Sign up to receive email updates, action alerts, health tips, promotions to support our work and more from EWG. You can opt-out at any time. [Privacy]

 

Bird death diaries

Canaries in the Kitchen: Bird death diaries

May 15, 2003

Teflon and other non-stick coatings can produce fumes that kill birds. Below we recount a small fraction of the documented cases of bird deaths attributed to fumes and particles released from non-stick coatings on cookware, heat lamps, and other home appliances.

Documented pet bird deaths in peer-reviewed literature
Mass wild bird deaths from non-stick manufacturing fumes
From the vet's mouth: bird death cases
100 websites that discuss birds and Teflon toxicosis

Bird Death Diary headerBird Death Diary header

Killed: Watson, Dee-Dee, and more than 50 other birds
Implicated in death: Overheated, electric non-stick pan

In December 2002 a family lost more than 55 birds after a pan on their stove overheated when the water burned off. Despite their efforts to ventilate the house after they noticed the smoldering pan, one by one they lost three Blue and Gold Macaws, a Camelot Macaw, one Scarlet Macaw, 2 sun conures, 2 nanday conures, 2 TAGS, 4 parrolets, and over 40 cockatiels. [1]

Theresa K. writes:

I awoke to my Husband calling me to get up, something was wrong with Watson. (Watson, was a rescued Blue and Gold, that had become my life.) I jumped out of bed and in a macabre move my husband turned around, craddling Watson and said, Watson is dead. I thought my world had stopped right there.

I carried Watson into the bathroom, and rocked and cried for at least 20 minutes. I gained some composure and said, I have to put him in the freezer... we have a full breeding aviary, and I knew the responsible thing to do was to do a necropsy.

As I walked into the kitchen, I saw the pan that was smoldering. The pan had been full of water and the burner turned off, but a short circuit had turned it on even though the handle/ indicator said it was off. I then noticed a sun conure flying by and dropping to the ground, also, immediately dead.

The next few hours are the hardest I will probably ever go through. One by one the birds were dying. Agonizing screaming... we opened up everything in the house. It was snowing and freezing. I placed fans everywhere to exhaust the fumes. (I lost 2 Boston Terrier puppies from pneumonia 2 days later)... We did our best to hold each and every one of the macaws as they were dying, I didn't want them to be alone in their pain. In my mind will always be etched my husband holding the Caleb, the Camelot Macaw, and Max, a Nanday tucked under his shirt, as I went down the steps to pull DeeDee, a 50+ Blue and Gold and hold her as she was screeching her last breaths away.... My husband sounded so vulnerable as he screamed out, "Oh God, Not DeeDee."

Thankfully, most is still a blur. That night we lost 3 Blue and Gold Macaws, The Camelot Macaw, one Scarlet Macaw, 2 sun conures, 2 nanday conures, 2 TAGS, 4 parrolets, and over 40 cockatiels. The next morning we had to tell the kids and they did not deal well with this. My 6 year old put a box over his head, that was there almost constantly for a week, saying he was a super hero... DR Thunder...and he would grill me, why did I kill the birds? Why did I buy the pan, why couldn't I save them?

My 8 year old daughter became withdrawn and drew a grave stone marker on her wall with the date and then in small print, all of the names of the birds lost... It is still there, I can't bring myself to cover it up. I saw their pain for months in their school work and their pretend playing. Well meaning friends have been dropping by and bringing me "free" misfit birds....

I have had to ask them to stop, we are running out of room. So, I have a houseful of screaming noisy birds again, but they can't drown out the noticable void of certain voices. I am still numb. It put a great strain on our marriage and I am depressed a lot.... not even zoloft is lifting my or my husband's dark cloud of pain.

Please if there is anything I can do to help, please call on me, I will gladly give any time you need. Thank you for listening, I didn't realize how many tears were still in me.

