Liz Wilson looks at household dangers and sensible precautions.
When we consider the potential dangers to Parrots in our households, the list can be rather daunting. Indeed, it has often been pointed out how people living in industrialized nations have grown accustomed to living with a breath-taking array of deadly substances in their homes.
Several years ago, when my rather messy large (8kg.) tortoise Emmett insisted on strewing his food about my office floor, ants quickly discovered the wonderful food source.
So I talked to my avian veterinarian about it, as I needed something to kill the ants but not damage Emmett in case he accidentally ate a poisoned ant while munching his salad.
She recommended a mixture of water, sugar and boric acid. This was perfect because boric acid is toxic only to mammals (and insects), not reptiles (or birds). So all I needed to do was keep it out of the reach of my cats (which was easily arranged) and all would be fine.
So I went off to the store to purchase boric acid and couldn’t find it on the shelves. When I questioned the customer service lady as to its location, she puffed up quite proudly. “We don’t sell boric acid – it’s POISONOUS, you know!”
When I responded, “But you sell oven cleaner and insecticides and drain cleaners,” she looked totally confused. For reasons beyond my ken, it apparently had not occurred to her that the average drain cleaner was likely a LOT deadlier than boric acid.
No Point in Panic
The more I researched this article, the longer grew the lists of things to fear. I am not by nature a worrier, but such a topic could drive anxious types to insanity! But madness is not what is sought. What is required is a reasonable, balanced, common sense approach to dealing with things in our environment that can harm our Parrots.
For those of you who have had to “child proof” your homes, most of this will be old hat. For the rest of us, we need to look carefully at our environments regarding potential dangers to Parrots. Once identified, it is easy enough to prevent a problem in the future. Also, please note that I am not an expert or a chemist and I am simply sharing the information I’ve gathered from respected sources (see references).
House Tour – the Kitchen
As far as Parrots are concerned, the most potentially dangerous room in our homes is unquestionably the kitchen and the hazards are legion.
The problems with overheated pans with non-stick coatings such as Teflon™ have been well-publicized, for good reason. High temperatures causes the coating to release a deadly odourless gas and your Parrot could be dead in minutes. Ideally, such products should not ever be used in a bird household.
What is not so widely known is that PTFE or polytetrafluoroethylene (and yes, I can pronounce it but only with care) is also found in some space heaters, stoves, ovens, stove-top burner bibs and liners, heat lamps, irons, griddles, bread makers, woks, waffle makers, electric skillets, crock pots, curling irons, and hair driers.
So this danger does not just exist in the kitchen. Carefully check the labels prior to purchase and to my mind, anything labelled “non-stick” is guilty until proven otherwise. Incidentally, I hung on to a small non-stick pan as I was convinced I could not properly fry an egg without one. However, I discovered to my delight that a well-seasoned cast iron pan worked just as well and I immediately disposed of the non-stick pan and haven’t looked back.
Heated cookers and hobs are obvious threats, as are pans with hot contents. Avian veterinarians can tell horror stories for days about birds flying into pans of boiling water, so keep all birds caged away from the kitchen when cooking.
Self-cleaning ovens have also been implicated in bird deaths, as are new ovens (and other heating units like space heaters). New appliances often have a coating of antirust protections that burn off after the first use, so be very careful. The fumes from this burn-off are definitely toxic.
Dishwashers have proven to be a risk if a plastic item falls into a heating element during the drying cycle, as the fumes from melting plastic are also quite toxic. I have also heard reports of problems with so-called “cooking bags” for roasting meats and suggest you avoid those products as well.
Other potentially dangerous things often found in the kitchen include insect bait traps, washing machines with open lids (filled or not), and boxes of detergent, bleach, etc (open or not, as larger birds like my Blue and Gold Macaw LOVE to chew through cardboard). Also, anything you have in the cabinet under your sink is likely hazardous, so perhaps a door latch on that cabinet would be good idea.
Foods to avoid feeding to your birds include: Fruit pits of apricots, peaches, plums, prunes
Avocado & guacamole
Alcohol of any type
Under-cooked meat – especially chicken
House Tour – the Bathroom
There are a plethora of potential dangers in the bathroom as well, which likely ranks as the second most dangerous room in our homes. Such potential threats include: Aerosol sprays of any type (hairspray, deodorant, perfume, etc.).
Toilets with lid up (install lid locks if necessary).
Medications – “Over the counter” (OTC) as well as prescription medications for humans and other pets.
Inhalers, most especially those containing steroids. Birds are extremely sensitive to steroids and they work systemically even if only exposed to a bird’s skin.
Never leave standing water in the bath or sink. It takes very little water to create a drowning hazard.
Small bird hazards
Tall glasses of liquids.
Toilet paper rolls into which to crawl and get stuck and suffocate if chest expansion is prevented.
Large dog water bowls
The Rest of the Home – General Dangers
Most of these require no explanation:
Faulty screens that allow escape
Closed windows and mirrors to fly into
Uncovered fish tanks
Fires & Heaters
All smoking implements: cigarettes, cigars, pipes, matches, etc. These are toxic even if they are not lit. Any smoke produced is potentially toxic (including burning incense). Dirty ashtrays are also toxic. Nicotine on the hands of smokers can also produce an allergic reaction in birds, so wash with soap and water after smoking, prior to handling your Parrot. NEVER smoke indoors.
