Updated: May 26, 2022
As bird owners, we need to understand what is and isn't safe for our feathered friends. Unfortunately, many toys that are marketed towards birds are made with unsafe materials and are known to cause injury, illness and even death. This post covers the major toy components that are known to be unsafe as well as the safe replacements. Parrots explore the world with their beaks and have the instinct to chew and shred. Because of this we need to be careful of what toys are made of to ensure the safety and well being of the birds in our care.
Good vs Bad Clips
The first thing you should look at when getting a toy for your bird is how it is hung up. Many clips that are used for commercially available toys are made with unsafe metals and are known to get caught on beaks. When looking at clips you want to make sure that if metal, they are made of stainless steel or nickel plated. You also want to make sure that any clasp is solid and cannot be undone by curious beaks. For example, pear clips are commonly used for bird toys but are typically loose and easy to undo and have hooked and damaged many parrots beaks. Quick links, however, are typically more solid and harder for birds to undo, having a consistent width also makes it less likely to get caught on beaks.
Most bird toys in pet stores come with what is known as a 'liberty bell'. Unfortunately, these types of bells can often pose problems. Most liberty bells have the clapper inside attached with an incomplete metal piece and many pet birds have worked on the clapper and had their beaks injured by the sharp metal edge. If you would like to give your bird a toy with a bell the best option is using a pipe bell where these accidents don't typically occur. When giving any toy containing metal it is important to ensure it is made with a safe metal type which we will talk about next.
Metal components are used in a lot of toys from chains, to clips, to bells as it is a hardy material that can typically withstand the beak strength of parrots when using an appropriate size. Most metals are unsafe for birds and can result in metal toxicity. The only metals that are safe to use for parrots are stainless steel or nickel plated. Steel, iron and aluminium are technically safe but not typically used. Anything that is chrome, zinc or galvanised should not be used for parrots and are known to cause metal toxicity.
Signs of metal toxicity
Abnormal droppings (green/black fecal component, bloody, diarrhoea)
If you see any of these signs in your bird get them to a vet immediately, the sooner treatment can be given the better chance you have.
Another common component to bird toys that has caused a lot of problems is cotton rope. Parrots have the natural desire to chew and will sometimes swallow that material they're chewing on. This causes a huge problem in regards to cotton as it becomes impacted in the crop, not allowing for food to pass through and does not break down. If your bird has toys or perches made of rope and you notice persistent vomiting and/or weight loss you need to take them to an avian vet, if the crop is severely impacted they will likely need to undergo surgery.
As an alternative to cotton ropes it is advised to use natural fibres as these can be broken down and don't pose a risk of impaction. The most common alternatives are jute (what we use at For The Parrots), sisal and seagrass. If using any of these alternatives make sure they either come from a reputable bird supply store or are free from any chemical/pesticide smells commonly used in warehouses to protect the fibres.
We all know how much parrots love to chew on wood, this is an important natural behaviour that helps with many things including keeping their beaks trimmed and healthy. It is advised to have safe wood for your parrot to chew on, making sure that it is untreated, pesticide free, not painted and of a safe wood type. Coloured wood is ok so long as only bird safe food dye has been used, natural options however are best.
Safe wood types
Unsafe (toxic) wood types
Plywood (the glues used in these are often toxic)
Information gathered from various sources including the Association of Avian Veterinarians, Currumbin Valley Vet (their article Problems Associated with Toys and Cage Accroutrements for Pet Parrots ) and cases shared by other Avian Vet clinics.