Killed: Moluccan cockatoo
Implicated in death: Teflon-coated iron and carpet glue

A woman reported the death of a moluccan cockatoo four hours after contractors repaired a carpet tear using carpet glue and a Teflon iron [2]. Michelle writes:

In April we had a small piece of carpet cut out and replaced in the living room. I notified the repair man that I have birds in my house and cannot have any fumes, teflon used in my home. I have an amazon and a moluccan cockatoo. They assured me that there were no fumes or toxic materials being used. Four hours later my moluccan Roxy started to throw up, we rushed her to an emergency 24 hr. vet who didn't know a thing about birds. She gave her a injection of antibiotic and she soon after went into respiratory distress and died at 1:15 am. We did not do a necropsy on her. I found out the next day they had used carpet glue and a Teflon iron to repair the carpet. Even though I took Roxy upstairs to another room while the work was being done she died anyway. A part of us died too that night. I'll never know for sure exactly what she died from, but I believe this was the cause. Many people have asked my then why is my amazon OK? I don't really know. Let everyone know you cannot trust workers in your house, they don't know what they are using in your house and they know less about parrots!!!

Excerpted from http://www.birdhotline.com/comment.htm

Killed: Ringneck, two Amazons, and a blue and gold macaw
Implicated in death: Skillet and electric space heater

An Iowa family lost a ringneck, two Amazons, and a blue and gold macaw within ten minutes of using an electric skillet and a space heater concurrently while preparing dinner. As the bird deaths progressed, an avian veterinarian questioning the bird owner over the telephone told her to turn off the space heater, which was likely coated with PTFE. By necropsy a local veterinarian confirmed lung damage in the dead birds consistent with that caused by inhalation of PTFE fumes. [3]

I received a truly heartbreaking call a couple of weeks ago from a very nice lady and a true bird lover named Dawn Costello. Dawn lives near New Virginia, Iowa...her birds died even though she didn't make any mistakes.

Most of us know by now that (a product name I can no longer use due to it's trademark), when heated over approximately 500 degrees will emit fumes that will kill birds. Dawn knew this too, and, like me, she used an electric (a product name I can no longer use due to it's trademark) skillet with a heat control and never set the control over 300 degrees. There have been some reports of (a product name I can no longer use due to it's trademark) related bird deaths in which the temperature of the cooking surface was not overheated but the surface was old and scarred and apparently released fumes through the marred area. This did not apply in Dawn's case since the cooking surface of her skillet was in good shape.

Dawn's family was preparing for dinner one evening using the electric skillet. An electric space heater was also running in the area since it was a chilly evening. (Store that; it's important). She then noticed that her Ringneck was not visible in his cage. She had seen him playing there just 10 minutes before but she checked anyway just to make sure he was still in the cage and hadn't gotten out. She was horrified to find the bird lying dead on the floor of the cage. A moment later she heard a scream from a daughter in another room and rushed there to find her two Amazons dead. She then ran to her Blue and Gold Macaw's cage to find that bird nearly dead. (Tears are streaming down my face as I write this because, like many of you, I can put myself in Dawn's position. She lost half a dozen beloved members of her family in the space of 10 minutes.) She shut off the (a product name I can no longer use due to it's trademark) skillet (but not the electric heater) and made several frantic calls for help. Local vets were not available (why does that not surprise me?), but she was soon in contact with a national animal poison control center. An out-of-state avian vet returned the call about the same time the Blue and Gold went into convulsions. The vet immediately asked about (a product name I can no longer use due to it's trademark) and Dawn told him they had been using an electric skillet, but it was in good condition and on low heat. He then asked if there was an electric space heater running in the area. When told there was, he said, "Shut it off quick!"

ACCORDING TO THIS VET, (a product name I can no longer use due to it's trademark) IS BEING USED IN MORE AND MORE APPLIANCES FOR THE HOME. IN ADDITION TO SKILLETS AND ELECTRIC HEATERS, IT IS ALSO FOUND IN IRONS, HAIR DRYERS AND APPROXIMATELY 20 OTHER DEVICES.

The vet told Dawn that probably a small amount of fumes was leaking from the skillet and coupled with what was spilling from the heater, it was sufficient to kill her birds. The Blue and Gold succumbed within a few minutes. Dawn has had the (a product name I can no longer use due to it's trademark) diagnosis confirmed by Dr. Riordan who did necropsies on all the birds. He told her that even if she had been across the street from a vet, nothing could have saved her Macaw. Apparently the fumes cause hemorrhaging in the lungs and air sacs and once the symptoms are evident, it is usually too late.

