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Zinc that hurts parrots -- does nickel plating contain zinc?


Photo courtesy of Caroline Greville,
My Parrot Shop,VIC, Australia -- see below.

Q. I make toys for large and small parrots and small hooked-bill birds. I need to know if there is any zinc or a zinc alloy in nickel plate or used in the nickel plating process.
I am getting too many differing opinions and zinc can be deadly to parrots.


Joanna goldstein
- naples, florida, USA

A. Hi Joanna. Zinc is more poisonous to nickel plating processes than it is to parrots :-) Even a small amount as a contaminant renders the nickel plating process unworkable. So the answer is, no, there is no zinc in nickel plating.

However, here are still three possible sources of confusion and/or problems.
1. If, underneath the plating, the toys are actually made of zinc. A lot of common things are zinc diecastings.
2. If the toys are made of aluminum they cannot be electroplated with nickel, or other metals, without first "zincating" them. This is a non-electrolytic immersion plating process involving zinc and it leaves a layer of zinc underneath the eventual nickel plating.
3. Sometimes things are bright acid zinc plated and then lacquered which looks quite a bit like nickel plating, while being less expensive, so you need to insure that your toys are actually nickel plated; it's not good enough to go "by eye".

Luck and regards,

Ted Mooney,
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey

Q. Hi everyone, I'm a parrot owner that needs to be able to identify if Zinc is present in primarily metallic objects & also non-metallic objects (coatings, plastics, etc.). I also would like to be able to verify if a particular metallic object is stainless steel.

Why, you may ask? - Bird cages and toys often have metal components or have coatings on them or are made of plastics that may contain Zinc. Zinc is very toxic to birds. I've been told Stainless is the ONLY metal that is safe for them to be in contact with.


Don Fischer
hobbyist - Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Stainless steel cages for exotic birds are failing

Q. Will stainless steel produce carbon as a black residue? I am a consumer who purchased two stainless steel cages for my families exotic birds, one that is on the endangered list. My dilemma is as follows. The cages, which were purchased in January 2004, have a severe black residue discharging on the surfaces of the cages. Likewise, the bars of the cages are striping. There is also severe rusting on the cages. It has been brought to my attention that the cages, which were made in China, could be carbon steel, finished in stainless. Any comments or suggestions would be appreciated. Also, are there any labs that test for the composition of metal?

Mina Johnson
Consumer - West Palm Beach, Florida, USA

Stainless Steel Parrot Cage


(affil links)

A. I've seen stainless cages turn slightly black in areas with prolonged exposure to animal waste. I would not consider it "severe" though. It wipes off easily with a towel and cleaner and in the worst cases I've seen its just slightly etched afterwards. To me it sounds like you have been given a plated cage. You mentioned severe rusting and striping ... stainless can discolor and even rust, but it takes quite a bit to make it do so.

My recommendation to you is get a new cage asap. I've read numerous times that plated cages can lead to heavy metals poisoning of animals. You said cage is "striping" is a layer peeling off? I've seen plating flaking away and the animal (sugar glider in this case) eating the metal flakes, which are quite sharp, and slicing up the inside of their mouth, throat, and anywhere else in the digestive tract it makes it to.

Jason Aube
- Flint, Michigan

A. One way to check the cage that you have is to test it with a magnet. Most cages are made of 300 series stainless. If the magnet sticks or you feel any magnetic attraction at all, then it is made of carbon steel or of some other type of stainless. Stainless can corrode, even 300 series, however it should just wipe off and should never have anything flaking off of it.

Robert Gimmel
Machine Shop - Simpsonville, Kentucky, USA

A. Hello Mina,

In response to your letter dated in March 2004, about your Stainless Steel cage. Sorry to hear about your problem with the Stainless Steel cage rusting. The shame of it all is that there are thousands of consumers in the US that are being misled because they are not informed that there are definitely big differences in the quality of stainless steel today.

The leading supplier of Stainless Steel is in Germany. Use 304 Medical grade stainless steel. All of the stainless steel coming from China and the middle east is mixed with other elements such as chrome which is a lot less expensive and gives a very shiny look. This misleads consumers to think that it is true stainless, when it is not. If you leave these cages outside they will rust and corrode immediately. Many pet stores know this and don't care what they sell to the consumer. They only sell it to make fast big profits.

I recommend you go back to the store and return your cages because it will only get worse. Some stainless steel cages have been outside for over 1 year at the Theater of the Sea in Marathon Florida and are still in great condition; also at the Parrot Jungle Island in Miami. No rust, or corrosion and this is over 1 year in the salty, humid Florida climate.


Richard K
- East Brunswick, New Jersey, USA

Q. I just recently purchased a Stainless steel bird cage that seems to have some sort of light green residue left on it in various locations that I cannot clean off? Is this due to an improper passivation? I am at a loss at what it could be. I don't want my bird to get sick.

Tina Gujer
- Palo Alto, California, United States
June 23, 2010

September 12, 2011

Q. Hi,

My name is Caroline and my business manufactures toys for companion and aviary parrots to play with. Parrots have powerful beaks and are very destructive (I have personally seen a 1/4" stainless steel bolt gradually chewed through by a large parrot).

Metal hardware is frequently used in parrot toys, especially wire, o-rings, chain, nuts & bolts, bells & quick links for hanging them in the cage (some people have to tighten them with pliers to help prevent their bird from undoing them though).

