Bird Respiratory System

How To Care For Your The Bird's Respiratory System When Wildfires Are Raging

Birds have a complex respiratory system designed for efficient flight. But, the bird respiratory system is also prone to absorbing deadly toxins. Learn about your bird's respiratory system and prevent infections or worse.

Hey there! 

If you've stepped outside lately you've noticed the haze in the sky that spans from California to New York City.  Our fire seasons here in the US have gotten out of control, as anybody with asthma or other respiratory conditions can attest to.

Are birds affected by fire smoke?

At, I've been fielding some questions on how the declining air quality and inside outside of the home affects your pet bird's respiratory system.

So I thought that now might be a timely time (can I say that? - English majors be kind!) to cover the topic.

To start, I'm going to go over the bird respiratory system to help you understand how birds are affected by fire smoke. Then, I'll discuss some common household conditions that you should be aware of to protect your pet. And, finally, I’ll talk about how to protect your bird's respiratory system from the poor air quality that we experience due to raging fires.

Can wildfire smoke kill birds?

Birds are incredibly susceptible to wildfire smoke because of the way that their respiratory system is designed.

bird respiratory system

So first, it's good to know that in general birds are really sensitive to air quality, and if you don't take care, it's very easy for your bird to become very sick, and just as easy for them to die of smoke inhalation.

Birds don't have lungs like we do.  Their respiratory system is very different from mammals.

Birds need an Incredibly efficient respiratory system in order to fly great distances. They also metabolize much more efficiently.  As a result of their much higher relative energy needs, and their needs to process oxygen more efficiently to maintain light, birds have air sacs throughout your body cavity as opposed to lungs. 

If you examine the image above you'll see seven different breathing systems in a bird's body cavity.  This highly efficient breathing system allows a bird to absorb significantly higher amounts of oxygen for each breath than our two lung systems.

Unfortunately, this means that birds' lungs are also much more efficient at processing and absorbing toxins in the air, including deadly wildfire smoke. Now, more than ever, we must be vigilant to protect our pet birds' respiratory health. You'll want to protect your bird like you would protect yourself if you had a respiratory condition.

 Household Air Quality

We've always been aware that the household air quality can be deadly for our birds.

Upper respiratory tract infections are very common in birds, and often avoidable if you eliminate the use of these household items...

Aerosols. In general, all aerosols are a nightmare for a birds respiratory system. Air fresheners, bug spray, furniture polish, you name it, if you spray it out of a can, keep it as far away from your bird as possible.

    Although they don't come out of a can, I'm going to include incense and candles here as well.

    You know how you feel when you cop a strong whiff of bug spray or air freshener? Well, now divide your body by 200, so that you're the same size as your pet bird, and image copping that whiff now.

    The coughing and stress to the system is far greater for birds and can cause serious distress and heart failure.

    Smoking.  I hate to say it, but for all you smokers out there, if you're smoking inside where your bird gets to breathe in the smoke, then you are seriously risking the health of your little pet.

      Apart from the cocktail of random lethal chemicals that are in cigarettes, the nicotine in the smoke is also dangerous to birds, and I haven't even begun talking about the physical contaminants like tar!

      Marijuana smoke is not much better for the bird respiratory system.

      We've all seen the ads, and we know exactly what smoking does to our lungs, and studies are proving that in some ways second hand smoke is even worse.  If you've smoked a cigarette, wash your hands thoroughly before handling your bird.

      Overheated cookware (pots and pans). Random, I know. Who would have thought that leaving the pot on the stove too long would kill a bird?
        teflon destroys the bird respiratory system


        Well, get this, according to tests that were commissioned by the Australian Environmental Working Group (EWG), Teflon overheating is responsible for the deaths of thousands of pet birds each year, with the possibility of many more unreported cases!

        It turns out that when non-stick cookware overheats it releases up to 6 really toxic gases, which besides killing birds also makes people sick as well.

        For birds it's called "Teflon Toxicosis' ', and in this case the lungs of your little guy will hemorrhage and then fill with fluid, which will lead to suffocation in minutes.

        All it takes for these gases to be released into the air is for you to leave the pan on the burner for a couple of minutes to 'preheat' the pan, so if you really need to preheat your pan, then you should use a stainless steel or cast iron pot instead that hasn't been treated with Teflon.

        You've been warned!

        Kerosene heaters. These guys suck a lot of the oxygen out of the air around them, and also emit their own contaminants as the kerosene burns that are really bad for your bird, and you should keep the two as separate as possible. Smoke is always bad for birds!

        Watch out for

        After the fire has gone, make sure that you clean all surfaces of your house thoroughly. Smoke leaves a toxic residue on everything! Residue from fires can be a great growing environment for mold and bacteria. If your bird breathes in mold and bacteria it can cause a serious, painful upper respiratory infection.

