Like humans, budgies love their toys. A selection of swings, bells, balls and homemade playthings will fill your pet’s life with fun, mental stimulation, and endless excuses for exercise. A budgie deprived of toys will be a sad bird indeed, suffering both physically and mentally.
Budgies like to climb, jump, swing and flap, and to probe their environment with beak and feet. Anything non-toxic that they can chew on will entertain them for hours. This could be a seed bell or novelty cage attachment from a pet shop, or a simple ping-pong ball or homemade toy. Keep two or three toys in the cage at any given time (in addition to the permanent fixtures such as a swing and a bell). Swap them every couple of days. Don’t be tempted to throw all the toys in there at once and clutter up the cage bottom. Don’t impede the budgie’s flying space, either. This is especially important if you have a small cage, where the bird’s flightpath options are already limited.
Mirror toys are often first on a bird owner’s list of must-haves. There are, however, differing opinions on the benefits of budgie mirrors if you are keeping a single bird. While they will give him obvious pleasure, stimulation and social interaction (i.e. your budgie will think his reflection is another bird), it might be a worst-of-both-worlds scenario. If you’re keeping a single bird in order to tame him and provide all the social interaction he needs, the mirror-friend will slow down the taming/talking progress. When it comes to a choice between your company and the handsome looking bird in the mirror, you might find yourself rejected.
Are Budgie Mirrors Bad?
Until the 1990s, mirrors were one of the ‘essential’ items for any budgie cage. Nowadays, you will often read how mirrors are psychologically damaging for birds. In some countries – Germany, for example, where the budgie is a hugely popular cage bird – mirrors are actively discouraged. The issue pivots on a leap of faith – the conviction that a lone bird will attempt to socialise with the unresponsive ‘friend’ in the mirror until the lack of feedback drives him mad.
In truth, this exaggerates the budgie’s intelligence. Amazing creatures though they are, budgies are not able to work out that the reflection is anything other than a second budgie. So, mirrors are not bad; but if you do intend putting them in the cage to provide artificial company for a singleton budgie, consider getting a second bird instead. It will make taming/learning to talk trickier; but so will the mirror. Once there is more than one budgie in the cage, a mirror is no longer an issue, and you can install as many as you wish.
Best Toys | Safe Toys
A good toy is a matter of taste and personality. Your pet might turn up his beak at something you thought would be an instant hit, and may get hours of pleasure from a plain ball or plastic bottle top. Don’t be offended if he rejects your offerings.
You need to make sure that any toy introduced into the cage is safe for budgies. Never try things out on a trial or error basis. Avoid sharp edges, or objects with gaps or loose threads where a foot, toe, beak or head might get caught. A trapped, panicking budgie can easily die of stress. Loose strings hanging from the top of the cage can be hazardous too.
A tame budgie will quickly engage with any new object in his cage, after a few moments of standoffishness and circumspection. Less tame, single birds will take longer to adjust to the idea of a new object in their cage, and might even flap around in panic when it’s first introduced. However, it is important to vary the budgie’s environment with new toys, so don’t be put off, and don’t leave it several weeks before swapping things around. Your bird will soon grow accustomed to the routine of having his playthings changed.
The size of the toys will depend on the size of your cage. But also remember that budgie toys can be played with outside the cage in the room where the bird flies free. You should provide any larger aviary setup with plenty of toys, too. You are less limited by scale here, and can introduce obstacle courses, multi-level climbing frames, hanging feeders and more.
Budgies have excellent colour vision, and may find coloured toys more interesting. This detail shouldn’t be overplayed however as a plain dowelling ladder or climbing frame will still provide hours of fun. If opting for coloured wood, make sure any wood dye involved is okay for budgies. Harmless, natural food colours and vegetable dyes are used to colour wooden budgie toys, but it is always worth checking with the pet shop. If there is any doubt in your mind, don’t buy. Always avoid anything with a varnish or painted surface.
Non-toxic paints, such as the ones used in baby toys, should be safe; but it’s easier to go for a simple ‘no paint’ rule to eliminate all doubt.
Avoid buying any flavoured toy or wood – it’s an odd concept, but such things do exist. You don’t want to encourage the budgie to eat lots of wood: chewing is a game, not an extra meal. There are often sugars in the flavouring, which are bad for your bird’s health and might also breed bacteria.
