Toys and perches are very important for your parrot's health and well-being. They're more than just for your parrot's entertainment, although that is a very important role as well. They provide necessary exercise to your bird's beak and feet!
Having a huge cage for your parrot is great. But if that huge cage isn't extensively filled with perches and toys, it is just as well a tiny cage. The main advantage of a huge cage is that there is an opportunity to put a lot of perches for your parrot to move around on and many toys to motivate it to come to. Without them, you'll just have a parrot sitting in one part of the cage all day doing the same as it would if it were in a smaller cage.
Perches are the foundation of your parrot's living space. The bird spends all day on its feet. Having a good variety of different perches provides diversity and comfort to your parrot's feet by allowing it to change and choose its perching. Forget about dowel and plastic perches. Throw them out. They are no good for your parrot. Take caution of natural perches that are straight and smooth as a dowel. Just because they are natural, doesn't do any good if they act the same way as a dowel.
The four typical kinds of perches are:
Natural Rope Cement NU Perches
I would strongly encourage you to offer all four types so that your parrot has the most variety and choice. Wood perches should be the Natural perches are fun because each one is different. The diameter, texture, and shape will vary. This is great for your parrot. Unfortunately, you don't always know what you are getting when ordering online and some natural perches don't offer all of the advantages of being natural. Sometimes it isn't possible to make wildly wavy perches properly fit the rectangular orientation of a bird cage. For this reason, I came up with and patented the NU Perch. These perches offer the maximum amount of variation, choice, and comfort while also being totally safe and affordable. Provide a variety of different lengths, thicknesses, and hardness of perches so that your bird can experience different perching techniques as it moves about the cage.
Rope perches and cement perches are good additions to wood perches but only in moderation. The cement perches can help keep your parrot's claws trimmed and it's a different texture than all other perches. However, excessive use of cement perches can greatly irritate the bird's feet. Never put a cement (or other sanding type) perch where your parrot sleeps. In other words, don't put the cement perch up high or where your parrot goes a lot. Ideally, place a cement perch in a place your parrot visits just a few times a day. For this reason, a cement perch serves very well by the bird's water (bottle or bowl). It only takes a few drinks a day but otherwise does not spend an excessive amount of time in that area.
Rope perches are the exact opposite of cement perches. Instead of being hard and harsh, rope perches are smooth and comfy. This is a good thing but in moderation. Rope perches can provide relief from firmer perches. But if used excessively, they may cause the bird's feet to be too sensitive on harder surfaces. Also, extreme caution must be taken if the bird chews on the rope perch. Two major hazards can be caused by chewed rope perches. First of all, some birds ingest the rope and can develop a crop infection. Another hazard is that the bird can get its foot or claw caught in the chewed strands of rope and get stuck. So, to avoid either case, inspect the rope perches regularly and replace preemptively if there is any sign of damage.
Just as perches are to your parrot's feet, toys are a health requirement for your parrot's beak. Parrots use their beaks quite extensively in the wild for feeding, nest cavity making, and playing. We won't be providing nesting opportunities to our pet parrots but we should nonetheless give them lots of chances to chew. Toys are a good human alternative to the chewing challenges that parrots would encounter in the wild. Abundance of toys is very important. Different shapes, textures, materials, and challenges will keep your parrot and its beak busy in different ways. Some materials such as plastic are tougher and will require harder chewing than softer materials like wood. Providing variety and abundance will improve your parrot's activity and provide the pleasure of choice.
Perches can also be a source of chewing pleasure and beak exercise. My parrots love the NU Perches in their cages not only because they are comfortable on their feet but also because they provide a reasonable chewing challenge. On one hand, the perches are soft enough that the birds can chew them if they choose to. On the other hand, they are tough enough that it takes them a while to really destroy them. I don't know why sometimes they leave perches alone and chew only toys and other times focus on the perches instead of toys. But by providing them the abundance and variety, I can ensure that they are kept busy, happy, and healthy in any case.
Keep in mind that the best deterrent against developing a feather-plucking problem is keeping the bird busy chewing things that are not on its body. Just because there are toys in the cage doesn't mean they are serving much useful purpose if they don't end up in a pile of splinters on the bottom of the cage. Looking, touching, and playing with the toys is only a small portion of their purpose. Getting the beak and mind exercised in the process of chewing them up is the biggest purpose. In the case of most parrots, something is going to get chewed up at the end of the day be it the bird's toys, perches, your furniture or stuff, or its feathers. In order to avoid it being the feathers or furniture, it is best to focus on toys and perches.
Some toys are just too difficult, thick, hard, or boring for your parrot to chew up. Offering a variety of different kinds of perches is a good way to improve the likelihood of the toys working out. However, sometimes the parrot just won't chew any of it up. The best way to get it started is to get smaller or easier toys that are meant for a smaller species than what you have. Letting the bird have success with a toy that is too easy can give it the motivation to tackle some of the tougher toys that are meant for its size. The toys gotta get chewed up in order to be serving their purpose.