        Anytime your bird experiences a respiratory infection it is a medical emergency.  your bird may need to be placed in a nebulizer to support healing, as well as being treated with antibiotics to avoid death. 

          So now let's get back to the declining air quality due to wildfires.

          If your bird lives outside, then it's a good idea to bring him or her inside for a couple of days until the air clears up. Just make sure that when you do this you take heed to everything I've mentioned before in this post, as it would be terrible if the cure was worse than the problem!

          If your bird already lives indoors, then you're probably all good, and your little bird has nothing to worry about. Just try to make sure that you keep doors and windows shut for a couple of days until the air clears up a bit. Running the air conditioner helps to filter out the air.

          I'm not trying to go for the dramatic finish here, but it is important that you watch out for this! Soot and soot particles mixed with water are an unhealthy mix for any set of lungs. 

          How do I protect my pets from wildfire smoke?

          Clearly, the best way to protect your pets from wildfire smoke is to keep them inside and to run the air conditioner around the clock. Our HVAC systems are designed to filter out nasty are particles.

          If you must take your bird outside when the sky is full of hazy, toxic smoke, place your bird and its carrier. Then grab a moist towel  or a sheet. A pillowcase would work just fine on a smaller bird carrier. 


          Moisten the fabric and cover the carrier.  This tip worked well for me when I had to evacuate during Colorado's wildfires a few Summers back.

          If the  fires are close, get your bird carrier ready and gather up an evacuation kit. I've had to evacuate my flock twice due to wildfires.  Head over to this article to learn how to create an evacuation kit.

          Another way to protect your bird respiratory system from toxic, smokey fumes is to invest in an air purifier. One of the most efficient brands on the market is Rabbit  Purifiers. They're a little pricey but they've got great reviews and they're very efficient.

          When you run a high quality air purifier in your bird's living quarters, not only are you cleaning the air from the smoke but also from the dust and dander that birds put off. Thus, saving your HVAC system from damage.


          When it comes to infections in the bird respiratory system an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. 

          Treatment for avian respiratory problems is critical towards saving your bird's life.  Your avian vet will assess your bird to find out the cause of the respiratory problem so that the appropriate treatment can be administered. 

          It would be irresponsible to try to diagnose your pet yourself. Don't fall into the trap of trying over-the-counter medications for respiratory infections because time is of the essence when treating an avian respiratory infection. Your bird could succumb to the infection in as little as the day.

          So, it goes without saying that if your bird is showing any symptoms at all of respiratory tract irritation then you should go straight to the vet.

          How do I know if my parakeet has a respiratory infection?

          Symptoms include the following

          • Your bird being listless and having no energy

          • Nasal discharge

          • Tail bobby as the bird struggles to breathe

          • A dry or raspy or "clicky" sounding breathing

          • Lack of oxygen makes a bird too weak to perch so it sits on the cage floor

          In addition, to your bird is spending a lot of time on the floor of the cage or spending a lot of time clutching the side of the cage with it's mouth and 'hanging' these are all signs that your bird is struggling to breathe and is trying to work out ways to get air.

          Whatever you do, don't wait, as birds are notoriously susceptible and succumb quickly in many cases.

          What Are The Best Supplements For Lung Health?

          Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in Hemp, Red Palm Oil, and UnRuffledRx FeatheredUp! Vitamin D and E have been found to improve lung function.

          bird supplements for preventative Bird Respiratory Health

          So have I missed anything, or has your bird been affected by the fires or any of the above?  Let me know how it's going for your bird, or things that you avoid, as there is a wealth of experience out there, and always more to learn! (and I just like hearing about other people's pet birds.)

          If you'd like to learn more about protecting your bird's respiratory health check out my other blogs:

          Can Aspergillosis Kill My Bird


          Check back again soon. Do you have a parrot question that you'd like help on? 

          Diane Burroughs, LCSW is a licensed psychotherapist trained in ABA therapy techniques. She specializes in avian anxiety disorders and is certified in Nutrition For Mental Health. Diane has written a number of bird behavior books and she offers behavior consultations. She's developed a range of UnRuffledRx Science-backed Parrot Wellness Supplies.

          Diane's products have been featured in the Journal of Avian Medicine and Surgery and at Exoticscon, a conference for exotic pet veterinarians. Her bird collars & supplements are stocked in avian vet clinics and bird stores throughout the US. With over 30 years in the field of behavior, Diane has created thousands of successful individualized behavior plans that help pets thrive.

          TAGS: #BirdRespiratorySystem #RespiratorySystemOfBird


          Leave a comment

          All comments are moderated before being published.

          This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.