Sanctuary Stories - A Toy Artiste Journey

Sanctuary Stories - A Toy Artiste Journey

In late June, Birds of Paradise hosted a group parrot toy making event with a lovely team from local Apple Stores. I was invited to attend and naturally jumped at the opportunity. I even showed up a little bit early to help set-up and stock the fridge with water. Clearly, I’m all in.

Little did I know that prior to my great parrot toy awakening of 2018, my understanding of parrot toys was at best rudimentary. If you had asked me why parrot toys are important last year, I would have started by listing three of my best "I'm somewhat in the know" parrot toy statements.

One. That toys help parrots stay healthy.

Two. That toys provide mental stimulation for these super intelligent birds.

Three. That toys help to fulfill a parrot’s natural urge to forage.

Then, I would have quickly added a few more items to my list based on my experience as an aunty to an African Grey named Chester.

Four. That parrots like a variety of toys.

Five. That a parrot can destroy a toy in no time at all.

I learned that parrots can be picky with toys two years ago when I handed Chester’s birthday gift to his human mom, Beth. To me, it was a great pick—a fun and bouncy colorful apparatus for his aviary.

I had given him something similar the year before and I had received a picture of him playing with it. It seemed like a slam dunk. But, this time something was different. It quickly became clear that tearing the paper bag wrapping off the toy was the best part of this gifting experience for Chester.

To break the ice, Beth said, “Oh never mind him, I’m sure he’ll play with it at some point. Chester hasn’t really paid much attention to that type of toy for over six months now.” What really stuck with me was that someone was paying close enough attention to Chester to keep tabs on something that I would have seen as a bit of minutia. But now that toy preferences were out in the open, I vowed to try harder.

So last year, Beth got a gift card and Chester got a paper bag with toilet paper tubes in the bottom. Chester and Beth used the card to get a foraging toy and a big bag of his favorite nuts. With this aunty properly trained now, it feels like nothing but good times ahead for Chester.

Another key piece of information I learned from Chester is that toys can be enjoyed so much that they can be destroyed—or “exhausted” as Beth says — within a matter of hours. That happened with Chester once. Beth said Chester was experiencing some hormonal turbulence and she was happy he had found this outlet. I wasn’t quite sure what to say, so I said I was happy for Chester as well.

It’s now 9:45 AM at the sanctuary. We are congregating under a large tree amply shading three tables full of toy making materials. As we wait for the entire group to arrive, I’m chatting with some Apple folks, admiring their slick mobile gadgets, and starting to wonder if I should be concerned that my iPhone is five versions behind theirs.

We have met Ann-Marie, clearly the BOPS toy guru, who oversees sourcing of toy materials and toy making events. I was taking some pics of three tables full of toy making supplies, when, as on cue, someone asks how many toys a year are consumed at BOPS. The quick answer was “hundreds.”

Hundreds is a lot, so I decided to ask about the associated costs as I thought about Chester’s annual $50 gift card. The answer was nothing short of a feel-good moment and included, “Whether we buy or make toys there are costs involved. When we make them at events like this it SIGNIFICANTLY reduces the cost. Remember that parrot toys are an undeniable part of parrot life at BOPS sanctuary.” That was enough to add another item to my list.

Six. Providing toys again and again for hundreds of parrots in a sanctuary setting is a necessary expense.

10:00 AM has arrived and we’re all excited and ready to get busy. As the Apple Store team knows a lot about providing good customer experiences, the event starts with a tour of the sanctuary to introduce them to the hundreds of small, medium and large feathered friends that would be the customers of the day.

Amidst a chorus of hellos, whistles and one well-timed request for an “apple”, we were introduced to what can only be described as the real feathered deal of toy aficionados. I am noticing, however, that many of the feathered darlings are drawing us in with their antics, only to stop and study us intently. As I maintain eye contact, I wonder, do they know who the newbie toy makers are in the group? Will we be subjected to extra scrutiny at toy hanging time?

As we moved about the sanctuary, it was explained that toys provide much needed stimulation and that a bored parrot may start to pluck feathers or become listless. That parrots physically engage with their toys, so this helps their natural urge to be active and physically move around. And that some parrots reaching sexual maturity can get a little aggressive and toys provide a way for them to get some of their aggression out. An "aha" moment as I think of Chester and his bout of hormonal turbulence.

As the orientation wraps up, I for one have completely shifted my thinking about what an “exhausted” toy hanging in an aviary or flight cage signifies. I now know that what may present as a raggedy, chewed-up eyesore to some—is actually a positive indicator of the mental and physical health of the bird who has the toy. Time to update my list.

Seven. Don't judge a parrot toy by its tatter.

This is all good information, especially since we’ve just been informed that our mission for the day is two-fold. Make new toys to replace exhausted toys and get some extra toys in the pipeline for rescued parrots that may arrive at any time in the future.

It’s 10:45 AM and we’ve made our way back to the shady tree and I’m eager to start my toy making contribution. The first thing I need to do is pick a table. As parrot toy making is not a one size fits all endeavor, each of the tables is stocked with the appropriate toy materials to create small, medium or large toys. I pick the medium table. I think it’s a porridge thing.

