A member of my family just lost 5 budgies in a moment (a pair and three babies). She gave them some apple, left the room and when she came back in, they were all dead. You can imagine her grief. Unfortunately, an autopsy was not done, so the cause cannot be pinpointed. There are a number of things which we do, which can have a fatal effect very quickly on our birds, but on the other hand, there are accidents over which we have little control.
This is a list of the most deadly hazards over which we may have some control. See links at the bottom for other hazards and general care.
- Cooking using appliances with non-stick coatings
There are many appliances sold which have non-stick coatings. These include but are not limited to: skillets, pans, coffee makers, oven drip pans, woks, grills, self cleaning ovens, stoves among others. One general name used is Teflon (which contains polytetrafluoroethylene or PTFE), but PTFE is also sold under many different names and brands. Overheating, which can occur rapidly, causes fumes which break down the tissue in the birds lungs and suffocates them very quickly and under distress. Teflon Toxicity in Birds. Through experiments, the U.S. public watchdog group Environmental Working Group (EWG) has found that temperatures lower than previously thought can cause a danger. Preheating a pan on high flame can very rapidly pass the safe limits. See Dupont's (the manufacturer of Teflon) own advice related to pet birds and cooking here. The best advice is to use cookware which is known to be safe. See Birdsafe cookware which lists stainless steel, aluminum, copper, glass, corningware, cast iron. For more general discussion, also see the article 'Top Ten Dangers' below.
- Some ironing board covers, irons and other heating appliances
such as heating lamps, electric heaters, hair dryers, curling iron, griddles, waffle irons, popcorn makers, roasters also have the same compound PTFE (like Teflon) on some of their parts. Do not iron in the same room as your birds. Also, when you buy electrical appliances which use heat, check labels very carefully and if still in doubt, contact the manufacturer. I ran across one post which states "PTFE-treated burner liners or bibs on your range are dangerous with normal usage. One such bib under a burner set on high can kill all the birds in your home" source. In general, it is good to do a check of appliances in your home already. The fact that nothing has happened may simply mean that the conditions were not right so far. But your birds could be in danger.
- Sitting in direct sun with no opportunity to avoid
Never place a cage where it will be at some time of the day (all seasons) in direct line with the sun. Proper permanent shielding can provide some protection but simple heat buildup in a room can also cause death. Also, never leave a bird in a car, period. Leaving a window partially opened is not enough to prevent heat buildup, and leaving the air conditioning or heater on can have disastrous effects if anything goes wrong.
- Lack of water due to blockage, or insufficient refill.
Water jars used for birds can become blocked by a piece of food or other cause, and remain unnoticed. We can even refill without being aware that it is blocked. Always have two water jars in a cage, and change water daily. Dehydration in a bird may not be noticeable until it is too late. Sometimes fatal dehydration in baby chicks may be caused by sour crop (for definition and information see under references below).
- Carbon monoxide
High concentration of CO can occur due to: incomplete oxidation when cooking on gas stoves; un-vented kerosene and space heaters; worn, incorrectly set, leaking, improperly maintained, or back drafting of gas dryers, water heaters, furnaces or other combustion device; a car idling in an attached garage, or from cars, trucks, buses on the street or parking lot near the window; improperly vented fireplace or leaking chimney, wood stove, charcoal grill, generator, lawnmowers, snowblowers or other yard equipment.
Some sources have recommended a carbon monoxide monitor in the room where the birds are kept which sounds an alarm.
I was talking with my sister in New York. She said that a carbon monoxide (CO) detector saved her. She has them in her house and on their sail boat. The one on the boat went off and they could not find out what was causing it until they found that the spare batteries which help run the boat when the sails are not up, was leaking. They were situated right under where she was sleeping, and it was dangerous chemical fumes which they could not smell, even though this is not the detector's primary function. Says she would not be without them. The ones she has are made by Kidde and is sold in HomeDepot and other well known stores, and can be bought online at Amazon among a number of others. Costs about $24 and can be bought alone for carbon monoxide or together with a smoke detector. Main site is Kidde CO Alarms Check here for where to buy
Also, "Never use a generator inside homes, garages, crawlspaces, sheds, or similar areas. Deadly levels of carbon monoxide can quickly build up in these areas and can linger for hours, even after the generator has shut off".
Further on Carbon Monoxide:
A very readable and excellent information source is What is Carbon Monoxide which indicates how you can tell if there is a leak in the house, what to do, types of detectors, excellent diagram of possible sources in the home. "The U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) reports that approximately 200 people per year are killed by accidental CO poisoning, with an additional 5000 people injured." Another very complete source on the subject is EPA on Carbon Monoxide [also in Spanish Monóxido de Carbono (CO)].
- Gas fumes from a cooking gas leak
can be fatal to birds which are close to the source if they are in an enclosed space, or even with ventilation since there can be a buildup in certain places or currents of air can engulf the birds. If a leak is suspected, take the birds outside until the problem is fixed.
- Certain foods which have caused death and should be completely avoided.
Avocado (guacamole), rhubarb leaves, chocolate, cocoa. Other products which should not be given are: Onions, alcohol, milk products, tobacco, caffeine, or mushrooms. There are a number of plants which are toxic to birds. See in particular, Pet Birds and Toxic Foods
A Short List of Poisonous Plants You Should Never Feed Your Pet Also see for a good overall general article on dangers and bird care, and signs of sickness Make a safe environment for your pet bird by wikiHow.
