Natural Flies to the Top

Pets being part of the family extends far beyond the furry four-legged variety—as people become better educated about their own health and well-being, so, too, do they step up how they care for their pet birds to ensure they are happy and healthy for as long as possible.

"We’ve seen a shift over the past years toward humanizing our pets, and the industry is reflecting that," said Michael Acerra, marketing representative at Penn-Plax Pet Products in Hauppauge, N.Y. "People are more willing to spend money on their pets to provide them with the best environment possible, and for birds that means more bird owners are purchasing larger enclosures and more toys and perches.

"Bird owners are trying to provide their pets with the most interactive and fun experience possible," he said. "More and more bird owners favor products made of natural materials that birds can rip apart and shred, as compared to products made of less interactive materials, like acrylic and plastic."

"Like with food, the trend is toward organic and mirroring what’s happening on the human side."

High Expectations

Retailers and manufacturers report that bird owners want natural products for their pets—both in appearance and materials used—for perches, swings and playgyms. Safety for their birds and the environment are key components owners desire.

"Like with food, the trend is toward organic and mirroring what’s happening on the human side," said Ronny Uehling, manager of Planet Pleasures in Gardena, Calif. "People are concerned about what they’re exposing their animals to, and we’re seeing it in swings and perches.

"People are more educated, aware and discerning, so customers are evaluating products differently. The market used to be price driven, and now it’s quality," Uehling added. "More and more it has to take care of the environment, be socially responsible and know chain of custody of materials. With this heightened awareness, people are willing to pay a little more if they know a product was [manufactured] the right way for the animal, the people and the environment."

Customers also want products that allow them to engage with their pets more and that are interesting and entertaining for the birds. They want durability and portability in a playgym so it can roll from room to room, said Katie Calcasola, a certified avian specialist and manager of Golden Cockatoo in Deerfield Beach, Fla.

"A lot of times [owners] have the playgyms out where they are so they can enjoy the birds and not have to hold them the whole time," said Gloria Medina, manager at Omar’s Exotic Birds in Lake Forest, Calif.

From swings and playgyms to perches, bird owners want to combine entertainment with utility. Specialty retailers said they spend time with customers helping them customize their swings and playgyms for their particular birds and making sure they include perches with irregular shapes for long-term foot health.

"Of course everybody likes natural wood perches because they’re much healthier for birds’ feet than dowels, which can contribute to arthritis later in life," said Mark McMasters, owner of Parrot Connection Inc. in Reno, Nev. "Acrylic pedicure perches are a big hit with people, and I have not noticed the birds’ feet irritated from rubbing all the time like with the sandpaper over dowel perches—those seem to irritate their feet. Swings also are huge hits; I can’t keep them in the store."

Exciting New Options

Makers of perches, swings and playgyms have their work cut out for them developing interesting new offerings that meet bird owners’ expectations.

"When it comes to caring for birds it is our responsibility to provide them with objects that will stimulate them both mentally and physically," said Emilye Schmale, corporate communications manager for Petmate in Arlington, Texas. "Birds are flock animals and thrive on interaction, therefore it is our job to continue to create and design products that will keep pet birds entertained."

Across the board, bird product manufacturers reported focusing on creating new and exciting products from natural materials.

Planet Pleasures just developed a line of swings, releasing a T perch, D perch and boings, combining natural materials with bird safety and entertainment, Uehling said.

"We tried to be as natural as possible and put the best quality we can on the market," Uehling said. "Many of the boings and circular perches out there are made of cotton, but we don’t make them like that because there are a few drawbacks with durability, and when birds eat cotton the microfibers get stuck in the crop where it builds up until it’s a lump and crop impaction. Instead, we use abaca, a bananalike plant, and we produce all our stuff in the Philippines, where abaca is native.

"Our perches and swings are handmade, so no oil is introduced from the machines, and they are tightly woven, so there is no risk of toes or claws getting caught in between," he added. "We also don’t use any plastic; we use only wire that is tied or looped off, which offers better utility because plastic is so easy for birds, especially the bigger birds, to destroy."

Dena Tucker, president of Greenfeather Bird Supply in West Hartford, Conn., said the company has four new bird products.

"Swing-tastic is a simple triangular swing with a kid-safe foam piece held by three plastic chains with simple plastic doodahs snapped on a chain," Tucker said. "It’s soft on their feet and a simple place for them to land and play around.

"Magic Carpet, a perch swing, is hung on four strands of American-made plastic chain with a coconut fiber waffle mat that allows owners to stuff things into it for their birds to play with and eat," she said. "Parrot rings and plastic doodahs allow the small to medium-size birds to fidget."

Also designed for small to medium-size birds from finches to conures, Greenfeather’s Stop-overs feature a thick slab of birch with bark on it hung with three pieces of plastic chain. And the company’s Climbing Wall playgym is a coconut fiber mat designed to hang on a bird’s cage. It has items to chew on and fidget with, and owners can stuff more items in the mat, Tucker said, adding that safety is a high priority for all of the products her company makes.

"I’m conscious about the elements that go into making the parts," she said. "For example, the plastic chain is made in the U.S., there’s no lead in the coloring, there’s no BPA and it’s recyclable. The company that makes the foam in Swing-tastic sent me all the testing so I could confirm they use nontoxic chemicals and it’s kid safe. The woven coconut mats have no retardants and no chemicals; you can basically throw them in the compost pile to get rid of them."

This year, Penn-Plax has focused on creating new and exciting toys for birds from all natural materials, and Acerra said a gravel perch with charcoal and active carbon is coming soon.

Serving Customers Well

The common theme for increasing sales of perches, swings and playgyms is location, location, location. Whether for a specialty bird store or a full-line location, industry insiders emphasized using the products in the bird habitats and hanging them in sample cages to increase customer interest and, ultimately, sales.

"If you don’t put them in the birds’ cages, how can you tell a customer they need to buy them?" Tucker asked. "Some stores are too penny cheap to understand that [products] in the birds’ cages will bring them much more sales."

An advantage for specialty retailers with birds in-store is that customers can see what the birds already use. If a product is well used, it shows that the birds like that material and the features of the product, and then customers gravitate toward that product, Uehling said.

"When it comes to things like playgyms, it’s a great idea to have one set up on the counter with a hand-fed baby sitting on it," Acerra said. "This encourages the new bird buyer as well as the veteran owners to see how fun and interactive these products are."

Instead of relying on shelf talkers or POP displays, many stores report engaging customers to find out about their birds and lifestyles to help them customize the swings and playgyms, and to ensure the perches and other products are appropriate for their specific bird.

Golden Cockatoo displays its small, medium and large rolling playgyms, some all set up with toys, right across from the registers so it’s the first thing customers see, and they know the staff can customize them, Calcasola said.

"Educate customers that they need an out-of-cage perch for their bird to want to come out of the cage and be part of the family," she said. "We don’t want the cage to be everything for the bird."

For stores that do not sell pet birds, Petmate’s Schmale said to be sure the staff is well educated on the various species of birds commonly sold as pets, and that they understand which products are right for each type of bird.

Providing a good selection is important as well.

"Have a wide variety of perches, swings and stuff," Tucker said. "There’s so much variety out there, so have a nice variety so you can tell someone how they can set up their cage. That might be your only shot to get that bird everything it needs." 

This article originally appeared in the October 2015 issue of Pet Product News.