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Caution: Some Common Plants are Toxic to Birds

Pet birds of all types can benefit from the branches, leaves and stems of wild plants and trees.  Stripping bark, chewing wood and searching the leaves for hidden treats is very good for their well-being.  In fact, I have long provided cut native browse to captives ranging from ants to ostriches to elephants, and most zoos consider such a valuable form of “behavioral enrichment” and, in some cases, an adjunct to captive diets.

Be sure that all plants provided to birds have been well-washed, so as to remove insecticides.  When cutting natural perches, stay with branches from almond, citrus fruit, apple, dogwood, ash, elm and Manzanita trees, or grapevine.

Many plants that birds might encounter in your home or garden can, however, sicken or kill your pet.  The following list was adapted from that provided by the ASPCA, with additions garnered from my own experience.  Please keep your birds (and other pets) away from these – when in doubt, err on the side of caution:

Aloe Vera
Apple (seeds)
Andromeda japonica
Apricot (pit)
Asparagus Fern
Avocado (fruit, pit)
Baby Doll
Baby’s Breath
Bird of paradise
Branching Ivy
Buddhist Pine
Calla Lily
Castor Bean
Cherry (leaves, seeds)
China Doll
Chinese Evergreen
Christmas Cactus
Christmas Rose
Corn Plant (all Dracena)
Crown Vetch

There’s quite a few more…I’ll cover the balance next week.

Bird emergencies can take many forms….for an overview, please see:




  1. avatar
    Hye Jeong Grenier

    like to use natural tree branches for my singing finch and canary (thanks for the info, they are getting along!, but am concerned about toxins. I can use pear tree brnches from my yard, that have never been sprayed with insecticides. This should be ok I think but I would like your opinion,. I last used them almost 2 years ago with my parakeet and there were no problems., thank you.

  2. avatar

    Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.

    I’m glad to hear that the birds are getting along.

    Pear branches are safe for use with canaries and other birds. Rinse them before use, just as a precaution. Just FYI, don’t be overly concerned if you live in an area that is sprayed by state authority for West Nile Virus…the pesticide used is relatively specific, and breaks down rapidly after dispersal.

    Please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  3. avatar

    We’ve placed our blue headed pionus outside on our japanese maple and he seems to love it. Haven’t noticed any warnings about it being toxic. I hope that’s true. Is a Dogwood shrub safe as far as you know?

  4. avatar

    Hello, Frank Indiviglio here. Thanks for your interest in our blog.

    Dogwood is safe for birds. Japanese maple is not known to be toxic, but I have not seen any research specifically testing it. Related trees, except possibly for red maple, are fine. Japanese maple is not often used in aviaries here; I’ve emailed a colleague in the Tama Zoo in Japan and will post a note if there is anything further to report.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  5. avatar

    We currently have an aviary which we are hoping to buy lovebirds for, we placed a clematis in the avairy and have it growing up a branch- how dangerous is clematis to the birds and should we take it out before the lovebirds are in the avairy?

  6. avatar

    Hello Holli, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest in our blog. Not much info on exactly how dangerous Clematis is, but the plant considered toxic and unsafe for birds. I recall it was also listed as toxic for primates and other mammals, back when I was working at the Bronx Zoo. Lovebirds are particularly fond of stripping bark and leaves, so I would remove it before adding the birds.

    Lovebirds are great fun to keep in an aviary – a group of Peach-faced Lovebirds I had in a large exhibit used to drive duikers (small antelope) away from their feeding dish so they could steal the grain!

    Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

About Frank Indiviglio

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I believe that I was born with an intense interest in animals, as neither I nor any of my family can recall a time when I was not fascinated by creatures large and small. One might imagine this to be an unfortunate set of circumstances for a person born and raised in the Bronx, but, in actuality, quite the opposite was true. Most importantly, my family encouraged both my interest and the extensive menagerie that sprung from it. My mother and grandmother somehow found ways to cope with the skunks, flying squirrels, octopus, caimans and countless other odd creatures that routinely arrived un-announced at our front door. Assisting in hand-feeding hatchling praying mantises and in eradicating hoards of mosquitoes (I once thought I had discovered “fresh-water brine shrimp” and stocked my tanks with thousands of mosquito larvae!) became second nature to them. My mother went on to become a serious naturalist, and has helped thousands learn about wildlife in her 16 years as a volunteer at the Bronx Zoo. My grandfather actively conspired in my zoo-buildings efforts, regularly appearing with chipmunks, boa constrictors, turtles rescued from the Fulton Fish Market and, especially, unusual marine creatures. It was his passion for seahorses that led me to write a book about them years later. Thank you very much, for a complete biography of my experience click here.
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