Toxic Food for Birds – Nutritional Requirements & Signs of Intoxication

toxic food for birds

Birds are extremely sensitive animals, especially when it comes to nutrition. If they ingest even one toxic ingredient, it can be fatal. A diet that is not well balanced can lead to a lot of nutritional disorders such as hepatic lipidosis, Vitamin D deficiency, Vitamin A deficiency, bleeding disorders, and central nervous system disorder. 

This article will answer the questions most bird parents ask. Which is about the nutrition of birds, and the toxic food for birds to avoid.

What Do Birds Live On?

Keep in mind that there are many kinds and breeds of birds. Some of them are Omnivores (eat insects, fruits, and grains); some are Florivores (eat fruits and grains) and some are Granivores (they eat only grains). Also, there are some breeds that are Frugivorous (they eat fruit grains and flowers), and Nectarivores (eat nectar and sometimes insects). 

When it comes to toxic foods for birds, in general, there are many foods that most birds cannot eat. But others might eat them and not develop any health issues. However, it is recommended to stay away from foods commonly known as toxic. 

What Can Birds Eat?

Common questions asked by bird owners:

1. Can Birds Eat Beans?

When it comes to beans you have to be careful how you are feeding them to your bird. Cooked beans are safe in general but some studies showed that raw and dried beans can actually cause problems with blood coagulation and choking. There are not enough studies to show whether it is 100%  unsafe but it is best to avoid taking the risk.

Signs of intoxication:

  • Weakness
  • Depression
  • Anemia (low red blood cell count)
  • Loss of appetite

2. Can Birds Have Caffeinated Drinks?

Caffeinated drinks are very toxic to your pet, especially to birds. It will lead to tachycardia (increased heart rate), cardiac arrest, and eventually death. Caffeinated drinks do not only mean coffee. Drinks like tea and soda also contain caffeine. These are extremely deadly to your bird.

Signs of intoxication:

  • Dyspnea (decreased respiratory rate)
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Loss of appetite

3. Can Bird Eat Potatoes?

You can give your pet bird-cooked potatoes in small quantities, it won’t be harmful unless it is heavily seasoned and extremely oily. But be careful, raw potatoes contain protease, an enzyme inhibitor that will prevent enzymes from breaking down food and will cause nutritional diseases in your pet.

Signs of intoxication:

  • Diarrhea
  • Anorexia
  • Depression
  • Dehydration
  • Soiled vent feathers
  • Undigested food spotted in feces

4. Can Birds Eat Pretzels?

Salty foods including chips and pretzels can be harmful to your pet bird in large amounts. It will cause them dehydration and kidney failure but a small bite of your pretzel won’t kill them. Keep in mind that it depends on your bird’s health. If your pet already has kidney issues, dehydration, or malnutrition, adding salty foods to the diet can cause serious damage.

Signs of intoxication:

  • Dry mucous membrane
  • Delayed capillary refill time
  • Sunken eyes
  • Polydipsia

5. Can Birds Eat Avocados?

Just like dogs and cats, avocados can be deadly for birds as well. They contain persin –  a toxin found in the leaves, seeds, and bark of avocados. It is preferable to keep it away from your pets at all times.

Signs of intoxication:

  • Collapse
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Lethargy
  • Heavy breathing

6. Can Birds Eat Popcorn?

Popcorn is safe for your bird as long as they are not heavily salted and does not contain artificial flavors and fatty oils. It is a good snack for your pet if it’s air-popped and won’t cause harm. In case your bird eats some of your oily and salted popcorn, you need to look out for the following symptoms.

feeding popcorn to a albatross bird
Image credit: Arun Sankaragal, Shutterstock

Signs of intoxication:

  • Anorexia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dyspnea
  • Green stools
  • Regurgitation (bringing swallowed food up again to the mouth)
  • Polydipsia (excessive thirst)
  • Enlarged liver
  • Dehydration

Related Article: Bird Allergy

7. Can Birds Eat Garlic and Onions?

The allium family is harmful not only in birds but in dogs and cats as well. This family includes: onion, garlic, chives, shallots and leeks; your bird will develop hemolytic anemia (red blood cell destruction) that may lead to death.

