Tonawanda News

March 25, 2013

CRITTER COMPANIONS: Keep those birds busy

The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — “Anything that will help emulate and stimulate natural foraging behaviors are good things,” said Jan Graham, owner of Busy Beaks, a companion parrot toy store in Texas. “These are intelligent creatures that we put into a cage. In the wild, they spend most of their day flying, foraging for food and sleeping.”

Founded in 2000, Busy Beaks, a small family business, was created to fill a special niche. 

“Parrot toys weren’t readily available and we wanted safe things for them to play with so we started making them. Eventually Busy Beaks became a reality, hence our trademarked slogan Busy Beaks are Happy Beaks,” she said.

Graham lived in Australia for two and a half years and parrots become a real passion. She has had companion parrots since the 1980s and currently has 30 parrots, primarily Australiasian birds, such as cockatoos and eclectus.

Cockatoos have that trademark crest that rises up when excited and eclectus are unique because they are sexually dimorphic. That means you can just look at them and know if that individual is a male or female, which can be tricky for many other parrot species. Male eclectus have bright green bodies and females are deep red and purple. 

Speaking of color, parrots love colored objects just like humans. Colorful toddler toys are one way to enrich your critter companion, which is Busy Beaks’ goal.

“Since baby toys are typically safe for babies, you can selectively use them for parrots — being careful of removable parts” Graham said. “Make certain your parrot doesn’t actually consume non-edible things like plastic.”

On Busy Beaks’ website, there is a full page of helpful hints on how to make your own parrot enrichment. When using fabrics, like tweeds, Jan says “you must be careful that threads aren’t hanging that can get caught around unsuspecting toes.”

“Anything that helps keep your parrots constructively challenged and busy is a very good thing. Toys don’t need to be expensive; in many cases the packaging is more fun than the gift itself.”

Boredom can be a huge problem with cage parrots and human caretakers need to work at keeping them occupied with something other than themselves. If your parrot tends to be an over preener, Jan recommends textures like fleece which they can nestle with and chew on.

The Busy Beaks website has a link to Dr. Susan Friedman, a psychology professor at Utah State University who focuses on and has led the way for applied behavior analysis. I was curious what the connection was and was excited to learn that Graham has taken Friedman’s class along with another course that was co-taught with Steve Martin.

Applied behavior analysis is a scientific method that teaches trainers, including teachers, the most positive and ethical ways learners can be engaged. Friedman’s website and coursework can help the novice all the way to the zoo expert. If you want to be a more positive communicator or better animal trainer I would strongly recommend checking out her website.

Martin is one of the best animal trainers in the world and is based out of Florida. I had the opportunity to visit his ranch two weeks ago and was blown away. The ranch, which has around 80 species of birds, is closed to the public, but offers seasonal workshops for companion parrot owners and zoo professionals. Graham was inspired by their workshop and highly recommends that you check it out. 

Busy Beaks offers additional material to get you and your pet on the right path including helpful hints, healthy recipes, a foot toy article for your parrots and recycled enrichment ideas.

Graham recommends nesting small boxes inside one another with a hidden treat like a whole almond or walnut in the center as an easy and cheap way to create a foraging device.

“Our favorite toys are simple toys like putting un-popped corn into a paper bag, placing in microwave and pop the corn and viola, homemade piñatas!”

To learn more about Graham and her Busy Beak company check out her website, where you will find lots of high quality bird toys.

Kenny Coogan has a B.S. in animal behavior. Please email your questions to , or search for "Critter Companions by Kenny Coogan" on Facebook.