How To Teach Your Cockatoo Independent Play

Cockatoos love playtime with their people. But it is also important for them to learn to play independently when we aren't around.

Sometimes cockatoos, like this umbrella cockatoo, will avoid playing with a toy because they simply don't know what to do with it. Via Thinkstock

Part III of the Unconventional Guide to Cockatoos. Part 1 here . Part 2 here .

Remember when we were young and how much fun playtime was with our friends’s And remember how absolutely B-O-R-E-D we were (or thought we were!) when we had to play by ourselves?

Cockatoos are very social creatures, and they also believe in “the more, the merrier” at playtime. But we can’t always be there to play with them as much as they want us to.

Here are a few ways to help your cockatoo enjoy learning to independently:

1. Teach Your Cockatoo HOW To Play

Has this ever happened to you? You find what you think is the ULTIMATE end-all-beat-all bird-safe toy for your cockatoo: Chock full of cool knots, chunky safe wood, colorful woven pieces of palm leaves and crinkly paper poking out everywhere. In your heart, you just KNOW this epitome of “Wahoo!” parrot fun will happily keep your beloved fid’s (feathered kid’s) attention for hours and hours.

Many cockatoos love solving puzzles, especially ones that dispense their favorite treats or food.

If only that were true 100 percent of the time.

Thinking about how happy your parrot will be and how much fun they are going to have, you excitedly hang up that incredible playtime masterpiece, stand back and wait for the fireworks to unfold.

What happens? Absolutely nothing.

Your cockatoo looks at you like you just hung up a dirty sock in their house.

Trust me, I speak from 100-percent experience.

Surprisingly, there are a lot of cockatoos that have a cage full of bird-safe toys, but have no idea what to do with them. Why? Because they have never been shown HOW to enjoy playing with their bird toys.

So how do you get a parrot to play with stuff? You show them!

Just like children, if your ‘too sees YOU having fun with something, they are going to want to know what the hoopla is all about!

Because of a cockatoo’s natural curiosity, teaching them to play with toys is often as simple as them watching YOU play with whatever it is you want them to take interest in. This works especially because cockatoos operate under the “If it’s yours, it’s gonna-be mine” mentality.

Sometimes enlisting a friend to help in the learning-to-play-process creates an even greater desire because if TWO people are playing with something, then SURELY is must be fun and worth having.

After a while, you can include your parrot in the play session, showing them how something is supposed to be played with. Once your parrot understands, he or she is more than likely to start playing by themselves. Often, their newly discovered confidence and curiosity will spill over onto other bird toys that have been previously ignored because he or she simply did not know what to do with them.

Cockatoo chewing on wood.
Cockatoos, like this wild sulphur-crested cockatoo, have an instinct to turn everything into teeny little toothpicks!

2. Teach Your Cockatoo Not To Be Afraid Of Bird Toys

Some parrots may be too wary to even go near a new toy. That’s perfectly OK — you can use a similar “toned-down” approach to introducing something new to them as well.

In such a case, it is best not place a new toy inside their house at first. Instead, place it across the room where they can see it but not feel threatened by it. This allows a more tentative bird to become curious and comfortable with a toy from a distance while also watching you play with it.

After a day or so, the toy can be moved a little bit closer to their environment. If your parrot is fearful, toning down your enthusiasm and playing with the toy gently can make a big difference. Hold the toy against your face, pet it, talk to it and allow your parrot to see that this new toy is something not to be afraid of.

3. Have The Right Kind Of Toys For Your ‘too

So what are the best kinds of bird toys to buy? The answer is quite simple: Ones that they will play with! Trouble is, not every parrot likes to play with the same types of toys, so it does require some patience and experimentation until you find the right toys that appeal to your parrot’s individual nature and curiosity.

Acrylic toys make perfect sense to us humans. They look cool, are “parrot-proof,” and certainly economical. But for most cockatoos, they are just not all that much fun to play with. Why? Because they are indestructible. “B-O-R-I-N-G!”lt;/span>

Cockatoos have a basic need to turn things into teeny pieces of confetti and toothpicks. Finding bird toys that satisfy that instinct burns a lot more mental calories than a really pretty, but completely indestructible acrylic toy.

Bird-safe wooden toys are one of the best solutions for satisfying that instinct. I’m not sure what makes them happier: Seeing their wooden toy get smaller, or seeing their pile of wood chips get bigger. But the important thing to understand is that wooden toys are NOT SUPPOSED to last forever. They are meant to be destroyed — and to a cockatoo, THAT is what “play” is all about.

So, while your ‘too is happily practicing their wood-carving skills with their wooden toys, keep in mind that is a very good thing. But it also means that a steady stream of destructible wooden toys is going to be required — and that CAN be expensive. The good news is that there are plenty of websites that show all sorts of neat ways to make cheap, safe and fun destructible toys for a fraction of retail prices .

4. Variety, Variety, Variety!

Imagine how you might feel if you had only one toy to play with … forever. It might be fun for a little while, but then the thrill or challenge would eventually be gone. Our extremely intelligent cockatoos also share the same feelings, so it’s important to enrich their lives with a variety of toys that challenge them, keep their beaks busy, and their brains stimulated .

Many cockatoos love solving puzzles, especially ones that dispense their favorite treats or food. When teaching a parrot to play with these types of toys, start with ones that are on a “beginner” level to help build their confidence before moving onto larger, more complex ones. And just like with other toys, you may also have to help your parrot learn to solve puzzles by allowing them see you operate it.

Larger parrots, such as cockatoos and macaws, are often big fans of “mechanical” toys such as large nuts and bolts that they can manipulate and take apart. Nuts and bolts made of bird-safe heavy plastic or medical-grade stainless steel are great choices for these types of toys, provided that they are large enough that the parts cannot be swallowed.

Shreddable and “preenable” bird-safe toys, as well as ones that encourage instinctual foraging behaviors, are particular favorites with a lot of parrots. Appealing to your cockatoo’s foraging nature is a great way to get them searching around for new things in hopes of finding something good to eat.

When I offer English walnuts to my Moluccan cockatoo, Thor, she immediately throws them on the floor and looks at me like I just tried to poison her. But if I roll up that same walnut in an unbleached coffee filter (unused of course!) and twist the ends to where it looks like a piece of candy in a wrapper, I instantly have Thor’s attention. She will spend a surprisingly long period of time studying and strategizing on how best to unwrap her little tasty token.

Independent play is all about teaching your cockatoo to have fun on their own. It’s also about creativity and experimentation and learning what appeals to our parrots.

Our parrot’s interests change, just like ours do. But just because your cockatoo doesn’t play with a toy doesn’t mean that they aren’t interested in it. Maybe they don’t know HOW to be interested — and it’s up to us to help them figure out!

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Birds · Health and Care