Types of Parrot Play
In the best-selling book, “Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul,” (2009) author Stuart Brown, M.D. validates the importance of play in the lives of both people and animals — “Play lets animals learn about their environment and the rules of engagement with friend and foe.” Brown also makes the argument that play is so essential to development and survival that “the impulse to play has become a biological drive.” The book defines eight distinct play types (listed below in bold), which we can see in our feathered companions. Knowing your bird’s play type can be useful in helping you better cater to your bird’s style of play, be it with the right toy types or interaction. Here’s a playful look at the eight play personalities as they might pertain to our feathered friends:
1. The Joker — makes people laugh, plays practical jokes
Of course, our pet birds can certainly make us laugh out loud from time to time, whether they mean to or not. Some parrots species seem to especially fit the joker role more so than others. Take, for example, African greys, cockatoos and macaws. African greys might be the “straight-faced” joker, as in mimicking the doorbell and perching stoically as you go to answer it. And I once met a cockatoo that liked to surprise people who passed through a doorway by hanging upside down on the top of the door frame and swinging overhead, giggling with delight. I’ve also heard of macaws that like to play a “Boo!” game with people, where they fake lunge to get a reaction. Some people are certain that their cockatiel (or budgie) gets a kick a out of flittering to the top of the curtain rod just as they are about to be put back in the cage in a “Gotcha!” type moment.
Jokers do what they do for the reaction. So if it’s a behavior you don’t mind reinforcing — like getting up to answer the door whenever your bird “rings” the doorbell, then by all means, humor your little feathered friend. If it’s something you’d rather not live with on a frequent bases, channel your best stone-cold face and leave it as that.
2. The Kinesthete — loves to move, dance, swim, play sports. (Well, if we sub-out “swim” for “bathe,” we keep this play type a little more focused on birds.)
A lot birds take a liking to dancing and rhythmic movements — cockatoos, for sure; conures, too. Lories and caiques are prone to highly energetic play sessions and seem to especially love chasing and tossing foot toys around. Budgies seem to make sport of their drop/push toys, like the standard weeble-wobble penguin toy. Throw in a love for water play, and there are a lot more birds to add to this play type, from parrotlets all the way up to the big macaws.
If you have a “Kinesthete” bird, toys to try include: exercise toys like swings, boings, climbing walls and ladders; and noise toys like bird-safe bells and rattles. If your bird loves to dance, be his/her personal DJ or crooner to help him/her get a groove on. And some birds love a dancing partner … well more of a swayer or head banger — opt for movements your bird can follow! For water-loving birds, try mixing up their water play for a little variety … one day could be a gentle spray bath; another could be shower time with you, or place a shallow bowl of water on a table top or cage floor and see if your bird cares to take a dip.
3. The Explorer — goes to new places, meets new people, seeks out new experiences (physically or mentally).
A lot of parrots love to go exploring, (albeit, sometimes without the knowledge or consent of their people). Cockatoos, Amazons and cockatiels are just some of the species that seem to love a good walk-about in their home environment. Be beware that some birds might be on a seek-and-destroy mission; which doesn’t bode well for home furnishings. If you have an explorer play type in your home, a solid system of supervision is in order whenever your bird is out of the cage. In the simplest of ways, you can help feed your bird’s inner explorer by sitting with him/her on the floor and allowing him/her to investigate the room (and intervene if your bird goes “out-of-bounds” or gets into something that is off limits). You can make exploring more exciting and emotionally rewarding by creating foraging opportunities. One way is to allow your bird to “find” things as he/she explores. For example, wrap a Nutri-Berry in a piece of paper and place a few about the floor of a room for your bird to unwrap and devour. Or take the toy that has sat untouched in the cage and put it on the floor — for some birds, a toy’s appeal lies in the presentation. Or sprinkle some pieces of millet around the cage bottom (place newspaper down if you have a cage grate) for your cockatiel or budgie to find. Explorer types also might take to puzzle toys (toys that challenge their problem-solving skills), or items that take them places, such as climbing ropes and ladders.
4. The Competitor — loves all forms of competition, has fun keeping score. Put a couple caiques together and, no doubt, they’ll be on the ground wrestling each other for foot toys. Amazons, macaws and cockatoos, too, sometimes like to play “keep away” with their people or flockmates. If you have a competitor in the flock, foot toys are sure to please, as are destroy toys … some birds seem to have an internal stopwatch to see how fast they can destroy a toy.
5. The Director — enjoys planning and executing events and experiences, like throwing parties, organizing outings, and leading. Sounds like a bossy birdie, right? Many birds take on a directorial play persona at times, such as taking the initiative to climb down from the cage or play gym to explore or extending a play session by deciding if and when it is time to return to the cage. Toys to try: mirror toys — some birds like to chirp orders at their mirror reflections … again, a budgie taking on a penguin weeble-wobble toy simply exudes bossiness.
6. The Collector — loves the thrill of collecting, whether objects or experiences.
If we’re talking object collecting, a quaker parakeet perhaps? Quaker parakeets are hard-wired to construct elaborate nests, complete with individual apartments. In their quest for the best nest, they also have a tendency to collect “found” items around the home, from pen caps to bottle caps — whatever can be flown or hopped back into the cage. If you have a collector parrot, toys to try would be foot toys and/or small toys he/she can carry back to the cage or play gym. You can even place a healthy treat, such as a cashew, in a location outside the bowl for your collector to “find” and take back to his/her favorite perch spot to enjoy. As for collecting experiences, all birds deserve positive experiences sprinkled throughout their day. That can be one-on-one interaction with you, a healthy treat or swapping out an old toy with a new one.
7. The Artist/Creator — finds joy in making things, fixing things, decorating, working with his or her hands. (Another sub is warranted here: instead of “hands” we’re talking “beaks!”) Does your bird shred the cage liner to bits, or “reconfigure” a wooden toy into a pile of splinters? Yep, you’ve got an avian artist on your hands. In addition to reconfiguring toys, and perhaps perches as well, your little feathered creator-type might also like transforming food from a solid into a semi-liquid by dunking it in the water bowl. If wetting food whets your bird’s appetite, let him have at it, but that also means diligent water bowl changes on your end to prevent bacteria from proliferating in the water bowl.
Toys to try: a daily offering of destroy toys, be it hardwood toys (macaws, cockatoos, Amazons, etc.) for big beaks or softwood toys for smaller beaks (conures, cockatiels, budgies, etc.), and shreddable toys, too. You’ve got to indulge your artist/creator bird to give your bird a positive outlet to meet his/her chewing instincts and to protect your furnishings.
8. The Storyteller — loves to use imagination to create and absorb stories, in novels, movies, plays, performances. Hmm… this category seems to best fit the play style of a parrot that craves interaction via vocalization. I imagine the storyteller parrot as big on talking and/or mimicking, taking the words he/she has learned and putting his/her own spin on them to create sentences and new meanings — if this is your bird, hopefully, he/she has a captivated audience with you!
Your bird might fit multiple play personality categories, which is all the better as it gives you more ways to cater to your bird’s playful side.