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Feather-Focused Fitness and Fun

Erik J. Martin//November 1, 2014//

Feather-Focused Fitness and Fun

Erik J. Martin //November 1, 2014//

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Pet birds may look relatively happy and content, but the truth is that it’s easy for room-restricted and caged creatures that normally live life on the wing to feel a bit cooped up.

In a confined setting, it’s sometimes hard for our feathered friends to stay active and in shape—let alone feel motivated to move around as they should. Thankfully, there’s an abundance of fitness-geared toys and accessories available today for birds, and their owners, to get excited about.
Mary Wyld, owner of Wyld’s Wingdom, said avian exercise equipment has advanced by leaps and bounds over the years.

“Manufacturers used to offer only really basic, simple products, like a bland plastic ladder or a plain swing consisting only of a wire, chain and perch,” said Wyld. “But today, the products are much more creative and interesting to birds. The products feature more colors, a wider array of materials and textures, and more sophisticated, innovative designs.”

Now, for example, retailers can get customers’ attention with ropes, nets and ladders offered in many different shapes and sizes.

“And many of these products also function as fun toys meant to mentally stimulate birds, too,” Wyld said.

Toy Time

Case in point, JW Pet’s newest line of Activitoys, including the Punching Bag and Birdie Basketball. The former is a swinging, ringing exercise bag with a slatted design that allows beaks to securely grip, push, shake and pull the bag; this toy also includes a shiny mirror and bright red tug to pull which also makes the bag move and the bells ring. The latter features a mirrored backboard with a safety chain attached to a small red ball that can be dunked into the basket. Both products are appropriate for cockatiels, parakeets and small- to medium-sized birds.

“More people who work with birds are beginning to understand and advocate for natural enrichment activities, including climbing and foraging,” said Karen Holmes, veterinarian at Windhover Veterinary Center, Walpole, Mass. “Both activities give the bird exercise and stimulate the bird’s mind. The best products allow the bird to work and play at the same time, mirroring what they might do in the wild.”

Birds love climbing and walking across varied surfaces, which makes an item like Prevue Pet Products’ Wonder Walk ideal for medium- to small-sized species. This product, comprised of rubberwood sticks (hollow inside to let you place small treats within), two stainless steel wires and curved hooks on each end, can be custom-bent to any shape and fastened anywhere inside or outside of the cage to create a vertical, horizontal or slanted bridge suitable for climbing, resting or perching.

Creating a Playground

Manufacturers have also upped the ante on bird swings. Consider the Rock and Roll Bird Swing by Fun Max, which provides two perches on opposite sides of a hanging arch made of colorful pony beads, allowing a pair of pets to sway and compete for a small liberty bell dangling in the middle.

The Bonnet Swing by Super Bird Creations turns the whole concept of bird baskets upside down, literally. This gizmo is essentially an inverted basket festooned with brightly-colored beads, porcupine balls and curly-cut straws that invite attention with their variety of textures and hues.

Bird playpens, which serve as an avian amusement park of sorts for inside or outside the cage, also remain popular among consumers. Penn Plax makes a Bird Activity Center for small parrots and medium-sized species that boasts a ladder, swing, top wood perch, rope perch, bell, and food bowl (assembly required).

Kaytee, meanwhile, offers a Playtime Activity Center for cockatiels and parakeets that includes a bowl-shaped base, center post, and six adjustable perches that hold a variety of toys, food and water cups and that have multiple attachment points designed for use with Kaytee accessory toys.

Exercise Enticements

Wyld said pet owners, as well as the retailers they purchase from, need to encourage birds to exercise more by not only equipping the right products into the animal’s environment but also interacting with birds and providing training and playtime activities.

“By placing foods and treats in different, harder-to-reach areas of the cage, it incentivizes them to move around more,” said Wyld. “You can also do things like place a long bird ladder between the floor and the cage and put the bird on the first bottom rung to train her to use the ladder.”

Healthy Bird, Healthy Sales

To be able to responsibly recommend the right exercise products to customers, Dr. Holmes said it’s wise to educate your employees so they know which birds to match to particular products.

“Toys need to be tailored to the species in question,” said Dr. Holmes. “For instance, conures are great acrobats and really enjoy extensive ropes and swings that can also be used for foraging activities. And many macaws like climbing toys and ladders. So it’s important to know a little about the natural environment a species comes from before selecting and suggesting these products.”

It’s also a good idea to incorporate these fitness-focused items into your own live pet displays and bundle them in with pet bird starter kits and setups.

“As far as where to display these products, many pet stores mix them in with bird toys or put them in a separate section adjacent to the toys, while others group them according to bird size,” Wyld said. “To avoid confusion and make it more convenient for the consumer, it might be better to keep them within the toy section of the store.”