Avocados are known to be a healthy food for humans. However, they are not such a good food source for birds.
In fact, it is imperative not to offer avocados as a food source to garden birds or pet birds. Doing so could make them ill and, in some cases, if they eat enough, even kill them!
Many online articles will have you believe that avocados are always deadly to birds and that they should never eat them. As you will find out in this article, the truth is a little more complex. But the fact remains that avocado is certainly not the best thing to feed to wild birds in your garden or pet birds and should always be avoided.
Do Birds Eat Avocados?
Where they grow wild, avocados are eaten by some tropical birds, such as quetzals, trogons, bellbirds, and other fruit-eating species.
Black kites (Milvus migrans), fascinatingly, have also been seen regularly feeding on avocados in Queensland, Australia. Black vultures (Coragyps atratus) have also been observed eating avocados occasionally and opportunistically snacking on other fruits.
These rare occurrences of raptor frugivory are believed to be due to prey shortages in population boom years. But now, they are thought to be more common in raptor species than previously thought.
The raptors eat avocados because they are high in lipids (fats), which can provide substantial calories.
However, no native birds eat avocado as a natural part of their diet since the avocado grows on a tree called Persea americana, which is not a native plant in the US. It is believed to be native to highland regions from south-central Mexico to Guatemala.
Today, however, it is grown worldwide in tropical and Mediterranean climate zones and can be grown outdoors in the US in zones 9-12. It grows best in areas where annual daytime temperatures range from 14-40°C (57-104°F) but can tolerate 10 – 45°C (50-113°F).
Is Avocado Toxic for Birds?
Though avocados are eaten by some bird species where they grow in the wild, the answer to this question for most bird species is yes.
The problem is that Persea americana contains persin, a fungicidal toxin. This toxin is present in small amounts in the flesh, skin, and pit of the avocado fruit and to a far higher degree in the leaves and bark of the tree.
Interestingly, toxic persin is not harmful to humans and may even have health benefits. It is even being investigated as a treatment for breast cancer.
However, birds can be particularly susceptible to this toxic compound. It can also be harmful to many other animals, including dogs, cats, horses, cattle, goats, rodents, and fish.
In birds, symptoms of avocado poisoning can include increased heart rate, myocardial tissue damage, labored breathing, disordered plumage, unrest, weakness, and apathy.
So, of course, it is not a good idea to offer avocado to birds, who may well eat it despite the issues it can cause.
Will a Bird Always Suffer After Consuming Avocado?
As mentioned above, though avocado would never be recommended as a food source for birds, some birds do consume it as a part of their natural diet in the wild and can seemingly do so without ill effect.
The key thing to remember is that while persin is always present in avocados, it is present to a differing degree within different parts of the plant and the fruits.
An avocado’s flesh, the part we eat, contains nowhere near as much of this compound as the pits and skins of the fruit. And, even avocado pits and skins have less than the leaves and the bark.
So to experience ill effects, a bird may need to consume quite a lot of the pulp.
If a bit of avocado gets into leftovers and is left out for garden birds, it’s not necessarily quite as much of an issue as you may imagine and won’t have done much harm.
Remember, too, that birds consuming avocado in the wild will potentially have adapted to do so, while birds in your garden will not have. So, they may be more vulnerable to problems. The degree to which a bird is affected and whether avocado is a problem will depend on the species in question.
Pet bird owners should note that many birds commonly kept as pets are particularly susceptible to issues arising from persin consumption. Birds like canaries, parakeets, and cockatiels are extremely susceptible to persin toxicity. Just one gram of fruit has been shown to cause agitation and feather pulling in parakeets.
Pet birds can also experience an inability to perch, respiratory distress, congestion, fluid accumulation around their heart and lungs, and liver and kidney failure. Sadly, even if caught in time and treated for persin poisoning, some may die before help can be provided due to their fast metabolism.
Is Growing Avocado Trees in Your Garden Harmful To Birds?
Since learning that avocados are toxic to many birds, you may worry about whether growing avocado trees in your garden will harm your feathered friends.
The good news is that it is very unlikely to do so. Birds will typically not recognize avocados as a good food source and are more likely to focus on easily identifiable native food sources when foraging in your garden.
Remember, to do the right thing for wildlife, including birds sharing your space, you should plant as many different native plants as possible.
Even where you do decide to include exotic fruit trees and other non-native plants for food for yourself (and perhaps enough to share with the birds), you should always make sure you have more natives in the mix.
Once you have the basics in place and have provided plenty of natural food sources, then and only then, should you consider providing additional food at bird feeders.
But if you decide to leave supplemental food for your backyard visitors, make sure that you clean the bird feeders regularly. Only leave food in moderate amounts. And, of course, make sure you choose appropriate foods for the birds you wish to attract.
Although a small amount of the flesh might not harm all birds, avocados should never be given as a food source at a garden feeder, where they are likely to be sampled. It is always best to err on the side of caution and avoid leaving avocado out for the birds in your garden or feeding it to your pets.
Fortunately, there are plenty of other food sources that don’t pose any risk to birds, including many that you will be able to grow in your own garden.