Selecting Safe Bird Toys
by Scott Stork
In a previous article Terry wrote, "Birds in captivity have an incredible ability to find any means available to harm or even kill themselves." Sally Blanchard wrote, "The only 100% safe bird toy for every bird is one no bird plays with." Recently one of our favorite customers, after a frightening, but luckily happily ending experience with her bird and a 'safe' toy, wrote, "Do you have any padded bird cages? I'll take two!" (One for her and one for her bird).
The toy that our customer had the bad experience with is made of stainless steel, dried eucalyptus wood (a safe variety of the Australian family of trees) and vegetable died hardwood, all very safe materials. The materials are put together in a way that is seen on numerous toys that are considered 'safe' by trusted authorities. We have been selling that particular toy and others like it for years and to all sizes of birds. The company that manufactures the toy is one of the best that we deal with when it comes to safety concerns. And we never before have had reported to us an incident like this happening.
So why did this problem occur? Well, first I should describe what happened. There is a place on the toy where metal wire is crimped together to form a loop. This style of loop, S-hooks and triangle clips are all very similar and are found on most toys available for large birds. The bird, a young amazon parrot, was chewing on the toy and he wedged his lower beak into the gap in the loop. When he realized that the toy was hanging on to his beak he began to panic. He was eventually removed from the toy by one of his owners and was brought to his vet. The bird's lower beak was slightly cracked but it is expected to heal properly on its own.
This accident happened for the reason stated or inferred in the first paragraph. Parrots have an innate curiosity and drive to explore, test and attempt to destroy everything they encounter. This innate drive combined with a powerful beak means that if any object has a weak spot they will find it.
My favorite way of explaining this is, 'picture a two-year-old child with a really strong set of pliers". In addition parrots have a strong flight, or panic response. When confronted with a scary or startling situation, especially one involving unfamiliar restraint or pain, they put all of their energy into escaping and very little into thinking. That amazing brain that is so good at problem solving shuts off and adrenaline takes over. A stuck nail, or beak or wing that may have easily been extracted by pushing this way or pulling that way becomes a horrific experience that can lead to serious injury.
What then can we do to protect our birds? The first step is obviously selecting the safest toy that you can. I will discuss this in detail. Another important step is to have emergency help available to you in case of an accident. This means having a bird first aid kit or at least some styptic powder and a towel. Knowing where a good bird vet is and their hours (emergency clinics see birds and should be used when an avian vet is not available and the bird needs immediate attention.) If possible, knowing someone who is experienced with birds and/or with emergency situations that can assist you on short notice.
Finally, DON'T PANIC. This can be very difficult when one sees their loved pet so panicked itself. Parrots in such a stressful situation typically scream as loud as they can, thrash, flap or jump wildly, and attempt to claw or bite anything within reach. (In this state the sweetest, smallest baby bird can bite hard enough to cause pain and possible injury.) An owner who finds their bird in such a state must quickly take control of the situation. If possible, calm the bird down (or at least stop it's full-blown panic), hold the bird firmly so that no further damage occurs (the use of a towel may be very helpful), remove the offending object (if possible, and safe to do so) and then examine the bird for injury. It is always best to call your veterinary clinic and explain the situation to them so they can suggest any further steps. Hopefully we can avoid this from happening. However, parrot owners should examine themselves and decide if they are prepared to handle such a situation. None of us know how we will react in an emergency until it occurs. By being aware and prepared we can give ourselves an edge.
Selecting Bird Toys
Choose only toys sold by reputable companies. We inspect any new toys very carefully to try and determine how safe they are before we agree to sell them. We use our own experiences and those of our customers, as well as advice from experts and current veterinary findings. We will only sell a toy whose merits far exceed any danger. (Ask the person selling you the toy about its safety, if they don't know don't buy it.)
