Aviary Pitfalls #2 – Plants and Flora

My aviary started out as a lush and verdant tribute to our planet’s rain forests. Now it more closely resembles a tinder dry desert. The plant life had to go. Here’s why.

I’m sure there must be some varieties of plants which are neither tasty targets for their voracious appetites, chewy treats on which to strengthen their beaks, or deadly traps capable of decimating your beloved population. Its just that I can’t find any.

Recently my son had to grow a pot of ‘pak boong’ – a type of spinach – for a school project. With the project done and dusted, the pot was sitting idly outside the house, dense with maturing sprouts. I thought I’d see if the birds might like it so I put it in the bird room. After 3 days the result was what you can see below:

Spinach Eaten by Birds
This pot was full of spinach shoots about 8 inches high.

Okay, so its spinach. That’s like presenting the birds with a gourmet meal. Of course they’re going to feast on it. It’s never going to survive. But in the beginning I’d put several flowering plants in there also, nicely arranged around the aviary. None of them were recognized, edible vegetables. They weren’t spared either. After a few weeks, leaves had been shorn, stalks exposed and petals lay strewn on the ground.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, it turned out that at least one type of plant I had put in the aviary – I think it was a non-flowering plant – was poisonous to birds. I found this out after a couple of the birds started keeling over for no apparent reason. It first happened to a love bird. The first symptom of the poisoning would be that one or both legs would become paralyzed leading to the bird ending up immobile on its side. Obviously, without assistance the situation would worsen as the bird would not be able to feed and the paralysis would evidently spread until death.

Potentially poisonous plant
This looks similar to the plant I suspected of poisoning Busby.

The love bird which was first effected did not survive, sadly. It was only when a second bird, a female cockatiel called Busby, started showing the same symptoms that I realized it was one of the plants that was the problem and I removed all of them from the aviary. I also took Busby out of the aviary into a separate cage as her condition worsened. At one point I was not expecting her to survive the night as she was on her side and couldn’t move. In the face of inevitable death, I thought I would try some last ditch efforts so I would try to perform a kind of physiotherapy on her in the hope of maintaining circulation in the legs. I also would lift her up and actually dunk her head into water for a second so she could get a beak full of water every now and then. I’m sure this helped because it brought on defecation which helped to expel the poison from her body.

Slowly but surely Busby improved and since then has mothered several chicks so that has been a success story but also an important lesson in the very real threat that some plants pose to birds.

Busby the female cockatiel
Busby – cockatiel, mate, mother, survivor.

So the upshot of all this upheaval was another painful lesson learnt. Don’t just add plants into your aviary without knowing if they are bird-friendly. From my experience, there are the following categories of plants.

  1. Fruit/vegetables – these will get eaten very quickly
  2. Non-edible, non poisonous – these will get chewed up
  3. Poisonous – these will kill

Of course I have no doubt that there must be non-edible, non-poisonous plants which birds won’t chew up, but I never managed to find one so I would suggest you do some further research to find these.

Even if you manage to identify and install the type of plant which is safe and will not be chewed up, you still need to consider the required upkeep of those plants as an extra requirement when maintaining the aviary.

NB – At time of writing, the aviary contained 9 Zebra Finches, 3 Java Finches and 6 Cockatiels.

List of safe indoor plants for aviaries:

African violet (Saintpaulia spp., Episcia reptans)
Aluminum plant (Pilea cadierei)
Bird’s Nest Fern (Asplenium nidus)
Boston Fern (Nephrolepis exaltata)
Burro’s tail
Cactus (except pencil, peyote, mescaline, candelabra)
Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii)
Cissus: Danish ivy aka Grape Ivy (Cissus rhombifolia), Kangaroo vine (Cissus antarctica)
Emerald ripple peperomia
Flame nettle (Coleus sp.)
Gold-fish plant
Hens & chickens
Lipstick plant
Madagascar jasmine
Monkey plant
Nerve plant

  • Areca (Chrysalidocarpus lutescens)
  • Bamboo (Chamaedorea erumpens)
  • Butterfly Cane
  • Canary Island (Phoenix canariensis)
  • Date
  • European Fan (Chamaerops humilis)
  • Fishtail
  • Golden Feather
  • Paradise/Kentia (Howea foresterana)
  • Parlor (Chamaedorea elegans)
  • Lady (Raphis excelsa)
  • Madagascar
  • Miniature Fan
  • Phoenix
  • Pygmy Date
  • Robelein Lady
  • Sentry
  • Wine

Peacock plant (Calathea)
Pepperomia (Pepperomia sp.)
Prayer plant (Maranta leuconeura)
Purple Passion aka Velvet Plant (Gynura aurantiaca)
Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum)
Swedish ivy (Plectranthus verticillatus)
Wandering jew (Tradescantia sp.) including Giant white inch plant
Wax plant (Hoya carnosa)
Zebra plant (Aphelandra squarrosa)

List of outdoor plants which are safe for aviaries:

Trees & Shrubs
Autumn olive
Fir (balsam, douglas, subalpine, white)
Mango (zone 9+)
Mountain ash
Papaya (zone 10+)
Pear (as long as the seeds aren’t eaten)
Pine (ponderosa, spruce, Virginia, white)
Pittosporum (zone 9+)
Rubus odoratus
Spruce (black, Norway, red, white)
White poplar

Bougainvillea (can also be grown as shrub or small tree)
Grape vine
Russian Vine (Polygonum baldschuanicum)

Grasses & Herbs

Ground Cover and Short Plants
Baby’s tears aka Polka Dot Plant (Helxine soleirolii)
Creeping jenny (Lysimachia)

Mother of pearl
Nasturtium (zone 9+)
Piggyback begonia (Begonia hispida variant Cucullifera)
Piggyback plant
Plectranthus (zone 9+)
White clover

Thanks to finchinfo dot com for the lists.

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