Many types of cordage are available on the market but, they are not all safe to use in bird products. Even the “safe” cordage can pose some risks if not properly monitored and maintained. The purpose of this article is to review the types of cordage currently used in the construction of bird toys and to provide cautionary advice as to its use.
Posted by Deb White on 9/9/2020 to Materials Safety
The inappropriate use of cordage in a bird toy design can pose a hazard to pet birds. Most notably, the use of long, exposed strands of rope can present the risk of strangulation. Excessive fraying can also result in a toe or leg entrapment that results in a loss of circulation.
When providing rope toys to your bird it is imperative to monitor the condition of your bird’s toys daily and to act to either repair or remove the toy. Ropes can be safe as long as they are maintained properly, and the bird’s nails are kept trimmed.
When designing bird toys please follow these guidelines:
• Wherever possible, only use short pieces of cordage.
• If using a long piece of cordage do not leave long lengths of empty cordage exposed. Use knots between pieces and consider the use of strategically placed non-destructible parts to minimize potential risks.
Natural Fiber Cordage
100% Natural Fiber ropes commonly used in the manufacture of bird toys include:
Visually, many of these ropes are hard to distinguish one from another but they do have minor variations in their properties relative to strength, coarseness and feel.
Coir is extracted from the tissues surrounding the seed of the coconut palm (Cocos nucifera). Specifically, it is the fibrous material located between the hard, internal shell and the outer coat of a coconut. Ropes and cordage have been made from coconut fiber since ancient times.
Among vegetable fibers, coir has one of the highest concentrations of lignin, making it stronger but also less flexible and unsuitable for dyeing. The tensile strength of coir is low compared to other natural fibers which means it breaks easier and therefore reduces the likelihood of entrapment and constriction.
Cotton rope is used in many bird toy designs currently on the market. Cotton rope can pose hazards under certain conditions however, it can also be used safely if those conditions are avoided. Cotton toys have proven very beneficial in solving feather picking problems and therefore we do not like to discount cotton as a viable material. Here are some key safety points to keep in mind:
• Only 100% natural unbleached cotton rope should be used. Never use a cotton/synthetic blend rope as the synthetic fibers are very break resistant and will increase the risk of entrapment and constriction.
• Cotton fibers can be shredded and ingested resulting in a digestive impaction. Fortunately, most birds do not engage in the consumption of non-food items. As with any non-food item, if your bird has demonstrated this type of behavior then remove cotton toys from his environment.
One type of cotton rope that more resistant to fraying than the traditional 3 ply twisted form is the diamond braided style. The weaving style used in cotton shoelaces is also not prone to fraying.
Hemp cordage is made from non-drug, industrial fibers of the plant, Cannabis sativa. Hemp is both durable, flexible, and easy to work with. Unlike many other natural fibers, hemp is round by nature making it gentler on the hands. Hemp twine is great for making small bird toys.
Jute rope is a soft and lightweight natural fiber extracted from plants in the genus Corchorus. Jute is known as the “golden fiber” and has a silky shine. Jute is commonly used to make twine, rope, and burlap bags. Jute is one of the longest fibers, has a high tensile strength and therefore does not break easily.
Manila (aka Abaca)
Manila rope is produced from the fibers of a banana plant native to the Philippines, Musa textilis. Many times, you will hear Manila referred to as “hemp” rope, although it is actually produced from fibers from the Abaca plant. Manila is a durable yet flexible rope that is soft on the hands, which is great if you are in for a long toy-making session.
Sisal rope is manufactured from natural fibers of the Agave sislana plant which is common to Mexico and South America. This 3-strand rope is similar in characteristics and versatility to Manila rope but is not as strong and has a rougher feel than the Manila. It has an abrasive texture and can be tough on the hands. On the plus side, sisal exhibits good knot holding abilities and takes on color very nicely when dyed. Some rope manufacturers use oil in the production process. If shopping for sisal at your hardware store be sure to give it a sniff test to check for a petroleum smell. Only use un-oiled sisal when making bird toys.
The use of synthetic cordage in general is cautioned against except for “Polly Rope” which has been specifically designed to minimize the risks posed by the synthetic ropes found in hardware stores.
Polly Rope is 100% non-toxic polyethylene plastic cordage designed for the manufacture of bird toys. The unique twist of this Polly Rope prevents unsafe lengths of fray. Also, polyethylene fibers do not have a "memory" like other rope; this prevents entrapment and limb strangulation caused by fibers such as nylon or poorly maintained cotton rope.
REMEMBER: Bird owners have a responsibility to check their bird's rope toys daily and to either trim or discard rope toys when they become frayed!