Excerpted from http://www.quakerville.com/qic/ezine/96Issue5/qteflon.htm

Respiratory distress: Macaw
Implicated: Toaster oven

Karen Grahame witnessed the toxicity of Teflon fumes to her Macaw when she used her small oven to cook her dinner on two separate occasions. On the first occasion her Macaw experienced severe respiratory distress two hours after Karen broiled a steak in her oven. She rushed her ailing bird to the veterinarian who saved his life and told her that her pet would have died had she not brought him in when she did. At this point neither Karen nor the doctor suspected the oven. The macaw did not show signs of respiratory stress again until she used the same oven at 350 degrees. Karen Grahame now keeps her oven in the garage. She notes that the oven user manual does not indicate that the oven is coated with PTFE [6].

For energy reasons, I do not routinely use my gas oven to cook small items; I use a small "Toaster/broiler" oven whose interior does not have the PTFE appearance. The manual that came with it does not indicate PTFE components, although I have heard (since the experience I am about to relate) that heating elements are usually coated with PTFE. I have used this small oven for nearly two years without problem. Last summer I broiled a small steak in it the exact same way I had done many times previously; after finishing my dinner I brought my 4 birds out for their evening playtime with me, which lasts two hours. As I put them back in their cages, I noticed the macaw was in some kind of distress, breathing quite rapidly with his mouth open, which I had never experienced with a bird. None of the other birds were affected. I was able to get the macaw to an avian vet within 75 minutes of noticing the respiratory distress, and the vet treated him with oxygen and steroids. The macaw recovered with no apparent after-effects, but neither the vet nor I were able to pinpoint the cause, and the vet told me that the macaw would have died if I had not gotten him to the vet as quickly as I did. We initially dismissed the oven because none of the other birds were affected. However, there was a second similar occurrence of respiratory distress with the macaw, again immediately after using the oven (although this time it was not at broiling temperature, it was used at 350 degrees). Again, none of the other birds were affected, and again the macaw recovered. (I now use the oven outside in the garage!)

The vet has diagnosed the bird with "Respiratory Hypersensitivity Syndrome", basically the avian form of asthma/allergies, but even if this is so I still think that the oven gave off some kind of toxic fumes to trigger the attacks, as the oven was involved in both events. On the other hand, if it was PTFE, it had to have been a VERY small amount because none of the other birds were affected, and from what I know of PTFE it is fatal to birds in even very small amounts. Another possibility is a toxic fume that was not PTFE but still dangerous enough to affect a bird with an already-compromised respiratory system. (And if anything is deadly enough to kill a bird, it can't be good for people either, can it? Interestingly enough, I also have a compromised respiratory system, and I often wonder if there is a connection there as well.)

In any event, I have since read that ANY item that produces heat--hair dryers, coffeemaker heating plates, space heaters--potentially have PTFE treated components, and that the manuals do not necessarily indicate that is the case. It would be wonderful if you could convince manufacturers to post warning labels on the items or at least in the manuals if there is PTFE anywhere. It would be even better if research could find an alternative!

Good luck to you in your research,

Karen Grahame

Killed: Baby parrots
Implicated in death: New non-stick-lined Amana oven

After updating their kitchen with all new appliances, Bob and Lynnette Stewart prepared biscuits in their kitchen while their newborn baby parrots slept in their brooders on the kitchen counter. As they preheated the oven all of their parrots died. The Stewarts have brought a lawsuit against Amana, the manufacturer of their oven. As an exotic bird buisiness owner, Bob Stewart knew of the dangers of Teflon, and he has never brought an item into his house that he knew was Teflon coated, but, he said, “there was no warning on the paperwork (that their oven had Teflon coating).” (Temperature and time of death was learned in a private communication with Bob Stewart.) [7,8]

My name is Bob Stewart. My wife and I own a exotic bird business in Riverside, California called SOS4BIRDZ. Along with all of the bird products we sell and distribute we raise several species of parrots. We had an incident which we are still in litigation over. What happened was that our house was severely damaged in a fire and had to be gutted and re-built. In the process of the reconstruction we decided to upgrade all of the major built-in appliances. When we moved back in the house after the re-construction was completed we had several babies that had hatched and we were hand feeding them. All of our baby parrots were being kept in brooders on the kitchen counter. In the process of having them there we decided to use our new stove to bake something in the oven. Unknowingly we had no idea that the oven was in fact coated with a non-stick chemical. There was no warning on the paperwork concerning this. We were aware of such products as Teflon coated pots and pans being detrimental and deadly to birds and have made it a point to never have any of these type of products in the house. In the process of baking the food the toxins created by the heating of the oven were released and all of the babies died as a result of it. We have had an attorney going after Amana for the past year about this incident and we have yet to resolve it. Hopefully we can be of assistance in this matter since we have first hand experience with this terrible scourge.

