Can you imagine being ‘locked up’ in a cage every day of your life? Even worse – can you imagine having no way of keeping yourself occupied? No human would want a life like that, and neither does any pet bird. He should be allowed out of his cage sometimes, and he should at least have some toys to occupy his mind, to keep him happy and healthy.
In nature, wild birds have to forage for their food, remember where they found it, and even how it ‘works’. For instance, some seeds need to be opened to get to the centre. This takes skill and requires the bird to remember how it’s done. Then, the bird must also be alert all the time to avoid predators, and find a safe place to sleep. All these acts of survival keep him busy throughout his life, keeping his mind stimulated.
In addition, the bird also has to communicate with his own species, in a flock or on his own, and interpret warnings from other animals, to stay safe. All this problem solving adds up to ‘entertain’ a bird in nature.
However, over the centuries, people have domesticated birds and kept them in cages for their beautiful song and/or appearance. In return, we give them a lovely cage, fresh water and food every day. And we expect them to be happy, and wonder what is wrong when they’re not.
Make sure your bird has a variety of toys with which to play. Puzzle toys are great for any animal. Find toys that require some brain power to master, like toys that can open and close. You can open the toy and hide a treat inside.
Rope-and-ladder toys are also great, as they enable the bird to climb up and down something, just as he would have done in nature.
Toys that make a noise, like a ball with a bell inside, will also keep him occupied. You can remove the toy from the cage when you need things to be quiet. Many birds – especially budgies – love mirrors, and every bird should have a mirror in his cage.
Remember to clean and rotate his toys often, to keep him interested.
As with any pet, birds also need your attention. You need to interact with your bird every day. Take him out of his cage and play games, like peek-a-boo, with him. Talk to him every day, even when he is back in his cage. Don’t ignore him when he is in his cage, as this will create negative connotations for him.
Some birds learn to speak a few words, and others – like African greys – even learn to understand the meaning of some of the words. Birds are much more intelligent than we give them credit for.
Birds and music go hand in hand. Besides their own songs and sounds, most birds appreciate music. Play different types of music to your bird, and see how he reacts to it. If he ‘dances’, moves, or even sings to the sound of the music, then you know he’s enjoying that particular music.
You can create a playlist for your bird to enjoy, especially for when you’re not around. The right music will occupy his mind, and may even keep him in good spirits.
A trick or two
Most pet birds, like cockatiels, African greys and even budgies, will eagerly learn a new trick or two. Start with basic games and activities, like getting him to climb onto your finger when you hold it close to his chest. Once he trusts you, he will happily engage with you. From there, you can teach him various other tricks, and you can also practise the tricks often.
A busy bird is a happy bird. The more ‘jobs’ you can give him to do, the better. And remember that birds are social creatures who need attention and don’t want to be left alone. So, spend more time with your bird, and find out what he likes and dislikes, to build a stronger bond with him, so that he remains happy.