Modern acrylic plastic toys and cage attachments are perfectly good substitutes for wooden toys, and non-toxic. The other three tick-boxes of the ‘big, sharp, trap or toxic’ checklist still apply, though.
4 Types of Cage Toys
There are four categories of budgie cage toy (and many fulfil more than one of these functions): swinging, exploring, chewing and climbing.
A budgie will use anything suspended from the top of his cage or aviary as a swing. A rope, a suspended toy, or a simple, shop-bought perch/swing that hooks over the top bars will give your bird lots of action, and some gentle, swinging downtime too.
Adding extra bits to a swing always goes down well – a bell or hoop attached underneath, for example. Try to vary the textures of the perching areas, with a mix of smooth wood, twisted sticks and plastic. You can also buy hard rubber swinging frames, adding further tactile variety to the cage.
Pet shop catalogues feature an imaginative range of toys with all manner of bells, ladders and dangly bits (such as skittles, plastic fruits or small balls). ‘Exploring’ toys are multi-sensory, providing stimulation through noise, movement and texture. They have surfaces to rub or scratch a head against (budgies love to do this), perch-while-you-play options, and opportunities to hit things with beaks. Combine all these in one exploring toy, and you’ve got a winner!
When it comes to nibbling and chewing, think of your budgie as a feathered rodent. He needs to chew and you’ll have this partly covered already with the cuttlefish bone and mineral block that are budgie cage bare essentials. Budgerigars like to chew as they play, so provide them with something suitable such as a piece of balsa wood; but make sure the wood has not been treated with any toxic chemical.
A hen budgie feels a particularly strong urge to chew when she’s ready to breed. Providing her with extra chewables will make sure she doesn’t head straight for your books or the loose edges of your wallpaper when she’s outside the cage.
From homemade climbing sticks to complex budgie gyms, there are lots to choose from or construct. If you buy a plastic toy it will be safe for the bird but make sure that any painted or stained wood is non-toxic for budgies. Buying from a reputable supplier is always recommended and again, make sure the toy is suitable for a bird as small as a budgie. A cockatiel or larger parrot’s idea of fun could be a budgie’s death trap.
A climbing rope is always a favourite with budgies, whether fitted vertically or horizontally (ideally both). The rope needs to be tightly wound, as any loose threads could catch a toenail or beak. Hung from the top of the cage, they act as a swing too.
These cover all four of the toy-type categories, as your budgie will climb and swing on them, strike them with his beak, and try to chew the clapper inside. Bells can be hang-alone items, or a feature of another cage accessory such as a swing, perch or hanging toy. Always opt for an open-bottomed bell, and avoid the Christmas ‘jingle bell’ type with its potentially toe-snagging slit.
DIY Budgie Toys
It’s satisfyingly easy to make toys for your budgie that will bring him hours of entertainment and stimulation. With DIY toys you always need to apply the safety check list mentioned above (“Is it too big, too sharp, a potential trap, or toxic?”); but once you’ve ticked them all off you can make anything from a simple chew to an assault course. Try your hand making some of the toys in the list below. You can probably find versions of all of these in an online pet shop, but as they’re so easy to make you may as well save a few pounds and have some fun into the bargain.
If you’re using wood in your toys, wash it first in warm soapy water, rinse it, and dry it thoroughly. Wet wood is a breeding ground for bacteria, and that’s something you don’t want to be introducing into your birdcage.
- Dowel ladder – get a thick piece of wood and drill holes at different heights and angles, matching the diameter of wooden dowelling rods. Poke the dowelling through the larger piece of wood, and secure your creation to the side of the cage with a plastic zip tie or eye-hook, resting the other end on the cage bottom. If your instinct is for something neater, you can make a standard ladder using dowelling too.
- Twig balls – twist some twigs and/or dried grass together. Your budgie will spend hours undoing all your good work… but that’s the whole idea. Hide some millet spray inside for a piñata effect.
- Moving ladder – drill holes through the centre of dowelling sticks and small wooden blocks and thread them in alternate layers using string or leather with a large knot in the end. Suspend your rotating ladder creation from the top of the cage.
- Bell chain – recycle suitable bells from old bird toys, or buy some small non-rusting metal bells. Rig them up on a hanging chain or trapeze. Don’t use any bell or chain with the potential for trapping your bird’s beak or foot.
- Sweetcorn swing – string some large wooden beads on a string, interspersed with sweetcorn cores.
