We are often asked, “Is cork safe for birds?” At parrotJOY, we love natural cork because cork is at the top of the list among safe sustainable, eco-friendly parrot toy materials. The cork trees are never cut down – and harvesting the cork is actually good for the trees and the environment.
However, I have learned that many people have strong misconceptions about cork. I get questions like, “Isn’t there glue in cork?”, “Aren’t cork trees endangered?”, “Isn’t there a cork shortage?” and “Doesn’t harvesting cork kill trees?” Let’s take a look at these questions and answers…
(1) Is cork safe for parrots? Is there glue in cork?
Just like in the world of wood, there can be glue in cork products. If you are building a desk, let’s say, you can buy a piece of wood that was milled (cut) directly from the tree. For example, your standard 2 x 4 at Home Depot contains nothing but pure tree. However, you can also buy particle board, plywood, or Medium-density fiberboard (MDF), which are not pure wood and instead are compressed panels created from gluing together small sawdust or thin sheets of wood. The sawdust is mixed with an adhesive. Under high heat and intense pressure, the panels become rigid with a hard shell.
Cork can be made similarly and this is called agglomerated cork. Agglomerated corks contain synthetic binding agents, which although food-safe and frequently used for wine stoppers, we do not use in parrotJOY parrot toys. We use only natural cork.
You can pretty easily spot the agglomerated cork stoppers (the two on the left) vs. the natural cork which is clearly a solid piece.
(2) Is there a cork shortage?
Cork is a fully sustainable and renewable natural resource, unlike other types of products sourced from trees. Living up to 300 years, the cork oak is the gift that keeps on giving; its bark is harvested without causing damage to the tree, and grows back to be harvested again after nine years. So, while demand for cork bark products can temporarily outstrip supply, it will not lead to a shortage of cork.
In fact, such a situation can only lead to an increase in cork, as more cork oak trees are planted and harvested to meet demand.
(3) Does harvesting cork kill the tree?
Cork is harvested on a sustainable basis and the stripping of the bark does not harm the tree in any way. The bark grows back completely, taking on a smoother texture after each harvest. A cork oak tree can be safely harvested up to 20 times during its life cycle, making cork a truly inexhaustible natural resource.
Portugal, which produces more than 50% of the world’s cork, has been particularly careful to safeguard this valuable resource. The first Portuguese laws protecting cork oak trees date back to the 14th century. Then, in the beginning of the 20th century, it became illegal to cut down cork oak trees, except for essential thinning or the removal of old, non-productive trees.
Harvesting cork, not only doesn’t harm the tree, it’s actually good for the trees. Stripping a cork oak of its bark also enhances its ability to absorb carbon dioxide; the seven million acres of cork forest around the Mediterranean offset 20 million tons of CO2 each year.
The cork forests of Portugal, the world’s leading supplier of cork, feature some of the greatest biodiversity in the world. According to the World Wildlife Fund, these forests contain the highest levels of plant diversity found anywhere in the world—reaching levels of 135 species per square meter—while also providing a habitat for endangered animal species like the Iberian lynx and Barbary deer.
Demand for cork products, especially wine stoppers, helps preserve the cork forests, which would otherwise be neglected or replaced with non-native trees.