As much as we try to make our birds feel at home, there is no way around the fact that life in our world is unnatural for them. Even the bird that has been raised entirely in captivity might struggle to understand the human environment.
Wild parrots learn about their world from their parents and flock mates who teach them what is safe and what is not. We humans, not being birds, are mostly unable to communicate similar messages to our companions. Often our birds have to learn by trial and error. Sometimes that experience can be deadly.
I decided to make a list of the top 5 most preventable deaths our readers report to us (be sure to click on the links provided for further information).
AIR TOXICITY – Toxic air quality is by far the biggest killer of parrots around the world. Despite warnings that have been around for years, people still use dangerous products in their bird’s air space.
Spray bottles and cans, particularly aerosol sprays, present the biggest problems. These might be cleaning products, pesticides, room fresheners/deodorizers, or even hairspray.
The contents of aerosol cans are under extreme pressure and the fine mist that is forcefully released from the can permeates a room quickly. Birds have a high efficiency respiratory system that leaves them especially vulnerable when their air quality is compromised – whether the spray is comprised of a toxic substance or not.
The off gassing that comes from non-stick coated cookware and other appliances and household items containing Teflon (of which there are many) runs a close second in the toxic air category. Following this is cigarette smoke, cooking smoke and scented candles.
SWALLOWED OBJECTS – Birds are like toddlers – they are into everything and everything goes into their mouths. The difference between a toddler and a bird is that children don’t have the bite power to break things apart to make them a more convenient size for swallowing and children cannot fly up onto shelves where we might put things to keep them out of reach.
Birds have a way of defeating our very best parronting skills.
This category offers two dangers: impaction from swallowing an item and toxins leaching from swallowed items. The digestive system is intricate and contains many areas where non-food items might become trapped and literally hold up the works. While there are ways other than surgery to remove or coax these items out, they are not always effect. If the item swallowed is toxic, such as metals containing zinc or lead, it will sit there leaching toxins into your bird’s body.
ACCIDENTS INVOLVING FLIGHT – We strongly encourage everyone to allow their birds to be fully flighted. Flight is the greatest possible form of exercise for a bird and it does wonders for their mental health as well. But when a bird is allowed to fly freely in an enclosed space you need to be aware of the potential dangers.
For birds, mirrors and windows have always been a confusing aspect to the human environment. Even with their magnificent eyesight, parrots often do not detect glass until the last moment. Sometimes, by this time, it is too late to slam on the brakes and stop the momentum of their flight. Necks and other bones have been broken, concussions suffered.
Again, for reasons that are unknown, birds often make contact with the blades of ceiling fans. I find this a much more confusing phenomenon – I can’t imagine why they do not make every effort to avoid them.
I have often wondered if it is the same eyesight that allows them to see in such great detail as well as into the ultraviolet spectrum that might make them unable to see glass or the spinning fan blades. That might explain why so many wild birds fly into building windows.
INJURY BY HUMANS – This is almost unbearable to think about, but one of the biggest dangers to the birds in our care is US. We want our bird to have lots of out of cage time, we want to cuddle with them and we want them to be a part of all aspects of our lives.
Unfortunately, the more comfortable we are with having our birds around, the more likely we are to get complacent with their supervision. Inquisitive birds will make their way onto the floor or onto couches where they are easily stepped or sat upon. It IS possible to allow your bird too much freedom.
ATTACK FROM OTHER PETS – This happens more than most people think. It is a grave error to ever think that you understand your pets well enough to say for certain what they might or might not do. Despite our being mammals, we do not think like animals and they do not think like us.
Our cats/dogs/rats/guinea pigs/snakes are predators and birds are prey and even though they may have seemed to be the best of friends for years, the most unforeseen event can trigger instincts that will cause an attack. You will never see it coming and you will not be able to stop it.
If something happens that turns your dog’s thought to his instincts, he will act on them. He will not pause to reflect on the closeness of his relationship with the bird or that you might be mad if he hurts it. Nature is swift and practical and has no time for manners.
It’s probably not necessary to say that these are only some of the ways birds can get in trouble in the human environment. We have all had our birds do things that left our jaws on the floor – “Why oh why would he do that??” There will always be things that take us by surprise. They will find trouble in the most unexpected places. Don’t let the most obvious trouble spots be the ones that injure your bird.
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.