Every parrot is different so what works for some parrots may not work for others. Let your parrot exhibit its own personality and develop its own preferences. Provide abundant variety of perches and toys so that it can make the most of them and grow its choices.
Here's a video of Marianna getting some new perches and toys for the flock and then rearranging their cages with the new goodies:
Looking for a fun and easy trick to teach your parrot? Wondering how you can teach a parrot to bowl? This free trick training guide is about how you can train the Birdie Bowling trick to your parrot!
I love the Birdie Bowling trick because it looks a lot more impressive than the effort it takes to teach it. This is a trick that suits virtually all kinds of parrots and is easy to teach (basically everything except budgie, lovebird, or parrotlet because it is too big for them). This was the first prop based trick I ever taught to Kili and I recommend it to people as their first prop trick.
So here's a step by step guide on teaching a parrot to bowl:
Step 2: Make sure that your parrot is target trained. If it isn't, teach it to target before you start teaching the bowling trick. If it is already target trained, just do a quick review to remind it what to do.
Step 3: Desensitize the parrot to the bowling toy. Most parrots get scared of new stuff. The good news is that the more tricks you teach, the more the bird will get used to accepting new things. The best way to desensitize the bird to the bowling toy is to target it near the toy. Place the bowling toy on a table beforehand. Bring your parrot and set it on the table far from the toy. Get the bird into a rhythm targeting. Target it randomly in different directions and not strictly toward the bowling or it may get suspicious. Target it around randomly but little by little, more and more toward the bowling. Let the parrot pay more attention to the targeting exercise and forget about the bowling until you are able to target it right by the bowling at ease. It is better to take the time to do the desensitization exercise even if the bird didn't get scared than to scare the bird with the toy first and then try to change its mind.
Step 4: Target the bird toward the bowling ball with your target stick. Set the pins aside for now. Place the ball on the ramp and use the target stick to direct the bird to the ball. Say "target" and when your bird touches the stick, click and reward. After the bird gets good at this, point to the ball with your finger and say "target." The bird should do the same as before but touch the ball instead of the non-existent stick. If it doesn't catch on, keep practicing with the stick some more.
Step 5: Get the bird to push the ball. This part is a bit tricky and requires careful scrutiny on your part. Saying "target" and pointing to the ball should get the bird to come to the ball and touch it. But we're not trying to get the bird to just touch it. We want the bird to push it. This is where some clicker training really comes in handy. Using the "target" command, we can get the bird to touch the ball. In the beginning, accept by click/rewarding any touch of the ball. However, as the bird continues to improve, require firmer touches and presses of the ball to receive a click/treat. What you will most likely encounter is the bird getting a bit frustrated when it touched the ball and got nothing, then it will start attacking or shaking the ball in an attempt to get the touch to work (like pushing the dysfunctional elevator door close button a million times). This is your chance to watch for the moment of maximum pushing to click/reward. At some point, the bird will push the ball hard enough that it will roll of the ramp and this is the time to click and give a jackpot reward to mark success. If the bird never overcomes pushing it over the bump, you can try holding the ball just over the bump and encouraging it to push. Let go when it does so that the bird can realize that pushing it to move is what gets the click/treat. Eventually it should learn to push harder and be able to push it on its own.
Step 6: Set up the pins, set up the ball, tell your parrot to "bowl," and enjoy! Click the moment the parrot pushes the ball off of the ramp and give a treat. Eventually you won't have to click because the bird will learn that getting the ball rolling is the entire purpose.
Here's a short tutorial I made with Kili to illustrate the key steps of the process:
During my recent visit to Phoenix Arizona, I took Kili & Truman in to see Dr. Driggers. His is the first exclusively Avian and Exotic veterinary clinic in the country to have a CT scanner. He took some time to tell me about the machine and how it works.
It's really fascinating. The scanner takes 720 images in the span of about 30 seconds. The computer reconstructs these images into a full 3 dimensional display of the animal. The doctor is able to look through the organs and bones without ever hurting or cutting the animal open in the process.
I decided to get Truman scanned to check on how his prior injury has healed and also to check just in case for new ones because he is very accident prone. So they gassed him for a few minutes to anesthetize him. They need the animal to lay perfectly still during the capture so that all of the images line up for the final 3D image. Then they laid Truman out on the bed of the scanner. A team of several vet techs works together to make the process go as quickly and smoothly as possible. They hyperventilate the bird prior to the scan and then stop the breathing during the scan. It's like holding your breath to go underwater. Everyone gets out of the room while the scanner is going. The moment it stops, they were already getting a stethoscope on Truman and checking his condition. Once the scan was complete, they used a hand pump to get him breathing room air again.
The analysis of Truman's bloodwork and CAT scan showed him to be healthy and organs in good shape. A 3D look at his skeleton showed that his original injury has healed well and is barely visible any more. On the other hand it also revealed that he has a slightly crooked keel and that he has busted his tail at some point. Nonetheless, these do not currently affect him but it's good to know what's going on. It is also reassuring to know that the previous injury has not worsened and that his organs look healthy.
