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MoSunshineGirl
Jul 10, 2013 4:15 PM CST
I was wondering if the copper in the water of the bird bath could be toxic to the birds? I observed 2 baby bluebirds, and the momma bluebird, drink a lot of water, staying at the birdbath for a long time, and then just shortly later they died. I know when poisoned, often the victim becomes very thirsty. I had pennies in my birdbath last year, this year I had a piece of copper tube. I am worried that perhaps they had become poisoned by what I did...
Name: Dave Whitinger
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dave
Jul 10, 2013 4:20 PM CST

Garden.org Admin

You've got me wondering this now, too. We have used copper in our birdbaths for a few years now and haven't noticed any issues.

Our water pipes in the house are also copper. So when we water or drink, it comes through copper tubing.

My inclination is that it would require some other catalyst to make the copper available in a way to poison, and I am not educated enough on the subject. I'll give major acorn tips to anyone who can provide a definitive answer to this.
Name: Lee Anne Stark
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threegardeners
Jul 10, 2013 4:24 PM CST
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copper_toxicity
Name: Lee Anne Stark
Brockville, Ontario, Canada (Zone 5a)
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threegardeners
Jul 10, 2013 4:26 PM CST
Here is one from the US Environmental protection Angency
http://water.epa.gov/drink/contaminants/basicinformation/cop...

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MoSunshineGirl
Jul 10, 2013 4:28 PM CST
Thank you Dave. I am pretty sure it's someone in my neighborhood applying bug spray or herbicides or some other poison. I just got nervous about the copper. I had the same pair of bluebirds nesting on my back porch the last 4 years. I am just devastated at the loss, and have removed the copper, just in case.
I have not noticed any other birds appearing ill.

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MoSunshineGirl
Jul 10, 2013 4:34 PM CST
Thank you threegardeners for sharing those links
Name: woofie
NE WA (Zone 5a)
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woofie
Jul 10, 2013 6:01 PM CST
The only negative issue I've heard about concerning copper is that you don't want to give supplements to sheep that contain copper. But goats and other animals require it. Shrug!
Confidence is that feeling you have right before you do something really stupid.
Name: Deb
Pacific Northwest (Zone 8b)
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Bonehead
Jul 10, 2013 6:44 PM CST
I read somewhere (?) that older pennies will keep algae from forming in birdbaths, I believe because the copper content was higher. I of course can't put my finger on the information which included the year. I'll try to find where I read this so I am not giving half-baked information...
I want to live in a world where the chicken can cross the road without its motives being questioned.
Name: Deb
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Bonehead
Jul 10, 2013 6:48 PM CST
Ha ha - when I did an internet search, I found the answer inside our own web site:

http://garden.org/ideas/view/flaflwrgrl/602/Prevent-Algae-fr...

Not sure if this is where I read it or not, but you may want to check with flaflwrgrl to find out where she got her information. Sorry, I also don't know how to make the above information be a direct link, even though I know it is quite simple...

Edit: Oh, stupidhead (me), it just IS a link, nothing special for me to do.
I want to live in a world where the chicken can cross the road without its motives being questioned.
[Last edited by Bonehead - Jul 10, 2013 6:49 PM (+)]
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Name: Lin
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plantladylin
Jul 10, 2013 6:50 PM CST
I remember reading somewhere awhile back that copper pennies in the bird bath will keep algae from forming. If my memory is correct think the pennies had to be prior to 1962 because pennies minted after that contain mostly zinc which is harmful to birds!
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Name: Paul Anguiano
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psa
Jul 10, 2013 7:16 PM CST
Since 1982, pennies are 95% zinc, and any small scratch will expose it:
http://www.usmint.gov/about_the_mint/fun_facts/?action=fun_f...

Copper is toxic to most aquatic life, so keep it out of the ponds, though less toxic to birds. Zinc, however, is universally toxic.
Name: Marilyn
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Marilyn
Jul 10, 2013 8:46 PM CST
Hi MoSunshineGirl!

Welcome! to ATP! Welcome!
Welcome to the Agastache and Salvias Forum!

Hummingbirds are beautiful flying jewels in the garden!


Name: Rick Corey
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RickCorey
Jul 12, 2013 5:56 PM CST
I agree with the Wiki article that copper is more dangerous when in contact with acid. That makes it dissolve much faster. Or bleach or hydrogen peroxide.

They probably work best in neutral water, or very slightly acid water, so that only a little oxidised copper (copper ions) are released.

I would guess (it's only a guess) that post-1982 pennies only "work" until the zinc is exposed. then (even in mild acid), the zinc would oxidize first, "protecting" the copper, because zinc is more electronegative. That's why they use a chunk of zinc to protect bronze propellers from seawater.

If zinc is more toxic than copper, avoid post-82 pennies!
Name: woofie
NE WA (Zone 5a)
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woofie
Jul 12, 2013 6:08 PM CST
Um, don't they use zinc in all those OTC cold remedies? Lozenges and nasal swabs and such?
Confidence is that feeling you have right before you do something really stupid.
Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
I helped beta test the first seed swap Plant and/or Seed Trader Seed Starter Region: Pacific Northwest Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Vegetable Grower
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RickCorey
Jul 12, 2013 6:23 PM CST
The dose makes the poison, maybe OTC zinc supplements and cold remedies contain les than acid rain leaches off pennies.

