Safe Plants and Toxic Plants

Planted Outdoor Aviary Plants not only add aesthetic value to an otherwise sterile-looking enclosure, but they also provide a more natural, engaging, and secure environment for the inhabitants to enjoy. Using plants to create visual barriers within the flight may help reduce aggression among cagemates by providing objects for the birds to hide behind.5 This in turn helps to make the birds feel more secure, and may therefore result in reduced stress levels. Foliage in the cage gives the birds something to occupy themselves with--birds often chew on, play within, and even build nests out of plants placed in their living space.

For this reason, care must be taken when selecting plants to decorate a flight. Both live and fake plants may be used, but all parts of the plant must be safe and nontoxic. The best fake plants to use are constructed of untreated silk and plastic. Make sure the silk plants do not have any components that may be easy for a bird to consume, tangle itself in, get caught on, or stuck by. Treated wood baskets and paper plants may be hazardous choices and are not recommended for decorating flights. Two benefits of using silk plants are: 1) they are not as easily destroyed by the birds, and 2) they can be scrubbed clean and disinfected as needed.

Live plants tend to demand more upkeep and may need to be replaced more frequently, as finches often love to pick them apart. Try to obtain plants that have not been sprayed with any pesticides or chemicals, and be sure to rinse the plants off before placing them in and around the flight. Do not add any fertilizers to the soil (they are toxic);6 if fertilizers are already present in the soil, repot the plant with uncontaminated soil. Leaving each plant in its pot is suggested, in case a plant dies and needs to be removed.

Helpful Hints41

Plantings should be spaced appropriately to allow room for flight paths and to permit the birds to access to the floor of the enclosure. Walk-in enclosures should also have planned pathways for birdkeeper access. Be careful to provide climbing vines with trellis to support the weight of their growth; otherwise they could break the aviary mesh and allow escape of the birds.

Aside from ensuring that the plant(s) you have selected are non-toxic, try to avoid purchasing plants which are tall and rapidly-growing as these will require constant pruning. In addition to considering what plants are best suited for your area, don't forget to also consider the needs of the birds. Avadavats and Munias enjoy climbing small bamboos and grasses, for example, Munias and Mannikins prefer to weave their nests into grass clumps, and Weavers need palm leaves and broad-leafed grasses for nesting material.

Timing of Live Plantings
Plants should be added to the enclosure as it is being completed. The plants should be allowed to grow sufficiently before adding the birds; this way, the plants will be better able to withstand being nibbled on. Ideally plants should produce their densest foliage while the birds are nesting.

Safe Aviary Plants25,17

When choosing plants for your aviary, consult a botanist or experienced gardener who can help you select plants which are suitable for planting in your locale (considering your hardiness zone, soil type, sun exposure, etc.). Below are some options which have been listed as safe for birds.

Plants which are generally considered safe.

Bougainvillea Dogwood Boston Fern
Bougainvillea spp. Cornus spp. Nephrolepsis bostoniensis

Dandelion Marigold Magnolia
Taraxacum officinalis Tagetes spp. Magnolia spp.

Petunia Umbrella Tree Bird's Nest Fern
Petunia spp. Schefflera spp. Asplenium nidus

Note: Please be aware that roses and bougainvillea have thorns.

Outdoor Plants

Trees & Shrubs
Rose Aspen
Autumn olive
Fir (balsam, douglas, subalpine, white)
Mango (zone 9+)
Mountain ash
Papaya (zone 10+)
Pear (as long as the seeds aren't eaten)
Pine (ponderosa, spruce, Virginia, white)
Pittosporum (zone 9+)
Rubus odoratus
Spruce (black, Norway, red, white)
White poplar

Bougainvillea (can also be grown as shrub or small tree)
Grape vine
Russian Vine (Polygonum baldschuanicum)

