Toys and Other Ways to Keep Your Bird Busy:

All kinds of toys are sold to meet the parakeet's instinct for play, many of which are hardly used for their intended purpose. For a single parakeet these items often serve less as toys than as a surrogate partner. What your parakeet needs more than anything else for play is your company.

A parakeet will entertain itself, for instance, by rolling a marble, a ball with a bell inside it, or a stand-up toy around on a table and shoving the toy off the edge to watch with fascination as it drops or play on a swing ladder. If someone picks up the toy so that it can be knocked off again, the parakeet will go on playing with unflagging interest. Parakeets often enjoy carrying a ball with a bell in it all the way across the table and then dropping it over the edge. Take enough time to play with your .parakeet and you will come to admire its agility, delight in play, and inventiveness. The nature of the toy is secondary. Something that rolls straight is excellent. Roll it gently toward the bird. If it comes too fast he will make way for it timidly, run away, and then, turning suddenly kick it away.

This can turn into a fun game that will hold not only the bird's attention but yours as well. Parakeets also like to play with a little bell, running toward it and giving it a good shove with the bill then dodging it quickly as it swings back. A small bell inside a globe of plastic netting can even serve as a miniature device for exercise. My parakeet used to like to sit on the top branch of his tree with the toy in his beak and then flip it down with a toss of the neck. My role was to catch the toy and return it. But many a time I had to stoop down to pick it up off the ground because the clever bird had tried to make me miss the catch. It was obvious that my pet found it much more entertaining when I was made to stoop.

If you don't have much inclination to play with your parakeet like this, it will almost inevitably turn favorite objects into surrogate partners. At an animal clinic I watched a female parakeet in an isolation cage huddle up to a shot glass in an effort to comfort herself in her loneliness. A plastic parakeet that can be attached to a perch quite obviously serves as a surrogate partner. It will be an object of affection as it is billed and fed, but then it is also kicked and beaten. The beating is a result of sheer desperation, because the live bird has done everything it can think of to woo the other, and the plastic bird never responds. The surrogate nature of activities with other objects is not quite so clear, but one can often observe a parakeet raising its head feathers, narrowing its pupils to pin holes, and giving vent to its excitement with a soft growl as it coos over a toy or bows eagerly before it. A little ball made of plastic mesh can prompt a bird to go through the motions of mating. The bird grabs the ball with both feet and rubs his vent on the ground, often until a sexual secretion appears. This brings us to the mirror, an item present in almost any parakeet cage and also the focus of heated debate. I find myself in conscious disagreement with biologists who object to a mirror as a surrogate partner for a parakeet. They say having a mirror around is unnatural for birds and makes them sick. But a parakeet living in captivity is by necessity deprived of a natural life. The bird has to make do with human beings, confined living space, and surrogate activities. In addition parakeets naturally form lifelong monogamous bonds with their partners and are predisposed to living in flocks. Even if a pet parakeet finds a surrogate partner in human shape, the problem of its sexuality remains unsolved. The bird's mirror image not only consoles during hours of loneliness but it also offers a chance to satisfy social needs. To be sure, the mirror evokes sexual impulses, but a healthy parakeet is sexually active even without it and simply chooses other surrogate objects for the same purpose. Besides, you simply cannot ban everything with a reflecting surface from a living room. Somewhere the bird will find a shiny object that throws back its image, which will be regarded as another parakeet. I would let even a pair of birds have a mirror to give them the illusion of being part of a flock. Anyone who objects to a mirror and the reactions it evokes as unnatural would, to be consistent, have to be opposed to keeping parakeets altogether unless a flock could be housed in a large aviary.

Cautions with toys & other household items:

  • Some toys such as metal bells with holes in them can harm a birds toes by getting them caught in them.
  • Birds can strangle themselves in yarn or knitting wool left for them to play with.
  • They can get their toes caught in knitted or crocheted items.
  • They can burn their feet on cooktops and stoves.
  • They can burn themselves with candles.
  • Steam and vapours from cooking can make the bird ill or cause serious harm.
  • Being stepped or sat on can be a fatal mistake for your bird.
  • Getting caught in cracks between walls and furniture can cause breaks or fractures.
  • Flying into hanging chandeliers can cause serious injuries to your bird.


    E-Mail: berniehansen@sympatico.ca

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