Updated: Oct 19, 2021
In the wild, parrots live and breathe in fresh air and they are not exposed to the types and levels of toxins present in our homes. Indoor air pollution is a major concern for all of us and even more of a concern for our birds. The air that surrounds us daily contains many allergens, pollens, molds, fungi, pollutants and dust. Our air tight, energy efficient homes just don't allow many of these indoor pollutants to escape. The conditions worsen when the weather is cold and we are unable to circulate fresh air from a source like a cracked window. Parrots are extremely sensitive to the quality of the air environment around us. By design, to enable their ability to fly, their respiratory systems are highly efficient and virtually all of the air in their lungs is replaced with every breath. Birds also breathe at a much higher rate (25-40 times per minute) versus the typically respiration rate for humans. These factors combined mean that air pollutants can impact birds more quickly and more severely than humans. Canaries were used in the mining industry for this very reason; they served as an early warning system for the miners. Exposure to many pollutants can cause severe health problems, premature death and even an immediate fatality for your companion parrot.
A partial list of common household items that contain or generate toxic pollutants hazardous to birds follows:
Non-stick cookware and other items that utilize Teflon such as irons, ironing board covers, heaters and hair dryers which will release toxic gas when overheated. Read labels carefully on all household appliances!
Aerosols (hairspray, deodorant, perfume, cleaners, fabric deodorizers)
Wood stoves, kerosene heaters
Controlling Bird Dust and Dander
Bird dust is a white powder produced by the feathers that are closest to the skin. This powder helps keep your bird’s feathers soft and silky. As a result, African Greys, Cockatoos, Cockatiels and Amazons that produce this powder are called powder down birds. Dust from the Amazon is less noticeable than the other breeds because it is darker and often goes unnoticed.
This wing dust is just one of several kinds of dust or dander that birds generate. While it is a pain to clean up, bird dust also causes a tremendous increase in airborne particles in your home which can accumulate and cause health problems, especially for those with sensitive noses or allergies.
Main Problems of Bird Dust and Dander:
Clogged Air Passages - Birds have an incredibly efficient respiratory system, which can be both a blessing and a curse. Even though their air passages are small, these tubes are highly efficient in transporting air. However, because the airways are so tiny, they can quickly and easily become clogged. When birds are forced to breathe air that is thick with dander and dust, as well as other normal household pollutants, it almost always leads to disease and infection which can shorten your bird's lifespan considerably. Instinct allows birds to be able to effectively hide symptoms when they are ill. This behaviour keeps them from being seen as weak and defenseless and being seen as prey for other animals. This behaviour doesn't stop once they become a part of your family. Being able to hide the problem from their humans allows the illness to progress, until there is little or no chance of having them recover even with medical attention.
Bird Fancier's Lung - This is a disease that affects humans. It starts when dried faeces dust is inhaled. The onset of symptoms occurs fairly rapidly, usually within a 6-hour period. Symptoms include chills, fever, dry cough and chest pain. This condition is very rare and is only occasionally fatal.
Allergy and Asthma Trigger - People who suffer from airborne allergies are generally hypersensitive to a variety of particles, including normal household irritants like household dust, dust mites, mould and mildew spores and pet dander. Adding more particles into the air with a dusty feathered friend usually increases allergy and asthma flare ups to an uncomfortable level. When allergic reactions and allergy symptoms become extreme, many people are forced to make a painful choice between their beloved bird and their health.
Tips for Reducing and Controlling Dust and Dander:
1. Continuous HEPA Filtration - Taking the particles out of the air is important for the health of both birds and their owners. Since this is a particulate problem, the best type of filtration is high efficiency particle arresting (often shortened to HEPA) filtration. As its name suggests, it is incredibly efficient at removing particles as small as .3 microns with 99.97% efficiency. This means that 99,997 out of every 10,000 particles are removed from the air. This type of filter is all-encompassing, so it would also remove normal household pollutants such as dust, dust mites, mould and mildew spores, and dander from other pets. Unfortunately, these airborne pollutants are typical even in the cleanest of homes unless the air is being filtered. These filtration systems are readily available in a variety of floor models you can move from room-to-room, as well as installed into your home air system.
2. Clean Regularly- A regular cleaning schedule will greatly help reduce the amount of irritants that can be inhaled. Reducing the irritants this way will make the room a more pleasant place to be, particularly for those who are sensitive to the dander and powder.
