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Bird-Safe Holiday Craft Tips

Keep your bird’s safety in mind before you start working on holiday crafts.

By Susan Chamberlain

A reader from Houston writes:

Q: I have a 9-year-old male cockatiel that is the most wonderful soul in the Universe. I am somewhat of a craft nut, but I try not to use anything with an odor to avoid harming Quincie.

I am very interested in learning "lampwork beading," the process of using a torch to melt thin glass rods and make glass beads. Will the odors coming from the torch or melted glass rods harm my baby?

I’m also interested in stained glass work. Will melting the flux for the lead on the glass harm Quincie?

A: My best suggestion to you would be to embark on all crafts projects in a well-ventilated work area far from your pet bird. Possible fumes from the torch, as well as those emanating from melted lead and compounds in the glass could be harmful to your bird.

The colored glass used in lampwork beading may contain cadmium, chromium, cobalt, lead and other elements that will vaporize under the heat of the torch. Inhaling these fumes can result in metal poisoning. The torch itself may produce unacceptable levels of nitrogen oxides, which are lung irritants.

Lead is harmful in all its incarnations, so keep your bird away from your finished stained glass pieces. Birds have a penchant for chewing on things, and soft metal is a likely, and in this case, deadly target.

For more information and guidance, contact The International Society of Glass Beadmakers, 1120 Chester Avenue, #470, Cleveland, Ohio 44114; (888) 742-0242,

The holidays are coming, and many of us will be working on crafts projects for decorations and gifts. Use glue, paints and sprays away from your birds. Ventilate your home with open windows and fans, and do not permit your bird to chew on or play with the finished products. Read product labels carefully, and follow cautionary instructions. If it’s potentially harmful to you, imagine what it could do to your bird!

Q: Is it safe to rotate toys into different birds’ cages. I am owned by four beautiful birds, I think that my cockatiels would probably enjoy the same toy that my Pionus just got tired of. Is it safe to give them the same toy after I wash it, or is it still potentially dangerous? Thank you so much for all your help.

A: Many avian diseases are caused by mouth-to-mouth contact or through feces. That said, it probably doesn’t make sense to rotate your birds’ toys with impunity. For instance, if the Pionus parrot had some yeast (Candida) in its crop, it could be passed to other birds if they played with its toys.

You can, however, rotate toys that can be sterilized. Soak plastic, metal and acrylic toys in a solution of one part bleach to ten parts water for several minutes, and then rinse them thoroughly in clear water and air dry. If you prefer not to use bleach, boil the toys for a few minutes and then air dry. Some plastics may warp from the heat, but your birds probably won’t notice or care.

Porous products, such as wood, leather, cactus, rawhide and rope are difficult to sterilize effectively and safely, although you can do a pretty good job on wood by heating it in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.

Discard leather and rope toys when they become heavily soiled or frayed.

BIRD TALK reader, Sandra Souza is concerned about pressure-treated wood:

Q: I have a 6- by 6- by 4-foot outside aviary for my umbrella cockatoo and African grey. I asked a neighbor carpenter if he could screen in our cage because of the West Nile scare.

He was suppose to place the screening an inch away from the cage so my cockatoo wouldn’t be able to reach the wood framing, which is made of the new pressure-treated wood. Well, there are some places that my bird can just reach. She never swallows the wood, but she likes shredding it, like all cockatoos do. Is she in danger? I know the old pressure-treated wood was poisonous.

A: The "old" pressure-treated wood was infused with chromium, copper and arsenate, and although deemed ‘safe’ by the EPA that safety rating applied to humans, not pet birds. Such wood is no longer approved for most residential purposes or for use in playgrounds, because doubts have been raised about its safety.

The "new" pressure-treated wood is infused with copper, and yes, copper can be toxic to birds when ingested. Your bird does not actually have to eat the wood in order to be affected. If it dumps chips or splinters into its water dish, the copper may leach into the water, which could then affect the bird drinking it.

I suggest purchasing some sheets or strips of clear acrylic and wedging them between the wire and the wood so your bird is unable to reach the treated wood.

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