Archive for April, 2008


Your Parrot Won’t Play with Toys?

April 25, 2008

One question that seems to come up a lot (at least based on Google searches that drive traffic to this site), is about pet birds not playing with toys.

Q: Why won’t my parrot play with his toys?

It’s possible your parrot doesn’t know how to play with toys. If he’s never learned, your pet bird may need you to show him. You might want to take a toy and play with it in front of him; it helps if there are a couple people doing this. Don’t give it to him, just demonstrate how much fun you’re having (don’t feel silly about being overly animated). You can even make a show of keeping it away. This should stoke your parrot’s curiosity. Like children, they want to know what the fun is about and have what they think they’re not supposed to.

After a while of having fun with the toy yourself, include your bird. Show him how it’s supposed to be played with and then play with him. Once he understands the concept he will very likely start playing with it by himself.

If you do that a couple of times, he’ll probably have an “ah ha” moment when he realizes that toys are meant to be played with and he’ll start playing with other toys on his own. And “toys” don’t need to be limited to stuff that’s marketed as “bird toys.” Anything made of bird-safe materials can be fun!

Photo of Hector by redvers

If your parrot is afraid of toys or new things in his cage, you can take a similar approach. In this case, you’ll want to keep the objects out of his cage and let him look at them from across the room — allow him to get used to and comfortable with the toys from a distance. After a day, you can bring the object just a little bit closer to his cage and, again, let you watch you play. If he’s fearful, you might need to tone down your enthusiasm and play with the toy gently. Hold it against your face, stroke it, show him that it’s something gentle and nonthreatening.

Do you have the wrong kinds of toys? If you bought lots of acrylic toys because they’re marketed as being “bird proof” and indestructible, you also have toys that aren’t as much fun to play with. Parrots like to… they need to… destroy things. It’s an instinct they need to satisfy.

Sometimes people stop buying wooden toys for the parrots because “my bird only destroyed it.” That’s great! To a bird, that IS playing. The whole purpose of wooden bird toys is for parrots to make toothpicks and sawdust out of them. Indestructible toys just aren’t very satisfying if that’s the only kind of toy your bird has.

Buying new toothpick-making materials on a weekly basis can get pricey, but there are plenty of sites on the web that will show you how to make cheap, fun toys for a fraction of their retail cost.

Photo of Kiwi by The Gut

Some birds, especially larger parrots, are big fans of puzzles and mechanical objects to manipulate (like screws and bolts). I’ve read more than one story about cockatoos and macaws dismantling their own cages. For those kinds of birds, a playstation with bird-safe stuff to manipulate can provide lots of entertainment. Other birds might not be interested at all. I got Stewie a toy with gears and cranks and he couldn’t care any less about it.

You’ll need to experiment to see what tickles your individual bird’s fancy.

Q: What are some of the best toys for conures or other parrots?

The simple answer is: the ones your bird will play with. Like I said earlier, that may require a little bit of experimentation. Just because you bought him a toy once and he didn’t touch it, doesn’t mean that you should stop giving him things to play with.

Photo of Hatch by lkalliance

You also want to provide your bird with a wide variety of toys: toys that birds can manipulate, shredder toys, toys to preen, toys that encourage foraging behavior. (Check out Stuff My Conure Likes for Stewie’s toy and treat recommendations)

I prefer Drs. Foster and Smith for most of my bird supplies. Click on the banner below to support this website.

Drs. Foster and Smith Inc.


Stuff My Conure Likes

April 23, 2008

I thought I’d compile another list of things my conure likes. Mind you, this is only Stewie-approved stuff… it doesn’t include things I think he ought to like, things I’ve purchased for him and he’s not interested in or things I just think you ought to have in case of birdie emergencies.

The list may expand in the future, but without further ado, in no particular order, stuff my conure really digs:

Every bird has its own peculiar likes and habits, so your mileage will vary, but for what it’s worth, these are my bird’s favorite toys and treats.