Sincerely,

Bob Stewart,
SOS4BIRDZ, Inc.

Killed: Kola Bird, a Yellow Cheek Amazon Parrot
Implicated in death: Pan from which water had boiled off

A bird owner reported that her Yellow Cheek Amazon Parrot was killed as she heated some water for a cup of hot cocoa. The water boiled off and her bird died. [9]

I just lost my Kola Bird (he was a Yellow Cheek Amazon) to Teflon poisoning. I came home from work and was heating up some water for a cup of hot cocoa. I forgot about the water on the stove. A while later I heard my boy fall off of his perch, but I didn't hear anything else so I went to investigate. He was sitting on the bottom of the cage with his head kind of bobbing back and forth. In less than five minutes, he was dying in my arms. It was the saddest thing watching my friend of twenty-one years take his last breath in my arms. Please pass this piece on so that maybe another death can be prevented. It hurts real bad.

Killed: Pumpkin (a Moluccan cockatoo), a peach-faced Lovebird, and another Moluccan
Implicated in death: Nonstick grill plate on gas stove

Another bird-loving couple lost three pets in 1992 and 1993. Each bird died after steaks or “a large amount of food” were grilled on a Teflon-coated grill plate built into her gas cook-top stove. A Moluccan died after the steaks had been cooked while he sat in a room adjoining the kitchen. They found their peach-faced Lovebird dead on the floor above the kitchen two hours after grilling was complete. The third bird, their couple’s replacement Moluccan, died in the room adjoining the kitchen while the food was still being cooked. Necropsy indicated that this bird had been poisoned from exposure to Teflon fumes. The owners of these pets had specifically selected the stove because they were told that it did not have Teflon or similar non-stick surfaces. After the first bird death, they had suspected Teflon poisoning and again inquired whether their stove had any non-stick coating. They were again told that it did not. It was only after a thorough investigation of the manufacturer’s book that the owners learned that the built in grill plate was coated with a non-stick surface. [10]

Over the past year and a half, we've lost three pet birds from the use of a Teflon-coated grill plate on the gas cook-top stove in our house. The first incident occurred in May 1992. We lost an 8-year-old Moluccan cockatoo, Pumpkin, while I was cooking. The Moluccan was atop a large exercise gym in the family room, which adjoins the kitchen. A large amount of steaks were grilled on the gas grill portion of the cook top stove. At about 11:30, the Moluccan lost his balance and fell off the exercise gym. He fell about 2 feet. I rushed to him to check for injuries. He was having difficulty holding his balance and maintaining a grip. Approximately 10 minutes later, the bird died. We pulled into the parking lot of Actin Animal Hospital on Portsmouth Blvd as he took his last breath. They performed an autopsy, but the results were inconclusive because we believe the autopsy was performed incorrectly.

The second incident occurred in May 1993, while we were again cooking a large amount of food on the grill of the stove. This time we lost a male peach-faced lovebird. The conditions were nearly the same. I went upstairs about two hours after our guests left and discovered the lovebird dead in his cage. His mate was alright and showed no signs of stress other than the loss of her mate. No autopsy was made.

The third incident happened in mid-July. Again, a large amount of food was being grilled on this stove. A Moluccan that had replaced the bird we lost was on his perch 6' off the floor in his large cage in the foyer just off the kitchen. Our son passed by the cage and called to me that the bird was having difficulty breathing. I took him out of the cage, his grip being weak, and put him in a room that had been closed. We moved an air nebulizer already in operation for an Umbrella cockatoo that had aspergillosis into the room and tried to administer air to him. The bird was dead within 15 minutes. We took this bird to Dr. Ruth Ann MacQueen for an autopsy. She performed an observation exam and sent off specimens for detailed tests. Lab tests confirmed her findings: toxic poisoning consistent with exposure to heated Teflon.

We had originally selected this stove for installation in our new house in early 1992 because it did not have any kind of non-stick cooking surfaces. When we first inquired of the store saleslady, she said that the stove did not have any Teflon or similar non-stick coating surfaces. We suspected that Teflon was the culprit when the first bird died, at which time I had gone back to the saleslady and explained all about non-stick surfaces and birds in great detail. I wanted to reconfirm that there was no Teflon anywhere on the stove. Once again, we were told no. A few months later, I wanted to clean the oven and wanted the store to check with the manufacturer about Teflon being on any of the stove parts, even on its screws or washers, or the underside. The cleaning section of the manufacturer's book, which is the last 2-3 pages at the end of the book, mentioned that the cooking grills were covered with a non-stick surface. The store our builder got the stove from was A&B Propane on Military Highway.

