Wing Hard, Play Hard
Thanks to a wider array of bird toys on the market today, retailers can supply a seemingly endless assortment of flashy and fun cage trinkets that cater to increased consumer demand.
Toys for beaked buddies are seen as more than simple playthings in the industry today, according to Melanie Allen, avian product specialist for Rolf C. Hagen Corp.
“We actually refer to them as ‘occupational therapy devices’ as opposed to toys, a term that holds a bit more merit with pet owners,” Allen said.
Whatever moniker you prefer, today’s avian play tools are more colorful, sophisticated and carefully engineered than the bird baubles of yesteryear.
The latest products sport more multicolored designs to promote visual stimulation, increased mechanical and manipulative amenities that provide puzzle-solving stimulation, and snuggle-promoting features that are especially appreciated by solo cage dwellers.
Carving Up the Categories
Manufacturers continue to provide related products in several different growing categories, each recommended for different species, including toys for foraging, chewing, preening, fitness, comfort and interactivity.
“Toys that serve foraging needs have been tried and true sellers for many years, but a trend that’s really coming on stronger lately is toys that provide beneficial exercise to promote good health for companion birds,” Allen said. “These include devices that create an opportunity for the bird to get some cardio exercise, often achieved by flapping wings in succession for a period of time, or even flying.”
Case in point: The Bungee Play Rope by Living World, a 12-inch-long, interactive, chew-safe bungee perch with crunch cotton-covered sisal ropes made for large and medium hookbills.
“A trend I’m seeing more lately is bird toy makers combining concepts and offering dual purposes in their products, such as combining a foraging toy with a toy that provides a place to hide, or combining a chew toy with a swing toy,” said Mary Wyld, president of Wyld’s Wingdom, the Norfolk, Va.-headquartered bird product distributor.
An appropriate representation of the dual-purpose concept is Fetch-It-Pets Jamboree natural bird toy, which offers a snug play area made from various natural textures and materials, plus a bamboo perch to swing from and crunch away at.
Wyld says more natural materials and fibers, like coconut, abaca rope, seagrass and palm leaves, are finding their way into contemporary bird toys. For instance, Super Bird Creation’s Firecracker Sr., ideal for Amazons, African grays, mini macaws and small cockatoos, consists of a seagrass mat loaded with coconut whirl and shredded paper, wood slats, birdie bagels and colorful beads. Treats can be tucked within the seagrass roll to create a fun foraging experience.
Allen says she recommends products like these that encourage the bird to find a reward.
“An activity that keeps parrots in particular very occupied,” said Allen, who cites Living World’s Nature’s Treasure Bamboo Foraging Tube, with tiny doors that can be opened to reveal holes hiding ropes inside the tube, as another example.
Toys that include components made from lightweight balsa wood are hot sellers in 2014 at BirdSmart, a San Diego pet bird retailer, says William Dunn, assistant manager, as are inexpensive yucca wood logs, tailored for smaller species like budgies, love birds and cockatiels.
“These toys consisting of natural materials are meant to imitate the bird’s native environment,” Dunn said, “which shoppers appreciate.”
Dunn notes that better-educated consumers are “requesting higher-priced toys made from materials like acrylic and plexiglass that offer puzzle-solving benefits.”
One such product is the Push and Pull Pet Feeder by Creative Foraging Systems, fashioned for conures, pious, caiques, Quakers and other large species. This transparent hanger toy/feeder requires parrots to pull and push slats to and fro to release food stored inside into the chamber beneath, where the edibles can be accessed.
Comfort toys that simulate physical contact with a mate in the wild, like the Snuggle Buddy by Bill’s Birdy Bobbles, featuring soft fleece strips that provide warmth, are also popular today among owners with one bird.
From Store Shelf to Cage
Store owners need to know the distinct differences between toys nowadays to make recommendations to customers, Allen said.
“And retailers should also teach their in-store birds to utilize the devices they sell. This strategy helps teach the consumer the benefits of the [product] and why it is a must-have item,” she said.
Wyld cautions against offering too few choices in the toy area.
“Often, stores have a lot of toys of the same style on the pegs and not enough variety,” Wyld said. “The key to intriguing customers is to offer more selection. Many retailers complain, ‘my bird toys don’t sell well,’ but they’re not offering enough choices, and they need to spread out their merchandise more for better visual appeal.”
Dunn agrees that visual variety is crucial.
“We have two full walls with white slatboard paneling on which all our bird toys are arranged, either on hooks or in baskets,” said Dunn, who recommends organizing and displaying products by toy category and species size. “We’re careful not to cluster too many toys together and to spread them out to catch the customer’s attention.”