Skateboarding Birds: Budgies and ‘Tiels

April 18, 2008

Think only larger parrots can do cool prop tricks? Think again:

First, the noob: training a cockatiel to step onto a skateboard

Day 3: Cockatiel pushing off on a skateboard

Skateboarding cockatiel catches air

More skateboarding cockatiels

Cute budgies showing off their skateboard moves

Advanced skater budgie (sorry, couldn’t embed)



Stewie Demonstrates Targeting

April 11, 2008

I’m still a terrible cinematographer, but I figured I’d go ahead and post this anyway. I wheeled Stewie’s playstand in front of the computer (with a built-in camera) and did a couple reps of targeting. Because the target stick is a black chopstick and the background is basically black, you often can’t see it in this video — but he does beak the end of it to earn a “good boy” and a safflower seed each time he does it.

Even if you can’t see the chopstick well in this video, you can definitely see how Stewie will climb all over to touch it. That’s a solidly reinforced behavior.

If you’re interested in learning how to clicker train your bird, check out Melinda Johnson’s book Clicker Training for Birds, on

I’ll post some better YouTube videos of other people training their birds to target in a bit.



April 10, 2008

humorous pictures
More from LOLcats


Teaching My Parrot to Fetch: Step 1

April 2, 2008

I pulled this old draft out of my archives. It’s from late last year, but I thought I’d go ahead and publish it now, even though he already knows how to retrieve and put the ball in his cup.

After very fast progress with targeting, we hit a bit of a bump moving on to the next trick.

It’s not that my bird isn’t smart, but rather the problem was that I wasn’t communicating what I wanted clearly. So we ended up having to take a few steps back and simplifying the task dramatically.

He was doing fine touching the wiffle ball I was using for a prop, and sometimes he’d even grab it — but he always dropped it very quickly. I got stuck at getting him to hold on to it.

This is how I got Stewie to actually grab the toy, not just beak it:

I put it in the way of his treat dish. He grabbed the toy to move it out of the way, but before he could drop it, I c/t for grabbing it and catch the toy before he dropped it. Okay, I admit, it was cheating a little and it’s better to have your bird learn by really experimenting with new behaviors himself, but we weren’t making progress and he was frustrated.

So we did a lot of reps of him grabbing the ball and lifting it a bit. I started delaying the click to make him lift it higher, so he’d grab it lift it all the way out of the cup and move it around as if to say “Hellllo! See me lifting it? What are you blind? Where’s my treat?!”

After that I wanted to teach him to put it in my hand. I held my hand out to force contact with the ball and c/t’d. Didn’t seem to work. Then I tried taking the ball, but that resulted in him biting me — he was still afraid of or mad at hands at that point — which was a major setback. Clicking and biting shouldn’t go together!

So I stopped trying to take the ball and kept trying to shape bigger and bigger lifts out of the cup, but didn’t know how to proceed from there.

Then one day, when his wiffle ball was sitting at the bottom of his playstand, he climbed down, grabbed it, climbed all the way back up his stand and put the wiffle ball in his cup!

Ah ha! I was trying to teach him to lift the ball out of his cup, but what he had LEARNED instead was that he got a treat for putting the ball BACK in his cup. Smart birdy!

So I changed course and followed his lead. Rather than getting him to take the ball out of the cup and give it to me, I simply started handing him the ball to place inside the cup. After several sessions he’d even walk a few steps to take the ball and a few steps back to deposit it. This method also gave me more control over how close my fingers got to him since I wanted to avoid getting nipped at.

That’s how Stewie learned his first “real” trick — how to put a ball in a cup — even though I was actually trying to teach him retrieve. The student teaches the master 🙂

Watch the video of Stewie doing his “basketball” trick here.

Stay tuned for Part II of this post where I explain how we went on to learn actually to retrieve.


