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Ho, Ho, HUH?

by Diana Uyen

The year has gone by so fast and Christmas is almost upon us.  For those that celebrate we need to keep a few precautions in mind.  Some of the items we use for decorating will carry certain risks for our fids, so here are some of the things to consider.

Regardless of whether we use artificial or real trees and garland, none of them are safe places for our birds to play in or forage through. The dangers they harbor are many, ranging from wires (possible metal toxicity or electrocution), to unknown additives or surface toxins (from handling and transportation), to mold and dust (from storage). It doesn't matter if your tree and garland is artificial or real, there are dangers everywhere. 

Trees, Garland and Wreaths:

First, research what trees are bird safe and know what they look like. Pine, Spruce, and Fir trees are all bird safe; Cedar and Yews are not bird safe. We give pine cones to birds all the time but they must be untreated and obviously free from paint and sprays of any kind, cleaned and baked to kill mold and other organisms (be careful not to start a fire).

Even if you get a bird-safe tree, there are other things to take under consideration, things like sap getting on feathers and beaks, even the water your live tree sits in could be toxic because of the things you add to make the tree stay fresh longer. All that and we haven’t even mentioned the biggest issue yet, which is that conventional Christmas Tree growers spray a variety of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides on Christmas trees throughout their long life cycle.

Of the 24.5 million real Christmas trees purchased in the U.S. every year, only about one percent (1%) are grown organically. That doesn’t give you very good odds for finding an organic one, and it means the tree in your living room was likely sprayed with pesticides. The most commonly used pesticide is Roundup, which is toxic to some birds and fish and was recently discovered to be toxic to human cells.

The Environmental Protection Agency has banned indoor use of some of the pesticides used on Christmas trees, such as chlorpyrifos and malathion, which can cause damage to human nervous systems. If this has you thinking about getting an artificial tree then there isn’t great news on that front either. Various organizations report finding everything from lead and arsenic to metal compounds including tin, barium and lead, all of which are used to help make the tree fire-resistant. Some medical experts believe that the toxins are released in the air, causing people to become sick.

If you are using an artificial tree there is hope ... here are some tips when selecting your tree:

  • Look for a PVC-free artificial tree made of polyethylene.

  • Check the expiration date for Christmas trees. The longer you have the Christmas tree, the more likely toxic gases are released due to PVC breaking down over time; PVC begins to weaken after nine years.

  • Keep a watch on toddlers and animals to make sure they don’t put any parts of the tree in their mouths or ingest the green portions.

  • After the artificial tree is purchased, let the tree breathe by having it outside for a few hours.


Electrical wires for lights presents dangers from your bird biting cords and being electrocuted to ingesting the wire resulting in heavy metal poisoning to them ingesting tiny bulbs that may look like something yummy.  Flocking or artificial snow on trees or windows or garland is also toxic. Many decorations (especially those very old ones that have been handed down for generations) can contain toxic chemicals or paints on them. The 'easily breakable' ones like mercury glass are especially concerning around birds.

Not only do you need to worry about what they’re made of, there is also little chance of coming back from ingested glass or fiberglass due to the damage that will occur to internal organs. Tinsel is also a concern as it can impact in the crop and cause starvation if not removed (via surgery) in time. These are just some of the dangers, there are other decorations that could be of questionable materials deemed unsafe for your birds … think of the wrapping paper and ribbons. All that brightly colored stuff just screams “toy” to your bird. Any of these things could result in an impacted crop (if ingested) or injury from entanglement or strangulation.

Take a good, hard look at your decorations and their placement and err on the safe side. Either don’t use it or make sure your bird has no access to it and, as always, make sure your bird is never left unattended.

Live Holiday Arrangements:

Plants used during the holidays can also be unsafe, like Poinsettias.  Do your research for unsafe plants and flowers before bringing them into your home. The oasis often used for live flower arrangements are also unsafe for your bird to ingest, and styrofoam in dried arrangements is also not safe for your birds since they are a petroleum-based product.

Candles and Incense and Sprays:  

Everyone loves a Christmas scent to their home, but depending how you get that scent it can be toxic to your bird and cause breathing problems by affecting their sensitive air sacs and lungs.  Consider using electric candles for that glowing ambiance we all enjoy and use the simmer pot recipes for safe air freshening. You may also want to warn your guests about wearing perfumes or remove the birds from the social area during large gatherings.


Educate your guests on your birds, what they can and cannot do and have.  This could also be a great time to socialize your birds, but have a safe place available for them to get away from situations that may end up badly. If the bird is showing signs of over-stimulation they should be removed from the festivities to avoid an attack. Move your bird to a quiet place where they can rest and calm down, especially during the late evening parties. Remember, even a well behaved bird can be over stimulated so stick as closely as you can to the regular routine.

Bird Behavior:

If your bird is acting out during the holidays, it could be a result of all the changes around your home. Things like the unusual Christmas lights, new sounds and smells, the change in routine could all bother them. Most birds get used to a routine and function much better when things are “normal” … think about it, in a flock when there is danger the “alarm” goes out and they all become nervous and ready for fight or flight. To protect your birds and your guests be aware of what’s going on and how they are reacting to it. An agitated bird is more likely to bite even their most favorite person. Be prepared to take them to a safe, quiet place.


Know what foods are safe and healthy for your birds. Combining high energy foods with a nervous bird is a recipe for disaster. Browse our files for more tips on safe and unsafe foods and practices, just as you would any other time of the year.

Finally, from all of our admin to all of our members, we wish to extend wishes of a Merry Christmas and safe holiday season to all of those in the Parrot Problem Solving 101 family.

Republished Nov 30, 2016 blog post.


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