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8 Toxic materials dangerous to our feathered friends (birds)

Birds are such amazing creatures and they can give so much joy with their beautiful singing, their whistles and especially when taught to speak. I love hearing the sound of the cockatoos when they fly over our house almost every morning. Their screeching is music to my ears. It makes me think they’re all having a feathered family and friends gathering coming together to share all the local gossip haha Cockatoos, and other parrots as well as many other birds will naturally announce themselves with a screech in the morning and again in the evening. There can be many reasons why they have this behavior and I don’t know that us humans will ever know exactly why they do this, but I personally love it 😊

Like with all animals, bird safety in particular, is something that a lot of people either don’t think of, or don’t realise. I know for myself, it wasn’t until I wanted to own budgies (years ago now), that I researched and understood exactly how to keep our birds safe.

Here is a list of 8 toxic materials dangerous to our feathered friends to watch out for.

Similar to dogs, did you know that avocado is also harmful to birds? There are certain areas of an avocado plant that can be toxic to birds, especially the leaves. They contain a fatty acid derivative called persin. Persin has been reported to cause heart failure, respiratory distress and sudden death in a variety of bird species.

Chocolate, soft drinks, cocoa, coffee, and tea that contain caffeine can all affect the muscles and central nervous system. Some of the things to look out for if you think your feathered family has been in contact with any of these materials are, vomiting, restlessness and hyperactivity. Some of the more severe signs can be staggering, muscle tremors, increased heart rate, seizures and possibly death from heart or respiratory failure. Like with most things, the dose plays a huge part bearing in mind our feathered family are small in size.

3/. LEAD
Lead toxicity can be very harmful in all species, including us humans. This can include, lead-based paint, lead shot, soldering items, linoleum, curtain weights, stained glass, tiffany lamps, glitter, including glitter from greeting cards and or clothing. Christmas ornaments, and foil from the top of wine bottles. It’s important to note, large amounts are not needed to cause toxicity from lead. All species are susceptible but Amazons and Macaws seem to be especially sensitive. Signs can be very vague and it can happen rather quickly. Some signs to watch out for are, weakness, vomiting, loss of appetite or neurological signs like lack of coordination or seizures. If you ever see your feathered friend become listless, they won’t eat and regurgitate, seek veterinary assistance.

4/. ZINC
Zinc toxicosis vary depending on the quantity ingested, concentration of zinc in the ingested material, and the species of bird. Some of the signs associated with zinc toxicosis are regurgitation, lameness, mental aberrations and depression. Sometimes we are unaware that our feathered friend may have been nibbling or chipping away at an item containing zinc so it’s always a good idea to walk around the areas where our feathered family fly or sit and see what we have that may contain zinc or metal, especially metal objects. Another good thing to check and remember to look at is their cage or enclosure. Replacing galvanized cage hardware with stainless steel could be something to look at too. Zinc can be found in:
• paint primers of powder-coated cages especially cages produced before 1995.
• Bronze coating on metals, hardware used in decorating – things like nails, chains etc
• Galvanized products – usually the brighter the metal, the higher the zinc level
• Anodized aluminium, or ANY anodized surface
• Costume jewelllery and sequins.
• ALL portions of metal zippers (zipper keys are often ingested whole)
• Many hardware products – washers, bolts, screws, etc
• Many topical creams like sun block and/or calamine lotion (remember that as a kid)
• Rubber products

Birds have an extremely efficient respiratory system which makes them highly sensitive to airborne products. Many individuals have heard about miners taking a canary (known as the “sentinel bird”) into coal mines. The canary would expire in the presence of toxic gases before the miners would notice any odour thus warning the miners of impending danger in time to escape the mine. Whilst this is not done today, our beautiful feathered family can often be in danger from many household cleaners as well as kitchen and bathroom fumes.
Did you know that Teflon and non-stick cookware, especially when heated above certain temperatures can emit an invisible, odourless vapor toxic to birds?
In the bathroom, things like curling irons contain non-stick coatings and can emit toxic vapours too. Hairspray, colognes, and perfumes can all be deadly to our feathered family.

Many of us love having plants in our home and our work place. Plants can help enrich our lives and bring a sense of calm to what can be a hectic environment at times. A lot of plants are safe for our feathered family, but some we should be wary of can include:
• Japanese Yew
• Oleander
• Poinsettia – especially around Christmas time
• Redwood
• Bird of Paradise
• Mistletoe
• Ground-cherry
• Seeds of apples, apricots, peaches and cherries

We need to be really careful with sugars and sweet things around our feathered family. For those of us that have a sweet tooth, it’s time to take extra care with our feathered buddies. Some sweets to watch out for are:
• Danish pastries
• Lollies
• Glazed products like sugar glazed donuts and even oversized portions of sweet fruits or fruit cocktail may cause toxicity or death in some birds. This can happen because the stems from the simple sugars cause a fermenting process in the lower bowel.

I know from some of clients who have come in with their feathered family studio sessions that some birds absolutely LOVE cheese! However, this is not always a good thing. Some facts about birds and cheese:
• Birds are lactose intolerant. This is something that has been agreed upon by pretty much the entire veterinary community.
• Most cheese is made with various gums that give it shape and texture and is non-digestible.
• Signs of problems can go unnoticed because of the relatively small amount of cheese that is consumed. When in doubt, DON’T do it!

Our feathered family are very important and they help enrich our lives. They create a bond and interact with us giving us so much love and affection. It’s important to remember that although they are our feathered family, they are still ‘wild creatures.’ Bearing that in mind, they can be extremely good at hiding signs of illness. We take extra care with our feathered buddies and make sure that we keep their environment as safe as possible. They are amazing to train and their beautiful chirps always brighten up our day.

I hope this has helped and be sure to keep an eye out for another blog on toys and how to choose safe toys for our feathered family.

Want to learn more about birds and ways to keep them safe?
Check out some of these wonderful sites that have helped us put this together and provide further in depth information:

Queensland Avaries

Wildlife Health Australia


  1. Carol roeland on 19/06/2020 at 2:09 PM

    For a 1st time parrot owner i appreciate any advice thanks

    • zoo on 01/07/2020 at 9:05 AM

      You’re very welcome Carol. It’s our pleasure. What is your parrot’s name? – Lorraine 🙂

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