It’s hard to imagine now, in our health-conscious, e-cigarette age, but not that long ago, almost every adult smoked cigarettes or pipes as a matter of course. It was accepted as the norm, and nobody imagined the health problems it could lead to.
Whilst we may not have picked up on the impact of smoking on our own health until recent years, it has long been known that birds are ultra-sensitive to the presence of noxious gases in the air. This was put to good use in the coal mines, when canaries were used to detect deadly methane and carbon monoxide. The birds would breathe in the gases and, if they were in sufficient concentration, the birds would die, but the miners would have enough time to get out before they too succumbed.
Keeping the air clean
Birds have a unique and efficient respiratory system, which makes them very sensitive to toxins in the air. Each time a bird breathes in, the air is passed through the lungs twice. Because birds have such a high metabolic rate (which is why they lose so much of their body fat during winter, so it’s important to keep both domestic and wild birds well-fed too), being able to get plenty of oxygen out of the air is vital, and the air passing through the lungs twice allows them to get as much as they can.
Unfortunately, it also means that any nasties in the air are also absorbed, just as effectively, which means that there are a lot of chemicals we use in our everyday lives that can be damaging to our feathered friends.
Things such as aerosols, paint fumes, strong perfume and cooking fumes can all be nasty for birds. New pans, self cleaning ovens and pans (especially Teflon®-coated ones!) left to boil dry are particularly dangerous. They can even produce fumes strong enough to make us cough and splutter and our eyes run. For birds, they can make them seriously ill.
What can you do?
It’s nearly Christmas and you’re bound to be doing a lot of cooking, so if you’ve got a pet bird, make sure he or she is kept in a well-ventilated (but not too cold!) area, away from cooking fumes. Keep kitchen windows open as much as possible to minimise the fumes inside the house. And try to cook on as low a heat as possible so any oil doesn’t overheat and give off fumes.
You may be tempted to burn scented candles at Christmas. If you are doing this, keep your pet bird well away, ideally in a different room.
If you’re having a late bonfire, keep pet birds indoors and windows and doors closed, particularly if you’re burning plastic or rubber.
If you’re undertaking a big decorating project, consider taking your pet bird to stay with a friend. Or boarding kennels and catteries will often accept other pets besides dogs and cats.
And, of course, if you’re a smoker, never smoke near your pet bird’s cage.
For more tips on happy, healthy birds, visit the Parrot Society.
More tips on keeping your feathered friends happy and healthy, whether they’re domestic or wild: