Something I get asked often is, "My bird won't play with toys. How can I change that?"
First of all, there are a lot of reasons why a bird may be reluctant to play. These can include fear, lack of confidence, disinterest, and lack of knowledge.
Fear: Particularly if your bird has never been introduced to toys before, toys can be scary! They are full of textures, shapes, colors, and a lot of them move! All of that can make for a scary toy for some birds!
What you can do: Try putting the toys in a different position. Some birds only want to chew toys that don't move, so putting them on the side of the cage or on the cage floor is sometimes better for them. Sometimes even just hanging them next to a different perch is all that is needed! Also try different materials, sizes and colors. My green cheek liked super thin pine (1/8" thin), balsa, vine, craft sticks, etc. Some birds want toys that are small and not as intimidating, or some don't like certain colors. My Jardine's will leave uncolored pine untouched, but as soon as it is dyed he will chew it like it's candy! Other birds don't want any color and prefer natural.
Lack of Confidence: Have you ever bought a toy for your bird, had them try to chew the wooden blocks, and then give up? Unfortunately a lot of pet shop toys sell bird toys with hardwoods that are simply not designed for smaller beaks. Because of this, birds learn quickly that trying to chew these inappropriate materials yield no results, and is not worth the effort.
What you can do: Try easier to chew textures that will show your bird they can in fact destroy toys! Balsa, cork, mahogany, 1/8" thin pine, and sola in particular are great for this! For foraging toys, try simple toys that are easy to retrieve a treat from.
Disinterest: I've used this example before, but if you give a child a doll, and it doesn't like the doll, is that proof that the child doesn't like toys? No! It simply means dolls are not their thing. Birds have preferences too!
What you can do: Try a lot of different types of toys! Some love to shred paper, balsa, cork, etc, while others like the satisfying snap of pine and beads. Others still prefer to manipulate parts, especially if there is food involved! Giving them a wide variety of materials and ways to play helps you learn what they like. Examples of toy types would be: shredding toys (balsa, paper), chipping toys (pine, beads), foraging toys, noisy toys (bells, plastics), preening toys (safe ropes, feathers).
Lack of Knowledge: Some birds simply do not know how to play, as crazy as that sounds! In the wild, they would play by tearing into greenery, bark, twigs, etc, and would watch their flock members to see what things are fun and safe to do.
What you can do: In our homes, we are the flock! If your bird enjoys being out with you, bring them to the couch or floor along with some toys and/or toy parts. (Foot toys in particular are great for this!) Manipulate the toy with your hands, dig into it with your nails, break small pieces off, offer them to your bird. Try to show them things they can do with the toys!
Above all else - Be patient! Even with birds that like toys, some of them simply are not interested right away. I have had birds that would take weeks to acclimate to a new toy! Once a month (or as needed, some birds will want it sooner while others want it later) try to remove just one toy from the cage. Rearrange the other toys into new positions, and then add one new toy into the mix. The benefit here is that some birds will be drawn to the new set up and seeing toys in a new light may make them more likely to try out something they may have ignored before!
Need some recommendations for toys to start with? Check here!
Feel free to add your own tips and tricks in the comments, too!