Tasty or Deadly: Can Birds Eat Chocolate?

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Can birds eat chocolate

As an enthusiastic backyard birdwatcher, I am constantly looking for new ways to attract and nourish the feathered friends visiting my garden. 

Whether trying out different types of bird feeders, trying new seed mixes, or trying out kitchen leftovers, I am always eager to learn about new foods that can provide the nutrition that birds need to thrive. 

Recently, I have been eating too many chocolate pieces, so it made me wonder, can birds eat chocolate?

Can Birds Eat Chocolate?

No, birds should not eat chocolate. Chocolate contains methylxanthines such as caffeine, theobromine, and theophylline which are toxic to birds. These chemicals cause nausea, vomiting, increased heart rates, and sudden death, even in smaller doses.

I decided to research this intriguing topic and was surprised by what I discovered. 

I discovered that chocolate is one of the foremost taboo human foods for birds. However, they will devour it if given a chance, and the act could result in death for the bird. I did not want to be responsible for killing my backyard birds, so I needed to know how exactly chocolate was terrible.

In this blog post, I will share some more info on what I learned about the relationship between birds and chocolate and offer some insights into what makes chocolate terrible for birds and what happens if you feed it to them.

Why Can’t Birds Eat Chocolate?

Chocolates, along with avocados, salt, alcohol, caffeine, mushrooms, onions, dried beans, tomato leaves, and apple seeds, are considered to be taboo for birds.

But why is chocolate bad for birds? We know it adds extra pounds in people if they overeat, thanks to the sugar and oils, but what happens to birds, and what causes it?

Various chocolates are on the market, ranging from dark to light to diet, and most contain chemicals toxic to birds.

Aside from the chocolate toxicity, chocolate is often addictive. If a bird does not die from eating chocolate the first time, the chances are high that it will choose to eat chocolate again if given an opportunity.

What Chemicals Do We Find In Chocolate

Many people believe dark chocolate is the healthier option for various types of chocolate, but this is not the case regarding chocolate toxicity in birds.

The nutritional value in a 1 oz (28.35g) serving of 70 to 85% dark chocolate is:

  • Calories – 70
  • Carbohydrates – 13g (0.46 oz)
  • Fat – 12g (0.42 oz)
  • Fiber – 3g (0.11 oz)
  • Protein – 2g (0.07 oz)
  • Sugar – 7g (0.25 oz)

Chocolate contains a significant amount of sugar and fat. While birds need both, the type of sugar and oils could be better.

They are highly concentrated and can cause digestive issues in birds.

Chocolate contains a long list of other harmful chemicals that are part of the methylxanthines, but the main ones are:

  1. Caffeine
  2. Theobromine
  3. Theophylline

1. Chocolate Contains Caffeine

Most of us are aware (and seek it out) of the buzz that coffee gives us. But what about the quicker heartbeat and mild anxiety?

Caffeine causes an increase in a bird’s heart rate, which, for smaller animals, could cause extensive damage to this vital organ.

Aside from a quickened heartbeat, birds may develop an arrhythmic heartbeat, pulmonary hypertension, become hyperactive, or experience a cardiac arrest.

2. Chocolate Contains Theobromine

Theobromine is similar in structure and effect to caffeine, causing increased heart rates, causes seizures and inhibiting the body’s ability to produce energy.

Darker chocolate has higher amounts of this chemical. In 100g (3.53 oz) of chocolate, we find roughly 200 mg (0.007 oz) of theobromine.

This chemical is an alkaloid found in cocoa, one of the principal ingredients of chocolate. Consequently, the darker the chocolate, the greater the cocoa concentration and the higher the theobromine levels.

There is usually 3 to 10 times more theobromine than caffeine in chocolate.

3. Chocolate Contains Theophylline

Theophylline is related in structure and function to caffeine and theobromine but is often used as an asthma drug in people.

Although vets often use this chemical for treating certain conditions, it can be lethal to birds in larger doses.

The effects of theophylline are similar to the other chemicals—increased heart rate, nausea, vomiting, restlessness, hyperactivity, muscle spasms, etc.

Different types of chocolate have varying theophylline concentrations:

  • 44 mg per oz in milk chocolate.
  • 150 mg per oz in semisweet chocolate chips.
  • 390 mg per oz in baking chocolate.

What Happens To A Bird That Eats Chocolate?

A bird’s digestive system can’t cope with theobromine and caffeine. While human bodies convert these chemicals into usable/safe compounds, birds cannot and experience the brunt of their chemically induced changes.