- Fruit seeds, and in particular apple seeds
which have amygdalin, a cyanogenic glycoside in them. The apple itself is fine. Just do not slice an apple in half with the possibility of slicing one of the seeds. Slice around the core. Cutting a seed, or giving the skin of the core which was touching the seeds should be avoided. The amount of cyanide is relatively small for us, but not for the birds. Also, be careful of other fruit seeds, in particular apricot, peach, nectarine, plum and cherry. Also, wood of these trees should not be used as perches. See Safe & toxic wood / trees - birds, perches and toys for an extensive listing.
- Birds are more sensitive than humans to agricultural sprays (insecticides, rodenticides and herbicides)
which have been used on or around fruits, vegetables, and grains. Always wash fruit thoroughly and in some cases, peel before giving to birds. Plus, insecticides, rodenticides and herbicides used in or near the home can be very dangerous to birds. If you use any of the three latter in the home, it is advised to use one which is low in toxicity, or found to be non-toxic to wildlife. In any case, if you spray the rooms, remove the birds out until you feel it is safe to bring them back in. If birds are free in the house, take extra care with pellets, placement of treatments, canisters, traps, etc. One live roach is better than dead birds. He will thank you for it. Pesticides & Wildlife-Fruit Trees prepared by Department of Entomology, NCSU lists pesticides used in the cultivation of fruits and gives the toxicities by brand name for birds, animals, fish, and also by insect for apples, nectarines and peaches. A major site PAN Pesticides Database gives a complete database of current toxicity and regulatory information for insecticides, herbicides and other pesticides. Search by brand names, chemicals, alternatives to chemical pest control, identification of pesticides registered for use in different countries. Also, has information specific to California in terms of where used and specific crops. A side note, scientists studying the sudden death of wild birds in Japan, found high concentrations of Methomyl, EPN, or Benfuracarb in the bird's digestive system in each incident. These compounds are all on the following list (as well as documented in the PAN site above), with the first two labeled as acute toxic, and benfuracarb listed as moderate. Have you had your poison today also lists many of the chemicals used in agriculture (in this case, a specific country which produces food exported worldwide).
A very thorough coverage of the use of pesticides in the home by the U.S. EPA can be found at Citizen's Guide To Pest Control and Pesticide Safety
- Poisonous plants
These may be in the home, or given to birds to chew or to sit on as perches. Always identify tree and check type of leaves, twigs or branches given to birds. For a list of poisonous plants and also plants which are safe, see Poisonous Plants for Birds by PetEducation.com Gives the symptoms induced by eating parts of specific plant. This article also has numbers to call in the U.S. if you suspect poisoning (good to have on hand). If you are attempting to identify a plant and have a name, try looking it up in a plant database at Calphotos: Plants of the University of California, Berkeley. Also see, Poisonous plants by Bird Times Magazine. Gives approximately 160 plants which are toxic to birds with the part of the plant causing toxicity.
- Various Items Found In Home
Toxicology of Common Household Hazards Gives products, composition, clinical signs, treatment. This is written with all pets in mind. Very detailed treatment. Following are mentioned among others:
Acids (e.g. cleaning agents (e.g. toilet bowl cleaners), anti-rust compounds, pool sanitizers)
Alkalis (e.g. drain openers, automatic dishwasher detergents, alkaline batteries, toilet bowl cleaners, swimming pool products and radiator cleaning agents),
Alcohol (three types each typified by e.g. rubbing alcohol, bread dough, base for perfumes, cosmetics, windshield antifreeze)
Ant and roach bait (harmful doses of different insecticide described fully on Extoxnet
Batteries (alkaline or disc batteries with alkaline gel)
Birth control pills (different concentrations of estrogen, iron in some pills)
Bread dough (expands possibly leading to respiratory and vascular problems, released alcohol in fermentation)
Chocolate (methylxanthines - amount determined by type of chocolate)
Cationic detergents (fabric softeners, hair mousse, germicides, sanitizers)
Moldy food (containing toxins produced by a variety of fungi)
Mothballs (composed of either 100% naphthalene or 99% paradichlorobenzene, with naphthalene twice as toxic)
Pennies (contain high amount of zinc also found in screws, bolts, nuts, etc)
Potpourri (essential oils and cationic detergents)
- Fumes or smells which are dangerous to birds
Certain personal spray products for hair, deodorants, perfumes, nail polish, house paint, burning food, oven cleaners, overheated oil or butter which when breathed in by the birds can cause distress and even death. Also scented candles, aerosols, air and car air fresheners can cause distress and death according to many accounts. For a general listing Sources of Fumes that are Toxic to Birds .Also, mention has been made of Scotch Guard or other stain protectors on furniture, carpets, padding. For a fairly lengthy list, see Unsafe Household Products.
If a bird is not trained to be near you at all times, there is always the risk of escape. This is generally deadly for many exotic birds which do not have homing instincts and cannot find their way back after the initial flight of freedom. They very quickly become prey for other birds and animals, or without food, do not make it. If your bird is free, always check exits, windows, hallways leading to other rooms, upstairs, people coming in and out.
There are many other causes which are pure accidents but which could have been prevented with enough foresight, such as: Composition of metals in contact with birds (copper, brass, zinc, lead), electrical cords which can be chewed through, non-preparation of room for birds which are allowed to roam, swinging doors, plate glass windows and mirrors, habits of ours which turn deadly to our pet like sleeping with your bird. Read further in the following links dealing with exotic birds, and hazards to avoid which are not listed here. These are sites by veterinarians and professionals in the business for many years.