Objective: Exposure to birds has long been associated with disease in humans. Three respiratory diseases (psittacosis, allergic alveolitis and asthma) were reviewed in association with pet bird ownership with the aim to clarify the spectrum of avian-related respiratory illnesses. Approach: Nineteen studies were selected for review based on recreational bird exposure in relation to psittacosis, allergic alveolitis and asthma. Conclusion: Literature reveals little consensus on the relationship between pet bird ownership and respiratory illness. Implications: Future studies should aim to clarify the spectrum of avian-related illnesses, and to direct the dissemination of public health information to clinicians and members of the public who keep birds as pets.