Toxic Foods for Birds: 20 Common Hazards

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toxic foods for your birds

Who doesn’t love sharing a meal with their beloved pet bird and spoiling them a little? It’s a great way to spend time with your feathered friends and bond with them. 

You might know that some kinds of foods are toxic to your bird, but do you know why? As a bird parent and doctor, I set out to research the most toxic foods for birds, the reasons why, and the warning signs to watch out for.

In this article, I’ll list 20 harmful foods for your bird, starting from the most toxic foods for birds to other common foods that might be better to avoid. I’ll also include some warning signs to be aware of and how fast symptoms can appear.

1. Avocado

Avocado is very toxic for your bird
Image by tookapic from Pixabay

Avocado contains a fungicidal toxin called persin. Although you may have heard about bird owners feeding avocado to their pet birds with no issues, there is still debate about its toxicity.

Different kinds of avocado may have varying levels of toxicity, and since we are no avocado experts, it’s safer to avoid feeding avocados altogether. Even a small amount of avocado products could be poisonous to most bird species. 

The symptoms can start as early as 15 minutes to 12 hours after ingestion and death can occur within 1 to 2 days. As little as 2 grams or ¾ of a teaspoon could be a fatal dose for small bird species like budgies.

Warning signs:

  • weakness
  • lethargy
  • reluctance to perch
  • ruffled feathers
  • respiratory distress

2. Alcohol

Alcohol bottles are harmful ir drank by birds
Image by Andreas M on Unsplash

It might sound obvious not to give alcohol to your bird, but the danger lies when you forget your glass of wine on the table after a night of drinking, and your pet bird finding and taking a sip the next morning. 

To prevent this, always remember not to leave half-empty alcoholic beverages out. Birds are like curious little kids, so it’s better to be extra safe and clean up any alcohol around the house.

Alcohol is poisonous to birds and depresses your bird’s central nervous system and can irritate their gastrointestinal tract, and induce liver damage.

Clinical signs of alcohol poisoning can occur as quickly as 30 mins after ingestion.

Warning signs:

  • vomiting
  • sleepiness
  • disoriented behavior
  • respiratory depression

3. Chocolate

Chocolate bars are very toxic for birds
Image by Tetiana Bykovets on Unsplash

Who doesn’t love chocolate? As soon as your pet bird sees the look of ecstasy on your face while you’re indulging in that chocolate bar, they’ll want some too. Be extra careful not to leave it out where they can get to it. 

Chocolate and chocolate containing foods, not only have caffeine, but also theobromine, which is a stimulant, vasodilator, and diuretic. Both of these compounds are potentially toxic to birds. The darker the chocolate, the more harmful it will be.

Once ingested, chocolate poisoning symptoms can begin as early as 12 hours, and can harm the heart, kidneys, and central nervous system of your bird. As little as 2 grams or ¾ tsp could be dangerous for smaller birds.

Warning signs:

  • hyperactive behavior
  • vomiting
  • watery or dark-colored droppings
  • incresed heart rate
  • seizures

4. Caffeine

Keep your coffee cup away from your pet bird
Image by Devin Avery on Unsplash

This is another drink that your bird will want to try as soon as they see you drinking it. Keep it away from your bird, as caffeine can speed up their heart rate very fast.

Be careful not to share coffee, caffeinated beverages, carbonated drinks, chocolate, and any tea made from dried leaves, like black and green tea. If you want to share a drink with your bird, try herbal teas or fruit and vegetable juice instead.

Symptoms can start as soon as 30 mins after ingestion, and harmful doses start at around ½ teaspoon for small parakeets. The higher the caffeine concentration of the drink, the more poisonous to birds.

Warning signs:

  • hyperactivity
  • vomiting
  • incresed heart rate
  • arrhythmias
  • cardiac arrest

5. Fruit Seeds and Fruit Pits

Cut apples and take out the seeds before feeding them to birds
Image by Skylar Kang on Pexels

Most fruits are absolutely safe for your pet birds, but did you know that the seeds in some fruits are actually dangerous?

