Birds

Natural History

There are 27 species of these New World parrots found throughout the savannah, palm groves, scrub forest and rainforest of Mexico, South America, and the Caribbean.  These parrots are one of the most popular birds kept as pets and incidentally one of the most commonly relinquished to rescue groups.   Of the 27 species originating primarily in the Amazon Basin, only 10 species are kept commonly as pets.  These highly sociable birds often become bonded to their owner and frequently misidentify them as mates.  In the wild, these birds pair bond to one another and then join a small flock.  Their natural monogamy can become problematic in homes that are not equipped to handle the needs of such an attention demanding, yet charismatic birds.  With proper care, these birds can become family companions for 30-60 years with reports of some living past 80.

Home Safety

There are many things in the average home that pet Amazons encounter that can be harmful and even deadly.  Some concerns are obvious such as open flames but others such as an air freshener can be easily overlooked.

Potential Household Dangers:

  • Ceiling fans:  birds should never be out when a ceiling fan is on
  • Super Clean Windows and Mirrors:  birds have a hard time identifying glass and mirrors!
  • Electrical Wires:  dangling wires have the highest potential for issues due to birds desire to hang off or chew these “vines”
  • Aerosol Sprays:  very harmful to the air sacs and lungs
  • Candles:  the smoke even in small amounts can be very harmful to the air sacs and lungs.  Avoid essential and exotic oils used to add scent to candles as well.
  • Non-Stick Cookware: over heated non-stick cookware releases fumes that are both highly toxic to birds and have been linked to MS in humans
  • Other Pets:  this includes other birds, dogs, cats, etc.
  • Paint:  Paint from the walls of old homes may contain lead.
  • Jewelry:  Especially costume jewelry can contain zinc.
  • Tobacco smoke or residue

Diet and Feeding

Amazons are herbivores, more specifically they are frugivores (fruit eaters) and foliovores (leaf eater).  In the wild these birds primarily consume seeds, palm nuts, various other nuts, fruit, and leafy matter.  Due to their social eating habits, it may be best to feed Amazons when the household is going to be near them or eating with them in the room.  It is natural for these birds to gorge themselves on a particularly delicious treat or after they have been adopted from a rescue.  This is a natural behavior.  In the wild, during times of plenty, Amazons will eat for hours on the best food they can find and store it in their crop for digestion later.  These birds are exceptional beggars and will learn all the behaviors that warrant extra treats!  Amazons also relish textures.  An excellent form of enrichment is offering various foods with different textures for your Amazon to explore.

The ideal Amazon diet consists of:

75% Pelleted Diet

  • Harrison’s
  • Zupreme
  • Roudybush
  • Lafeber

15% Natural Diet

  • Vegetables
  • Legumes
  • Grains
  • Fruit

10% Treats

  • Nuts (Pine nuts, Almonds, Walnuts)
  • Seeds
  • Table Scraps

Remember, all conversions to different diets must be made gradually and care must be taken to monitor food intake as well as weight.  Amazon parrots are incredibly prone to obesity and food consumption should be monitored and exercise encouraged with regular social interactions and activities.

Unsafe Foods:

  • Chocolate
  • Caffeine (soda, tea, coffee, etc)
  • Avocado
  • Shelled peanuts (these can contain aflatoxins on the shell)
  • Potato skins (these can contain solanine)
  • Alcohol

Enclosure

With Amazons, the bigger the enclosure the better!  These birds are very active in the wild and need to have ways to relieve their natural energy in the home.  Outdoor aviaries are strongly encouraged for their immense energy!  However, this isn’t always possible in the home setting and an enclosure of must be large enough for the Amazon to fully extend their wings without touching the sides of the enclosure.  Bars should be spaced 1 to 1.5 inches apart depending on the size of the species.  California King Cages are very popular and the #506 and #406 are recommended.  It is incredibly important to make sure that the cage is not constructed of any form of zinc, lead, or galvanized metal as this can cause life threatening toxicity!

