14 household hazards for pet birds

By: Signe Langford

© Author: Canadian Living Credits: ©


14 household hazards for pet birds

By: Signe Langford
When a new baby is due, expectant parents typically childproof the house. But what you may not have considered is that it's important to take similar precautions when bringing home birdie.

If you're thinking about getting a pet bird, there are a number of considerations to be made in regards to creating a safe environment for your new pet. If you don't, the consequences could be potentially fatal.

Firstly, inspect every room and think like a curious little creature that can walk, climb and fly and try to imagine what dangers exist. "But," you protest, "I'm going to keep him in his cage." If you plan on buying or adopting a pet bird, only to keep him trapped in a cage, then a bird is not the right pet for you. Birds need several hours of free flying time every day to be healthy and happy.

We chatted with Marie-Elisabeth Gagnon, Executive Director of Toronto-based Parrot Sanctuary and she identified these top concerns about bird safety in the home.

 Safety concerns for pet birds

1. Chemicals in the air
Most non-stick (PTFE) cook- and bakeware off-gas fumes that are deadly to birds. If you bring a pet bird home, the non-stick pots and pans should go to curb. Also, check your appliances. Is your oven, hair dryer or popcorn-maker lined with PTFE? Scented candles and most cleaning chemicals are also dangerous and deadly to birds.

The respiratory systems of all birds are delicate and highly efficient. Some candles are made from toxic waste of the petroleum industry. Lighting one or two of these might be nice for us humans, but to your pet bird, it's like starting a tire fire in the living room.

We've all heard the expression 'canary in a coal mine.' It stems from the practice of coal miners taking a canary down with them as a living carbon monoxide (or other poisonous gas) detector. If the bird started to flop or died, it was time for the men to get out. Don't let the death of your pet be the first sign that your furnace or gas stove isn't in tiptop shape. Install a CO2 detector. But even with a detector, it's always important to make sure the air in the bird's room is fresh and circulating.

2. Cleaners and air fresheners
Cleaning and air freshening products can also be toxic to birds. When you include a bird in your life, your cleaning routine must change. Ditch the chemical cleaners and clean with natural alternatives. Instead of spraying or plugging in a scent, simmer a cinnamon stick or orange peel. And while a boon when you're busy, that self-cleaning oven also releases fumes that can kill a bird.
3. Home renovations and repairs
Doing home renovations or repairs? Installing a new carpet, using glues, stains, varnishes, paints? The adhesives in plywood and particleboard are also toxic. Get the birds out of the house for a couple of days while the chemicals do the majority of the off-gassing. Bring your pet bird back when you can't smell the fumes anymore. Where there's smoke, there's poison. Cigarette and pipe smoke are toxic to birds. Take that smoke break outside, or better yet, use your bird's arrival as your cue to quit once and for all.

4. Dangerous houseplants
Many common houseplants and cut flowers are toxic to birds. Some of the worst offenders are poinsettias, ivy, African violets, tulips, daffodils, oleander, hydrangeas and dusty miller, but there are many more. Visit for a more complete list.

5. Human food
Birds are exceptionally social critters and they love to share food with their owners, but there are foods that we enjoy that might sicken or kill your pet bird. Here are some of the top culprits: Alcohol, avocado, caffeine, cassava (tapioca) root, cocoa products, raw meat and the seeds and pits of apples, apricots, cherries, peaches and plums, which all contain cyanide.

Is that glass half empty or half full? Doesn't really matter to a thirsty bird; he's likely going to perch on the edge and dip his head down for a drink. If he loses his footing and is unable to flap his wings to get out, he will drown. Never leave glasses of liquid unattended.

6. Something to chew on
All birds in the parrot family are chewers and nibblers and anything is fair game, from your beloved, signed, first edition poetry to electrical wires. Do a scan around the house and remove or hide anything a bird can get its beak into and give them lots of safe chew toys. Make sure the toys do not contain zinc, which is also highly toxic. Here's something you might not consider: If you have antiques in the house, they may be decorated with heavy metal-based paints. If your bird chews on it, lead poisoning is a serious possibility. In fact, better to be overly cautious: don't let your bird play with or chew on any sort of metals.

7. Seed and water supply
A daily check on the seed and water supply is vital. We've heard sad stories of birds that died of dehydration because the water bottle was full but not dispensing and birds that died of starvation because the seed dish looked full, when in reality it was only full of empty husks. If the pet bird is your child's responsibility, make sure mom or dad or a much older sibling double checks the food and water.

8. Cupboards, windows and blinds
Having a bird in the house means developing new habits. From the day you bring your feathered friend home, you must never again close a door or cupboard without looking up at the top. Many bird owners have had the horrible experience of slamming a door only to crush or amputate the legs of the family pet. Likewise, always check windows, top and bottom, before opening or closing for the same reasons.

That string hanging down from the window blinds can become a hangman's noose. A bird can get its head caught between the strings, slide down to the mooring and strangle. Keep the string hidden behind the blind, a curtain or invest in the toddler-friendly 'quick-release' sort.
9. Unattended water
Birds tend to be very interested in water and an unfinished glass of juice isn't the only drowning hazard in the home. Keep the toilet lid down and remember that a bird can drown in an unattended bath. They can also succumb to the fumes from common grooming products, such as hairspray and perfume.

A sink full of dishwater, a pot full of water, or an uncovered aquarium are yet more places for a bird to go for a sip or a dip and end up sleeping with the fishes.

10. Pesticides
Have a bug or rodent problem? Be exceedingly careful with pesticides and rodenticides. Never hang a sticky fly strip and do not use bug or mouse killers anywhere near your bird. If the whole house needs to be treated, relocate your pet bird for several days, then wipe down all surfaces before reintroducing him. The best approach is the natural one. Try dealing with bugs by using diatomaceous earth.

11. Fans and ceiling fans
There's no nice way to put this: Fans and ceiling fans are like giant, open-air blenders for your pet bird. Never have the ceiling fan on when the bird is flying about and always make sure little toes and feet are kept away from the blades of table or floor fans. Even if the blades are behind a wire mesh or cage, the gaps may be wide enough for disaster. Attaching ribbons to the mesh will help keep birds off, but keeping birds and fans away from each other altogether is best.

12. Windows and mirrors
Windows and mirrors can confuse a bird; he might think he can fly right on through, especially if he gets startled. Put some decals on the glass to show him that it's a solid surface.

13. Doors and windows
If you leave a door or window open, your pet bird may just fly the coop and then it's very unlikely to get him back. Pet birds can get carried away on gusts of wind; they get lost easily and are extremely easy prey. It's a great idea to hang a sign on your door to let folks know that there is a bird on the loose inside.

14. Cats
If you have a cat, don't get a small bird. If you want a bird and a cat in your life, go for a really big, powerful parrot that no cat in his right mind would mess with. Anything smaller will eventually end up in the cat's jaws one way or another. Even if your cat doesn't kill the bird outright, the saliva in a cat's mouth contains bacteria that can be fatal to birds.

Some dogs are natural bird hunters too, and even another, bigger hookbill (parrot) may kill a smaller bird. Never leave your birds alone with other pets.

Birds are intelligent, social, curious pets. If you love them and give them a safe and nourishing environment, you and your family will have a great companion for many years.
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14 household hazards for pet birds