Grasses & Herbs

Ground Cover and Short Plants
Baby's tears aka Polka Dot Plant (Helxine soleirolii)
Creeping jenny (Lysimachia)
Nest in petunias
Wild passerines built a nest in a hanging petunia.
Mother of pearl
Nasturtium (zone 9+)
Piggyback begonia (Begonia hispida variant Cucullifera)
Piggyback plant
Plectranthus (zone 9+)
White clover

Indoor Plants (Safe Houseplants) and Tropical Plants

African violet (Saintpaulia spp., Episcia reptans)
Aluminum plant (Pilea cadierei)
Bird's Nest Fern (Asplenium nidus)
Boston Fern (Nephrolepis exaltata)
Burro's tail
Cactus (except pencil, peyote, mescaline, candelabra)
Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii)
Cissus: Danish ivy aka Grape Ivy (Cissus rhombifolia), Kangaroo vine (Cissus antarctica)
Emerald ripple peperomia
Flame nettle (Coleus sp.)
Gold-fish plant
Hens & chickens
Lipstick plant
Madagascar jasmine
Monkey plant
Nerve plant

    Potted palms provide privacy around the nest.
  • Areca (Chrysalidocarpus lutescens)
  • Bamboo (Chamaedorea erumpens)
  • Butterfly Cane
  • Canary Island (Phoenix canariensis)
  • Date
  • European Fan (Chamaerops humilis)
  • Fishtail
  • Golden Feather
  • Paradise/Kentia (Howea foresterana)
  • Parlor (Chamaedorea elegans)
  • Lady (Raphis excelsa)
  • Madagascar
  • Miniature Fan
  • Phoenix
  • Pygmy Date
  • Robelein Lady
  • Sentry
  • Wine
Peacock plant (Calathea)
Pepperomia (Pepperomia sp.)
Prayer plant (Maranta leuconeura)
Purple Passion aka Velvet Plant (Gynura aurantiaca)
Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum)
Swedish ivy (Plectranthus verticillatus)
Wandering jew (Tradescantia sp.) including Giant white inch plant
Wax plant (Hoya carnosa)
Zebra plant (Aphelandra squarrosa)

Plants which Allow for Perching
Dwarf or Hawaiian Schefflera (Schefflera arboricola)
Umbrella tree/Schefflera (Brassaia actinophylla)
False aralia

Toxic Plants

Plant toxicosis in birds occurs if they chew on or ingest toxic plants. The toxic reaction can be due to pesticide residues on the plants, or to toxins within the plants themselves. Birds which chew on toxic plants may develop oral irritation; if they ingest enough, systemic clinical signs can occur such as vomiting or diarrhea. There is likely significant species differences in sensitivity,16 and studies are lacking. However, plants which have been reported as toxic in some birds, or which are considered to be potentially toxic include:6,25,52,29,56,16,17,28