Signs of intoxication:

  • Pale mucous membrane
  • Dehydration
  • Sunken eyes
  • Vomiting

In this case, you need to rush your bird to the veterinary professionals. A blood transfusion will be needed in this case.

8. Can Birds Eat Chocolate?

The answer is no. Chocolate contains caffeine and theobromine which can both lead to serious health issues. If your bird ingests even the smallest amount of chocolate it can lead to an upset stomach and gastrointestinal issues, if not treated immediately theobromine can lead to CNS damage and death. Intoxication may start after 2 hours of ingestion.

Signs of intoxication:

  • Seizure
  • Collapse
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Death

9. Can Birds Drink Alcohol?

Birds can naturally produce ethanol from the fermentation of fruit sugars, but this does not mean that you can give your bird a sip of your beer, because extra alcohol can cause organ failure that leads to death. If you are suspecting that your bird was drinking from your beer make sure to keep an eye on any unusual behavior.

Intoxication signs:

  • Tachycardia (increased heart rate)
  • Collapse
  • Vomiting
  • Polydipsia

10. Can Birds Eat Fatty Foods?

Fatty foods include seeds like cashews and dark sunflower seeds, oily foods, etc. They are not considered toxic but it is harmful to them to eat a large amount for a long period of time. The most common consequence is a fatty liver also known as hepatic lipidosis, this means that the liver is now filled with fat instead of the normal cells which leads to liver dysfunction and cell death.

Hepatic lipidosis signs:

  • Obesity
  • Overgrown beak
  • Hemorrhage
  • Enlarged liver
  • Sudden death

11. Can Birds Eat Carrots?

Carrots are a good snack for your birds. They are packed in vitamins and high in beta carotene. They can eat the skin as well and it doesn’t cause them any harm. In fact, in the case of malnutrition in birds, adding carrots is an amazing source of vitamins.

12. Can Birds Eat Oats?

Just like carrots, oats are very healthy for birds especially if they are underweight. It is better to give them dry to your bird instead of cooking them. Because they might get stuck to their beak.

Feeding the Right Diet to Your Bird

1. Type of Diet

First of all, you should know the type of diet suitable for your bird’s breed. For example:

  • African gray parrots are frugivorous, this means they eat fruits, grains, and flowers.
  • Cockatiels are Florivorous. They eat fruits and grains.
  • Blue-throated macaws are frugivorous, just like African gray parrots they eat fruits, grains, and flowers.
  • Cockatoos are omnivorous, they eat insects, fruits, and grains.
  • Red-faced parrots are Florivorous, just like cockatiels they eat fruits and grains
  • Lorikeets are Nectarivores, they eat nectar and sometimes insects.
macaw bird eating food from a tray
Image credit: Bokeh Blur Background, Shutterstock

2. Nutritional Requirements

The nutritional requirements depend on your bird’s lifestyle and environment. For example:

  • Caged birds have lower lean due to low physical activity, and they have low metabolic rate and energy demand compared to wild birds. So you should be careful not to feed them a lot of fatty grains and foods because they are more prone to develop hepatic lipidosis.
  • Birds are very sensitive to stress and will stop eating after the smallest inconvenience. Make sure to keep an eye on them and rush them to the vet when they lose their appetite.

3. Combinational Diet

The diet should be complete or it will cause severe nutritional diseases and vitamin deficiencies such as Vitamin A, D, K, and E. Feather disorder and bone deformities can be issues as well.

  • Their diet should be a combination of seeds, fruits, and pellets.
  • Common mistakes of bird owners are that they feed only seed diets. This lacks a lot of vitamins and minerals.
  • Vitamin A, D, E, and K can be found in fruits and vegetables. For example lettuce, carrots, cabbage, etc. 
  • Do not forget to stay away from the toxic foods listed.
  • Calcium supplements in the water are highly recommended to avoid bone issues.


The deadliest foods for birds are caffeine, chocolate, avocados, onion, garlic, and xylitol. If your pet bird consumes any of them make sure to rush them to the vet for hospitalization. Keep in mind that malnutrition and a bad diet can be deadly as well. You always need to make sure that you are given a complete diet and supplements.

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