Seeds from grapes, citrus fruits, pumpkins, and berries are safe to eat. But fruit seeds from the rose family, such as apples, pears, cherries, apricots, peaches, nectarines, and plums, have cyanide, which is very cardiotoxic to birds.

The good news is that your bird would have to eat quite a few seeds to be poisoned. A cockatiel weighing around 3 oz would have to eat 40 to 60 crushed apple seeds to be poisoned. Yet, it is still better to remove the poisonous seeds from your apples before giving them to your bird.

Symptoms and even sudden death can come quickly (15-30 mins) if toxic levels are reached.

Warning signs:

  • excitement
  • rapid and labored breathing
  • vomiting
  • spasms

6. Xylitol

Indian Ringneck parakeet eating peanut butter

You can find this common artificial sweetener in many diet foods, candies, and some peanut butter brands. There are no official studies on birds, but studies done on dogs show that xylitol causes a severe drop in blood sugar and liver damage, which could cause health problems. 

Birds have a faster metabolism, so smaller amounts of xylitol could be more toxic to birds than other animals.

Warning signs:

  • vomiting
  • loss of coordination
  • seizures
  • liver failure

7. Salt

Popcorn and chips are salty foods
Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

Okay, so your bird won’t immediately die after eating salty chips. But you should still make sure your bird has the healthiest diet they can possibly have. 

Too much salt can upset the electrolyte and fluid balance in your bird’s body. Over time, your bird could be prone to develop fatty liver disease or even gout. 

Most bird diets already contain enough sodium, so try to limit salty foods and offer them unsalted treats instead.

Some symptoms include excessive thirst, dehydration, kidney dysfunction.

8. Fatty Foods

Assorted nuts in excess are bad for birds
Image by Annette Meyer from Pixabay

It’s important to remember that while fatty foods are not toxic to birds, they can still be unhealthy for them. Fatty foods not only include fried things, but also nuts.

We all know that birds love nuts. And yet, it’s important to be mindful of how much you give them. Depending on the size of your bird, one nut, such as an almond or a walnut, may be enough. 

Too much consumption can lead to high cholesterol levels, heart problems, fatty liver disease, and obesity, which can negatively affect your bird’s overall quality of life. So always be mindful of how much fatty foods you give to your bird. Moderation is key.

Some bird species, like Amazons and Quakers, are even more prone to developing high cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

9. Onions and Garlic

Sliced red onion is harmful for birds

Onions and garlic contain sulfur compounds and allicin, which can be harmful to your bird. They can irritate your bird’s esophagus and even cause ulcers on your bird’s digestive system. 

Over time, they can also rupture red blood cells, making your bird prone to haemolytic anemia. So, it’s best to avoid not only feeding your pet birds these vegetables, including green onions, but also concentrated powders that contain these substances.

10. Dried Beans

Assorted dried beans are dangerous for birds
Image by Milada Vigerova on Unsplash

We all know that cooked beans and legumes are very healthy for your pet birds. 

Dried beans and uncooked beans, on the other hand, can be very dangerous. They contain a toxic lectin known as phytohaemagglutinin, which can destroy red blood cells and prove fatal for birds. 

That’s why it’s essential to ensure that you fully cook beans before feeding them to your bird.

Warning signs:

  • vomiting
  • watery stools

11. Mushrooms

Raw mushrooms on a cutting board
Image by Emma Jones on Pexels

There is no consensus on whether or not mushrooms are safe for birds. While some studies suggest cooked mushrooms are safe for birds, others caution that only the stems are dangerous. 

Many bird owners feed their pet birds store-bought mushrooms, such as button or cremini, with no problems. Ultimately, the decision of whether or not to give certain mushrooms to your parrot is up to you.

However, it’s best to avoid feeding mushrooms altogether and instead opt for a balanced diet of pellets, fresh foods like raw or steamed vegetables, leafy greens, and fruits for your bird.

12. Tomato Leaves

Tomato stems are toxic for birds

Tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes and bell peppers belong to the nightshade family. While the fruits and vegetables are safe to eat, their stems, leaves, and vines contain solanine, which can be very toxic to birds and may cause kidney dysfunction.

