As caretakers of our pet birds, we want to keep them as safe as possible. However, the ﬁrst thing to understand about safety and birds is that it is impossible to provide a 100% safe and risk-free environment for them. Every decision, every scenario, carries with it both risks and rewards. So, it is up to each of us to know our individual birds and their environments and decide for ourselves which risks are worth the rewards and which ones aren’t.
With that said, knowledge is power, and knowing about common dangers can ease your decision-making process and help to minimize the risks to the birds in your home. Below are some household dangers to be aware of.
Teflon and birds
When heated above 400 degrees, polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) coating (brand name Teflon) on cookware can instantly kill birds and it is also a carcinogen. Avoid non-stick pans, air fryers, instant pots, pressure cookers, cooking bags, self-cleaning ovens (or at least don’t use the self-cleaning cycle) and electrical appliances like hair dryers and space heaters that have Teflon as a component. Instead, use Teflon-free appliances and cookware made from materials such as stainless steel, ceramic, cast iron, stoneware and Pyrex.
Aerosol sprays and cleaning products
All aerosol sprays and chemical cleaning products are dangerous to birds, and the propellants used are toxic. Never use Lysol wipes, window cleaner, bleach-based cleaners, detergent-based cleaners, polishes, aerosol cleaner products, hardwood floor cleaner, carpet cleaner, hairspray or spray deodorant in the same room where your bird is located. Spray room fresheners are especially toxic to birds because the scents used can fatally damage a parrot’s delicate respiratory system.
Smoke from candles, incense burners, cigarettes, cigars and vaping
Both scented and unscented candles and incense burners can be dangerous for house birds. Candle wicks contain heavy metals that can be toxic to birds, and the perfumes in scented candles can cause respiratory inflammation. Cigarette, cigar and vape smoke is extremely dangerous and those products should never be smoked in the home. The hands of a smoker should be thoroughly washed before handling a parrot because residue can rub off on the bird’s feathers.
Keeping pet birds healthy and free of disease
Like all animals, birds can be carriers of contagious diseases. Exposing your birds to other birds with unknown health status can expose them to deadly diseases. And bringing a new bird into your home without properly quarantining and vetting him or her first can pose a risk to your whole flock. To keep all your companion birds safe, it is important that a new bird complete a full quarantine period.
The new bird should be housed in a separate room in the home, preferably with a separate air system. Once the new bird has been to the veterinarian and had a new-bird exam, with blood work and disease testing done, he can be slowly integrated into your existing flock.
If you have poultry, such as chickens, it is important to keep a separation between the parrot supplies and the poultry supplies, as well as their living spaces. Disease can spread between the two and potentially be lethal.
Your bird’s cage
When purchasing a cage, be sure to get one from a trusted brand, such as HQ, King’s, Prevue Hendryx, Avian Adventures or A&E. Buying an off-brand cage may be cheaper, but they are often made of flimsy, dangerous materials that can hurt your bird. If you purchase a used cage, inspect the cage before buying it. Look for rust, missing parts (especially door latches) and unsafe materials, such as iron or zinc. The only safe materials are stainless steel, ceramic powder coating and acrylic.
Also, the bar spacing should be wide enough so that your bird won’t get his toes stuck between the bars, but narrow enough that he can’t get his head between the bars. Carrier-style cages function as a temporary carrier rather than a permanent home. They are too small and malleable for long-term use.
Foods toxic to birds
Toxic foods that should never be fed to your bird include alcohol, avocado, cassava (tapioca), dairy products, meat, chocolate and cocoa, peanuts, fruit seeds and pits. Also, any foods that are high in salt, fat and sugars and that contain dyes or preservatives should be avoided. Some studies suggest that adding animal fat to birds’ diet can significantly reduce their life span.
Bird cage liners, substrates and litters
Litter of any kind can get impacted in a bird’s crop if ingested, and clay litters create a lot of dust that can cause respiratory inflammation. Pine, cedar and redwood shavings emit aromatic oils that can cause respiratory inflammation. Use only paper products (e.g., newspaper) as substrates for your cages and change the substrate frequently to prevent the growth of harmful molds and bacteria.
