Wood: what is safe for toys and perches

While the wood from these trees may be considered to be chemically non-toxic, spines, wood fibres and splinters may pose a physical problem. Bamboo (which is actually a grass, not a tree) can have very sharp edges. Branches gathered from the countryside may carry fungi or parasites in bird droppings and need to be washed. We advise using a nail brush with antibacterial washing up liquid and/or avian disinfectant. Personally I cut fresh tree branches rather than use windfalls: hopefully this reduces the probability of mycotoxins.

Gillian Willis warns on her website not to use wood from Prunus spp. trees because it contains cyanogenic glycosides. Such trees include: apricot, cherry, nectarine, peach, prune and plum but the Birdsafe site reports no confirmed bird deaths. Oak is reputedly dangerous because of tanin content but confoundingly, tanin levels are much higher in other foods eaten by birds such as some nuts. In both these cases it appears to be the bark, foliage and sap that is the problem so the dried and debarked wood may be OK but best avoided to be on the safe side.

The chinese snake tree, pitch pine (from which turpentine is made) and yew are all to be considered highly toxic, as are most laurels.

Unfortunately, while there is a lot of assertion on the internet that this or that is/is not safe and only a little balanced assessment, it seems very difficult to find authoritive substantiation of the claims.

It would be nice to know: what active principle(s) in the wood are responsible for the toxicity; what dose level is considered toxic; what differences there may be between species, sizes and ages of parrot; who did the toxicologic analysis and where was it published.

Without this, there is a danger that some of the things that are said to be toxic may not be all that bad and worse still, some of those that are allegedly safe may not be. It is surpriing, for instance, to see willow widely regarded as safe but it is a rich source of salicylic acid (the latin name for Willow is Salix) and is used medicinally to good effect. However, in man anyway, salicylates can cause gastro-intestinal bleeding.

As a matter of fact, I do let my birds have willow but only now and then and I watch what they do with it (they do not eat it). Toxicity is not a simple matter of what but also involves how much and how often: you can kill yourself (and your parrot) with organic carrots if you really want to.

My choice of wood? I use apple and beech which I cut and season myself. Occasionally spruce or ash which I buy. Written and compiled by David Lal

List of wood types and their toxicity

Acacia Safe
Almond Safe
Apple Safe
Apricot Unsafe
Arbutus Safe
Ash Safe
Aspen Safe
Bamboo Safe
Beech Safe
Birch Safe
Bois d’arc Unsafe
Box Elder Toxic
Cherry Unsafe
Chinese Popcorn Toxic
Chinese snake tree Toxic
Chinese Tallow Toxic
Citrus Safe
Cork Oak Safe
Cottonwood Safe
Crab Apple Safe
Crepe Myrtle Toxic
Dogwood Safe
Elm Safe
Eucalyptus Unsafe
Fig Safe
Fir Safe
Fruitless Mulberry Safe
Ginkgo Safe
Grape Vines Safe
Grape Palm Safe
Guava Safe
Hackberry Safe
Hawthorn Safe
Hazelnut Safe
Hemlock Toxic
Hibiscus Safe
Hickory Safe
Holly Toxic
Horse Apple Unsafe
Ironwood Safe
Larch Safe
Laurel Toxic
Lilac Safe
Liquidamber Safe
Madrona Safe
Magnolia Safe
Manzanita Safe
Maple Safe
Mediterranean Laurel Safe
Mesquite Safe
Mimosa Safe
Mulberry Safe
Nectarine Unsafe
Norfolk Island Pine Safe
Oak Safe
Palm Safe
Papaya Safe
Peach Unsafe
Pear Safe
Pecan Safe
Pine Safe
Pitch pine Toxic
Plum Unsafe
Poplar Safe
Prune Unsafe
Redwood Toxic
Ribbonwood Safe
Rose Safe
Sassafras Safe
Sequoia Unsafe
Sitka cedar Unsafe
Spruce Safe
Sumac (Rhus/Toxicodendron) Toxic
Sweet Gum Safe
Sycamore Safe
Thurlow Safe
Tree Fern Safe
Umbrella Tree Safe
Vine Maple Safe
Walnut Safe
Willow Safe
Yellow cedar Unsafe
Yew Toxic