Orange essential oil is often touted as a low-toxic, natural approach to termite control. Regular termiticide or insecticide that kills termites can also kill any birds that eat termites. The most commonly used termiticide is sulfuryl fluoride. But orange oil does not seem to harm termite-eating wild birds or curious pet birds. Unfortunately, scientists and pest control officials are unsure as to how well orange oil works to kill termite colonies.
How do pet birds get to termites? Chickens and other poultry are keen to eat many types of insects in the yard or in their coops. Parrots, blue-capped cordon bleu finches and many other pet birds are easily bored and may work at a rotting piece of wood or a mud tube in order to get to the termites underneath.
The active ingredient in orange oil that kills termites is called d-limonene. It kills termites by coming into contact with the termite body. D-limonene vapors, also called orange oil extract or OOE vapors, caused worker termites to eat less. D-limonene is rated non toxic to slightly toxic in birds, according to the United States Environmental Agency. Although not completely harmless to birds, as the EPA states the risk to birds is “minimal.”
Advantages for Birds
D-limonene is much less toxic to the birds’ bodies, should they eat termites killed by d-limonene. Orange oil will not contaminate any soil or water wherever it is disposed of. Sulfuryl fluoride or other termiticides are often pumped into the soil around a home to block termites and can risk getting into the water supply for birds, wildlife or people. Gases released during a conventional home termite tenting and fumigation process can be potentially toxic to birds, as well as other pets and people.
This is why homes needing to be fumigated have to be cleared out of people, pets and plants for one or two days. To apply orange oil to control termites, holes are drilled into wooden structures known to be infested with termites and then the oil is pumped into the holes. Fumigation is unnecessary.
Orange oil may not be able to wipe out an entire colony since it must touch a termite body in order to kill it or suppress its destructive appetite. Unless the queen termite is killed, she will be able to keep on producing eggs that will eventually hatch and replace dead termites killed by orange oil treatments.
For heavy infestations where the structure of a home is at stake, sulfuryl fluoride works better than orange oil. Pet birds would have to move. Even birds living outdoors near the home, such as chickens, should be temporarily relocated.
Speculation: Looking at Aldrin
One common pesticide for termites and other insect pest species like grasshoppers is called 1,2,3,4,10,10-Hexachloro-1,4,4a,5,8,8a-hexahydro-1,4:5,8-dimethanonaphthalene, or the brand name Aldrin. It takes only 6.6 milligrams to kill a bobwhite quail and 520 for mallard ducks, according to the United Nations Environment Programme. The birds are thought to have eaten insects, rice or other organisms contaminated by Aldrin.
Unlike orange oil, termiticides and other pesticides can lay dormant in soil, potentially lying like a time bomb to kill more wildlife, including wild birds or any pet birds that decide to snack on any termites they can get a hold of.
Orange oil many not work as the sole means to eliminate termites. Orange oil is best used with other integrated pest management strategies to not only kill termites but make little negative impact on wild species like birds. Planting termite-repelling herbs like garlic and preventing soil from touching any wooden parts of the home can also reduce the chances of termites invading a home.
Attracting insect-eating birds like woodpeckers to the home can help reduce termite populations. But even if your pet bird like a parrot, chicken or bobwhite quail enjoys insects for snacks, it is best to keep them from eating termites treated with orange oil.
“Bug Off: Pest Free Without Pesticides” Erica Gross. “Eucalyptus Magazine.” April, 2010. http://www.eucalyptusmagazine.com/Eucalyptus-Magazine/April-2010/Bug-Off/
The San Francisco Chronicle. “Can you kill termites with kindness?” Glenn Martin. http://www.seattlepi.com/athome/406429_termites20.html
United States Environmental Protection Agency. “Exposure and Risk Assessment on Lower Risk Pesticide Chemicals: D-limonene.” http://www.epa.gov/oppsrrd1/REDs/limonene_tred.pdf
Audubon Society. “Reduce All Pesticides But Eliminate Those Used on Lawns.” http://web4.audubon.org/bird/at_home/ReducePesticideUse.html
United Nations Environment Programme: “Aldrin” http://www.chem.unep.ch/termites/POPTermiticides_Aldrin.html