Keeping your bird safe in your home
by Barbara Bingham Deutscher, CPBT, CPBC
IF ONLY I HAD KNOWN!
Our homes can be a dangerous environment for birds.
Keep your feathered friends safe and healthy by educating yourself and using good common sense.
Fumes: Birds are extremely sensitive and susceptible to airborne chemicals and toxins. Remember the miners bringing canaries into mines to detect harmful gases… the respiratory system of birds are very sensitive.
Non-stick coating (Polytetraflouethylene or PTFE) – Overheating of non-stick surfaces (such as Teflon or Silverstone) on pots, pans, ovens, drip pans, even hair dryers and ironing board covers can release toxic fumes.
Smoke – ALL smoke including smoke from burning food, cooking oil, cigarettes, cigars, pipes, even burning candles. (Cigarette butts are toxic to birds.)
Household cleaners – Fumes from bleach, ammonia, pine cleaners and also oven cleaners are toxic to birds. Commercial carpet cleaning chemicals release toxic fumes when wet and detergent dust when dry. Vinegar (5% acidity) is recommended instead, the vinegar (undiluted) will kill bacteria, mold, and germs (viruses) as well as prevent mold from growing. (Always make sure the room is well-ventilated – even with vinegar.)
Aerosol sprays – Hairspray, perfumes, deodorants, sunscreen, air fresheners, etc.
Natural and propane gas – Gas leaks from furnaces, hot water heaters, camp stoves, and BBQs.
Scented products – Vapors and oils from scented candles, potpourri, incense, room fresheners
There are many sites including Environmental Working Group with details and evidence of the many deaths of birds due to fumes in our homes.
Accidents – They happen! Especially when a bird is frightened from unexpected movement, the unfamiliar, or loud noises.
Falling – Accidentally falling with clipped wings can cause serious injuries including broken bones, ruptured breasts, and fractured breast bones.
Crashing – Crashing into walls, windows, mirrors, objects whether fully or partially flighted can result in broken necks or serious injuries to the head, neck, or beak.
Crushed or kicked – Getting stepped on, sat on, or rolled onto can seriously, sometimes fatally, injure a bird. Birds play in blankets, under furniture, in drawers, around recliners and even vacuum cleaners – don’t take a chance.
Doors, drawers, hinges – Injuries and fatalities by a moving door, drawer, or hinge are tragically common. Be very careful with opening and closing shower doors, sliding doors and drawers, hinges as well as regular doors, cage doors, even washing machine lids! Watch those toes!!! Also heads, beaks, tails, even wings!
Fan blades – All fans including ceiling fans should be off whenever birds (flighted or clipped) are loose.
Windows / Mirrors – Birds mistake windows and mirrors as an exit or passageway especially when frightened.
Drowning – Birds drown in open toilets and in sinks also pots of water and buckets. Here is a reason to keep the toilet closed and sink drained.
Scalding and Burns – Keep birds out of the kitchen areas when cooking or cleaning.
Hot food – Be aware of the temperature of foods that your bird can access.
Bites and Infections – from other animals and other birds. Infection from saliva is of as much concern as a wound.
Pets and Predators – Dogs and cats are naturally predators; birds are prey animals. A larger bird can easily kill a smaller one. Raptors including hawks are bold predators of smaller birds. Pet birds can harm each other – watch for toes, beaks that are accessible. Do not have cages too close to one another – injuries are too common.
Poisons – Supervise your bird when loose. There are poisons all around your home – laundry area, medicine cabinet, bathroom, garage, and kitchen. Store all medications, chemicals, disinfectants, cleaners away from exploring beaks. Keep your garbage and cigarette butts locked away too; pressure-treated lumber contains arsenic; lead in old paints and jewelry; the list goes on. Supervise your bird and make sure they stay healthy and safe.
Foods – Educate yourself about what foods may be toxic to your bird. Harmful foods include onions, avocados, mushrooms, uncooked beans, apple seeds, caffeine, cocoa, alcohol, even too much salt.
Houseplants / Plants – Plants that are common in and around homes can be hazardous to a nibbling bird. This article at Phoenix Landing’s website is an outstanding resource for bird caregivers. A “Must Read” with lists of links for further information: http://www.phoenixlanding.org/Plants_and_Parrots.pdf
Leg bands – Leg bands can cause irritation, leg constriction, and get caught on objects or even the cage and cause a fracture or dislocation. Be sure that the leg band is safe, comfortable, and necessary or have your vet remove the band and microchip your bird. Be sure the microchip is registered and up-to-date with your correct and current information. (Do not take the registration for granted when your animal is microchipped!!!)
Temperature – Be aware of the environment and effects on your bird. Heat, cold, and blowing air can be hazardous to your bird’s well-being. Observe body language such as panting and wings held out; fluffed and shivering. Keep your bird out of drafts and protected from extreme weather. Always provide ample clean water.
Getting Lost – Birds that become lost may not be able to find their way home.
Keep doors and windows closed or screened and use a harness or aviary when outside.
Clipping flight feathers does not make a bird safe from breezes or exploring too far or too high.
The bird may be disoriented or be too frightened to fly back or climb down.
Contact calls are a natural behavior for birds – calling and answering back and forth. Contact calls can be used to locate your bird if he or she were ever missing (even just lost in your house). It is a good idea to practice contact calls between you and your bird.
When your bird calls to you (not screaming) answer your bird with a whistle, word, sound, or short phrase like “Hi” or “I’m here” or “<Bird’s name>”.
When you are out of sight or even just across the room, call to your bird with this contact call and reinforce them* for answering you. Practice contact calls with your bird in different locations. What is important is responding back and forth so you and your bird know the location of each another – not what you each say.
*Your bird will likely find the interaction fun and rewarding in itself but also praise the bird at times after they answer and add more attention and/or a treat and/or a scratch, game, toy, etc.
This is what Bowie (a Congo African Grey who has been staying with me and learning) and I have reinforced with each other as a "contact call". (I am inside the house answering Bowie (and taking video).) Birds do contact calls naturally to keep track of each other - we just (intentionally and specifically) reinforce them. :)
Be consistent! Be kind. Be patient.
Being caregiver of a bird carries constant responsibility along with the unique opportunity to develop an incredible kinship with another species.