Common Name Scientific Name Poisonous Part Symptoms
Aconite Aconitum sp. all parts
Agapanthus Agapanthus sp. sap
Amaryllis Amaryllidaceae bulbs
American yew Taxus canadensis needles, seeds
Apple seeds
Apricot pits
Arrowhead vine Syngonium podophyllum leaves
Arum Lily Arum sp. all parts
Autumn crocus Colchicum autumnale all parts
Avocado Persea americana pits, skin, flesh Reduced activity, inability to perch, fluffing feathers, labored breathing, rapid death, generalized tissue congestion.
Azalea Rhododendron occidentale leaves
Balsam pear Memordica charantia seeds, fruit rind
Baneberry Actaia sp. berries, roots
Bay tree Laurus nobilis
Beans all types if uncooked
Belladonna Atropa belladonna all parts
Bird of paradise Caesalpina gilliesii seeds
Bishop's weed Ammi majus
Bittersweet nightshade Solanum dulcamara immature fruit
Black locust Robina pseudoacacia bark, sprouts, foliage
Blue-green algae Schizophycaea sp. some forms toxic Hepatotoxic, lethal respiratory arrest.
Boxwood Buxus sempervirens leaves, stems
Buckthorn Rhamnus sp. fruit, bark
Burdock Arctium minus
Buttercup Ranunculus sp. sap, bulbs
Caladium Caladium sp. leaves
Calla lily Zantedeschia aethiopica leaves Severe irritation of mucous membranes, edema & irritation may take weeks to subside; severe dyspnea; severe keratoconjunctivitis if plant juices contact eyes. Vomiting, diarrhea.
Camel bush Trichodesma incanum
Candelabra cactus Euphorbia lactea sap
Castor bean or Castor oil plant Ricinus communis beans, leaves Vomiting, diarrhea (possibly bloody), necrosis of organs (liver, spleen, lymph nodes, stomach, intestine) in mammals.
Chalice vine Solandra sp. all parts
Cherry bark, twigs, leaves, pits
Cherry laurel Prunus laurocerasus clippings release cyanide fumes
Chinese evergreen Aglaonema modestum all parts
Christmas candle Pedilanthus tithymaloides sap
Chrysanthemum Chrysanthemum sp. leaves, stems, flowers
Clematis Clematis sp. all parts
Coffee bean Sesbania sp seeds Gastroenteritis, can be fatal. Hyperthermia, hypertension, hyperactivity, seizures, tachycardia.
Coral plant Jatropha multifida seeds
Cowslip Caltha polustris all parts
Croton Codiaeum sp. sap
Crown of thorns Euphorbia milii sap
Daffodil Narcissus sp. bulbs
Daphne Daphne sp. berries
Datura Datura sp. berries
Deadly amanita Amanita muscaria all parts
Death camas Zygadenis elegans all parts
Delphinium Delphinium sp. all parts
Diffenbachia or Dumb cane Dieffenbachia picta, sp. leaves Severe irritation of mucous membranes, edema & irritation may take weeks to subside; severe dyspnea; severe keratoconjunctivitis if plant juices contact eyes. Vomiting, diarrhea.
Eggplant Solanaceae sp. all parts except fruit
Elephant's ear Colocasis sp. or Alocasia sp. leaves, stems Severe irritation of mucous membranes, edema & irritation may take weeks to subside; severe dyspnea; severe keratoconjunctivitis if plant juices contact eyes. Vomiting, diarrhea.
English ivy Ilex aquafolium berries, leaves
English yew Taxus baccata needles, seeds
Ergot Claviceps purpurea present in poorly stored seed, silage, dog food Gangrene, hyperexcitability, seizures.
Euonymus Euonymus sp. all parts
False henbane Veratrum woodii all parts
Flamingo flower Anthurium sp. leaves, stems
Foxglove Digitalis purpurea leaves, seeds Digitalis glycoside - vomiting, bradycardia, arrhythmias, heart block
Golden chain Laburnum anagyroides all parts
Hemlock (poisoin and water) Conium sp. all parts
Henbane Hyocyanamus niger seeds
Holly Ilex sp. berries
Horse chestnut Aesculus sp. nuts, twigs
House plant ferns Pteris sp.
Hyacinth Hyancinthinus orientalis bulbs
Hydrangea Hydrangea sp. flower bud
Iris Iris sp. bulbs
Ivy Hedera sp. leaves, berries
Jack-in-the-pulpit Arisaema triphyllum all parts
Japanese yew Taxus cuspidata needles, seeds
Java bean (lima bean) Phaseolus lunatus uncooked beans
Jerusalem cherry Solanum pseudocapsicum berries Arrhythmias, bradycardia, heart block, severe gastroenteritis, calcification of vascular system, lungs, kidneys. May be teratogenic.
