Some Bird Bedding Choices
Bird bedding seems like a topic that should be free of controversy. In the wild, birds do not seem to have much of a problem in "feathering their nests". Some species are particular about the bedding the young birds will be exposed to, other species will build a nest and feather it with anything within reach. When raising young birds in a household, our attention is directed towards food and water, cleanliness of the cage, and a suitable environment to raise the young birds in. Bird bedding is somewhat of an afterthought, and when it is decided upon what type of bedding to use, keeping the cage clean is usually the main criterion.
There are a number of different types of bird bedding which can be used of course, as well as a variety of commercial products. Many of the commercial products are for use by both birds and small mammals such as hamsters, rats, or gerbils. There is nothing wrong with this, but what is safe for some creatures may still not be safe for some others.
When choosing which bird bedding to use, it's important to look beyond the comfort of the bird and the cleanliness of the cage. Ask yourself - (1) Will the bird attempt to eat the bedding material, and if so can it be harmful? (2) Is the bedding material stable or is it apt to decompose if wet or becomes soiled, and become unsafe in the process? (3) Are there any harmful vapors associated with the bedding material? And - (4) Can the bedding become a breeding ground for bacteria, fungus, or mold? If the answer to any of these questions for a give type of bird bedding is unsatisfactory or uncertain, find another material.
Paper - Let's start with a tried and tested bird bedding material, newspaper. The paper doesn't have to be newsprint, but it seems to work as well as anything, and is generally considered to be quite safe. Even if the birds shred it, newspaper is generally easy to change out. About the only caution with respect to newspaper is to avoid the comics, the Sunday magazine supplement, or any pages in the paper containing lots of color or printed on glossy paper. These pages could conceivably be harmful, especially to young birds, if ingested. If your parrot or canary doesn't shred the comics it's probably OK to use those parts of the paper as flooring in the cage.
Paper towels are quite safe as well, and do a better job of absorbing moisture. The main drawback is that it can get a little expensive if you use a lot of them whereas newsprint is for all practical purposes "free". Many bird lovers will use paper towels a bedding for very young birds however.
Pine Shavings - Pine shaving may be the next safest material for bird bedding. It is commonly used both for birds and for other small pets as well. When pine shavings are used, soiled or wet shavings need to be removed in time to prevent the growth of organisms, but for the most part only a portion would need to be removed at any one time. Still, it's good practice to give the bird or birds a whole new batch of pine shaving bedding periodically. Paper bedding is still preferable for very young birds if they are more apt to eat the pine shavings possibly causing impacting or other problems.
Cedar, Not Good - Cedar shavings on the other hand do not make safe bird bedding. While the bedding of choice for some animals, dogs for instance, cedar contains ingredients which can be toxic to birds and small mammals. Even where not toxic, ingredients in cedar bedding may irritate birds, causing skin problems as well as digestive problems. Even when used as bedding for dogs, the cedar shavings are usually enclosed inside a cloth or canvas cover. Cedar shavings are best avoided as a candidate for bird bedding.
Probably Best For Kitty - Kitty litter is another choice which may or may not be suitable. While having almost ideal properties for bedding or the bottom of a cage, the question is whether birds will decide to eat the pellets or not. Besides possibly being harmful to ingest, some kitty litter will expand when moist. In cases where kitty litter is deemed safe, soiled and moist litter still should be regularly removed for the cage.
What Not To Use - Which brings us to two types of bird bedding which can be quite controversial, walnut shells and corn cobs. No matter how finely ground or shredded, either can cause major problems if ingested. Neither is easily eliminated and may stay in a bird's digestive system for weeks and even months, eventually causing sometimes lethal problems. Unfortunately, corn cobs are widely advertised as being excellent bird bedding, but there is a rising chorus of bird lovers who cry - NEVER use it! For one thing corn cobs, no matter how finely shredded, expand when moist and also harbor harmful bacteria when moist. As far as bird bedding is concerned, it's probably not a good idea to even consider corn cobs.
Finally, there are the commercial bedding products (many of which contain or consist entirely of corn cobs). Read the labels.