Killed: Two canaries, two budgies
Implicated in death: Poaching pan

In 2001 a New Zealand family lost two canaries and two budgies after poaching eggs on a non-stick pan. These four brought to seven the number of birds that had died in the house over a period of seven years. In this instance, the bird owner requested an autopsy, which showed lung hemorrhages and congestion, in a pattern consistent with Teflon toxicosis. The deaths were attributed to a set of Teflon-coated pans purchased around the time the bird deaths began. The Ministry of Health took the case on for investigation [11].

Do you have a bird story, or know someone else who does? Please send us an email to birdstories@ewg.org

Bird Deaths Linked to other Perfluorochemicals

Anecdotal reports indicate that other perflurochemical products are toxic to birds. One such incident is related below, involving a sofa treated with Stainsafe, a stain and water-repelling product similar to Dupont's Stainmaster. 3M Corporation reportedly received numerous reports, going back decades, of bird deaths caused by expossure to the original formulation of its Scotchgard stain and water repellent. The active ingredient in that product, PFOS, was forced from the market by EPA in 2000 (See EWG's report on PFCs on our main Web site and the Scotchgard story in our Chemical Industry Archives.)

Killed: Squigmund, a Mexican Redhead Amazon Parrot
Implicated in death: Stainsafe coating on new couch

Diane Sehnal, owner of a Mexican Redhead Amazon Parrot, purchased a new couch from Hansen’s Furniture Store in Winton, California. When she learned that her couch was treated with Stainsafe fabric protector, she inquired about its safety to birds and was told that it would be harmless to her pet of 16 years. Her parrot died 36 hours after her new couch was delivered. A necropsy revealed lung lesions, and an enlarged heart and spleen, pointing to the possibility of inhalation toxicity from Stainsafe. The typical lifespan of Amazon Parrots is 80 years. [4,5]

This is my first time on this site. I want to share an experience I recently had that caused my beautiful Mexican Red Head to die.

I purchased a new sofa from Hansen's Furniture Store in Winton, California. The sofa was treated with a fabric protector called STAINSAFE. I was told that stainsafe was harmless to birds. Thirty-six hours after the sofa was delivered my beloved SQUIGMUND died. On the morning of the second day that I owned the sofa Squigmund began to have labored breathing, and he was weak. I rushed him to his Avian vet. Squigmund had absolutely no strength to stand up in his carrying case so I had to clutch him to my chest while driving a five speed car. I was crying. I knew Squigmund was dying so I tried to collect myself, and tell him how much I loved him and I thanked him for all the joy, and comfort he gave me. He died 4 hours later at the vet's office.

View a newspaper article about Squigmund

A necropsy was perfomed by his usual vet who reported that Squigmund had leisions all over his lungs with an enlarged heart, and spleen. She said that he was poisioned to death. We decided to have a pathologist in sacramento who specializes in these areas of causes of death to birds. She confirmed that the cause of death was INHALATION TOXICITY due to the new sofa that was treated with Stainsafe.

I saved my money for a new sofa and I wanted my home to be cozy for myself, and Squigmund. Look at what I have done. I allowed this deadly sofa into my home which killed my darling sweet boy Squigmund. My companion for 16 years. He could sing "I left My Heart in San Francisco." He loved to flirt with all the girls young and old alike. He would whistle at them! He could laugh and he loved having his head scratched. He was a true comedian.

The pathologist said that not only is Stainsafe a killer to birds but also related that new furniture can sometimes emit gases that are deadly to birds as well.

Squigmund was my only Parrot, and you can imagine the quality of our relationship. I cry every single day since he died on April 4, 2002. For as long as I shall live, I will never again experience loving a parrot like I did with Squigmund.

I have hired an animals rights lawyer in San Francisco. She was appalled at what happened to Squigmund. We will be demanding that warning labels be placed on this product Stainsafe to warn other companion bird owners of the dangers.

Thank you for reading this. Please tell others about this toxic killer Stainsafe... I do not want any other bird to ever suffer a heinous death like my Squigmund did.