Jimsonweed Datura sp. leaves, seeds Tachycardia, convulsions, death.
Juniper Juniperus virginiana needles, stems, berries
Lantana Lantana sp. immature berries
Larkspur Delphinium sp. all parts
Laurel Kalmia, Ledum, Rhodendron sp. all parts
Lily Lilium sp. bulbs
Lily of the valley Convallaria majalis all parts, including water housing the plant Vomiting, diarrhea, cardiac arrhythmias, bradycardia, heart block.
Lobelia Lobelia sp. all parts
Locoweed Astragalus mollissimus or Astragalus emoryanus all parts Hyperexcitability and locomotor difficulty.
Lords and ladies Arum sp. all parts
Lupin Lupinus sp.
Marijuana Cannabis sativa leaves
Maternity plant Klanchoe sp.
Mayapple Podophyllum sp. all parts except fruit
Mescal bean Sophora sp. seeds
Milkweed Asclepias sp. Weakness, ataxia, seizures, cardiovascular signs.
Mistletoe Santalales sp. berries
Mock orange Poncirus sp. fruit
Monkshood Aconitum sp. all parts
Morning glory Ipomoea sp. all parts
Narcissus Narcissus sp. bulbs
Nightshades Solanum sp. berries, leaves Arrhythmias, bradycardia, heart block, severe gastroenteritis, calcification of vascular system, lungs, kidneys. May be teratogenic.
Oak Quercus sp. Anorexia, diarrhea, small intestinal ulceration and hemorrhage, renal failure & polydypsia, hepatotoxic, can be fatal.
Oleander, bay laurel Nerium oleander all parts Digitalis glycoside - vomiting, bradycardia, arrhythmias, heart block
Parlor ivy Senecio sp. all parts
Parsley Petroselinum sativum
Peace lily Spathiphyllum sp. Regurgitation, oral pain, dysphagia and anorexia
Peach pits
Pencil tree Euphorbia tirucalli sap
Philodendron Philodendron sp. leaves, stems Severe irritation of mucous membranes, edema & irritation may take weeks to subside; severe dyspnea; severe keratoconjunctivitis if plant juices contact eyes. Vomiting, diarrhea.
Poinsettia Euphorbia pulcherrima leaves, flowers, stem, oily white sap Irritation, vesication, gastroenteritis, conjunctivitis.
Poison ivy Toxicodendron radicans sap
Poison oak Toxicodendron quercifolium sap
Poison sumac Toxicodendron vernix sap
Pokeweed Phytolacca americans leaves, roots, berries Ulcerative gastroenteritis; acute hemolytic crisis in people.
Potato Solanum tuberosum skin, eyes, new shoots Arrhythmias, bradycardia, heart block, severe gastroenteritis, calcification of vascular system, lungs, kidneys. May be teratogenic.
Pothos Epipremnum aureum all parts Regurgitation, oral pain, dysphagia and anorexia.
Precatory bean Arbus precatoius
Privet Ligustrum volgare all parts
Ranunculus Ranunculus sp. sap
Rhododendron Rhododendron sp. all parts
Rhubarb Rheum rhaponticum leaves
Rosary pea, prayer beans, Seminole beads Abrus precatorius seeds Vomiting, diarrhea (possibly bloody), necrosis of organs (liver, spleen, lymph nodes, stomach, intestine) in mammals.
Sago Palm, Zamia Palm, Cycad Palm Cycad sp. Liver failure.
Skunk cabbage Symplocarpus foetidus all parts
Snowdrop Orinthogalum unbellatum all parts
Snow on the mountain (ghostweed) Euphorbia marginata all parts
Spindle tree Euonymus japonica all parts
Split leaf philodendron or Swiss cheese plant Monstera sp. all parts
Sweet pea Lathyrus latifolius seeds and fruit
Tobacco Nicotinia sp. leaves Vomiting, diarrhea, hyperexcitability, muscle fasciculations, seizures, rapid death. Pododermatitis if bird handled by a smoker. Coughing, sneezing, sinusitis, conjunctivitis, secondary respiratory infections if exposed to cigarette smoke.
Umbrella plant Cyperus alternifolius leaves
Virginia Creeper Parthenocissus quinquefolio sap
Western yew Taxus breviflora needles, seeds
Wisteria Wisteria sp. all parts
Xanthosoma Xanthosoma sp. leaves
Yam bean Pachyrhizus erosis roots, immature pods
Yellow jessamine Gelsemium sempervirens flowers
Yew Taxus media wood, bark, leaves, seeds Vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, shock, coma, seizure, deaths from cardiac or respiratory failure.

