Birdsafe California Bird Nerds

Woods that are safe for pet birds

I am looking at building a large cage for a bird and wanted to know if galvanized metal was okay to use. Is there any metal that is toxic or not good for birds to be housed in?

-- Lori Sedlak,

The material I plan to use for my mini-macaw's new cage is a copper tubing. Can this be harmful to him?

-- Jason Hardee,

Like all parrots, ours chews wood. Infrequently she has chewed on redwood. I know pressure-treated outdoor wood is poisonous. Is regular redwood harmful?

-- Joe Gadd, Aurora, Ohio,

I have a 4-year-old greenwing macaw I let chew on oyster shells for his beak. I boil and clean them real well, of course. Can this be bad for him?

-- Richard Thompson, Fort Myers,Florida

Could you tell me if mimosa trees and Chinese maples are safe woods for my birds (conures and soon to be cockatoos) to chew on? I have searched the available lists that are on several parrot sites and haven't found either of these two trees listed as either safe or toxic.

-- Adria Herrmann,

Enclosures for parrots not only need to be sturdier and more chew proof than those for soft bills, such as finches, there are the issues of toxicity.

Let's start with what you probably shouldn't use. The better types of welded, galvanized wire may be suitable for some flights. The galvanizing process coats the iron wire and prevents rusting. Properly done, the coating does not chip or peel off. However, zinc is in the coating. If your bird is a big chewer and ingests any coating, zinc poisoning is possible.

Never use soldered wire because solder contains lead, which is extremely toxic. This includes copper, which is usually soldered together.

Wood as a cage-building material has no place with parrot-family birds. You can use wood to house finches and other softbills without fearing the cage will be destroyed, but it will be difficult to clean and sanitize.

Stainless steel is unquestionably the best material for parrot cages, if you can afford it. Although much more expensive than powder-coated, it is easily cleaned and sanitized and guaranteed non-toxic.

While it won't do for cages, wood does make good perches, "chew toys" and nutritional supplements for psittacines. Stay away from treated wood, which is indeed toxic. So is oleander and avocado, among others. While plain redwood is not poisonous, it splinters easily. If the slivers find their way into your bird's tissues they can cause severe reactions.

Hard woods are by and large safe, as are some soft woods such as pine. (Pine two-by-fours make excellent chewable perches for large hookbills - it gives them exercise and an alternate activity to feather picking.) Maple and mimosa (Acacia) are safe. So are fruit woods such as apple, pear, and plum, which also make good perch material.

Other wooden chew toys to consider are old wooden kitchen spoons, clothespins (without the spring), and empty spools from sewing thread. Oyster shell, ground up so your bird doesn't accidentally injure himself on the sharp edges, is fine.

Dr. James Harris James Harris, DVM is owner and medical director of the Mayfair Veterinary Clinic in Sandy Bay, Tasmania, Australia. He founded Montclair Veterinary Hospital in Oakland, Calif., and has served as medical director and chairman of the board for the International Bird Rescue Research Center in Berkeley. Dr. Harris' numerous professional honors include California and National Bustad Companion Animal DVM Awards. Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.

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