Plants That are Toxic to Birds

By Laurie Hess, DVM; Rick Axelson, DVM; Stefanie Guindon, CVT

My bird likes to eat plants. Should I be worried?

Many birds naturally eat plants as part of their diet. Some birds will chew on and possibly consume plants out of curiosity or during play. Birds left unsupervised out of their cages may easily encounter plants kept around the house and in the garden. Owners should be aware of which plants are toxic to birds. Few actual studies are available concerning plant toxicity and birds. Many toxic plants will just make a bird sick if they ingest them, but some can kill them. Since there are few published studies on the safety of many plant species when they are ingested by birds, extrapolations from information pertaining to other species, including humans, are often made.

"Many toxic plants will just make a bird sick if they ingest them, but some can kill them."

Birds are often inadvertently exposed to poisonous plants by their well-intentioned owners either through attempts by owners to provide more “natural” diets (including vegetables such as avocados that are safe for humans, but toxic to birds) or from birds’ curious, playful nature. Fortunately, rather than ingesting plants, most birds shred and play with plants with which they come in contact. Thus, most plant poisonings in birds result in only mild signs (like intense mouth irritation from the Dieffenbachia plant); however, a few plants can be deadly even if birds ingest just a small amount. When in doubt, keep all plants out of reach of birds.

Which plants are potentially toxic to birds?

The following list of indoor and outdoor plants catalogues many of the plants considered potentially toxic for birds. If you are concerned about the safety of specific plants not listed here, consult your veterinarian, Pet Poison Helpline, or the ASPCA for more information. Some plants have been included on this list if there is even a remote possibility for concern about their safety. Keep in mind that this list may not be all inclusive.

Are there specific plants to worry about in birds?

One plant that bird owners are often unaware is potentially toxic to their pets is the avocado. While not all species of avocados are toxic to birds, many species are. Since it is better to be safe than sorry, bird owners should avoid feeding any kind of avocado to their birds. In birds, all parts of the avocado fruit - the leaf, bark, meat of the fruit, and seed - are poisonous due to the toxin, persin.

Another plant poisonous to birds is the common house plant, Philodendron and/or Dieffenbachia (also known as “dumb cane”. This plant is commonly found in the work environment, households, and in the tropics. Birds are sometimes exposed to this poisonous plant because pet owners – as well intentioned as they are – allow their birds to climb on and play in this houseplants’ large, expansive leaves. Dieffenbachia contains calcium oxalate crystals within its leaves and stems which, when ingested, results in localized, severe, mouth irritation. Once ingested, Dieffenbachia can cause a painful burning of a bird’s tongue, as well as localized swelling of the tongue and crop, resulting in difficulty eating and breathing.

If your bird ingests any plant that you are not sure is safe, consult your veterinarian immediately.