The RDA is 8-11 mg per day for adult humans.
The Tolerable Upper Intake Level is 40 mg per day.
http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Zinc-HealthProfessional/

I found one site that mentioned cold-remedy-levels like "daily doses of zinc acetate higher than 75 milligrams", which they said was seven times more than is generally recommended. Indeed, 75 mg is around twice what the NIH thinks is the max dose that's unlikely to cause adverse health effects. That's probably why the fine print advises not taking zinc cold remedies for more than five days.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copper_toxicity
"Experts recommend that zinc should not be taken for more than five days.
Long-term use of zinc -- for more than six weeks -- can lead to copper deficiency."

Or maybe birds are more vulnerable to it than humans are.

Name: Ann ~Heat zn 9, Sunset
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flaflwrgrl
Jul 12, 2013 7:12 PM CST
I just found this forum & thread today.
Someone asked where I got the info. on the copper pennies from. To the best of my recollection, it was in the newspaper one Sunday in one of those gardening columns. It specified to use pre 1982 pennies b/c they had a higher copper content whereas after that time they had a lot of zinc in them.

Many of you know that we moved north about 400 miles. When we put out the bird baths up here I just decided to get some copper tubing that was rated for use in homes where drinking water would be running through it. I felt good knowing that the copper in the bird baths was the same thing running through our home & what we drink from.

I am as concerned as the rest of you about this. One thinks it would be fine as there are bird baths out there made out of copper & no hue & cry has been raised. There are bird feeders made of copper. There are fountains made of copper where birds drink & bathe. But all these things do not automatically mean copper is safe for birds right? However, once again, I would think someone somewhere would have spoken out & let the world know this is not safe for birds if it wasn't.

I have been researching this today & came up with this:
http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/berkeley-pit
Of course this is highly acidic water with enormous amounts of not only copper but other heavy metals in it.

Then there is this:
Copper............

Is a potentially toxic metal to birds, but less common in the bird world, let the water run for a few seconds before you give the water from your tap to your birds, if they are copper, the water lays in the pipe for a while and copper acidic taste is given off

Causing sickness in the bird.
From:
http://www.manyhoots.org/index_files/Page1769.htm

And there is this:
Copper is also potentially toxic to birds although avian toxicity from this metal is less common. Acidic foods stored in copper containers may leach out copper, and occasionally copper piping for water is a potential source of increased copper in the diet if the water is slightly acidic and has been allowed to remain in contact with the piping for some length of time. Allowing the water from the tap to run for a few minutes before filling the water dishes will prevent this problem.
From:
http://www.multiscope.com/hotspot/metals.htm

The 2 links above seem to be dealing with the water being acidic or something acidic having a reaction with the copper allowing more copper to be released.

And this:
http://www.birdclinic.net/avian1.htm
But this one seems to be dealing more with birds eating pieces of metals.

I am not satisfied with the info. I have found. I am going to continue to research this to try to get a concrete answer one way or the other. In the meantime; I am removing the piece of copper tubing in my bird baths just to be on the safe side. I could not live with myself if I thought I was responsible for poisoning birds.

As Arnold says:
"I'll be back". Smiling

I am a strong believer in the simple fact is that what matters in this life is how we treat others. I think that's what living is all about. Not what I've done in my life but how I've treated others.
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Name: Connie
Willamette Valley OR (Zone 8a)
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pardalinum
Jul 13, 2013 3:10 PM CST
Just a couple of my thoughts from a chemistry point of view...

The mint produced both formulations of pennies in 1982 so I don't know where they get this "don't use pre 1982 pennies" from. You would have to have access to a microbalance sensitive to at least 0.1 gram to tell the difference between the densities of the two types.

Berkeley Pit: Those birds did indeed die from ingesting strong acidic water (sulfuric acid, like battery acid). When they closed the mine in the 1980s I became involved in research to remediate the toxic metals in the water and this involved characterization of the water samples. There was indeed a lot of copper in the water, many grams per liter as I recall. But the acid would have killed the birds almost instantly.

City water: Many cities alkalize their water to prevent corrosion in pipes, their special interest being to prevent lead poisoning in children living in older homes. But it should reduce copper corrosion also. If you have well water you can always have it analyzed, it will cost you though.

My mantra is to keep metal objects out of water features. It is so much easier to not do something than to do something and then worry about it.

My 2 cents worth (one each 1982 Hilarious! )
Name: Ann ~Heat zn 9, Sunset
North Fl. (Zone 8b)
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flaflwrgrl
Jul 13, 2013 4:12 PM CST
Connie, thank you for the info. about the city water alkalinity. I had wondered about that myself.
I am a strong believer in the simple fact is that what matters in this life is how we treat others. I think that's what living is all about. Not what I've done in my life but how I've treated others.
~~ Sharon Brown ~~



Name: Connie
Willamette Valley OR (Zone 8a)
Forum moderator Hybridizer Region: Pacific Northwest Lilies Sempervivums Sedums
Pollen collector I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Plant Database Moderator Charter ATP Member Garden Ideas: Master Level Plant Identifier
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pardalinum
Jul 13, 2013 4:17 PM CST
Everybody needs to check with their own city to find out the water stats. Most have this info on the city websites.

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MoSunshineGirl
Jul 13, 2013 4:19 PM CST
Thanks to all who have responded to my question about the copper being toxic to birds. I have removed the pieces of copper pipe I had in my birdbaths, because I just don't want to take a chance they could harm birds.
I usually put fresh water in my birdbaths at least twice a day, sometimes more, depending on the temperature. I don't think the water would have a chance to absorb a dangerous /toxic amount of copper, but I do not want to risk that I could be causing harm.

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