I often say that the most difficult part about owning Toco toucans is keeping them entertained. They are such high-energy, curious birds that I believe they would probably go insane without proper stimulation. For the times we are not directly interacting with them through bonding games and training, we make it a priority to ensure they have plenty of interesting things to do to help them self-entertain within their enclosures. The thought of my toucans being bored is something that fills me with panicked guilt, so I do my very best to prevent the toucan doldrums.
You may have read my past post on Choosing Toys for Toucans about how toucans like to play and what types of toys we order that are interesting to them. But we actually spend a lot more time and effort in making toys than we do purchasing them. To us, purchasing toys is only half the battle. There are no toys currently on the market specifically designed for toucans and toucans show little interest in the ready-made toys designed for parrots due to the fact that they simply play differently. Toucans do not have the dexterity in their beak and feet that a parrot does, who can spend hours chewing and dismantling a foraging toy. So while we would LOVE it if we were able to put in an order and receive loads of toys that were ready to go directly into Toucanland, that is not an option for us. Instead, we purchase toys designed for birds, dogs, cats, and other small animals, then we alter them and use them as parts for homemade toys designed specifically with our Three-Cans in mind.
Our basic formula for creating an intriguing Toco toucan toy is to start with an appealing container (huge plus if it’s destructible) then fill it with goodies for the toucans to discover. Not only does this fulfill their instinctive behavior to forage in the wild, but it also helps to satiate their forever curious nature. Toco toucans love peering into mysterious holes and digging out whatever lies inside – the bigger mess they can make, the better.
Here is video example of a toy we have created:
For the main toy container, we use a variety of medium to large size cardboard boxes, baskets, bird/ferret/hamster nests, wooden boxes, and cardboard tubes. Our main stipulation is that it must be as natural and non-toxic as possible. We avoid colored cardboard if it is artificially dyed, as well as ensure we remove any tape or glue residue. Thankfully, our Three-Cans don’t have much interest in actually eating any of the above, however, we like to be safe in case anything gets accidentally ingested. Whatever container we use, we cut different shaped holes in it that are just large enough for the toucans to see in and stick in their beak, but not big enough to fit their entire head.
Next, we fill our container with all manner of interesting treasures for the toucans to dig out and play with. This can be anything from wooden blocks, wine corks, sticks, mini stuffed animals, small bird shredder toys, balls – you name it! It can really be anything as long as it is the right size to be held in their beak, but not small enough to be swallowed. Also, since these toys will be played with unsupervised, it must not have any pieces or parts that can be broken and become dangerous.
To hang toys and assemble containers, we mostly use natural sisal/manila rope, which does not fray. Our favorite kind are those that come in bright colors and although the toucans generally don’t play with the rope, it does help to create more visual interest in the toy as a whole versus plain brown rope. Quick warning though – this rope is made with natural dyes and bleeds furiously when wet and can leave quite the colorful trail in its wake. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Lastly, we use palm tree gauze as added stuffing to help hide the small toy stuffers inside the large containers and increase the challenge. The toucans have a ball pulling it out and throwing it all over their cages. Lucky for us, we have an abundant supply on our little island – so much so that my newest idea is to “sew” (I use that term loosely) pieces together and insert cloth inside them to make mini stuffed toys. I will let you know how that goes!
When making toys, we like to take into consideration each birds’ tastes and abilities when choosing a difficulty level. For example, Paco is a toy-destroying machine who will work fiercely until his floor is covered in the wreckage that was his toy. We try to make toys challenging for him to figure out so he can’t annihilate them too quickly. Our goal is to keep him enthusiastically enjoying his toys for as long as possible. Pepe, on the other hand, doesn’t enjoy having to “work” for his toys. He loves playing with the small beak toys once he gets them for hours, but if finding them requires a grand effort, he would rather not play at all.
Pretty and attractive are not words I would use to describe our creations, but pleasing to toucans they are – at least for a couple of days, then it’s back to the drawing board. If any of our bird friends out there have any new ideas, we’d love you to share them. I would also like to extend an open invitation to anyone interested in joining us for our “arts & crafts” time, as we say, come on over – and don’t forget your scissors!