Q: I make a lot of toys for Puffin, my african grey, by myself. Her favorite ones are the hanging toys that I string up with rope, but now she bites through the rope and they end up on the bottom of the cage and get “messy”, if you know what I mean. I want to use chain so she can’t bite her toys down but I don’t what metal is safe to use. What do you suggest?
Ashley G, Scranton, OH
A: This is a great question because while there are a few metals that are safe to use with parrots, there are many that are not. Making the wrong choices could result in heavy metal toxicity, which is dangerous for your bird and can be fatal if not treated.
Heavy metal toxicity most often occurs in birds when they have managed to ingest or chew on metals containing lead or zinc (most commonly seen) or copper, usually the result of chewing on wiring or pennies minted before 1982. Once swallowed, any pieces of metal that the bird’s body doesn’t pass will lie within the digestive system and continue to leech toxins into the body. The following is an x-ray of a bird with lead in its gizzard (ventriculus).
Some symptoms of heavy metal toxicity are:
- lethargy and depression
- decreased appetite and weight loss
- increased thirst
- abnormal droppings: greenish black in color, blood in droppings, diarrhea
- weakness/ ataxia: falling from perches, inability to fly or walk straight
A bird may simply show signs of general and non-specific illness. The good news is that there are medications to relieve the symptoms of metal poisoning in birds and chelation therapy to help remove metals that remain in the bird’s body. There are cases, however, where metals remain unpassed by the bird despite all efforts. Largely, though, metal toxicity is repairable as long as it is caught before too much damage has been done.
Before we move onto the topic of "safe metals" we just want to offer you an opportunity to join our ALL-NATURAL PARROT TOY CLUB! You will never have to worry about safety being an issue with our parrot toys! There are never any toxic substances like dyes, glues, plastics, metals, chemically treated rope or any such things. And each toy is HANDMADE by villagers in the Philipines giving over 500 families opportunities for work!
What Metals Are SAFE?
We don’t always know the composition of the metals around us. Some are alloys, which are a combination of metal used together to increase the strength or the resistance to corrosion in the final product. The problem is in determining which metals are used in each alloy.
Chrome (aka chromium or chrome plated) is the perfect example – it is an alloy that is sometimes safe, but sometimes incorporates zinc and there is no way for us to know one way or the other. Because of the possibility of zinc, I will not use chrome with my birds – even though it probably is safe.
On the other hand, stainless steel is an alloy that IS safe – even though stainless steel combines about 11% (ish) chromium with steel in the product. (I know what you are thinking… “she just told us chromium contains zinc!”) Since chromium might only contain a small percentage of zinc, and stainless steel contains only a percentage of chromium, levels are lowered and overall, it is safe. In fact, stainless steel is the preferred metal to use with parrots. It is a hard surface that can stand up to a large beak and is easily cleaned.
Metals that are nickel plated are also safe for use with parrots.
Steel and iron are safe metals, but they will rust when introduced to water. Because water is common in the parrot environment if only for the purpose of cleaning, neither iron nor steel is a good choice in the long run.
Aluminum is also a safe metal. It doesn’t rust like iron or steel, but instead corrodes into aluminum oxide, a grayish white substance that is powdery in appearance. Unlike rust, aluminum oxide is non-toxic when ingested or handled.
It is important not to use any metal that is galvanized. Galvanizing is the process during which metals are plated with a thin coating of zinc to make them less corrosive. When intended for outdoor use, these metals are galvanized to make them weather resistant.
Most of the metals parts that come with toys from reputable stores and manufacturers will be either stainless steel or nickel plated for the purpose of safety. When a part needs to be replaced and the hardware store is your only option, be sure to ask for the stainless steel version of what you are looking for. It will be more expensive, but well worth the cost.
Toxic metals show up in the most unexpected household items – from toothbrushes to drapery weights. Keep your bird away from any metals that you can’t identify as safe with certainty. Make a general rule that states no metals except stainless steel, nickel plated and aluminum should be used in your bird’s environment, and when in doubt, don’t.
Please consider supporting our mission for happy, healthier companion parrots by purchasing the best parrot toys on the planet!
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.
Home depot sells stainless steel also other stores like that
Definitely not galvanized and watch that they don’t peel off paint it can make them deathly sick
I really want to say that the dangers of metal toxicity in birds is severely serious! I little parrotlet found a zinc infused fan blade weight on our ceiling fan and nearly died. We are 5 days into treatment and she still cannot walk or grasp with her talons. We do not know if she will ever get the ability to use her legs and talons again. It does not take much at all to cause massive issues. Please, be super careful!
I need to know where to get stainless steel wire mesh for an indoor enclosure. Please help.
Hey Now! 🤔 I was wondering if I could make a toy for my cockatiel made out of small aluminum pie tins that I get at the grocery store. They are 3 or 4 in across. He loves shiny things and he loves the sound it makes. But can I leave him unattended with this thin aluminum? He loves to chew things but he usually doesn’t consume them. Does anybody have any input or experience with this kind of homemade toy? Thank you everybody. Much appreciated .Mona & Moji🐣
I always thought magnets could be swallowed and become foreign objects in birds’s bodies. If the magnet became attracted to an external magnet so one mag was inside while one magnet was outside the bird tissue could be stressed or frankly damaged.
What about magnets? My bird found a magnet and like to throw it at metal so it sticks. But I won’t let her play with it until I know it’s okay. Is it? It’s just a fridge magnet that broke.
I was just looking into upgrading my Cockatoo (Henry)‘s steel interior cage as it has some rust. Now way back in 2007 I received some advice for building external enclosures, and I have since built two. That advice was to use 2inch galvanised wire mesh. Henry seems fine, perhaps because the cages sre nothis toys, he climbs around but he doesn’t play with them… but I’m concerned – how big do we think the problem is with my external enclosures.
Q: can i use (Canvas khisha) in a lorikeet cage ??
Hi i have 2 lovebirds. Ive put skewer fruit and veggie holder thing in their cage but the actual holder thing goes rusty i always make sure i clean it etc. Is this safe or get a new type of skewer holder ?
Is streamers safe for african greys?
Zakariya, the screws almost certainly have a high zinc content. I highly recommend that you replace the screws with stainless steel screws. They will be more expensive but your baby is worth it. :)
Hi, I made a play gym for my African Grey and in all the joints I used drilling screw and I don’t even know what kind of metal is that now I’m so confused ?♂️ what Must I do? Should I leave it or remove it?
Would like to know if copper is safe for my parrot? The same copper used for domestic water lines.
I have a question , my parrot bits plastic bowls what can i do
Jay, you didn’t answer her question. I’ll address your comment, though. It absolutely sounds like you have an axe to grind in your comments. Not everybody has an oxyacetylene torch, nor the compunction to buy one specifically for degalvanizing a birdcage.
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