When a bird eats chocolate and becomes sick, it’s called “chocolate poisoning.”

When a bird consumes theobromine and caffeine, it experiences vomiting and diarrhea as these chemicals affect the digestive system

As the chemicals move further through the bloodstream, they move to the liver, where they are recycled, and the liver breaks down the chemicals, which are then reabsorbed by the body.

These chemicals also prevent the kidneys from working efficiently and absorbing water properly.

Once these chemicals progress to the brain, central nervous system, and heart, they cause increased heart rates, tremors, seizures, hyperactivity, and death. Birds may also become aggressive and anorexic.

The chemicals prevent the nervous system from effectively working by inhibiting neurons from passing messages. These chemicals block certain neurotransmitters from passing between neurons.

An Example Of Chocolate Poisoning

An example of chocolate poisoning was in New Zealand when a healthy kea (Nestor notabilis), a type of parrot, died inexplicably. The bird appeared to have 20g (0.71 oz) of dark chocolate in its crop.

This amount of chocolate equates to roughly 20 mg/kg caffeine250 mg/kg theobromine, and 3 mg/kg theophylline.

These concentrations of chocolate toxicity led to the degeneration of liver cells (hepatocytes), parts of the kidneys (renal tubes), and nerve damage (cerebrocortical neurons).

Unfortunately, this was due to the bird “accidentally” consuming chocolate.

What To Do If Your Bird Eats Chocolate

If you know that your pet bird has eaten chocolate, or if they develop any of the above symptoms, the best thing to do is to get your bird to a veterinarian as soon as possible.

They would be fine if your bird ate a tiny amount of chocolate. However, we recommend taking them to the vet to give yourself peace of mind.

If wild birds eat chocolate, it may be more difficult to catch or even help them. It is best to take preventative measures before your wild birds even get a chance.

Pick up any chocolate you have outside and be sure any food you put in your wild bird feeder is free of chocolate pieces. Think assorted “human” nut mixes.

Can Birds Eat Healthy Chocolate?

Most “healthy” chocolate brands use cocoa (often in greater concentrations for the benefits).

Although sugar is a problem for birds, cocoa causes sudden death, which means that even “healthy” chocolates for us are a death sentence for your bird.

Don’t feed birds any chocolate. It’s not worth the risk.

4 Safe Alternatives to Chocolate

There are many safe alternatives to chocolate. Some of the most accessible and most beneficial include:

Fruit

Most birds love a variety of fruit, including grapes, oranges, bananas, and berries. However, the fruit has a lot of sugar, so we recommend feeding them as treats infrequently.

Nuts

Nuts are a fantastic source of protein and healthy fats for your bird. However, some nuts contain cyanide, so research before feeding specific nuts to your bird.

Seeds

Seeds often comprise the bulk of most bird food mixes. They are healthy and packed with the minerals, vitamins, and carbohydrates your bird needs to function, grow, and stay fit.

Popcorn

Popcorn is a delicious treat for birds, air-popped, unsalted, unflavored popcorn (without butter or oil) contains many nutrients your bird needs.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can birds eat chocolate chips?

No, birds should not eat chocolate chips. Chocolate in any form contains caffeine, Theophylline, and theobromine, which are toxic to birds.

Can birds eat chocolate cereal?

No, birds should not eat chocolate cereal. It is still full of the same harmful chemicals as regular chocolate and can be very dangerous for birds. It also contains large amounts of sugar and other additives that can cause illness.

So, Can Birds Eat Chocolate?

Although birds will gladly eat chocolate if given a chance, please don’t feed it to them in any amount. Aside from chocolate’s sugar and fat content, caffeine, theobromine, and theophylline are toxic to birds.

These chemicals cause nausea, vomiting, increased heart rates, and sudden death, even in smaller doses.

Far better, delicious treat options for birds include fruit, nuts, seeds, and unsalted popcorn. If your bird is acting strangely or shows signs of chocolate poisoning, we recommend taking them to the vet immediately.

Let us know if you have experience dealing with and treating chocolate poisoning in birds! We would love to hear about your bird-feeding experiences so that we can share them with our readers. Learning is a shared experience!

Remember to check our other blog posts for more information about birds and nature. Also, remember to share this article with your friends, family, and fellow bird lovers!

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Author
I am an avid birdwatcher with a passion for learning all I can about these fantastic creatures. I love finding new species of birds in my backyard, neighborhood, or when I travel. I enjoy sharing everything I learn about how these creatures live their lives; feedback and experience is much appreciated!

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