Toxic or thorny house plants (for safe plants, see: https://www.birdsnways.com/articles/plntsafe.htm)
Pesticide sprays, strips and foggers, mothballs, flea collars and shampoos, sticky pest strips (a.k.a. “fly paper”)
Mite sprays and tins (a.k.a. “Bird Protectors”™)
Fertilizer for house plants, including so-called “plant spikes”
Potting soil (often contains fungicides) unless organic and unfertilized
New carpets and cloth-covered furniture – should be aired for several days before moving into a bird household as they can apparently out-gas formaldehyde
Carbon monoxide – use a monitor with an alarm (Remember the canary in the coal mine?)
Dry-cleaned clothing – air outside, away from your birds until the chemical smell is gone
Cleaning, disinfecting and deodorizing products, spray starch
Air fresheners: plug-ins and sprays
Carpet cleaning powders (Glade™ products have been specifically implicated)
Scented candles and especially so-called “air freshening” candles
Things Parrots Should NOT to Chew On
Improperly glazed ceramics
Metallic paints, many artist paints (including fumes from drying paint)
High gloss paper often used in advertising (the ink is toxic)
Metal toys, jewellery, chains or decorations, cheap jewellery – these often contain dangerous levels of lead. Zinc, copper and iron can also lead to metal toxicosis. Also dangerous: House keys, many coins (i.e. American pennies), magnetic business cards, mirror backing
Lead poisoning is very common in companion Parrots. Don’t let your Parrot chew on your walls and windowsills! Lead-based paint is common in pre-1980 homes (in North America, anyway), often buried under many layers of non-toxic paint. Unless your older home has been sand-blasted to the wood, assume the presence of lead paint underneath it all. Other sources of lead include: stained glass ornaments or “sun-catchers”, foil from wine bottles, fishing weights and lead solder.
Read this account by AVS on lead and zinc poisoning in Parrots.
Problems in the Bird’s Immediate Environment
Avoid toxic children’s toys: According to the Center for Health, Environment and Justice [https://chej.org/ ], children’s toys containing toxic PVC are still being sold by large children’s toy stores) so do not assume such items would be safe for a Parrot.
Pressure treated lumber, conventional plywood and particle board – untreated pine is the safer choice for wood-chomping Parrots.
Unsafe or damaged cages with unsafe bar spacing, broken welds, rust and/or chipping paint.
Inadequate diet (malnutrition continues to be the source of most Parrot illness)
Dirty drinking water, such as “Parrot soup” in water bowls
Corncob or walnut shell substrates in cage or perch bases, as they encourage fungal growth
Here is an excellent warning about natural branches from the Birds N’ Ways website
Note: Nothing is safe if toxic chemicals or insecticides have been sprayed on them. Before installing them in any cage, scrub all branches with a non-toxic disinfectant (such as a diluted chlorine bleach solution) then rinse and dry well (Eg: preferably in the sun). (https://www.birdsnways.com/articles/plntsafe.htm)
Human saliva – Trust me, you do NOT want to know the sorts of germs that live quite happily in the human mouth, no matter how fastidious a person might be. Do not mouth-feed your Parrot or let it “clean your teeth.” It is not cute to allow that.
Stagnant, unhealthy indoor air isn’t good for humans, either. Run air filters if necessary, and open windows for fresh air whenever possible.
Walking outside, forgetting you have a bird on shoulder
Sleeping with a Parrot (accidental smothering is also the likely cause of many so-called Sudden Infant Death Syndrome [SIDS] cases in human babies)
Children – I know yours are perfect but what about your neighbours’ kids?
Other pets such as dogs, cats, ferrets and larger birds. And please be aware that your presence will not prevent a tragedy, as you simply WILL NOT BE ABLE TO MOVE FAST ENOUGH. But you will likely end up with memories you will wish you did not have, in addition to an injured or dead bird.
With outings in the car, secure safe carriers with the seat belt, placed in the back seat of car. The force at which air bags open is not only deadly to infants, as carriers can be collapsed and birds inside killed.
POST EMERGENCY NUMBERS BY EACH PHONE
Conclusion (or, Shall We All Panic?)
I know the list of potentially hazardous and toxic items is long and probably frightening. However, when you think about it, common sense has already told you about a lot of the things I’ve mentioned (though I admit that magnetized business cards hadn’t occurred to me).
Anything that is really smelly or gives of smoke is a potential danger to a bird’s extraordinarily efficient – and fragile – respiratory system, which works much better than ours. After all, their respiratory system is designed to remove and use every molecule of oxygen from the air so they can fly fast and high if necessary. That same wondrous system means their lungs will also remove every molecule of airborne chemicals as well.
Anything that is not specifically designed for a Parrot to chew could be a problem. While the ink in phone books and black and white newspapers are rarely a problem, the ink used in shiny advertising paper is a serious hazard. If you are not sure if something is safe around your Parrot, always err on the side of caution.
Any Parrot toy that has not come from an excellent and reputable company such as Northern Parrots™ (or I would not be writing for them) is potentially suspect. Cheap is NOT better when it comes to Parrot toys and equipment, and “Let the buyer beware” becomes a frightening warning when you consider the potential for disaster with our beloved companion birds.
See the hundreds of Parrot toys available here.
And likely the greatest danger in our environment is allowing Parrots to wander about the home without proper supervision. Don’t we all know a Parrot without guidance is bound to get into trouble? After all, what else would you expect from an intelligent critter with a can opener attached to its face?
References and Sources for More Information:
Precautions for Parrot Keepers
Carolyn Swicegood (https://www.landofvos.com/articles/safety.html)
Safe Plants: https://www.birdsnways.com/articles/plntsafe.htm