As Ann-Marie provides a toy making demonstration at each table, we learn some pointers about favorable toy materials for the different species and sizes of our feathered customers.

She explains that for safe toy making, you need to know about every material you are using. For example, no wood can be treated or varnished, and, if you want to color the wood, you must use a natural dye product. She shows us some natural toy materials that can literally be gotten off-the-shelf, like playing cards and coffee filters. She discusses choking, trapping and entanglement hazards and other safety concerns to be aware of.

It’s now becoming obvious to me that my new parrot toy making endeavor is going to take some amount of patience, learning and practice. So, I add a final number 8 to my list.

Eight. Truly understanding parrot toy parts, materials and their effects on a parrot is an absolute must for a parrot toy artiste.

Now I’m really, really ready to make a toy—so I dive in.

I start with an appropriate gauge wire that I’ll be sliding the toy materials on to. This first step is a confidence booster as all you need to do is select a pre-cut wire from near your table. Simple enough, although I imagine that when you’re not doing this at BOPS there must be rolls of wire, measuring and cutting tools involved.

Then I start pulling items from many different bins of toy materials, including blocks, cards, baubles, rope, coffee filters and even some rubber duckies and slide them on the wire. A quick warning to newbies though. This is where your inner Martha Stewart might make a grand appearance and tell you to go ahead and put a ducky next to the queen of hearts, it’s a fresh new look—or—pay attention to the balance between your foraging, chewing, and exercise materials.

As a newbie, it takes me 20 or so minutes to fill my first wire. But I’m confident I’m getting the hang of it. I complete the last assembly step of attaching a hanging clip to the top of my parrot toy creation. I resist the urge to move from table to table telling my neighbors that this is my first parrot toy and eliciting praise for my new toy making prowess.

Instead, I transport my toy from the table to the toy tarp. It’s only several feet of travel, but I find myself gently cradling my parrot toy and ever so carefully placing it on the tarp. Then I pause for a moment as I eye the rest of the teams handywork. There’s some stiff competition here, but I know I’ve caught a little inspiration.

I’m then faced with two more decisions, but they’re easy ones. Do I want to make a different sized toy this time? Should I add more foraging materials to my next toy?

I pick the large toy table and begin again. I find myself lulled by the call of the birds as I chat with my neighbors about parrots, community, local causes and getting involved. I’m making a toy for the Macaws. I try to imagine what my ideal toy would look like if I was a Macaw. I secretly hope my toy will be one of the Macaws favorites.

The time passes, the toy tarp fills up. Then suddenly, there’s the “last toy” call. Has it really been four hours since I got here? I finish my final toy and walk to the tarp. I’m amazed as my eyes gaze over more than 3 dozen new toys for the BOPS parrots.

I’m proud for all of us. I feel the significance of the last 4 hours.

It’s 2:00 PM and our toy making event has ended. There’s a group photo, hugs, handshakes, and a lot of see you laters. I’m thinking about the incredible difference the Apple Store team made in one day. I like these people. They are community connected and minded. I know the entire BOPS team appreciates the team’s contribution as well.

And the parrots, well they are the biggest winners in this event.

I stay behind and offer to help distribute the toys to the parrots. My offer is accepted. What follows is a blog for another day. Who, but an experienced toy hanger, could know that ladders and distraction techniques are just a few of the facets of toy swapping and hanging.

OK, I must confess that I’m not exactly a parrot toy artiste yet, but I am determined to get there. And although this is only the first step in my toy artiste journey, I’m proud to say that I can already spot a scrap of bird safe cardboard from a block away, so I believe I’m on track.


  • Setting Up
  • Setting Up
  • Orientation & Tour
  • Toy Artistes at Work
  • Toy Artistes at Work
  • Toy Artistes at Work
  • Toy Artistes at Work
  • Toy Artistes at Work
  • The Toy Tarp
  • The Toy Tarp
  • The Toy Cart
  • Our Handywork
  • Our Handywork
  • Our Handywork
  • bootstrap slider
  • Our Handywork
Setting Up1 Setting Up2 Orientation & Tour3 Toy Artistes at Work4 Toy Artistes at Work5 Toy Artistes at Work6 Toy Artistes at Work7 Toy Artistes at Work8 The Toy Tarp9 The Toy Tarp10 The Toy Cart11 Our Handywork12 Our Handywork13 Our Handywork14 Our Handywork15 Our Handywork16

If you, or your group or company is interested in sponsoring or attending a toy making event, the birds say “woohoo” and you can let BOPS know here.

If you are interested in donating parrot toys and/ or toy making supplies, please let BOPS know here.

And lastly, if you are interested in making a donation to support toy making events, you can do so here.

Please support our parrots by making a one-time donation today

100% of your tax-deductible donation goes towards shelter, food and medical care for the birds.


Phone: 727.366.9997

17020 Water Line Rd
Bradenton FL 34212

Contact Form

Email List

Partner with us

Imagine a place where neglected and abused parrots get second chances every day. Help make it a reality.