Many natural items that you can give to your birds cross the boundaries between what is a food item and what is a toy. You can find natural objects from which the Parrot will gain nourishment and also play with. But are these items collected from the beach, field, forest and garden safe for Parrots?
Like so much opinion and information that concerns our complex and beloved companions the answer is yes and no. Common-sense will help when puzzled about whether you should give your bird an item or not. The line between toys which provide an enrichment item and/or a foraging items gets blurred. This is especially true with fir cones.
At least 20 species of fir trees yield cones that contain pine nuts. Cones range in size from pigeon eggs to ostrich eggs.
Are you a natural forager? Do you come home from a country or park walk with bulging pockets or plastic bags stuffed with foraging items? I confess that I do.
A country house hotel in my neighbourhood has cedars of Lebanon in the landscaped gardens. The cones are ripe in winter, large and sticky, and adored by my Parrots. I scurry along the grass putting some in my anorak pocket and hope no one is watching from the restaurant windows. I never take more than 3 or 4 because flocks of local crows are feasting on them.
Once you have age open fir cones, you can insert bits of fruit or nuts or slivers of vegetables for the birds to winkle out. Personally I do not regularly bake fir cones in order to kill off fungal dual spores and any insects that may be lurking. I would not gather damp or mouldy looking for cones anyway. If I’m given fir comes that don’t seem completely dry I will heat them at 200 C for 20 minutes.
It is a highly personal choice how much hygiene you require for your pet bird. I go along with breeder Mike Hurley who has had success for over 30 years with his breeding birds.
He believes in what he calls simple social hygiene, so that is everything is washed with soap and water but he avoids chemicals and sterilisation for feeding spoons or syringes.
If you want to be cautious, soaking foraged toys and foodstuffs in some sort of antiseptic solution may be what you need. I’ve bought some 10 (actually a year’s supply because its much cheaper in a large size) which is widely used at our vet’s surgery and it is biodegradable. A diluted solution of F10 will make anything safe for the birds.
Jayne Boulton whose cages in her bird room are immaculate tells me she uses solution of F10SC both for germ control and cleanliness.
Another of nature’s gifts is the cuttlefish bone. The flaky white bone of the cuttlefish is sold in many pet stores but you can also pick it on the beach. It contains calcium. Mike Hurley (mentioned above) grates some over his soft food mix. A cuttlefish is a cephalopod, related to squids and octopi.
They have eight arms and two tentacles. They eject a black ink-like fluid when in danger. In fact, the outer, hard shell is often stained with this black ink. They are found in oceans all over the world. And the calcified cuttlebone can be picked up on beaches all over the world
Cuttlefish is eaten widely in Asian countries, especially Taiwan and the Philippines. Some Philippine cuttlebones are more than 16 inches long. Cuttlebone is the only bone in the cuttlefish, and it is discarded when the fish are cleaned in preparation for eating. These bones are washed and sun bleached for export.
Freshly cut branches
No, you cannot go around snapping off budding branches in the park for your cage and aviary. But if the gardeners are pruning and you say it is for your pet Parrots, they will most probably give you some.
If you have a garden or access to a friend’s garden, there are so many branches that birds relish to chew, to perch upon. My all-time favourite has to be willow. We have willow trees in our garden which ‘love’ being pruned and send up wands of new growth enthusiastically. I weave wreaths from willow and hang toys or edibles from them. I have also had success is helping stop feather plucking by packing a cage with willow branches.
I don’t give Parrots any branches in any case where I think there may have been pesticides used. Some carers will wash a branch in an antiseptic solution and then use it.
Trees and bushes produce their berries in autumn. If you can cut sprays of blackberries, hawthorn, rose hips or cotton Easter, they provide hours of foraging entertainment with many healthy-giving benefits.
There can be problems. I once gave Casper Grey a wreath made of holly berries. He played on it for hours. I was later horrified to find that although garden birds eat holly berries, they figure on a Poisonous for Parrots list. Feeling ashamed, I took down the wreath, glad to see Casper had not touched a single holly berry.
Many carers complain that their Parrots chew at the furniture. Endless No's and Get offs are rarely 100% successful. However, the provision of freshly cut branches will often hold more appeal more that of your furniture.
That said, I admit that because my birds have free range in the house in the evening - in spite of branches in their cages and conservatory/ bird room, all the tops of the doors have metal jackets to stop those inquisitive beaks.
My most successful toy/nature’s gift combination has been the kabob purchased from the pet store, garnished with dandelions and stuffed with monkey nuts.
The serious aspect of providing natural items as toys for enrichment activities comes from examining researchers’ information about wild birds’ behaviour. We learn how they can spend hours foraging - depending on species - between one and six hours each day.
So if we give our birds two square meals morning and evening which don’t take them many minutes to eat, they are left with many hours without any meaningful activity. This is where using nature’s toys like fir cones, branches, cuttlefish, berries and other similar items provides them with activities which go a long way to prevent behavioural problems like excessive screaming, biting or plucking.
And from my point of view, there are few sights more pleasurable than watching my Parrot snacking on flowers or fir cones.