Safety can also be a concern with toys purchased from sources that you are unfamiliar with. Several areas have bird shows or fairs that several vendors display their toys. Other than the safety of the toy itself is the concern of where the toy was made. Are there other birds around that could potentially spread disease? Does the person making the toys do so in a bird free environment? You may get some 'good deals' at some of these fairs but what price are you willing to pay in the long run? If you attend these shows buy only items you know are safe and that can be sterilized before offering it to your bird. Many of these bird fairs allow people to bring their birds or have birds at them, which alone should concern you. By all means do not bring your bird with you and always change your clothing and shower before going to your bird when you arrive home.
We sell a few toys that are recommended only as out of the cage toys. This is typically because there is something about the toy that a bird might become tangled in. If this happens while you are home and the bird is out playing on its play gym you can quickly undo the problem. If it were to happen while you were away it could be much more serious. Always be sure to use toys the way they are intended to be used.
Use toys sized for your bird. This is especially important with large birds. Never give a large bird a toy intended for small birds. Many beads, bells and clasps that are perfectly safe for a cockatiel can be dangerous for larger birds. Some large bird toys may be dangerous to smaller birds than they were intended for. A plastic ring perfect for an amazon to hold and chew on might get caught around a smaller bird's head.
Be careful about improvising. Many bird owners make toys for their birds. This can be fun, is often less expensive and allows you to give your bird exactly what it likes. However, when choosing materials be very careful. There are too many dangers to possibly mention them all, but here are a few examples. Some soft plastics can be torn into little bits and ingested, causing intestinal blockage. Many dies, paints, colorings and metal finishes that are considered safe can cause toxicity problems in birds. Long strings, especially non-natural fibers, are dangerous if ingested or wrapped around a toe or other extremity. Many woods, papers, fabrics and leathers are toxic if ingested. The safest way to make toys for your birds is to only use parts that are sold specifically for birds from a trusted source. If you wish to use other materials, consider only those that you have seen used for birds, that are child safe as well as human food production safe. Even then you should contact your veterinarian or other expert and ask about the safety of each material you are considering. We offer several toy parts you can use to make your own bird toys. Ask us which parts are appropriate for your bird.
Follow instructions carefully. Some toys come with labels or even instruction sheets explaining how they should be used, cleaned etc. We will often verbally explain certain things to do with a particular toy to reduce any danger. By doing simple things like trimming long strings, tightening fasteners and checking for wear and tear you can increase the longevity of many toys and also increase your bird's safety.
Bells, Clasps and Finishes
The three most common reasons for us to decide that a toy is unsafe are:
* Bells with easily removed clappers.
* Clasps that are improperly sized.
* Finishes, paints, dies etc. that contain toxins.
There are very few bells made that are safe for large birds and many that are sold aren't safe for the smallest birds. We are very careful to point out any possible problem with a bell on a toy. We also carry a number of bells that are safe in most situations. There are some clasps that we never recommend and others that we only use for certain sized birds. The biggest offenders here are the key (or split) ring style clasp that medium and large birds can spread apart. Birds are very susceptible to ingested toxins. The safest finishes are vegetable coloring for woods, naturally tanned leather, uncoated hard (marbella) plastics, and stainless steel solid chain, wire, and quick links.
As I have said, there are no truly safe toys for birds. Recently we had a young bird that regularly got a toe stuck in a connection point of a particular toy. The toy is recommended by Sally Blanchard (she is certainly a trusted expert on bird safety), and is made by Sturdy Birdy (a company that went above and beyond when it comes to safety concerns). The bird's nails were properly trimmed. The toy was properly sized for him, and was used in exactly the same way as we have used it for years. Yet that particular bird couldn't seem to avoid getting a toe stuck in it. (It was never severely stuck, but the bird sure thought it was.) We had no choice but to sterilize the toy and give it to one of the other babies in the store who played with it without incident.
This is just another example that we can never be sure that our bird's environment is totally safe. With some care and caution, however, we can greatly reduce the chance of anything bad happening. By following the guidelines stated above, using common sense and finding trusted, reliable sources for advice your bird should be able to live a long, happy, injury-free life.