dry food items like seeds or in-shell nuts. This encourages birds to destroy parts of a toy or problem solve to reach the food!
Snack Tables allow food to be dispersed, encouraging movement
Keeping our Birds stocked with Toys for Destruction- On a Budget
Like mentioned earlier, money doesn't grow on trees, so how are we to keep our birds' beaks busy on a budget?
The key is finding a good combination of destructible toys and indestructible toys, along with toys that can be refilled and toy parts you can ADD to your store bought toys! You might even start making some of your very own toys for your flock!
Sample toys to find the correct size and style for your birds. You should provide a variety of toys within the enclosure, preferably with different textures. You can contact me via instagram @hootnhollerbirdtoys or here on the website for toy recommendations for your exact species. I can also send you sample materials with your order if you're interested in trying out something new! We;re looking for that toy that CAN be destroyed by our birds, but isn't destroyed in 5 minutes flat. That particular toy is different for every bird!
Indestructible toys can be good bases for stringing more destructible materials off of. These are especially nice since when the majority of materials are removed, you still have a toy left that can be used as-is. Pipe Bells are good examples of this type of toy. Stainless Skewers are another great option.
Speaking of skewers, you should have several of these in your bird toy arsenal! They are the absolute safest way for you to construct your very own bird toys! Invest in a couple of bird toy skewers and you can create new toys daily. Slide whole pieces of fruits or vegetables from them (sans apple seeds) and hang for a fun food experience! Place wooden blocks for wood destruction toys or stack them with your own shreddable materials for easy shredding opportunities.
Keep a box of bird safe shreddables in your home. These can include; coffee filters, cupcake wrappers, plain PAPER plates, plant fiber cups and bowls, wooden pegs, popsicle sticks, cardboard squares, cardboard tubes, clean pinecones, and kraft paper. These items are often found in the home and are inexpensive. Adding these to a skewer is a very cheap DIY bird toy that's a lot of fun for our birds!
The Toys are Destroyed- Now What?
Time to salvage those pieces! Just because a toy is 'destroyed' doesn't mean the fun is over!
Check the cage bottom for pieces that are still in good shape (no poop!) and gather those in a box or bucket. You may want to take scissors and cut any long strands that are remaining on certain parts. Large beads, wood pieces and shreddable components all can be reused, even if broken!
Take all 'poopy' pieces and any questionable hardware and long strands and discard those. If your toys are from HootnHollerBirdToys, save your hardware for future use if needed, it's stainless steel!
The best way to use these broken pieces is to simply toss them all in a 'Foot Toy Bucket' or Box! Your box can sit on the cage bottom or the cage top, maybe even a counter-top. Some buckets attach to the cage with included hardware.
Take some seeds or in-shell nuts and toss in your bucket too. Then introduce to birdy! Your bird will have a blast exploring all these pieces and finding the hidden food items. This enrichment idea is especially loved by ground foragers, like african greys and cockatoos.
I hope I provided you with some ideas for extending the life of your birds' toys! Do you have any other household items you like to keep in your toy part stash? Other tips for encouraging toy destruction? Let me know! Let's keep those beaks busy- because a busy beak equals a healthy bird!
Keep your bird stocked with their favorite toys-
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