When I see descriptions for preening toys it usually reads something like this, "Stress and boredom can lead to your bird over preening or feather plucking. Preening toys are a great outlet for birds to satisfy their need to preen."
Parrot preening toys are usually made of materials, like strands of cotton rope or fabric that people think can be preened by a bird. They are often advertised as having qualities that will encourage your parrot to spend hours working on the strands of the preening toy which will satisfy the need to preen and keep your bird from plucking its feathers. It has been my experience that parrots don't spend hours working on strands of preening toys and you will get more interaction and sustained activity by giving your parrot foraging and destructible toys.
Pamela Clark, CVT, CPBC, is a well respect parrot behavior consultant who specializes in feather destructive behavior. I asked her about preening toys and she had this to say, "Parrots need to preen their feathers, and if they aren't doing that normally, then the need is to increase bathing, examine their diet, provide enrichment in the environment, etc. Parrots certainly can differentiate between feathers and cotton rope and in my experience aren't likely to preen anything except their own feathers and the hair of an overly-bonded human."
Descriptions for the category of parrot comfort toys often read to the effect, "Birds enjoy physical contact with each other in the wild. Pet birds need the same thing; they like to cuddle with or crawl into something soft. This helps alleviate stress and provides a sense of security for your bird."
Examples of parrot comfort toys usually are perch tents or snuggle huts. I see potential problems with these items triggering nesting activity and as a result, increased reproductive hormone production which can lead to behavior problems.
I disagree with the idea pet birds need to cuddle or snuggle with something. In her article, Hormonal Behavior: Is Your Parrot A Victim?, Pamela Clark, CVT, CPBC, quotes Dr. Fern Vansant, "Physical contact is important in the nest and lavished on young birds. As young adults join the flock, most are driven by a need to sharpen foraging and flying skills. Most flocks are characterized by a discipline that maintains a critical distance between individuals while flying, feeding and roosting. In most cases, physical contact is reserved for courting and breeding." Pamela Clark goes on to write, "Parrots in the wild who are not breeding enjoy each other's company, but this type of bond is maintained through parallel activities and brief, playful interactions, not physical closeness."
As for the idea comfort toys help to alleviate stress, I would again quote Pamela Clark, "If a bird needs a "comfort" toy, then that means that the parrot is stressed. Instead of providing some sort of soft thing for cuddling, changes must instead be made to the environment to reduce the bird's stress. Then it won't need a comfort toy. Parrots don't have comfort toys in the wild, whereas they do forage, chew stuff up and figure out problems."
I would encourage you to read the article Hormonal Behavior: Is Your Parrot A Victim? by Pamela Clark.
There are two categories of toys often seen on parrot toy sites that I have intentionally left out:
Comfort and Preening Toys.
Parrot exercise toys encourage movement.
Swings and bungees are good examples of parrot toys that provide birds with an opportunity to exercise.
Noisy bird toys would be parrot toys that ring, rattle or clang.
Stainless steel bells are often added to bird toys to make noise. Some parrots like to push buttons of children's music box toys. Rattles and clackers can be made out of PVC pipe or plastic bottles.
Parrot foot toys are toys that your bird can hold in his foot.
Parrot foot toys are very easy toys to make from a variety of things such as small pieces of wood, leather strips, wooden beads, etc. The list is as long as your imagination.
Manipulative or Puzzle toys offer your bird the opportunity to problem solve.
A manipulative toy often will serve as a foraging toy. If a foraging toy requires your bird to open a drawer, spin a wheel or otherwise manipulate a device to get a treat or toy I will list it on the Manipulative Toy page of this website.
Chewing is a major activity in the wild and a natural activity for the companion parrot. Examples are toys made out of wood, such as pine and other soft woods (larger parrots should be challenged with harder woods), leather, vine balls and grass mats, soft plastics, paper and cardboard. These types of toys are often referred to as chewable or shreddable bird toys.
These are toys that are meant to be destroyed and provide your bird an opportunity to chew.
It is my belief that providing your bird with foraging toys is an essential form of parrot enrichment. Examples of foraging toys are those in which treats can be hidden, threaded on a skewer, stuffed in a hole, or otherwise incorporated into the toy.
Foraging toys give your parrot an opportunity to work for his food as he would do in the wild.
If you Google bird toys or parrot toys you will find an overwhelming assortment of toys to choose from and for a new parrot owner the task of finding toys or parts to make toys can be challenging. How do we go about finding the right toy? The one they will play with? I think that is where making your own toys has its advantages. If you can determine what your parrot likes you can customize a toy that appeals to him and one that he is more likely to interact with.
I've divided this section of the website into a few categories of toys that have worked for me over the years. It is at these pages I plan to share some ideas for homemade bird toys as well as sources for ready made parrot toys that I've found essential to my own parrot toy enrichment program. Many toys will fall into more than one category. A destructible toy may also serve as a foraging toy, but if it is primarily a chewing or shredding toy I will list it on the Destructible Toys page.
Photo credit: Sydney Kaderman
Parrot toys provide opportunities for our birds to participate in activities in our homes that would replicate some of the natural behaviors of a parrot in the wild; foraging, evading predators, bathing, socializing, nesting, exercise and flying. In our homes we don't want to encourage nesting behavior or replicate the need to evade predators. But we do want to encourage other natural behaviors. We can do this in the form of play with bird toys that offer parrots opportunities to engage in activities such as chewing, manipulating, foraging, and destroying toys. Parrot toys provide opportunities for our birds to have something to do during the day and afford our birds the possibility to make choices, solve problems and keep active.