Here we’ll dive into some of the foods that are toxic for birds or items that need moderation and caution if your bird gets a bite in! Please note that we are not a veterinarian, and this information is what we have learned over the years from experience, our vet’s advice, and other online resources we trust. If in doubt, leave it out and check with your avian veterinary clinic before offering it to your parrot.
Harmful – Do Not Feed
The avocado and it’s leaves contain persin, a fungicidal toxin that has been reported to be a cardiac toxin to birds. When ingested by a bird, this substance may cause heart damage, respiratory difficulty, weakness, and even sudden death. While certain types of avocado have been safely consumed by some bird species, it’s unclear how much avocado a pet bird would have to eat to be affected. Given the potential consequences, avoid feeding avocado and foods containing avocado (such as guacamole) to birds.
Caffeine and Alcohol
Caffeine and alcohol can increase heart rate, induce arrhythmia and hyperactivity, and even cause cardiac arrest resulting in death. While temping to share a sip of coffee, tea or soda with your bird, don’t risk it. It may only take one sip to cause cardiac arrest, instead offer water or a sip of your fruit drink!
Chocolate contains theobromine and caffeine, which are both classified as methylxanthines, and can cause hyperactivity, increased heart rate, tremors, seizures, and potentially death. As a general rule, the darker and more bitter the chocolate, the more potentially toxic it is to your bird.
The consumption of high-fat foods, such as butter, oil, fatty meats, and nuts can result in a build-up of cholesterol deposits in the walls of our arteries, leading to heart disease and stroke. Excessive ingestion of these foods also can lead to obesity and fatty liver disease. Amazon and Quaker parrots, are prone to developing high cholesterol and triglyceride levels and subsequent coronary artery disease. While some nuts are just fine, each species has nut limits in their diet and always choose unsalted nuts. A macaw can have a few nuts a day, while an African Grey should limit to one daily, and a Cockatiel is good with just a sliver or small chopped piece of nut.
Salty foods such as chips, crackers, pretzels all pose potential risks to our small feathered babies. Even in small amounts, salt can upset the balance of electrolytes and fluids in a bird’s tiny body, leading to excessive thirst, dehydration, kidney failure, and death.
Fruit Pits and Apple Seeds
Some fruits containing seeds (such as apples and pears) and pits (such as cherries, apricots, peaches, nectarines, and plums), should not be offered to birds without removing the seeds and pits first. These seeds and pits contain cyanide. The seeds from other produce such as grapes, citrus fruits, squash, pumpkins, tomatoes, melons, mango, pomegranate, and berries, all are safe for bird consumption and can be fed without worry.
Onions and Garlic
Onions and garlic are not only toxic to dogs and cats but also birds. Onions contain sulfur compounds that, when chewed, can irritate the lining of a bird’s mouth, esophagus, or crop, causing ulcers, and can induce rupturing of red blood cells resulting in anemia. Garlic contains allicin, another chemical that can cause anemia and weakness in birds. Items likes garlic powder or onion soup mix have even more concentrated toxins than their raw or cooked vegetable counterparts.
Rhubarb contains toxic amounts of oxalic acid which inhibits calcium absorption and can cause further health issues. Many other vegetables (like spinach) contain oxalic acid, which inhibits the calcium absorbed from food that contains oxalic acid. However they do not contain enough to cause harm to your birds unless that is all they eat for a calcium source and are safe to eat. Rhubarb, however has such high levels that it is toxic to birds.
Xylitol, Artificial Sweetner
Xylitol is often found in sugar free candies, drinks and diet foods, which has been associated with severe hypoglycemia, liver damage and even death in pets. Since birds have a faster metabolism than other pets, they have a higher risk than other animals to the effects of Xylitol.
Potentially Harmful – Use Caution
Animal Proteins and Shellfish
Uncooked/raw, undercooked or reheated animal protein and shellfish should not be given to parrots because it is at a higher risk of bacterial infection than meats that are freshly and fully cooked. This bad bacterial can cause illness and death in birds.
High-Water Content Veggies
While these are safe for parrots, they can cause diarrhea in birds if given too much. These items include cabbage, iceberg lettuce, cucumbers and celery. That said, they are often used during travel to help keep hydrated during long trips where water may be limited to avoid spillage.
Moldy Foods and Nuts
While nuts and peanuts are generally a safe for parrots, you do need to use caution that they are not moldy. The fungus that is often naturally found on them is toxic to birds.
While grit is necessary for poultry and some bird species like doves and finches, who use the grit to help them grind foods that are eaten whole. However, parrots hull their seeds and grind up foods prior to eating them with their unique beak design and therefore do no need the grit. In fact, some breeds can overeat grit when they aren’t feeling well and lead to intestinal blockage.
Sugary Foods & Candy
High sugar foods can lead to diabetes in birds over time. Yes birds can develop diabetes! Just like humans, too much sugar should be avoided.
While dairy is not necessarily toxic to birds, they cannot digest the lactose found in dairy products like milk and cheese. Some dairy products are lactose free or have low levels of lactose and are okay to give birds in small amounts. An excess of lactose can cause diarrhea in birds. Another issue with dairy is the fat content, avoid high-fat dairy and opt for lactose free and fat free varieties like some yogurts and cheeses.
Several types of mushrooms contain amatoxin, which can cause liver and kidney failure. While most of our ‘food-safe mushrooms’ do not contain amatoxin, many mushrooms can be easily miss-identified and any mushrooms can still cause gastric issues for birds.It’s best to just avoid this and err on the side of caution.
Celery isn’t necessarily harmful for parrots, however the strings inside can cause bowel blockages when consumed, just remove the stringy sections and you’ll be fine.