3. Clean Smarter - Carefully choosing the furnishing in the bird's room can make cleaning easier and more efficient. Choose surfaces throughout the room that can be easily wiped clean. Fabrics and carpets make it difficult to clean, because particles become embedded in the fabric, rather than sitting on the surface. When wiping down surfaces, use a slightly damp cloth rather than a dry cloth, as it gathers more of the debris, sending less of it airborne.
4. Negative Ions - Negative ions are odourless, tasteless and invisible molecules. They are oxygen atoms with an extra electron which have either a neutral or a positive charge. Negatively charged ions of oxygen positively affect the atmosphere. Just as we need vitamins to maintain a healthy body so also do we the right concentration of negative ions in the surrounding environment to promote healthy air inhalation. The negative ion then could be called the vitamin of the air, because by eliminating the bacteria in the surrounding air and by decreasing air borne dust, pollen and debris and removing odours and smoke particles, the negative ion promotes better breathing health. The Benefits of Negative Ions Among other things, negative ions help freshen and purify the air by causing allergens such as pollen, mould spores, dust, and animal dander floating in the air to be attracted to and stick to one each other forming ‘clumps'. These clumps of particles then become heavy enough so they fall to the floor. These particles can be vacuumed up or removed. Research Has Shown That Negative Ions:
• Reduce histamine which triggers hay fever.
• Promote positive levels of serotonin, the neurological hormone associated with anxiety, stress and migraine
• Ease suffering from bronchial complaints such as bronchial asthma, catarrh, and the common coal.
• Help with insomnia, emphysema, eczema, headaches, tiredness and general body feelings of malaise.
• Enhance the body's absorption and utilization of oxygen, increasing concentration and alertness. • Reduce affects of passive smoking, allergies to pollen, dust and pets.
• Remove and destroy airborne bacteria, staphylococci and halts fungi growth.
• Increase speed and quality of healing due to burns and surgical incisions with less scarring and pain
• Boost your energy and your mood.
5. Choose Your Bird Carefully - This is not much help if you have already fallen in love with a particular breed or bird. However, if you are planning to add to another bird to your family, doing a little research can help you decide on the type of bird that is likely to produce less dust and dander.
6. Limit The Number of Birds - Some birds are happier when living with another bird. However, you can greatly reduce the amount of particles by carefully considering how many birds your space can comfortably handle. By the number of feathered friends you choose, you will automatically reduce the dust and dander levels in your home.
Following the above suggestions can make a huge difference in the quality of life you provide for both you and your pet bird. Eliminating bird dust from the air means a healthier bird and a healthier you.
Other ways to Improve Household Air Quality
Remove all harmful chemicals and products from your house.
Keep humidifiers and air conditioners clean and free from mold.
Use bird safe cleaning products.
Place houseplants around your home to purify air naturally.
Don't smoke indoors.
Remove birds from your house for at least a week if you plan on installing new carpeting. Ventilate your house thoroughly before allowing your birds to return home.
Store hazardous chemicals and items, such as paint, in outdoor sheds.
Have your furnace serviced annually to ensure efficient and safe operation and to minimize the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Why You Should Keep Certain Parrot Species Separated
The different parrot families are divided into two broad categories: Old World and New World species. New world parrots, of which there are 148 species, are all parrots that are indigenous to Central and South America and Mexico (The U.S. no longer has a native parrot species.) Some popular New World species are the macaws, the amazons and the conures.
The 181 species of Old World parrots are those that are native to Asia, Africa and Australia. Among Old World species are the senegal, the cockatiel and the indian ringneck.
Since vast oceans separate the Americas from the rest of the world’s continents, both New and Old World parrots evolved differently. Most New World species are acclimated to the damp, temperate regions of the rain forest while some Old World Species thrive in dry, arid conditions. The result is the occurrence of certain physical and biological differences between the two factions.
One of those differences is that some Old World species produce powder down feathers. The keratin sheaths that surround these emerging feathers break down into a fine, powdery substance that is more pervasive in the home and air space than the granular dander that is produced by
Three very popular parrot species that produce powder down are the african grey, the cockatoo and the cockatiel. Anyone who owns one or more of these birds will attest to the intensity of the mess they create.
Over recent years, veterinarians started to discover that serious, life threatening diseases were developing in macaws who shared living quarters with a dusty, Old World bird.
Macaws are very sensitive to airborne particulates and more easily develop respiratory issues and pulmonary disease with continued exposure to powder down dust. Of the macaws, the blue and gold macaw has shown itself to be most at risk.
An initial indication of an arising problem is wheezing, which is followed by coughing and difficulty breathing as disease progresses. At this point, however, your bird is very ill and may have developed other issues resulted from the low oxygenation of cells.