Avian Plant Toxicology Research

Studies of plant toxicity in finch species are greatly lacking, however a few studies were done using canaries. Unfortunately, because great variation exists among species, it is not safe to assume that plants which are non-toxic to canaries are equally safe to other birds and vice versa.

AUTHOR(S): Arai, M.; Stauber, E.; Shropshire, C. M.
TITLE: Evaluation of selected plants for their toxic effects on canaries.
YEAR: 1992 CITATION: J Am Vet Med Assoc, 200(9), 1329-1331

ABSTRACT: Leaves or fruit from 14 plants considered to be toxic to pet birds were administered by gavage to 15 pairs of canaries (Serinus canaria). Each bird was given 0.12 to 0.70 g of plant material. One pair served as a control and was given distilled water. The plant materials were flash-frozen in liquid nitrogen, pulverized, and resuspended in deionized water for administration. Of the plants tested, 5 (oleander, lupine, foxglove, yew leaves, and dieffenbachia) were considered highly toxic and were associated with acute death of birds. The remaining plant samples (clematis, Hoya carnosa, privet Ligustrum vulgare, parsley Petrosilium sativum, cherry Prunus sp., Pyracantha coccinia, rhododendron, black locust Robinia pseudoacacia, and wisteria) caused no, or only transient, clinical illness.

AUTHOR(S): Hargis, A. M.; Stauber, E.; Casteel, S.; Eitner, D.
TITLE: Avocado (Persea americana) intoxication in caged birds.
YEAR: 1989 CITATION: J Am Vet Med Assoc, 194(1), 64-66

ABSTRACT: Following two incidents in which a pet canary and three pet cockatiels died under conditions suggesting ingestion of avocado as cause of death, an experimental study was undertaken. Avocados of two cultivars were mashed and administered via feeding cannula to 8 canaries and 8 budgerigars. Two control budgerigars were given water via feeding cannula. Six budgerigars and 1 canary died within 24 to 47 hours after the first administration of avocado. Avocado Deaths were associated with administration of both avocado cultivars. Higher dose was associated with greater mortality. The 2 budgerigars given water were normal throughout the observation period. It is concluded that avocados are highly toxic to budgerigars and less toxic to canaries. PM findings observed in some birds included subcutaneous oedema in the pectoral area and hydropericardium.

The following study was done using just budgies:

AUTHOR(S): Shropshire, C. M.; Stauber, E.; Arai, A.
TITLE: Evaluation of selected plants for acute toxicosis in budgerigars.
YEAR: 1992 CITATION: J Am Vet Med Assoc, 200(7), 936-939

ABSTRACT: Pairs of budgerigars were given samples, by gavage, of plants considered potentially toxic to pet birds. Samples were prepared by flash-freezing and powdering fresh plant material in liquid nitrogen and resuspending the material in deionized water for administration. Of the 19 plants tested, only 6 induced clinical signs of illness; these plants included yew, oleander, clematis, avocado, black locust, and Virginia creeper (Taxus media, Nerium oleander, Clematis sp, Persea americana, Robinia pseudoacacia, Parthenocissus quinquefolio).

The other plants tested in this study were: bleeding heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis), privet (Ligustrum sp.), honeysuckle (Lonicera sp.), lupine (Lupinus sp.), cherry (Prunus sp.), pyracantha (Pyracantha coccinea), boxwood (Buxus sp.), dumbcane (Dieffenbachia seguine), foxglove (Digitalis sp.), spindle bush (Euonymus alatus), poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherima), rhododendron (Rhododendron sp.), and blue elderberry (Sambucus cerulea).

Note how some plants which appear well tolerated by budgies (lupine, dieffenbachia, foxglove) prove fatal to canaries, while some plants which canaries appear to tolerate (clematis, black locust) make budgies quite ill. Until more research is done, it is important to err on the side of caution and avoid any plant which may potentially be toxic.

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