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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.

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15 comments

  1. Thread with lots of great pictures of birds playing with toys on BirdBoard


  2. have you thought about getting stewie a friend?


  3. Wow, at the same time I was writing this blog post, Barbara Heidenreich published an article on the exact same topic. Check our her advice on getting your parrot to play with toys.


  4. I’m glad that there’s a website to answer this question. My dilemma is that my bird (lilac crowned amazon) *stopped* playing with his toys when he got a new cage 4 years ago. He used to love playing on his cage top playpen, but his new cage doesn’t have one, and he’ll only chew on the ladder now. New/different toys don’t entice him, and the old favorites are ignored. He doesn’t play on the perch outside his cage, he just sits there and stares or grooms himself and he much prefers to hang out with me. Is this normal? He is a healthy bird.


  5. Hi Chris,
    I’m not an expert, so I can’t tell you what’s going on. It sounds like changing his cage definitely upset him. You don’t have it anymore, right? But 4 years is a long time to adjust, so it sounds like something more is going on. Is the cage in the same location? Has anything else changed?

    Have you tried building something for the top of his new cage that he can use as a playtop?

    Is he otherwise happy? Does play with you, just not toys? Or does he just not “play” at all? Is there anything else about his personality that changed?

    Some birds just aren’t into toys, and that’s not abnormal. But it seems strange to me that he used to play with toys a lot and now doesn’t.

    I’m glad you ruled out any health issues. That’s always the first thing you want to cross off the list of explanations.


  6. I just recently got a 6 yr old DYH Amazon. The boy was in a cage so small that he couldnt even stand up straight on his perch. He was owned by 1 family for 6 years then they decided they couldnt take care of him anymore so returned him to the pet store. The poor lil fella has began plucking on his back on one side. I do have a vet appt this afternoon for him to get this checked out. I have only had him for 5 days.

    He is now in a large cage with a play area on top. He is very docile most of the time. He steps up quiet well but will not let you touch him at all. If you even move your hand close to him from any direction he is spooked. He doesnt explore nor does he play with any toys. He does talk and sing some but it seems he is only verbal when it is initiated by me. It seems to me that he has not been handled very much at all. The fellow at the pet store said he was a bad biter when they got him back. He has been in that small cage for 4 months.

    I was able to get him to explore a couple of small items last night but it seems he has to be away from his cage to check out these new items. He is intimidated by larger items. By larger I mean bigger than a pencil in diameter. And he will not even check them out if he is on his cage. I dont push him too hard but I was wondering what kind of activities would be good to do with him?

    In this small cage he was in the perch was also small, to me it seems he is weak. Not sickly weak but not strong. When I take him back to his cage I try to put him on the side of the cage so that he has to climb up. I havent even seen him explore his new big cage.

    He doesnt seem curious about anything. What can I do to get some of this poor lil guys natural ambitions, curiousities, and energy back in his world. It seems that he has forgotten he is a bird. I would appreciate any feedback you can give me.


    • Hi Traci – thanks for taking the poor thing in and taking good care of him. He’s only been with you for 5 days, so I would say that he probably needs more time; at this point he’s probably still shy and taking it all in. Keep socializing him and getting him used to you and all the various thing in his environment, maybe even start some training, but give him more time to feel at home. I’m going to bet you haven’t seen his real personality yet.


  7. Thanks for the feedback, I guess I really didnt think of it like that. I have a quaker parrot as well and I dont think she has ever had a shy bone in her lil body. 🙂


    • i have the same thing going on with my eclectus i just got about a month ago ,she is biting her feet adn does not play with her toys at all too and i also have a quaker u cant settle him down whatever u do hahahaha and yes iam very worried about her also ,i guess nobody played with her too she just sitts there and does nothing ,i hope too it will change one day best luck to you …..


  8. Hi, I have a one year old Quaker who started self-mutilating and now is wearing a collar. He’s only had the collar on for a week. My concern is that since he started self-mutilating, about 2 weeks ago, he stopped playing with his toys. Now with the collar on, he still doesn’t play with his toys. I gave him new toys, and he doesn’t touch a thing. Before the self-mutilating, he used to play with every single toy. Any suggestions would be most appreciated.


    • My umbrella solved that problem, she shredded the collar! In one night! I started giving her more spray baths, more cuddles and more play times and lots of claw size sticks and paper twists to tear up instead of herself. We had moved recently to another state. I have 2 disabled young children and some nursing care with them. This move meant that those nurses were new and therefore unknown to my parrot. I had to make sure that she was introduced to them and became use to their voices and movement thru the house so that she was not so startled and fearful of them. In this new house a Cooper’s Hawk began to hang out in the tree outside the window her cage was first set in, that necessatated moving the cage to a window without a tree nearby! You just have to stop and analyse their day to day life. But lots of showers with a gentle warm mist, lots of conversations, getting to hang out near her “flock” as much as possible, food variety, etc will all help. Leave a quiet TV station on. Preferably one with a lot of talk like the food station, or the Housewives station, or animal planet when you are not there. We forget most birds are flock creatures and when we keep them in our houses, we become their only and their very small flock. My umbrella pretty much only eats when I am nearby – You know – to watch for danger while she eats?? We also have to do things like groom their little heads for them and skritch their necks. Just remember, you are their family now and they are very smart and have long memories!


  9. Hi, My fiance and I have bought a male pacific parrotlet, and named him Toby. We have had Toby about a month and a half, and are in love with our little darling. Toby is about 4 and 1/2 months old. My fiance and I are concerned that Toby does not play with his toys at all. All he really wants to do is sit on my shoulder and hide either directly against my skin under the collar of my shirt, or if I wear my hoodie, under the hood. Should I be concerned? He is reasonably well behaved, and smart =D taught himself to peep when he needed off my shoulder to use the potty. Thanks for any advice or help =D


    • Hi Jen. Have you tried the advice in the post? I don’t know that you need to be concerned yet, per se, but a bird who can entertain himself when needed will be a happier bird. His life would be fuller and more well-balanced if he doesn’t rely on direct human contact 24/7 and can play by himself when you’re not around. Not that I think birds are like human children, but if we were raising children we would want to give them the tools and resources to be independent. Self-directed play can be enriching and prevent boredom and clinginess. Good luck!


  10. Hi, I’ve had my cockatiel for about 8 months now and he will NOT play with his toys . I’ve tried everything, rearranging them, getting different materials, playing with them myself, and nothing will work. I worry about him because I have to go to school everyday and he has no friend to play with, so he sits all alone in his cage. My mum occasionally plays with him, but I’d really like him to play with toys so he won’t become lonely. Any ideas? Thanks.


  11. I have an older love bird. She wants to be on me all the time so it’s harder for me to show her how to play. I’ve tried playing with the toys but still no interest. She won’t play with any toys in her cage. I’m getting discouraged. Help!



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