I am glad to see the new CT scan technology moving along so well. I bet in a case where there is organ issues, something lodged inside the bird's gut, or a hard to locate injury, being able to use this CT scan technology will drastically improve avian medicine.
Since the Avian and Exotic Clinic is the first in the country to have a CT scanner and since Truman is their first ever Cape Parrot to be scanned, most likely this is the first and currently only 3D CT scan of the internals of a Cape Parrot (Poicephalus robustus fuscicollis). Check out this video of Dr Driggers explaining the technology and Truman, the first Cape Parrot to get CT scanned, showing us how it's done:
Kili, Truman, and Rachel have been settling in the bird room together well. I have been getting back into flying them for exercise. For now, I'm just having them fly in the bird room.
All three parrots are at ease with each other and know their own perches well. They all already know their names and only fly when called. But now they are mixing it all together.
Flying three parrots for exercise can be quite intense. I alternate my attention between the birds. Each bird flies to receive food. While two parrots are busy chewing their reward, the third already finished and is ready to fly. This leaves at least one parrot ready to go at any time.
This routine not only keeps things moving for me - it sure does take a while to get three birds to fly enough to go through an entire meal - but it also gets a rivalry going between the birds that keeps everyone trying. If one of the birds gets lazy and doesn't come, I will simply move on to the next. The next bird is happy to have a sooner opportunity to come. Meanwhile the bird that didn't come gets punished by missing a turn and having to wait for the next chance to come around. This has been extremely effective and virtually eliminated disobedience.
In the past, flight training just one bird at a time, I would encounter a lot of frustration when the bird wouldn't come. I have limited time to spend on training, so when the bird isn't coming, the session will either take longer or the bird won't be exercised as much. Whenever the bird would stop cooperating to look around or worse yet just sit there for no reason, I would be powerless at that moment to keep things moving. But now with three birds training together, there is always a bird or two that will pick up the slack for the others. This keeps me from just standing around waiting for birds to resume cooperation. But not only that, it makes the lazy bird(s) realize that others are getting their treats! This fixes things in a hurry.
When the birds finish chowing down their food reward, they are attentively waiting for the next opportunity to be called. I occasionally mix up the order of the recalls to keep them on their toes. On the rare occasion that the wrong bird comes, it receives no food and is just sent back to the perch. They realize quickly that it is a 100% chance they won't receive a reward if they come when I call another, so they learn to stay put unless called. This is important when there is a bunch of birds so that they don't interfere with each other.
Starting out, Rachel was definitely the weak link. While Kili and Truman would come reliably from years of experience, Rachel would often not come or take too much time. Since the added competition of the other birds, Rachel's success has more than tripled! She is almost as good as the others. She has made years of solo improvement in a month with the added competition. I think the improvement was so huge because Rachel got both a dose of example as well as rivalry! She got to see how well the other birds do and how much they get rewarded. She realized that this is the way to be if you're a bird!
Another interesting improvement came in Truman. Truman has always been second rate to Kili in everything. If Truman flew 50 recalls, then Kili flew 100. When Truman improved to being capable of 100, Kili was at 150! Because he could never accomplish being better than her at anything (at least training wise), I don't think he ever really tried. But when Truman realized he could be better than Rachel, he was all over it! Truman became much more attentive and quick to respond. On the other hand, Rachel is now close on his tail with her improvement so I hope to keep this competition going.
There's no doubt that Kili is simply the best. Her mantra is anything you other birds can do, I can do better. Even when she's training solo, she'll work as hard as the other birds would in a competitive environment. But when the other birds are trying too, Kili can keep flying reliably even after she is completely full or not even hungry at all in the first place. I'm pretty sure that I could get her to fly as much as the other birds without any treats at all. She is just so competitive and has to be best!
Oftentimes toward the end of the flying session I am trying to compensate the bigger birds with extra food. Kili is already too full and clearly done eating. Truman and Rachel might have missed a few treats when they were being obstinate. Kili got every single one. So just to get the others to fly as much as Kili, I need to park Kili and give them a chance to catch up. Well, Kili keeps begging to come so I call her but don't give treats. I know she is full and can't/shouldn't have more. As long as the other birds keep coming, she does too, even when she is obviously getting nothing. But she plays a good model and it helps me keep the others going till they finish.
It is important to note that getting or training more birds is not necessarily going to improve things for other people. If you have a bird that is uncooperative or bad at training, I would first focus on your training techniques and the birds motivation. Only when that bird without doubt knows what it is doing, does it right most of the time, and does an overall pretty good job is it ok to think about training along another bird. Competitive training isn't a solution to poor training/motivation. Instead it is a superlative booster for already effective training.
So, check out this video of Kili, Truman, and Rachel's morning flying routine:
Kili has been a really bad bird so I threw her out the door. Isn't that the best way to solve any parrot behavior problems? Just chuck the parrot outside. It's not like I was going to shoot her for it or something! Bye bye birdie.