Five Household Items

That are Toxic to Parrots

A green budgie (Melopsittacus undulatus)

As I covered in my previous article, there are many things around your home that present a physical threat to free-flying birds. But some of the dangers lurking in our four walls actually come in the form of silent or invisible threats that can be toxic to parrots, causing long-term health implications or even sudden death. Parrots are extremely good at hiding illness or injury, a trait they share with most other prey animals. Opportunistic predators in the wild will jump at the chance to pick off any member of the flock that looks more vulnerable than the rest, so if a parrot is unwell it pays to pretend as if they’re fine.

On top of this, parrots have a hugely long lifespan. Despite the popular belief held by many that budgies are a short-lived pet, they can live up to the age of 15 if well cared for. Other parrots exceed even this, with conures able to live to 30 and some macaws easily reaching their 50s. Long lifespans and privacy around health issues make for a difficult mix, and as parrot owners, it can be extremely difficult to know if your bird is being affected by something in your home. Some birds may even live for many years, apparently healthily, just to suddenly start displaying the symptoms of a long-term health condition. Because of this, it is best to know the risks and avoid them so we can love our parrots every day of their long lives. If you have, or intend to get, a feathered addition to the family, here are five things in your home that can be toxic to parrots.

1. Non-stick pans

Teflon coating is extremely common on non-stick cooking implements such as pans and baking trays. There is, unfortunately, no safe way to use Teflon-coated cookware in your home if you have a parrot, so the only solution is for these to be replaced. The fumes given off by Teflon when heat is applied are unlikely to do any visible harm to your parrot straight away, so this is a danger that will cause more damage the longer the parrot is exposed.

Thankfully, if you are using Teflon cooking tools in your home and you already have a bird it is not too late to make the switch. A healthy parrot that has been exposed to Teflon fumes may still live to a good age as long as the exposure is stopped as soon as possible. Ceramic, stone, pyrex, cast iron and other metal replacements can be purchased as an alternative for any baking trays, pans, or other non-stick utensils. Many of these are not expensive and are readily found in any kitchen store or even supermarkets, and it is well worth the investment for the safety of your bird. Your now-unusable pans can always be passed on to a non-bird owner, and if you have any students in the family I can personally attest that good-quality kitchen implements are always a welcome gift while living on a tight budget. Remember: if you are not sure if something has a Teflon coating, it is always better to be safe than sorry.

An orange-winged amazon (Amazona amazonica)
An orange-winged amazon, photographed at Tropiquaria

2. Aerosols

Any form of household spray is toxic to parrots. This includes all aerosols, which unfortunately means a switch to roll-on deodorant is a must for a bird owner. Though having animals in your home can often make it smell less than perfect, all air fresheners are completely off-limits too. This sensitivity to sprays is because, unlike humans, parrots do not have a diaphragm, which makes their respiratory systems extremely delicate. Even if what you are spraying is non-toxic, the existence of particles in the air can limit the amount of oxygen your bird is able to take in and cause respiratory issues. This means that all smoke is also a danger; fires, candles and incense, cigarettes and even vaping must all be banned from any house inhabited by a parrot. If you’re worried about the smell in your home, simple solutions such as boiling up citrus fruits and cinnamon can release lovely, bird-safe fragrances, and leaving bowls of coffee beans or oats in prime places around the house (unreachable by curious beaks) will absorb unpleasant odours.

3. Self-cleaning ovens

This hugely convenient feature that some modern ovens come preinstalled with is, most disappointingly, off-limits to bird owners. The fumes released by a self-cleaning oven are among the most dangerous and toxic to parrots in the home – some people have even reported that their bird sadly lost their lives within a matter of minutes of using this feature. Thus, though it is not something most people have in their home, it is extremely important to raise awareness of this very real danger. If you do have an oven with this feature and you are planning to get a parrot, don’t worry – you don’t need to go out and buy a whole new oven; the oven itself is still perfectly safe to use but you’ll have to stick to cleaning it the old-fashioned way.

A blue budgie. There are many things in your house that are toxic to parrots and may shorten a budgie's lifespan.
This is BB, one of our two budgies (the other is Errol, who can be seen in the image at the top of the article).

4. Food

Parrots form strong flock bonds and one of the most important ways they display affection towards one another is through sharing food. This is why if you are eating you will often be relentlessly pestered by your parrot. It is fortunate that many common foods are perfectly safe to share with your bird; however, some are not and it is very important to double-check before you feed your bird anything from your plate. Avocados, for example, are toxic to parrots, and consumption can even be fatal for a bird.

Small parrots such as this Fischer's lovebird (Agapornis fischeri) are very susceptible to things in your house that are toxic to parrots
A Fischer’s lovebird, photographed at Axe Valley Wildlife Park in Devon

If your parrot is glued to you all day every day, they may also follow you into the kitchen, where there are a whole host of dangers. Don’t think that your bird is too smart to fly into a pot of boiling water. Remember, no one is cooking pasta in the rainforest, so burning hot food is not a threat your bird will be used to and a big bowl of water may look to a parrot like a perfectly good spot for a bath.

5. Pencils

One of the more specific or perhaps niche threats to your bird, pencils serve as a reminder of the vigilance pet owners must use in their day-to-day lives. Pencils can be toxic to parrots so it is important that you don’t allow your parrot to chew on them, and when they are not being used they should be safely tucked away where your bird cannot get to them. Though you may not have pencils lying around your home, they are the perfect example of an unassuming everyday object that presents an unforeseen risk. It is always worth keeping in mind that if you find your bird with some object or another in their beak it may be unexpectedly dangerous, so keep a watchful eye on these curious creatures if you bring one into your home.

The dangers that I have mentioned may represent a huge lifestyle change for prospective bird parents and ones that some simply won’t be willing to undergo. But that, regretfully, means a parrot may not be the pet for you. If that is the case, don’t worry – there are plenty of other delightful pets out there, with needs you will more easily be able to cater to. If, however, you are still committed to bringing a bird into your home, investing in some roll-on deodorant, new cookware, and parrot-proof storage containers are definitely in order. This may sound absolutely terrifying, but, as with all new adjustments, you will quickly slip into a routine. ‘Is this thing safe for my parrot?’ is likely to be your most used online search term for quite some time after bringing your bird home, and the learning never stops, but your new companion is sure to make it all worthwhile.

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