Some avian veterinaries recommend avoiding feeding tomatoes altogether, as their acidity could cause digestive upset.  

If you are going to feed any nightshade vegetable to your bird, just make sure you take out their stems and leaves.

13. Cassava

Cassava roots are harmful for birds
Image by Loren Biser on Unsplash

Cassava, cassava flour, and tapioca contain small amounts of cyanide, just like apple seeds, so it is better to avoid exposure. 

Although it takes a lot to cause serious harm to your pet birds, it’s still better to be cautious.

14. Rhubarb Leaves

Rhubarb leaves are dangerous for birds
Image by Monika Grabkowska on Unsplash

The stems are perfectly safe to eat.

Just be careful with the leaves since they contain high amounts of oxalates, which if ingested in high amounts could cause serious kidney problems.

15. Raw Meat

Raw meat could be dangerous for birds
Image by gate74 from Pixabay

While cooked meat is safe for your pet birds to eat, be careful with raw meats since they can contain dangerous bacteria that could cause food poisoning.

Lean meats like chicken or turkey are better, and try to avoid cured meats or cold cuts such as bacon or sausages since they contain fat, sodium, and nitrates.

Be sure to boil or broil your meat and skip the seasonings before giving it to your bird. 

16. Nutmeg

Nutmeg spice is harmful for pet birds
Image by Mareefe from Pixabay

Nutmeg contains a toxin called myristicin. Small amounts used in cooking are ‌not harmful and may only cause mild stomach upset in your pet bird.

Consuming a large amount of nutmeg can result in vomiting, disorientation, and even seizures. So keep nutmeg out of the reach of your pet.

17. Heavy Metals

Nutmeg spice is harmful for pet birds
Image by Mikes-Photography from Pixabay

Okay, so they are not technically food. But heavy metals are commonly found in various items in a bird’s environment, such as old toys, paints, and linoleum. 

It’s crucial to ensure that your bird doesn’t chew on anything that might contain metals, such as lead or zinc. If they do, it could lead to neurological damage or even be fatal for your pet bird. 

Be diligent in monitoring your bird’s surroundings to avoid any potential hazards.

18. Grit

Red macaw eating grit
Image by Michelle Raponi from Pixabay

While grit is essential for digestion in birds like doves and chickens, it’s not recommended for most other pet birds, including parrots and parakeets. 

Grit is not safe for them at all, as it could accumulate in the crop or the gizzard, causing impaction (blockage) and slowly starving your bird to death.

19. Dairy

Milk and cheese are bad for birds
Image by Диана Лаврова from Pixabay

Dairy products contain lactose, which birds cannot digest. Although these products are not toxic for your pet birds, they can cause digestive issues such as vomiting and diarrhea. 

Cheese and yogurt contain less lactose than other dairy products, but they are still not essential to a bird’s diet, so it’s best to avoid them altogether.

20. Shelled Peanuts

Black headed caique eating a peanut
Image by Angie Toh from Pixabay

Old, shelled peanuts can be risky for birds because they may be moldy and contain a fungus called Aspergillus that produces aflatoxin. 

This toxin can cause serious liver damage in birds and lead to symptoms like lack of appetite, lethargy, yellowing of the skin (icterus), and hemorrhage.

To avoid this risk, it’s best not to feed your pet birds peanuts that have been stored away for too long.

Birds are sensitive creatures and their systems cannot always handle the same foods that we humans can. That’s why it is crucial to be aware of the potential risks that certain foods and household items can pose. 

Be vigilant, use common sense, and take appropriate precautions to ensure that our beloved pets remain healthy and happy for years to come.

A word of warning: always see a vet if you suspect your pet birds might have ingested any of the foods mentioned.

Featured image credit by Félix Figueroa from Pixabay

For a complete list of safe foods for your parrot check out: Safe & Healthy Foods for Your Parrot

Did you know Cuttlebone is a great supplement for pet birds?

Photo of author


Caroline is a passionate bird enthusiast and author with a lifelong interest in pet bird care and birdwatching. She shares her knowledge and experiences as a bird mother and a doctor, to assist others in becoming better bird owners and birders.

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