It’s common to line a budgie’s cage with newspaper to capture excess waste. This makes paper a regular feature in the lives of most captive birds, so many budgies will treat paper or cardboard as a toy.
A standard sheet of plain printer paper doesn’t contain any toxins and won’t harm your bird if it swallows the paper. Also, shredded paper is safe and will keep a budgie entertained for hours.
Colored paper is more problematic for budgies. While your bird will automatically be drawn to bright, garish colors, the inks found in the paper may be toxic. Thankfully this is less commonplace today, as most colored inks are now soy-based.
Toilet paper is also something to approach with caution. The cardboard tubes within are a common budgie toy, but toilet roll is often laced with chlorine and perfume to make the product more appealing to humans. The same applies to paper towels, especially napkins.
The reason for this issue is the presence of dioxin, a toxic chemical released during the bleaching process. Ecotoxicology stated that birds are sensitive to this chemical, the ingestion of which can be fatal.
Why Do Budgies Like Paper?
If you place a sheet of paper in a budgie’s cage, the bird will rarely waste any time in getting to work shredding and tearing it apart. You’d be forgiven for attributing this to a nesting instinct.
In reality, budgies prefer a comparatively bare nest. Budgies aren’t inclined to line a resting place with soft materials. A wild budgie will lay eggs along the ground of a pre-existing hollow location.
The desire to play with paper has the following explanations:
Desire to Shred and Tear
The overriding purpose of paper in a budgie’s cage should be recreation. Budgies need stimulation to remain happy, and tearing and shredding paper will be an enjoyable activity.
Birds enjoy tearing up any kind of paper. Naturally, tissue paper will provide the least resistance. You can offer any type of plain paper that doesn’t contain toxic dyes, including cardboard, to ensure a more significant challenge.
Hunting for Food
Budgies have a natural urge to hunt and forage for food, even when living in captivity.
Companion Animal explains how important it is that a bird can embrace this. Hiding food in a toilet roll tube or under a sheet of paper is a great way to do so.
Beak and Jaw Exercise
A budgie’s beak never stops growing, so it’ll seek to file down its beak by chewing. The bird will quickly discover that paper doesn’t taste appealing, but the compulsion to chew will remain.
This is also due to the powerful jaws that house a budgie’s beak. The Journal of Anatomy places a budgie’s bite force at 12.98 newtons. This means that the budgie will want to chew. A budgie will place any paper it is attracted to between its jaws.
While thin paper won’t serve any useful purpose to your budgie, it’ll sate the desire. Consider plain paper the chewing gum of a budgie.
It has no nutritional value and can’t be swallowed, but it’ll provide recreation and habit.
Is Paper Safe for Budgies?
Paper products are perfectly safe for budgies, provided certain safety caveats are applied.
If you allow a budgie to play with paper, follow these rules:
- Offer paper in small, manageable pieces – consider tearing a sheet of A4 printer paper into two.
- Avoid supplying paper that is dyed or decorated with glitter or glue.
- Check for papercuts around the mouth and beak following play.
- Don’t allow the budgie to eat paper.
If you supervise your budgie during any recreational activity that involves paper, your bird will be grateful for the opportunity to play with paper toys.
Why is My Budgie Eating Paper?
Budgies can be fussy about what they eat. This means that most birds won’t consume paper. Budgies soon learn what tastes appealing and will ignore anything they don’t consider an appropriate foodstuff.
A budgie may unintentionally consume paper. As birds don’t have opposable thumbs, they rely upon their beaks to shred and play with paper. It’s only natural that some of the material will be swallowed.
If your budgie is regularly eating paper, something will be amiss. This could indicate a lack of training and socialization in a bird separated from its mother and siblings too early.
The budgie lacks understanding of how to play and will need to be retrained.
Birds can have a condition called pica, which is a compulsion to consume non-food items.
The medical term pica is named after the Latin term for the magpie (pica pica), inspired by this bird’s tendency to hoard items. A budgie with pica will consume paper alongside other non-edibles.
Pica is often linked to stress and nutrient deficiency in humans, as explained by Clinical Pediatrics. While research into avian pica isn’t extensive, the same could be argued to apply to budgies. Always ensure your budgie is fed an appropriate, balanced diet.
Life can be dull for a captive budgie, as these birds require physical and mental stimulation, including time exercising outside the cage. A budgie that remains cooped up will grow increasingly distressed.
A small quantity of non-toxic paper swallowed by a budgie is not a medical emergency. Prolonged pica can have repercussions, though, including a potential intestinal blockage.
What Happens if Budgies Eat Paper?
As budgies love to shred and tear paper, any consumption should be small.
If your budgie swallows a tiny piece of standard, non-toxic printer paper, it’s of little concern. It’ll take a while, but the paper will eventually pass through the budgie’s digestive tract.
More significant problems arise if your budgie starts to swallow larger pieces of paper. According to the Seminars in Avian and Exotic Pet Medicine, a bird’s digestive tract is engineered to process nutritious, appropriate foods.
It may take time for non-digestible items like paper to make their way through the system. If the paper consumed is large enough to cause an intestinal blockage, your budgie’s life will be in imminent danger.
Larger pieces of paper – including balled-up toilet paper or tissue paper – can also be a choking hazard. If trapped in the throat, this paper will prevent your budgie from breathing and swallowing food or water.
As discussed, colored paper can also sometimes be toxic for budgies. Look out for warning signs of a budgie having consumed a poisonous substance through paper, such as:
- Lethargy and depression
- Difficulty holding up the head
- Diarrhea and loose stools, potentially containing blood
- Bringing up food
- Sudden loss of vision
It’s rare that colored ink found in a 21st Century newspaper will contain lead, but not impossible. Paper towels often contain dangerous dyes, though. Be wary of providing a budgie with a colorful paper product unless specifically designed for birds.
Paper toys, or a sheet of traditional printer paper or tissue paper, can make cheap and effective toys for your pet budgie. Provided you avoid products that contain toxic inks of bleaches, there is no reason why your bird cannot play with paper.
Just monitor your budgie and ensure it plays safely, avoiding excessive swallowing.