- Hanging ring perch – thread a length of thick, knotted string through a hole in a wide wooden or plastic ring. Thread another, diametrically opposite. You need two more, so that each hole is 90 degrees from its neighbour. Fasten the four ends to a stick of non-toxic wood, and tie a very short length of budgie-friendly chain to the centre of the stick. Hang the perch from the top of the cage.
- Paper curls – cut several 1cm wide, 10cm long strips of paper. Use a flour and water ‘glue’ or egg white to fix them to a lollipop stick. When the glue is completely dry, create the curls by running them between your finger and thumb, making each curl a different length.
- Balsa wood hanging towers – drill holes in disks or chunks of balsa and pass a rust-proof skewer or long bolt through them to form a climbing/swinging tower. If using a skewer, ensure the sharp end is screwed into some hard wood. Hang it from the top of the cage.
What Toys are Unsafe for Budgies?
A reputable supplier will not knowingly be selling anything dangerous to your bird, but it pays to know what the potential hazards are – especially if you’re making your own toys. These are the DIY Don’ts:
- Avoid anything woven, or any fabric or plastic that can be ripped. Budgie body parts can get caught in these materials. This includes macramé items.
- Don’t use keyring fasteners. Budgies are ingenious and will learn how to open these, exposing sharp areas and providing a potential throttling hazard.
- Be careful with skewers. They’re a handy way of linking toys and food items together, but they must be rust-proof, and you must make sure the sharp end is embedded in something the budgies will not be able to chew through or dislodge.
- Rope toys need to be budgie-friendly. The rope should be tightly wound and bound, and needs to be made from a natural fibre such as hemp, cotton, raffia or sisal (agave). Anything manmade, such as nylon, is too tough for a budgie’s beak to cut through, and will come loose in dangerous loops and nooses. Budgies will nibble and fray natural fibres, and if they come away in short tufts, that’s fine. But, again, if they come away in long strands you have a potential noose or toe-trap. Many bird-keepers assert that rope is fine, as long as you check its state every day and remove any long, loose fibres. Others advise avoiding rope altogether. It’s always best to err on the side of caution where a pet’s safety is at stake, and although rope is great for sturdier members of the parrot family, it may be a hazard for budgies.
- Children’s toys. Many of these will be fine, but do a safety check before introducing anything to the cage. Make sure there’s nothing rusty, sharp, painted, varnished, containing thread that can be unpicked, likely to alarm the bird (i.e. any toy that makes a noise, contains a liquid or can be punctured), or liable to trap any part of the avian anatomy.
- Chains with open links. Chain links should always be welded. Open links can bend and expose sharp ends.
- Chains with large links. You need to avoid anything that could trap a budgie’s head, foot or beak. The same rule applies whether the chain is made from plastic, metal, wood or grass.
- Anything with nylon stitching. Budgies will unpick stitching with the keen eye of the best seamstress. The bird could then become entangled in the loose threads.
- Leather. Make sure all leather ties and ropes have undergone a vegetable-based tanning process. Many leathers are tanned using chemicals lethal to budgies. Avoid any coloured or stained leathers too. String, chain, leather strips or similar hangings. If a budgie is clambering on single lengths of unweighted string or leather, it can become entangled. Many budgie toys featuring short hanging chains are sold in pet shops, and you would be very unlucky indeed to encounter a problem with these; but it's always best to exercise caution.
- Metal parts. Lead and rusted iron are toxic for budgies. Metal bird toys are usually galvanised with zinc to prevent rusting, and this is fine as long as the item has been electro-galvanised. If this is the case, it will have a shiny surface. Any dull galvanised metal has been hot-dipped in zinc, and this coating can flake off and poison your birds. Stainless steel is a trouble-free, but more expensive, alternative. The only lead you are likely to encounter is in bells and bell-clappers. If the bell or clapper bends easily, it’s probably made from lead.
- Toys with moving parts. You always need to make sure these can’t trap your budgie. Play around with the toy first to make sure none of parts can become locked or wedged in any way.
- Spring fasteners. Never use any fastener that can potentially trap the bird’s toe, beak or tongue. This danger list includes spring-loaded fasteners, snap hooks (the kind that you use to attach a dog’s lead) and keyring-type fasteners.
- Hoops. Never use a hoop that could trap a budgie’s head, foot, toe, beak or tongue. Bigger is definitely better.
It's best to keep budgies away from children's toys