It has been said that parrots have the emotional stability of a 2 year-old and the intelligence and problem solving capacity of a 5 or 6 year-old. I am certain that if mine had fingers, they would be able to tie their own shoes. Like toddlers, parrots explore their environment with zeal and revel in new discoveries. Everything is a plaything and supervision when out of the cage is essential to their safety. You should begin making your house safe for your new parrot before you bring him home.
When bird-proofing your home, you need to think like a parrot. Get on your hands and knees and take a good look around. You will be surprised how this different perspective allows you to see the world as they see it. Scientists are just figuring out what we parrot owners have known all along: those little brains can come up with some pretty big ideas!
It’s a good idea to remove your birds from the room when you are bird-proofing so that you don’t call attention to that area, no sense in inviting them to investigate. I recommend that you create a play area in the room where you spend the majority of your time and try to limit your parrot to that area. It establishes boundaries for them and gives you better control of potential dangers in the environment. It also helps to confine messes to that one area. A portable perch or T-stand can be used for times when your bird will accompany you to other rooms. Let’s go room by room and go over potential danger and possible solutions.
Bird Proofing Room By Room
–Electrical cords and outlets
With their powerful and inquisitive beaks, one of the first things your parrot will seek out is the electrical cords and coaxial cables (used by your cable TV service). I think the biggest danger here is obvious: electricity. Be aware that the cords themselves contain many tiny filaments that are easy to ingest. They will lodge in the crop or the intestine and some are not easily detected by xray. Encase your cords in PVC tubing and cover your outlets with boxes made for toddler protection. The plastic inserts that you plug into the outlet itself do not provide sufficient protection from a bird’s explorative beak and toes.
We love to have plants in our home, and your parrot will love it too. Be sure to keep only safe, non toxic plants in your home. It is also important to know the quality of soil you are using and that you don’t use any toxic fertilizers. There are many safe ways to be sure that your plants will thrive without being a danger in your household.
–Windows and mirrors
If your bird is flighted and allowed to fly indoors, as are my cockatiels and quaker, windows and mirrors are an ever present danger. They can, and do, fly into them running the risk of injury and sometimes fatality. Dress your windows in such a way that it is obvious that they are not a part of the great, big outdoors. Decorative items attached to suction cups can be placed in the middle of a sliding door or pane of glass help make this clearer to your winged explorers, or try these decals that are barely visible to us, but are easily seen by our parrots.
Open windows and doors are an invitation to disaster. They WILL use them. If your bird is not professionally trained for outdoor excursions, it is likely you will not see them again.
Parrots love wood, wood is used to make furniture, therefore your great-grandmother’s antique hutch is a great toy. Your parrot will not discriminate. If it’s wooden, it’s fair game, no matter how long it’s been in the family. If it is important to you, supervise that beak!
Many woods used in construction are treated and contain chemicals that are dangerous. In addition to devastating your woodwork, your bird could be poisoned by layers of leaded paint beneath the top coat. Provide lots of wood toys and shreddables to make your furniture and moldings less appealing.
–Fireplaces, candles and lamps
Toward fire would be the last place you would think a bird would venture, yet accidents commonly occur with both pets and children. Be sure that your fireplace is fully closed off by a screen at all times, whether it is in use or not. Candles offer two dangers: open flame and hot wax, which can cause horrible burns.
Landing on a hot light bulb, or worse, falling into the crevice between the bulb and the globe can cause injury and death. Supervision is your best chance to avoid this danger.
–Cooking and appliances
It is wise to keep your birds out of the kitchen while you are cooking. If your bird is flighted, be sure to cover pots of boiling water and frying pans in use. I know of a conure whose feet were badly burned when he landed in the slot of a toaster in use. I also know of a cockatiel that was locked in the fridge for an hour or so before his frantic owner was smart enough to retrace her steps while searching for her missing bird.
It is important to carefully select the cookware you use. The off-gassing from non-stick coatings on common cookware has been responsible for many parrot deaths over the years.
–Under the sink
This is where we keep some of the most deadly poisons in our house, and it is an area that must be kept strictly guarded. Install child-proof locks on any cabinet doors where danger lurks. Vinegar is great as a cleaner and for use in the garden and houseplants. It is completely safe to use around your birds.
–Beside and under appliances
I speak from my personal experience here. Years ago, my cockatiels crawled alongside my refrigerator and were gone. I couldn’t see or reach them from any angle. My only option was to pull the fridge away from the corner to retrieve them, and had to risk running over their toes (or worse) in doing so. Finally, after slowly moving the fridge, out popped to very dusty little birds. Behind the fridge were old ant traps from previous tenants. We got lucky twice that day. The space they crawled through has been sealed off with pieces of 2X4.
A lady I once knew in Chicago had just brought home her baby eclectus. While out of her supervision, it attempted to fly, landed in her toilet and drowned. It takes about 30 seconds for a bird’s feathers to loose their water repellency and become water logged, dragging the bird under the water. Keep your toilet cover down.
–Makeup, skincare and hair
Shiny hair appliances such as a curling iron or straightener look like a lot of fun to explore, but they get very hot. With all our smarts and experience, WE still burn ourselves with them. Keep them and their cords safely out of reach. Never use aerosol products in the vicinity of your birds.
Many of your bathroom counter top products contain substances that are dangerous to our parrots. Many are kept in squeezable plastic dispensers that are easily punctured by a beak.
A parrot’s respiratory system is very sensitive and completely unlike our own. A bird can be overcome in minutes by things we can’t even detect. Do not use: any teflon/ non-stick cookware, incense, scented candles, aerosol sprays, plug in air fresheners or Febreze type products. These are deadly to our parrots. If you smoke, do so outdoors. Aside from compromising air quality, nicotine has been linked to feather plucking.
Humans and pets
Many of us who keep companion parrots are just animal lovers in general. We may have dogs, cats and other pets that share our home with us. Many canine breeds are bird dogs and have had this trait bred into them for centuries. Cats are, well, cats. To expect either to forever ignore its instincts is inviting tragedy. The bacteria in a cat’s mouth is, in itself, enough to kill a bird.
Many parrots are injured or killed inadvertently by their owners as they are stepped on or sat upon. It is a very good idea to be always aware of your parrot’s presence.
When you get too comfortable, accidents happen.
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.