When I first began a training program with my birds, I was going into their cages 3-4 times a day for training sessions. I was trying to make sure I kept it positive, but was worried that they would eventually tire of me coming in, always asking them to “perform”. About this same time, I watched a Bird Tricks training video about the importance of play as a way to ensure your bird does not come to associate you solely with work. But how do you play with a toucan who hasn’t been trained any games yet, nor is that comfortable with you touching them? After considering what makes our toucans the most excited, I realized it was their natural curiosity that I should focus on.
The Bag of Wonder is an enrichment game I created as a way to play and bond with my birds. Nothing is required of them. They can choose to interact with me or not. It’s all for fun and the treats are free. Because our birds live outdoors, I have to make an extra effort to spend quality time with them, since we are not sharing space inside all day. This game is a great way to take a break from the training sessions and just enjoy each other’s company. It’s simple – I fill a bag with random items that I think the birds might find interesting and go sit in their cages. I take out items one at a time and allow them to touch, investigate, and hop around with them until they’re ready to see what else I have.
In the beginning, they weren’t really sure what to think about me coming in to their cage to just hang out. I mean, really – doesn’t this woman have her own cage? But as soon as I began pulling out irresistibly interesting items, I had their attention. I gave them treats whenever they chose to come down close to me or when an item was startling to them, as a way to reassure them that this is all in “good fun”. After a couple of months now, the Bag of Wonder has become one of their favorite times of the day. They hop around excitedly until it’s their turn and when I come in to play, they race down to where I’m sitting, eagerly peering into the bag to see what I brought today.
I have used all sorts of items in the Bag of Wonder. Some of their favorites include: a pair of pink swim goggles, a fabric headband, a floating boat key chain, a neoprene sunglasses sling, a toothbrush, a shower pouf, a Velcro hair roller, and a silky jewelry bag – the list expands each day!
* Safety Side Note * : Toucans cannot rip and break things like a parrot can due to the lack of leverage in their beak. The things that may be safe for supervised play for toucans will probably be different from that for parrots.
The possibilities are truly endless with the Bag of Wonder. You never know what may be intriguing to your bird. I have so much fun these days scouting for random trinkets for the bag, finding myself saying, “Pepe is going to go crazy for this!” Just a couple of guidelines I use for my bag choices:
- Everything must be clean without any potentially toxic residue whether it be from cleaning products, human sweat/make-up/saliva, or other general dirtiness
- Know your bird’s strength – I leave out anything with small parts that could easily be broken and swallowed by the birds (the idea is to not let the Bag of Wonder turn into the Bag of Murder)
- If it’s large and sturdy enough to be used as an actual toy, I leave it out and save it for that. Part of the specialness of the Bag of Wonder is that the toucans only get to play with the items for shorter, supervised time periods