Anyway, parrots are quite susceptible to zinc poisoning thus a lot of hardware (not to mention aviary wire, etc.) out there is 'of concern'.

The metal hardware in a parrot toy frequently comes into contact with bird tongues and water and usually gets quite grimy with bits of fruit and veggies stuck to them, not to mention the occasional dollop of poo.


I want to know what are the risks of the bird consuming zinc or zinc oxide [affil links] -- or any other zinc -- in its day-to-day chewing and licking of the zinc-plated metal.

I was hoping you might outline in layman's terms (but in detail!), what the process of zinc oxidisation is, what the chemicals of white rust are (I thought it was zinc-oxide, but have read a few things that say its zinc-carbonate) and suggested methods of minimising the danger of these parts to parrots. (We personally just use stainless steel instead, however I write articles on the subject and have the need for some expert input).

I do hope you can help.

Kind regards,

Caroline Greville
Manufacturer & wholesale distributor of parrot toys - Melbourne, Australia

A. Hi, Caroline.

I and most of the readers are from the metal finishing industry and can't knowledgeably comment on the toxicity of zinc to parrots. We'd need an avian veterinarian to stumble upon the page for that kind of input.

Yes, zinc will react with oxygen in the air to form zinc oxides on the surface of zinc plated, zinc galvanized, and solid zinc components. And, if exposure conditions are favorable, carbon dioxide in the air will react with the zinc, forming zinc carbonates instead of or in addition to the zinc oxides. From a corrosion-resistance standpoint, these carbonate reaction products are preferable because they are more adherent, less porous, sort of glassy, and can greatly slow the corrosion rate. But from the point of view of the parrot, it probably makes little difference whether he licks at and pecks at zinc metal, zinc oxide, or zinc carbonate because it's the zinc, not the oxygen or carbon dioxide that is of concern.

I believe that you are correct that stainless steel is the ideal material of construction; nickel plated steel is probably second choice. Zinc should probably not come within a parrot's reach, either in the form of a coating on an object or as a solid zinc diecast object. Considering your statement about parrots eventually gnawing through bolts, I don't think any coating on a zinc object will protect the zinc from their reach.


Ted Mooney,
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey
September 14, 2011

September 14, 2011

Q. Thank you Ted, much appreciated. That does help clarify a few things for me. Regarding zinc toxicity to parrots, that's OK, we've got that data covered; it was more the method of ingestion and sources I wanted some better information on, as all you finishing folk will know, chemistry can get rather complicated.

So, two more points to clarify:

1) The statement "I don't think any coating will protect zinc from their reach" at the end of your reply.

This comment was simply in relation to the limited strength of plating, rather than "fear the steel underneath" (We know iron is fine for parrots and as far as I understand steel does not contain zinc... right?)

2) Methods of reducing risk of zinc exposure. For things like galvanised aviary wire, we're often advised to take vinegar [in bulk on eBay or Amazon] and a scrubbing brush to it to remove excess & loose zinc. Another piece of advise is to 'cure' it outdoors for 3-6 months.

a) do you think these would be effective?
b) should it be done on a regular basis?
c) are there any other methods you can think of?

Again, your time & knowledge is very much appreciated in this matter.

Caroline Greville
- Melbourne, VIC, Australia

A. Hi, Caroline.

Countless small items are made of diecast zinc, because it is inexpensive to cast it into complicated shapes, thus saving a lot of labor over machining it from steel or aluminum. For example: carburetors, door handles on cars, the brackets that hold the towel bars in your bathroom, the bases of small kitchen appliances like food processors, lamp bases, the knobs on your kitchen cabinet doors, etc. I am suggesting that even if you plate or coat zinc diecastings, they are probably not appropriate for parrots because they can gnaw until they get to the zinc.

Similarly, you can try to protect galvanized metal with an automotive clearcoat, a plastic coating, or whatever -- but the parrot apparently will be able to get to it.

Yes, vinegar and a [on eBay or Amazon], or prolonged outdoor exposure (probably better) can reduce loose white rust. The vinegar dissolves the zinc oxide (white rust) so it wipes away, but leaving a zinc surface again. The prolonged outdoor exposure allows carbon dioxide to react with the zinc surface and form zinc carbonates instead of zinc oxide -- and they are tougher and glassier. But galvanized zinc is not a food-safe surface even for people, no matter how you pretreat it; since parrots are far more susceptible to zinc poisoning than people, I would think that galvanized steel is simply not safe for them to chew on regardless. Good luck.


Ted Mooney,
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey
September 15, 2011

thumbs up signThanks Ted. You've been very helpful!

Caroline Greville
- Melbourne, VIC, Australia
October 1, 2011

Q. Hi. I bought a parrot toy and I suspect it has zinc in the metal as my parrot is in the vets with zinc poisoning. Is there a test that I can do to see if the toy is made of zinc, and where can I get it? Thanks.

Brenda Watts
- Cambs, England
February 15, 2013

A. Muriatic acid; buy at hardware store. If you put a drop on it and it foams it's zinc. Afterwards rinse in cold water. Use goggles and rubber_gloves and long sleeves. It's an acid so to be safe. You can Google it.

renee renshaw
- darlington Maryland United states
June 11, 2014

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