Parrot keeping has grown dramatically in recent years. I was very involved with parrot rescue for many years and also worked at an avian veterinary clinic for 11 years. Currently, I see many parrots in homes during my daily pet behaviour consultations, usually I am there to see other pets, and I always make a point to go over to say hello.
A sad but consistent theme is an often lack of mental stimulation for these cage-bound creatures. People fail to realize these animals, particularly the larger parrots, spend all their waking time foraging for food, preening, socializing with their flock, and chewing/shredding/destroying branches and other natural products. They have mates - some breed for life - and raise young together. They fly up to 30 miles a day. Our "perch potatoes" are not allowed this luxury, and by keeping them caged, it is our responsibility to provide for their physical and mental enrichment.
Have any of you ever spent a significant time sick, or even worse, in a hospital bed? I have done so, and this was long before the Internet, ipads, or Smart Phones. I can tell you that, for me, after many days -books, writing, artwork and TV (of which I have never been any sort of viewer of) rapidly loose appeal. The walls seem to loom closer and closer, until one fears suffocation.
I can only sympathize with how a caged bird must feel after years of standing on the same dowel rod with the same (if they are lucky) one plastic toy. It is SO imperative that birds be given many toys often, and of various types.
Birds love colour, and there are many colourful acrylic toys, many with bells, mirrors, and other shiny objects, which they also like. More importantly, there is an increasing amount of "puzzle toys" - acrylic toys that one can hide food in - so that the bird gets to use his or her mind to ferret out food treats. In the wild, birds do not eat out of one dish - they must work and work and work to get their meals. This takes hours, but first they must FIND the food - it is not always available in a stale, stationary bowl in the same spot day in and day out.
Chewing is very, very important to birds, and chew toys for destroying are imperative. These toys can be expensive, especially for the larger parrots. My cockatoos and eclectus hen's toys can easily be $40 or above for a starting price. In my Friday post I will give some ideas of how to cheaply and creatively make your own parrot toys.
Lastly, toys should be rotated often, and replaced in different, creative locations within the cage. Variety is the spice of life, and to an animal programmed to not see the same thing every day, this is very important. Also, by rotating toys, you provide your bird with new and interesting things to play with, and keep their lives more interesting and enriched.
A word about perches: VARIETY! Wild birds stand on branches of various types of trees and of various widths. What pet owners often provide - a dowel rod - is even all the way around. If a bird spends all its time standing with the weight of its body on the same pressure points of the feet, this can be very unhealthy and painful. It is crucially important to foot health to have them be able to move up and down a branch of varying widths to maintain proper foot health.
If you don't own a parrot but have friends that do, please pass this information along. Parrots are one of the most misunderstood - and as such, the most unintentionally abused - pets that there are, and in this case, ignorance is not bliss. Please speak up on behalf of those that cannot, and help enrich the lives of our caged companions.
TARA Training and Behavior, LLC
Teaching Animals with Respect and Affection
Friend to Whimmer, 15-year-old Umbrella Cockatoo, rescue from MN; Clare, Eclectus hen, 37-year-old rescue from Chicago; "Bird" (now re-named Tweety-woo, which is what he calls himself), 9-year-old Cockatiel rescue from St. Louis; and Fatoush, 5-year-old Rosie Bourkes Parakeet.