July 2002 Magazine
Is plastic a safe product for my bird? Are there any unnatural chemicals used? I have read about phthalates, is that still used in plastic? Will my bird swallow plastic? Will plastic pass safely through if accidentally swallowed? Will my bird like playing with plastic? Why use plastic toys for my bird? What are some advantages and disadvantages of plastic toys compared to wooden toys?
Powder coated paint is plastic. Bird cages that are powder coated are painted with plastic paint. Birds living in powder coated cages without the presence of metallic or other harmful additives are healthy and have no known adverse effects from the plastic paint.
If zinc or other metallic additives are added to the plastic paint to help it adhere to the metal better, the zinc can cause a health problem. But don't throw the baby out with the bath water, as most plastic does not have any metallic additives. The photo shows a powder coated cage with a playtop. My Greater Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo is very secure, healthy and happy with her plastic painted surfaces and toys.
As a general rule, birds don't swallow non-food items like wood or plastic except by accident. Plastic requires 400 degrees of heat to break down. Due to this high-heat requirement, plastic will not melt or be compromised in your birds system. Anything small enough to swallow should pass right through their system and come out as "confetti bird poop."
Plastic was first widely used on toys in my area of Texas in the early 1990s. Alphabet letters, airplanes, dominoes, dice, animal figures, and boats were the first plastic items many of us used on bird toys. These plastic toys continue to be great favorites of many parrots.
In 1998, the plastics industry began changing its softener from phthalates to natural citrus softeners. Citrate Esters is the name usually associated with the softening of plastic this natural way. Today's plastic is a clean product that can be completely disinfected after purchase. I clean bought toys with 50% hydrogen peroxide and 50% water, rinse well and dry outside in the sunlight to kill any germs the cleaner missed.
My observation is that birds who are afraid of toys are attracted to acrylic toys. Acrylic is a plastic. If the bird can see through a toy the timid bird feels better about the toy. Acrylics like pacifiers, see-through beads and buttons, and any sturdy acrylic part delight some birds that have never played with toys before. The Umbrella Cockatoo in the photo sleeps snuggled to her translucent toys. (See Picture of snuggled Cockatoo)
Many birds adore plastic based toys and attack them with enthusiasm. People often say that plastic toys are the only ones their birds will play with. Wooden toys are used for beak conditioning, and the plastic ones are courted, danced for, and completely enjoyed by parrots. (See Picture of my Umbrella dancing with her plastic toy.)
I am privileged to share my heart with a male Moluccan named Cowboy Dallas. His 2 wooden toys have been hanging in his cage since Christmas morning, over 6 months. He plays with plastic toys, using his wooden toys for leveling off his beak growth. He is a happy, strong, handsome boy and his plastic toys are a big part of his joyful and exuberant personality. (See picture of Dallas)
Plastic's affordability to manufacture, friendliness to the environment, and cost-effective shipping costs due to lighter-than-wood weight makes it a product our parrot's can enjoy for hours and hours when they can't be out of the cage playing. Wood can not be as completely disinfected as plastic due to its porous nature.
Some food dishes are plastic and no ill effects have been reported. To relieve cage boredom, provide more toys at affordable pricing, and just for the fun of it, see if your parrot would enjoy the plastic lid from a can or a soda straw or coffee stir. To see if your bird likes plastic toys, you can try toys with wood and plastic parts like the toy pictured with Skeeter the Eclectus. (See Picture of Skeeter)
Match the bird's size and strength to plastic toys. A powerful Moluccan can play safely with tough plastics and pliable plastics. A smaller parrot can play with a wider variety of plastics safely. Plastics have proven to be a safe part of today's avian products. For more than 10 years we have housed our parrots in plastic coated cages and offered them toys of plastic. Today's citrus-softened plastics have given parrot keepers new and exciting plastic products to enrich our parrots lives.
Winged Wisdom Note: Linda gratefully acknowledges firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com for their refinement by discussion of the ideas presented here. See her toys specially designed for Cockatoos and her toys for other parrots at http://www.discountbirdtoys.com. Linda has published eight articles in consumer and collegiate journals and enjoys the study of parrots and wild birds.
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