Electrical outlets, cords and fans
Birds are notorious chewers, so allowing them access to electrical cords or outlets can be a fatal mistake. Ceiling fans are a major danger to flying birds because a flying bird doesn’t see the fan blades in time to avoid them and can suffer critical injuries, including a concussion, broken neck or wing injuries. For that reason, all ceiling fans need to be turned off when birds are free in the home.
House birds and other pets
Saliva from humans, dogs, cats, and other omnivorous or carnivorous animals contains gram-negative bacteria against which birds have poor immunity. Allowing household pets to lick your birds, or allowing a bird to eat food from your mouth or stick her head in your mouth, puts the bird at risk of a deadly bacterial infection. If there is a reptile in the home, be sure to wash your hands after handling the reptile to avoid potentially spreading salmonella. If your bird has any physical interaction with a cat, go to your avian vet immediately for medical treatment. Cat saliva and the bacteria on their claws are fatal to birds, so any injury must be considered a medical emergency.
Home improvement products
Many products used for home improvement (e.g., paint, paint remover, paint thinner) emit chemical fumes for many days after being used or installed. Before doing any home improvement projects, remove your birds from your home and don’t bring them back until the products are no longer “out-gassing.” The general rule of thumb is this: If you can smell it, it can harm your bird.
Carbon monoxide leaks in a home can be fatal to birds at much lower levels than for humans, so a carbon monoxide detector is a good idea. In addition, be sure to keep your bird’s living area well-ventilated.
Metal parts and pieces
Any metal that is small and soft enough to be swallowed can cause life-threatening toxicity to a bird. Carefully check each toy before introducing it to your birds to make sure there are no parts that they might be able to ingest. To prevent zinc, nickel or lead flakes from being ingested by your birds, use medical-grade stainless steel hardware as much as possible in their cages and play areas.
In your birds’ air space, don’t use pesticides in any form (sprays, fly strips, foggers, powders, mothballs, flea collars, flea shampoos and miticide discs). You want to avoid anything containing pesticides that your bird could ingest, inhale or get stuck on.
Plywood and particle board
These wood products are toxic to birds. Use only raw, untreated wood to make perches, toys, play stands and other items for your bird.
House plants toxic to birds
Many common household and landscaping plants are toxic to birds, so you’ll want to take care to allow your birds to come in contact only with bird-safe plants. Please do provide bird-safe plants in and around their cages for them to chew and shred, since it’s a source of enrichment. A comprehensive list of safe and unsafe plants can be found on the Planned Parrothood website.
Standing water presents a danger to birds in the household. Toilet bowls in particular can be a drowning danger, because a bird is unable to get out of the slick interior of the toilet. For flighted birds, boiling water on the stove is a hazard.
Birds and kids
Birds are remarkably fragile beings, and children can injure or crush a bird without realizing they are causing harm. It is important to teach your children how to interact safely with all the animals in your home, but especially the delicate birds in your life. Birds can also be a danger to children; their sharp beaks can cause a nasty injury in the blink of an eye. Always supervise any interaction between children and your birds, teaching them how to interact respectfully with each other.
There is a danger to your birds anytime you have a heat source operating in your home. Pots and pans simmering on the stove, for example, can attract a bird. The sight of food can draw your bird in, before he realizes that it is dangerously hot. So, when you are cooking, make sure your bird is confined somewhere safe. Wood stoves, fireplaces and space heaters can also be risky to use around birds. Take steps to limit your birds’ access to open heat sources and make sure that your home is well-ventilated to limit dangerous fumes that can damage birds’ delicate respiratory system.
Grit is a substance used by some birds to aid in the digestion of whole, intact seeds. Unlike passerines and other families of birds, parrots do not use or need grit; if ingested, it can cause a life-threatening impaction of a parrot’s crop (the muscular pouch near the gullet or throat).
Soils can contain pesticides and/or fertilizers that are toxic to birds, and even organic soils contain fungi that can cause deadly fungal infections. If you choose to let your birds play with plants or wander in your yard, monitor them carefully to be sure they are not ingesting any soil.