Perches should be placed at various heights throughout the enclosure with the softer perch being the highest as this is where most parrots prefer to sleep.  Toys should consist of soft wood tree branches, rope toys, cardboard toys, wooden toys, and leather (vegetable tanned only!).  Anything that can be picked up with their feet are immediately appreciated as Amazons love to manipulate and use items!  These birds are aggressive chewers, and cannot help themselves, so perches and toys will frequently need to be replaced and should be inspected daily for wear and potential dangers.

Lighting

These birds, like most parrots, are early risers!  Once the sun comes up they are ready to go and will call out to their flock first thing in the morning!  It is important that Amazon rooms are well lit and offered natural sun light as well.  However, never place a bird cage directly in front of a window.  During the day the sun through the window can easily over heat a parrot.  Ideally, the light cycle should be 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness.  In reproductive females, this time may have to be decreased to 8-10 hours of daylight depending on the severity of the hormonal issues.  Consult your veterinarian or behaviorist before making changes to the light cycle.  There have been several studies that illustrate the benefits of parrots, especially female parrots, receiving UVB lighting as well.

Behavior

These birds are very vocal and love to be the center of attention!  Generally, in the wild they are vocal while in their flock which explains why at home they can be louder especially when “flock members” are coming in the door.  One thing to remember is that an Amazon will match the decibel level of their environment which means that the louder the household is the louder the bird will be.  Being able to identify their vocalizations can help an owner understand what their bird is trying to communicate:

  • Normal:  Loud and harsh sounding
  • Eating:  Soft growls or churtles
  • Excitement:  High pitched squawk
  • Morning and Early Evening:  Loud short lived squawking for 1-5 minutes (calling to the flock).  This is a sign of high spirits but it will get LOUD !
  • Contact Calls:  A loud call will be made to locate other flock members.  These can feel ear shattering!
  • Screaming:  This is not a normal behavior.  In the wild, this behavior occurs during fear. Many behaviorists have found that this occurs often when there is no one home for long hours of the day.  A day at work with no one home is too long for an Amazon to be alone!  They will view household members as their flock.  However, if this behavior goes uncorrected it can become a stereotypical behavior and will be difficult to remove.
  • Repetitive Honk:  These sounds are made especially during begging when Amazons want something!

Most owners will purchase these birds as slightly younger birds.  At this stage they are incredibly affectionate and loving.  As these birds start to reach maturity (past 6 years old) their behavior tends to change and during this “teenage stage” is when most Amazons are relinquished to rescue organizations.   Yellow Nape, Double Yellow Headed, and Blue Front Amazons are thought to be the most aggressive at play, especially males of these species.  This is natural for these birds but can be a bit hard to handle.  This is not necessarily a permanent issue!

In the wild, these birds are raised in the nest and stick close to the flock and their parents during their adolescence, very similar to humans.  When these parrots begin to mature and sexual hormones start to surge, these birds will go from the loving overly affectionate birds to trying to drive away their parents.   This is normal behavior and to be expected.  It is akin to a teenage human trying to leave the nest.  This stage, however, can be very trying for Amazon owners, and especially first time parrot owners.  As the hormones settle down with maturity, the Amazon may bond with owners strongly again, sometimes bonding to a new person in the household, as their potential mate.  Issues may arise occasionally if the owner fosters this mate relationship which can lead to aggression of the bird towards other members of the household.  Working with a bird behaviorist at this point may be extremely beneficial and prevent frustration on the end of the owner and the bird.

Destruction is often a large problem with these birds due to their natural urges to chew.  This is not meant to be a malicious act but is simply in their nature!  These super intelligent and curious birds require owners to constantly think on their toes and out of the box to create enrichment and mental stimulation.  Providing branches to chomp, ropes to climb, toys to groom/crush/throw/shred, toys that can be picked up with their feet, and mechanical puzzles is just the beginning of their daily enrichment.