In Praise of Wayne’s Bottle Brush Gyms

April 2, 2008

UPDATE (August 2009): As much as I’m a fan of Wayne’s bottle brush gyms, I’ve been hearing a lot of rumors about deteriorating service in terms of orders getting fulfilled in a reasonable timeframe (when you order through his website). This makes me very sad because I love the gyms, but I don’t want people placing an order on my recommendation and then end up not getting what they paid for. You may want to buy from a distributor like The Golden Cockatoo or The Platinum Parrot, which may provide more reliable service. I’ve never ordered from them so I can’t vouch for their reliability, however. Caveat emptor.


Bottlebrush Play Gym for small/medium parrotsOne of the best investments I’ve ever made was a bottlebrush gym from Wayne’s Parrot Stuff. The website, to be really honest, is atrocious, even by 1997 standards. Sorry. But, and this is a big BUT… The parrot play gyms he sells on that site are absolutely superior. Wayne clearly spends more time hand-crafting his parrot play stands than he does thinking about websites.

The picture on the left is from when I unpacked and assembled it months ago. At this point it’s covered in toys. Sorry for the terrible white balance – for reference, that tray is made of formica manufactured to look like wood and it exactly matches my “birch effect” Ikea furniture! Wayne has some other faux-wood and solid-color finishes to suit most design aesthetics.

I Needed Convincing: Why Buy Another Gym?

I’ll admit that I was really skeptical about his claims. He made it sound like gyms made out of bottle brush wood were the answer to everything. Having heard quite a few good things, I decided to contact him.

I explained that Stewie has a gym that he doesn’t really use. At the time, Stewie wasn’t flighted, so he’d stay there if I put him on it. And he’d climb to the top if he was looking for a safer/higher place and it was close by. But he didn’t play on it.

Wayne assured me that this is a problem with conventional playstands but not bottlebrush parrot gyms because the wood is softer and has lots of texture. The reason parrots don’t use most play stands fully is that they don’t feel very secure, their footing unsure on the slippery perches.

Hmm, was I really going to spend a couple hundred dollars only to end up having Stewie sit on one branch like a lump on a log? I thought I’d take that chance (nothing’s too good for my little Stu-monster).

Stewie’s Reaction to the Play Stand

Stewie being the scaredy bird that he is first looked at that contraption with suspicion, but he didn’t freak out as he was prone to doing. (You’d have thought he was an African Grey or something, with those phobias.) I used a Nutriberry to lure him on

… and it was love!

Remember those happy conure noises I wrote about earlier — the “eeeeh of glee” in particular? He makes those all the time now while chewing on the bottle brush.

I won’t go on about the various attributes of Wayne’s bottlebrush gyms, since you can go read about that on his website. Suffice it to say that Stewie really likes his – surprising because he’s not the kind to go gah-gah over anything. Everything Wayne told me about the benefits of bottlebrush was true.

Now that Stewie is flighted, he pretty much flies to the play gym as soon as I let him out, going back to the cage only to get a drink of water.

My only minor critique would be that the branches extend all the way to the edge of the platform, which means that when Stewie is sitting on the edge of a branch anything (everything) he drops lands on the floor not in the tray. It’s a trade off, though. If the branches were shorter there would be less usable space to climb on; if the platform/tray were bigger the play stand would take up more space.

Stewie and His Bottle Brush Gym

Really, I’m Just a Happy Customer. Honest!

Any biases or special interest you need to know about that may have influence this review? Nope, I’m not an affiliate of Wayne’s Parrot Stuff; I don’t benefit in any way if he ever sells anything else. I gave his products a shot because I heard good things from other bird owners and now I’m doing my part to spread the word about his very cool parrot stands. This is just an example of genuine word of mouth marketing in practice.

I’ll post some more pictures of the stand — all decked out in toys and with a birdie playing on it — when I get a chance.

Visit The Golden Cockatoo to purchase one of Wayne’s creations.

Update #4 (November 2009): I’m closing comments on this post. It’s great to have a discussion about options, but I don’t want to host an on-going thread about complaints that don’t actually help anyone. This isn’t the BBB and I don’t want to open myself up any liability if the comments wander into libel territory. It’s getting too hard to make the judgment calls on what gets to stays and what needs to be left off. Sorry. I’m sorry people are having problems with this vendor.