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Selecting safe browse for parrots

Expert Question

I live in Northern Virginia with 2 macaws, I'd like to know what type of wood from trees in my yard etc I can give to my birds. Can I just bring them in from outside or do I have to do something to make them safe? I have multiple trees (pines, oak, poplar) in my yard and 2 parrots that would LOVE to snack on the wood. Thanks, BJ

Expert Answer

Dear BJ...

I remember a time when I was travelling through Virgina and stopped to visit a friend who had several pet caiques. One morning I went outside for a stroll around his neighborhood, and came back with an armload of chewable boughs and greenery for his parrots.

There were many trees and other plants available:  maples, beech, oak with tiny acorns, fruit trees of many sorts in early spring bud, elm, poplar, even some flowering bushes like quince, lilac, forsythia, roses, and the like. Psittacines can also chew on conifers--pine, spruce, fir, juniper, tamarack, etc. though we only utilize these for birds in the winter months when deciduous leaves have wilted and fallen. If you go online and google safe plants for parrots you will find a host of other things to offer your macaws. The most nutritious portions of greenery are the new growth buds--sepioles and petioles and often hookbills will spend hours removing each leaf or flower, eating the succulent attachment node and moving on to the next. We also like to give our birds flowers such as snapdragons, geraniums, pansies, asters, chrysanthemum, orchids, marigolds and other safe blooms. If you have berry bushes psittacines often like the berries at the tart stage. Small crabapples and thronapples are the same. Tannins appeal to most parrots and offer gastro and other health benefits, as does the often mineral rich bark form limbs. I personally keep a woodpile of older dry branches that my parrots love to tear into. It can make a mess in the house, but I feel it is much more interesting and healthy than finished lumber and wood.

Safety wise, avoid plants with milky sap, Hawaiian type tropical plants such as oleander and dieffenbachia, magnolia. There are lots of toxic plant lists online also though some are designed for people and are not up to date about parrots. If you wish to have an indoor plant for your birds, though of course macaws can destroy things rather quickly, I would recommend a bamboo or a Ficus benjamina. We also like to cut a large branch and fasten it into a Christmas tree stand for our birds to climb and chew on throughout the year.

You can rinse off outdoor greenery in the shower or with an outdoor hose, but by and large clean branches and plants away from roadside or neighboring spray areas are chemical free and perfectly fine for our birds.

Cheers, EB

EB Cravens
About EB Cravens

“If we TRULY believe our captive-raised hookbills are important to world parrot conservation, we must work ceaselessly to ensure that these same psittacines retain as much of their wild instinctual behavior as is possible,” affirms avicultural writer and hobby breeder EB Cravens, from his small organic farm on the slopes of the Big Island Hawaii.

“Our goal is to birth and raise only a few baby parrots who know that they are parrots, but choose to befriend humans, because humans are nice to them… feed them… and are fun to be with!”

EB has bred, trained, raised, kept and rehabilitated more than 75 species of psittacines during the past twenty plus years both at his home and while managing the notable exotic bird shoppe, Feathered Friends of Santa Fe, New Mexico. His emphasis on natural environments for birds, the urging of babies to fully fledge during the extended weaning process, and the leaving of chicks for many weeks inside the nest box with their parents in order that they may learn the many intangibles of their species, have succeeded in changing for the better the lives of so many captive parrots.

A science writer by training, he was for years a regular contributor for AFA’s Watchbird Magazine and the Companion Parrot Quarterly. EB currently writes a monthly column entitled “The Complete Psittacine” in PARROTS Magazine out of England; and another, “The Hookbill Hobbyist” down under in the well-regarded Australian Birdkeeper. His monthly series of articles “Birdkeeping Naturally,” is sent out to bird clubs and individuals around the U.S.

“As devastating pressures continue upon avian species in the wilds,” he says, “it is critical that those keeping birds in captivity do so with responsibility and foresight.”