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Articles concerning owning pet birds as pets as a whole.

Bird-Safe Ant Control

Ants and other insects, interesting as they may be in their own right, are the bane of pet and zoo keepers alike.  Eliminating them around pets is especially difficult as commercial sprays are harmful to a wide variety of creatures (ourselves included, no doubt!), with birds being particularly sensitive (please see my article “Protecting Birds from Hazardous Fumes” for further information).

Ants are extremely resourceful creatures.  When working with leaf cutter ants (Atta cephalotes) at the Bronx Zoo, I observed a dramatic increase in the queen’s egg production shortly after empty nesting chambers were added to the colony’s enclosure – the workers somehow communicated to her the fact that more space was available.  So merely poisoning a few workers will not reduce ant numbers at all – in fact, it may set up a call for more eggs!

What is needed is a toxin that will be taken by the worker ants to the nest, and shared with the queen and larvae.  A number of commercial ant baits promise just this, but usually deliver mixed results.  The most effective and relatively benign poison I’ve run across consists of a mixture of 2 tablespoons of Boric Acid to 6 tablespoons of sugar, dissolved in a quart of water.

To apply the bait, soak cotton wads or household sponges in the solution and place them into small plastic containers (i.e. take out food containers).  Cut small access holes along the bottom and keep the containers tightly covered to retard evaporation.  Re-dip the sponges when they begin to dry.  Use latex gloves when handling the mixture.  A wide variety of ant species accept this bait, and it usually eliminates the colony in short order.  It is tasty and toxic to roaches as well, but I have another trick up my sleeve for them…please stay tuned.


Pet Birds and Plants, Part II – avoiding toxic species

Please see Part I of this article for an overview and a list of other toxic plant species. Many of the plants listed there and below are also toxic to mammals, and therefore should not be offered to hamsters, gerbils, mice, chipmunks or other pets. Insect-fanciers have an easier time – some of the most deadly plants are avidly consumed by stick insects, leaf insects and other herbivorous species.

Daffodil Daylily Diffenbachia (“Dumb Cane”)
Dracena Dragon Tree Elephant Ears
Emerald Feather English Ivy Fiddle-leaf Fig
Flamingo Plant Foxglove Fruit Salad Plant
Geranium German Ivy Glacier Ivy
Gladiola Glory Lily Hawaiian Ti
Hibiscus Holly Hurricane Plant
Hyacinth Hydrangia Impatients
Indian Laurel Indian Rubber Plant Iris
Japanese Yew Jerusalem Cherry Kalanchoe
Lilium Species (Easter Lily, Japanese Lily, Tiger Lily, etc.)
Lily of the Valley Marble Queen Marijuana
Mexican Breadfruit Miniature Croton (and other Crotons)
Mistletoe Morning Glory Mother-in- Law’s Tongue
Narcissus Nightshade Needlepoint Ivy
Nephthytis Norfolk Pine Oleander
Onion Peace Lily Peach (leaves, pit)
Pencil Cactus Philodendron Plum (leaves, pit)
Plumosa Fern Pothos Precatory Bean
Poinsettia Primula Privet
Rhododendron Ribbon Plant Sago Palm
Schefflera Sweet Pea String of Pearls/Beads Taro Vine
Tomato (green fruit, stem, leaves) Weeping Fig
Yesterday-Today-Tomorrow Plant Yucca


You can read about the symptoms of plant poisoning in birds and other pets at:

Pet Birds and Hazardous Fumes

In years past, caged canaries were used to warn coal miners (by becoming lethargic and/or deceased) that oxygen levels were dropping or toxic fume levels were rising – so much so that the term Canary in the Coal Mine now enjoys popular usage is applied to many situations.  Canaries and other birds are extremely sensitive to airborne hazards – useful to miners but troubling to pet owners.

The most commonly encountered fumes likely to cause problems in the average household arise from the materials used to treat non-stick cookware  – Teflon and similar products applied to pans, toasters, irons and the like.  When over-heated, these coatings release gasses that, while seemingly harmless to humans and furry pets, can kill birds. 

Move your bird to a safe area when cooking or using an oven in self-cleaning mode, and try not to burn anything (good advice in general!).  Good ventilation is an important safety measure, but may not be enough in some situations.

Aerosol cookware coatings are also dangerous to birds if overheated.  Other products to avoid using around your feathered friends are air fresheners, general cleaning products, insecticides and cigarettes (most will be safe once dried and cleared from the air by time and ventilation).  A number of insecticides are marketed as “pet safe” – these are usually formulations of Precor, Pyrethrin or Fenoxycarb – but it is best to wait until they have dried before returning your pet to treated areas.

Additional information on airborne and other hazards pet birds may face is posted at:

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:



An Overview of Less Commonly-Kept Cage and Aviary Birds – Part 2

Click here: An Overview of Less Commonly-Kept Cage and Aviary Birds – Part 1 to read part 1.

Japanese Hawfinch or Grosbeak, Euphona personata
Japanese HawFinchIf the Latin species’ name – “personata” is meant to hint at this bird’s characteristics, then it is indeed aptly chosen.  I’ve only cared for several in my time, but all were strikingly alert and curious, and I am told the same by colleagues.

Japanese hawfinches are not common in the trade, but well worth the effort of finding.  Stocky in build and 8 inches long, they are quite hefty for seed-eaters, and sport a thick, yellow bill to match.  They are superbly clad in various shades of tan and brown, with jet-black heads and throats and blue-gray collars.  Ranging from central Asia through Japan, hawfinches are quite cold-tolerant and can even winter outdoors in most of the USA.  Normal room temperatures suit them well.

Japanese hawfinches should be fed a finch seed mix along with some kale, romaine and other greens.  Their bill size indicates a need for larger seeds as well, and so a small amount of hemp and sunflower should be mixed in with the finch seed.  Hawfinches also appreciate crickets, mealworms and wild-caught insects from time to time.


Bananaquit, Coereba flaveola

Native to Central America, the Caribbean and northern South America, in times past these tiny (4.5 inch) fellows were often the aviculturist’s introduction to “offbeat” birds.  Black above and with a yellow breast, bananaquits are always on the move, searching every nook and cranny of their homes for insects.  Those I have cared for and observed in the wild were unfailingly curious – to the point of being trusting once acclimated to cage life.

Despite their small size, bananquits should be give as large a cage as is possible, and will really entertain you if housed in an outdoor aviary.  Flowering plants and strategically placed fruit will attract insects into the aviary, and the birds will delight you with their hunting skills.  They truly do seem to do best when kept occupied by foraging.

Bananquits may be fed as has been described for the golden-fronted leafbird, but require more insects.  Nectar should be given only 2-3 times per week – if offered on a daily basis, they may consume it to the exclusion of all else, and develop nutritional deficiencies as a result.  Bananquits benefit from a diet composed of a variety of insects – an insect trap, such as the Zoo Med Bug Napper, is a valuable asset to maintaining these beautiful, entertaining birds in top condition. Image by Leon Bojarczuk, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Bananaquits.jpg


Interesting notes from Malaysia on the captive care of golden-fronted leafbirds, as well as photos, are posted at:

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