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Cockatoo “Toos”day

Cockatoo “Toos”day Part One: Keeping a cockatoo busy.

Okay, that’s a stupid pun.  Today I am going to write about what kind of cheap, easy-to-prepare toys can be used to keep a cockatoo occupied.

Cockatoos are one of the more active parrot types and as such, they need a lot of toys and activities to keep themselves occupied with. I’ve been working at home a lot lately, and Mitri’s cage is close to my computer.  I’ve noticed that he spends a couple hours each day chewing on the various enrichmmitri_stick3ent items I give him.

A good cockatoo toy purchased from a pet store can cost anywhere from $30 to $50 (or more!). I do buy Mitri pet store toys,  but I also give him other things and he actually seems to like the “junk” I give him over the more expensive items.

His favourite chew toys seem to be the popsicle sticks and metal-less clothespins I get him at the craft store. He will hold these in his feet and chew them or he will use them as back scratchers.  I also give him plain sticks from outside.  Before giving a bird wood from trees, check to be sure that the tree isn’t a species that is toxic. There are plenty of lists of bird-safe woods on the internet, so it’s easy to find out what’s safe and what isn’t.  A lot of cockatoos enjoy chewing items they can hold, so I recommend giving cockatoos “foot-sized” sticks.  It’s always worth a try! Pine cones can be a lot of fun for cockatoos as well. If bacteria or insects are a worry, just bake the pine cones (boiling pine cones will make the kitchen smell like turpentine).

Mitri uses a Popsicle stick as a back-scratcher.

Mitri uses a Popsicle stick as a back-scratcher.


Plain wicker baskets can also be a lot of fun for a cockatoo! Mitri just loves these, and I pick them up for him at craft stores.  When giving a basket to a cockatoo, be sure it’s plain and has no extra paint or gloss on it, and be sure that it has no small nails in it. Don’t use the colourful easter baskets sold for children. The baskets are usually $5 or so each and Mitri obviously likes them and usually destroys them within a couple days. Some cockatoos can destroy them much more quickly than that!  I often give them to him when he’s outside of his cage, but sometimes I’ll put one in his cage. basket2

A cockatoo toy? Why not!

A cockatoo toy? Why not!

Some paper products are great for cockatoos.  I give Mitri a roll of receipt paper every few days to give him something different to destroy. He’ll unroll the paper and tear it up. I get packs of five of these at Staples for about $5.00.  I’ve even seen toys for parrots that can hold receipt paper. What I do is loosely tie the roll of paper to the inside of Mitri’s cage with a strip of leather.

Telephone books can be fun for cockatoos as well.  Mitri loves ripping up old phone books.  Phone books are safe because the inks in them are soy-based.

Note that I use the words “tear,” “destroy,” and “chew” a lot here. Cockatoos most enjoy toys that they can chew on and destroy. Wild cockatoos do a lot of chewing as well – some Australians who live where there are wild Greater Sulphur-crested Cockatoos have problems with the birds chewing on their houses! So, tt’s important for keepers of cockatoos to give their birds items to chew on.

Mitri and the phone book he's working on destroying.

Mitri and the phone book he's working on destroying.

Mitri also loves to chew on leather. One of the pet stores near my place sells strips of leather made specifically for parrots, so they were not treated with any harmful chemicals.  I often weave those through the bars of the cage, tie pieces to the bars of his cage, or string pieces of wood with holes drilled on them on one, knot the bottom and hang it in the cage.


Above is Mitri’s cage and on the left is a piece of leather I weaved through the bars. I also tied the bottom of a wicker basket to the side of the cage.  There are also a couple pieces of leather I strung some wood onto.   There are popsicle sticks in one of the bowls and the tray on the top right has pieces of wood in it. The white thing is a parrot toy with big pieces of wood on it. Mitri doesn’t seem to care if his toys are big or colourful – he just wants to chew up stuff, and he wants results from his chewing. I try to vary the items in his cage that he has available. Sometimes, I give him boxes, and often those boxes have treats inside.  Aside from loving toys they can destroy, cockatoos also like foraging toys (ones they can extract food from).  Food can be placed inside of paper bags as well. Varying the type of food in them can give the cockatoo a bit of variety in his life.

Aside from items they can destroy, some cockatoos love items they can make noise with.  I found this was the case when I tried to teach Mitri to ring a bell on cue. I held the bell up to him, with the intention of initially reinforcing him to touch it.  Well, he grabbed it, and went hog-wild ringing it. It’s in his cage right now, and each day, he usually has at least one session of wild bell-ringing. This is fine with me, as the bell’s a bit quieter than his screeching.  The video below shows him ringing his bell:

A lot of cockatoos love to swing so I often recommend offering a swing of some sort to cockatoos.  A lot of cockatoos will hang on to a swing and flap to make the swing move. Mitri remains a bit apprehensive of all the swings I’ve offered him, even after he’s been able to observe them. I guess swinging just isn’t his thing.

Mitri also likes to dig, and often chews up the boxes and paper on the bottom of his cage and kicks out the mess. He often makes a digging motion while he’s on the carpet as well.  Cockatoos who like to dig often appreciate having an outside enclosure where they can play in the grass and dig. A foraging tray of plain soil with seeds mixed it could also be fun for a cockatoo who enjoys digging. It’s been too cold for me to let Mitri outside yet, but it’s something I’ll try later. Maybe he’ll like digging in the grass.  Of course, a cockatoo should not be allowed on grass that’s recently been sprayed with pesticides, and he’ll need to be in an enclosure he can’t dig out of or he’ll need close supervision.

I also give Mitri stainless-steel screws with nuts on them. He can actually get the nuts off of the screws. I give him stainless steel ones because zinc can be toxic to birds. I discovered that he was actually removing the nuts and even a few screws from his cage while cleaning the floor one day. I found several nuts on the floor in front of Mitri’s cage, along with a couple screws. I checked, and they had come from Mitri’s cage! I put them back and screwed them on tighter. I caught him the next morning removing a nut, so he obviously has an incredibly strong beak. My husband later rearranged things so Mitri can’t get at the screws.

Yes, Mitri removed that from his cage. Believe it when people say cockatoos are escape artists

Yes, Mitri removed that from his cage. Believe it when people say cockatoos are escape artists

Got a suggestion for a cheap item that can double as a cockatoo toy? Post it in the comments below!

  1. Evelyn
    February 18, 2012 at 1:03 am

    I give wooden dolly pegs stuffed inside chinese bamboo finger traps. I also collect pine cones and give safe tree branches with lots of leaves still on them. I have two cockatoos, both rescues, and one of them is 57 years old. Before he came here he had never had a toy of any description. I also buy lengths of dressed untreated pine, 1200mm long x 42mm wide x 19mm thick. I mark it off into 30mm sections and drill holes in the middle of each section. Then I cut them up into the 30mm sections. I get 40 chunks which I thread two or three onto 1/4″ veg tanned leather with a knot between them and at each end. Great foot toys. ;-))

    • February 18, 2012 at 4:10 am

      Those are neat toy ideas. I should try wrapping Mitri’s foot toys in paper or those finger traps – it would take him a bit more time that way to destroy them! My conures love those those finger traps by themselves but Mitri needs something harder to destroy.

  1. April 15, 2009 at 4:14 am
  2. August 29, 2009 at 6:16 pm

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