Sleeping baby bird standing on a fern

Ferns are a diverse group of plants that have been around for millions of years. They are found in a wide range of habitats, from tropical rainforests to cold temperate forests, and are a popular choice for gardens and indoor plants.

While ferns are generally not toxic to humans, there is some debate about whether or not they are toxic to birds.

In this blog, we will explore the question of whether or not ferns are toxic to birds, looking at the evidence both for and against the idea.

Are Ferns Toxic to Birds?

The short answer to this question is that it is not clear whether or not ferns are toxic to birds. There is little scientific research on the topic, and what research does exist is often conflicting or inconclusive. Some sources suggest that certain types of ferns may be toxic to birds, while others claim that all ferns are safe for birds to eat.

One of the main reasons for the lack of research on the topic is that ferns are not a major part of the diet of most birds. Most birds prefer seeds, fruit, and insects, and only a few species of birds, such as the New Zealand kakapo and the Hawaiian honeycreeper, are known to eat ferns regularly. As a result, there has been little incentive for researchers to study the potential toxicity of ferns to birds.

Common wood pigeon posing on old trunk with moss and ferns all around him
Common wood pigeon posing on old trunk with moss and ferns all around him

Evidence For Fern Toxicity

Despite the lack of research, there is some evidence to suggest that some types of ferns may be toxic to birds. For example, the Asplenium fern, which is native to Europe and Asia, has been reported to cause liver damage in birds that eat it. The Asplenium fern contains a chemical called asparagine, which is toxic to birds and can cause liver damage if ingested in large amounts.

In addition to the Asplenium fern, there have been a few other reports of ferns causing health problems in birds. For example, the Boston fern (Nephrolepis exaltata) has been reported to cause diarrhea in some species of birds. The cause of this diarrhea is not clear, but it is possible that the fern contains some type of toxin that is harmful to birds.

Evidence Against Birds

Despite the evidence for fern toxicity, there is also evidence to suggest that most ferns are safe for birds to eat. For example, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) lists a number of common ferns, including the Boston fern, the Bird’s Nest fern, and the Maidenhair fern, as being non-toxic to birds. The ASPCA’s list is based on extensive toxicology research and is considered a reliable source of information on plant toxicity.

In addition to the ASPCA’s list, there are also several other sources that suggest that most ferns are safe for birds. For example, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) in the UK lists a number of common ferns, including the Maidenhair fern, the Staghorn fern, and the Harts tongue fern, as being non-toxic to birds.

Similarly, the Australian Wildlife Health Network lists a number of common ferns, including the Bird’s Nest fern, the Staghorn fern, and the Elkhorn fern, as being non-toxic to birds.

Blue and yellow macaws or Psittacidae species surrounded by ferns
Blue and yellow macaws or Psittacidae species surrounded by ferns

In conclusion

It is not clear whether or not ferns are toxic to birds. While there is some evidence to suggest that certain types of ferns may be toxic to birds, most sources, including the ASPCA, RSPB, and Australian Wildlife Health Network, list a number of common ferns as being non-toxic to birds.

As such, it is best to err on the side of caution and avoid feeding any type of fern to your bird. If you are unsure about a particular fern, it is best to consult an avian veterinarian before feeding it to your bird.