Toxins Harmful to Birds

Polly might want a cracker, but be careful what other foods you give him.

Polly might want a cracker, but be careful what other foods you give him.

Birds are remarkably sensitive to chemicals and substances. Their respiratory systems are more efficient than ours and their metabolisms are extremely high. This, combined with their small stature makes them particularly vulnerable to airborne matter, such as fumes and smoke. But plenty of other items around the house can prove harmful to your resident feathered friend as well.


Pets in general should never be given alcohol, but birds are particularly sensitive to it. Birds can ingest much more liquid for their body weight than people can, meaning that they can consume much more alcohol than would be safe even for humans. When coupled with birds' naturally fast metabolism, alcohol's damaging effects on their livers occur quickly -- and liver failure occurs in a very short time.

Nonstick Cookery

Pots and pans coated with nonstick materials become harmful to pet birds when the cookery is heated above 530 degrees Fahrenheit. Above this temperature, these materials emit an invisible, odorless vapor that, while harmless to humans, can accumulate in a bird's lungs as water within just a few minutes. DuPont, the maker of Teflon, recommends keeping birds away from the kitchen, running vents before heating Teflon cookware, and to never leave nonstick cookery unattended.

Household Chemicals

Birds' susceptibility to vapors extends to many common household substances. Cigarette smoke, bleach, ammonia, pest control sprays and flea powders, disinfectants, hairsprays and window cleaners emit fumes and vapors that birds process quickly. Birds' can't inflate and deflate their lungs in the same way people or dogs and cats can. Consequently, birds process what they breathe more efficiently; vapors and fumes enter and harm their systems faster..

Human Foods

Chocolate may be good for you, but it is deadly to birds. Chocolate contains caffeine and theobromine, which are digested in a different way by birds. Purer chocolate, such as baker's chocolate and dark chocolate, is the most toxic for birds. Milk chocolate is less toxic, but still harmful. Other foods to avoid giving birds include acidic foods such as oranges, tomatoes and raspberries, and sweets such as candies or pastries.

About the Author

Scott Morgan is an award-winning reporter and editor who has covered central New Jersey since 2001. He has worked with the Princeton Packet Newsgroup, US 1 Publishing, "Unique Homes Magazine" and Community News Service. Morgan also serves as a professional speaker and teacher. He holds a bachelor's degree in humanities from Thomas Edison State College.

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