I was chatting the other day with Wendy, who answers the phones here at Birdtricks.com. Out of curiosity, I asked her about the nature of the phone call she gets. Some, of course, are customer service related, some are from people are looking for advice, but she explained that she gets a concerningly high number of calls from people whose birds have died. Sometimes these people are calling to cancel their toys or pellets subscriptions and in the midst of the conversation they fall apart. Wendy, being awesome, offers them a shoulder to cry on and helps them deal with their grief or the inevitable guilt that follows the death of a pet.
Of course, I asked her about some of the most common causes of death. That information tells us what we need to bring to people’s attention to help them keep their bird’s safe and healthy. I was very surprised to learn that she had TWO calls in one recent week where the deaths were the result of parrots sharing the bed with their humans.
I’ll be honest. There is nothing as heart-meltingly sweet as falling asleep with your parrot nestled against your body. I think it’s a combination of their softness and warmth, their smell, combined with the knowledge that they trust you so fully that they allow themselves to let go and fall soundly asleep. It’s a very memorable event and one that I am sure you are having no trouble calling to mind as you read this.
Now let me add one more image to that scene. Imagine waking up to find that bird beneath you – lifeless. Imagine your despair as you torture yourself by reliving the incident again and again – your bird suffocating beneath the weight of your body and you sleeping peacefully through it all.
Sorry about that.
I know that was unpleasant to read. But that was the exact scenario described to me by someone I was doing a consult for some years ago. One afternoon, she took a nap with her bird perched on her chest and woke up to find her bird under her. I think it is important to point out that this was a goffins cockatoo – not a budgie or a cockatiel.
I am sure that few necropsies are performed on birds that die in this manner, but I would put money on the fact that birds that die in bed with their humans do not die from being crushed, but from suffocation.
Birds are pretty pliable and pressure would have to be very intense to actually make them break, but it is easy to prevent them from being able to breathe. A bird’s respiratory system differs greatly from our own. They must decisively expand their chest to make room for the expansion of their air sacs in order to draw breath (our bodies use a diaphragm for this process). Without the ability to make the necessary room for air, a bird would suffocate – even if its head and nares were free and exposed. This is why it is also important not to restrain a bird tightly either in your hand or in a towel or harness.
As if this isn’t enough reason to stop sleeping with your bird, I should also point out the behavioral aspect.
Suffice to say, our birds enjoy sleeping with us as much as we do with them. There is little doubt that a bird that wanted to sleep in the privacy of its cage would either make its way there or would be very vocal until brought there. My cockatiels and quaker regularly return themselves to their cage when they wish to go to bed – the cockatoos would stay with me all night if given the choice. But birds that are allowed that freedom will make a scene when the occasion occurs that they are required to sleep in their cages. That can be unpleasant for you.
Some birds will raise the roof simply because they are being denied doing what they want to do, but some birds will grow to become insecure when away from the perceived safety of their humans protective care at night. This will be unpleasant for your bird and birds should never be allowed to become dependent on a human (or anything else) to that degree.
Even if there were no physically dangerous aspects to sharing your bed with your bird, you run the risk creating a poorly adjusted and mentally insecure parrot.
Please don’t sleep with your bird. We don’t want you to be one of the grieving owners that Wendy gets a call from one day.
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.