Wood: what is safe for toys and perches

Printer-friendly version

While the wood from these trees may be considered to be chemically non-toxic, spines, wood fibres and splinters may pose a physical problem. Bamboo (which is actually a grass, not a tree) can have very sharp edges. Branches gathered from the countryside may carry fungi or parasites in bird droppings and need to be washed. We advise using a nail brush with antibacterial washing up liquid and/or avian disinfectant. Personally I cut fresh tree branches rather than use windfalls: hopefully this reduces the probability of mycotoxins.

Gillian Willis warns on her website not to use wood from Prunus spp. trees because it contains cyanogenic glycosides. Such trees include: apricot, cherry, nectarine, peach, prune and plum but the Birdsafe site reports no confirmed bird deaths. Oak is reputedly dangerous because of tanin content but confoundingly, tanin levels are much higher in other foods eaten by birds such as some nuts. In both these cases it appears to be the bark, foliage and sap that is the problem so the dried and debarked wood may be OK but best avoided to be on the safe side.

The chinese snake tree, pitch pine (from which turpentine is made) and yew are all to be considered highly toxic, as are most laurels.

Unfortunately, while there is a lot of assertion on the internet that this or that is/is not safe and only a little balanced assessment, it seems very difficult to find authoritive substantiation of the claims.

It would be nice to know: what active principle(s) in the wood are responsible for the toxicity; what dose level is considered toxic; what differences there may be between species, sizes and ages of parrot; who did the toxicologic analysis and where was it published.

Without this, there is a danger that some of the things that are said to be toxic may not be all that bad and worse still, some of those that are allegedly safe may not be. It is surpriing, for instance, to see willow widely regarded as safe but it is a rich source of salicylic acid (the latin name for Willow is Salix) and is used medicinally to good effect. However, in man anyway, salicylates can cause gastro-intestinal bleeding.

As a matter of fact, I do let my birds have willow but only now and then and I watch what they do with it (they do not eat it). Toxicity is not a simple matter of what but also involves how much and how often: you can kill yourself (and your parrot) with organic carrots if you really want to.

My choice of wood? I use apple and beech which I cut and season myself. Occasionally spruce or ash which I buy. Written and compiled by David Lal

List of wood types and their toxicity