Feather picking is another common concern with Amazons, especially those suffering from obesity.  There are several beliefs about the cause of this issue including inappropriate intense bonding to owners, phobic behavior, boredom, anxiety, etc.  An avian behaviorist and a veterinarian (to correct any potential underlying medical issues) are the best way to help a feather picking Amazon.  To help prevent boredom induced feather destruction, toys meant to simulate preening are highly recommended and often cherished.  Feather destruction quickly turns into a stereotypical behavior and can become impossible to extinguish.  Consulting an avian behaviorist can make the difference!

Biting, high pitched screaming, and feather destruction are often all signs of a bored and lonely bird but they can also be signs of a medical concern.  Any change in an Amazon’s behavior warrants a veterinary exam!

Grooming

Amazons, like all parrots, require a certain level of grooming on a rather frequent basis.  Grooming can be a rewarding bonding moment.  For grooming such as beak and nail trims, these are often best left to veterinary professionals as this can be detrimental to the bird if done incorrectly and is often very stressful on the bird as well.

  • Bathing:  In the wild, these birds flutter through wet leaves or fly in rain storms to rinse themselves clean.  Bathing should be offered 3-5 times a week.  Misting with a spray bottle or on a shower perch are recommended.
  • Pedicure:  The nails of these birds can become long and often sharp.  To keep proper length and to help flatten out the tips to prevent accidental injury to owners, a pedicure is recommended as needed.  Typically, for most birds this becomes a 3-6 month routine.  Some may need it more often.
  • Beak Trim:  Beaks are the hands and thumbs that birds don’t have.  Proper maintenance of the beak can become difficult in captivity.  Beak trims, especially when there is a malocclusion or deformity, should be completed by a veterinary professional.  Typically, birds may not need this done or will need it once a year.  Some birds need it more often.  An overgrown beak can be a sign of several other serious diseases.  Pictured below is a very overgrown beak from a bird with liver problems.
  • Preening:  Birds have a hard time preening their heads and neck, especially when new feathers are growing in.  Normally, in the wild, these birds would have a mate or other flock members to help groom them.  In captivity, they require assistance from owners.  This is an exceptional bonding experience!  Older birds, or injured birds, may have trouble reaching tail feathers or feathers growing in on their backs as well.
  • Wing Trims:  Wing trims are performed to prevent birds from flying with altitude.  This is NOT meant to prevent a bird from flying all together!

Veterinary Services to Consider

  • Annual Exams:  Amazons should have an annual exam performed to check the health status of your pet as well as establish a relationship with an avian vet that can be used in future emergencies and/or for long term geriatric health care.  An annual exam should consist of a fecal analysis and blood work.
  • Infectious Disease:  Testing for diseases such as Psittacosis (which can be contracted by humans), Avian Borna virus (ABV), and Psittacine Beak and Feather disease (PBFD) are important in new birds being introduced to your home or flock. Young birds may benefit from Polyoma testing as well too.  Talk with one of our veterinarians for more information on these viruses!
  • Grooming:  Grooming is ideally performed by a knowledgeable professional for health and safety reasons.

Common Health Problems

Feather Picking – This is one of the most common behavioral problems brought into the veterinary clinic.  There are numerous reasons why a parrot feather picks including boredom, pain, and pruritic (itchy) skin.  A visit to your veterinarian or Chicago Exotics for a full work up to eliminate causes is strongly recommended.  Sometimes, behavioral consultation is required as well.

Hypocalcemia – A common problem in overly reproductive hens and African Grey Parrots.  Feeding foods higher in calcium helps but may not be enough.  Look for signs of weakness, swollen abdomen from possible egg retention, shaking, falling from perch, and seizure.  This can led to a serious condition called egg retention where the eggs are not released from the body.  Call Chicago Exotics or your veterinarian immediately if you notice these symptoms.

Hepatic Lipidosis – This disease is often called, “liver disease” and can result in over grown beaks and nails in parrots.  Typically brought on by obesity and high fat diets such as seed only diets.  See Amazon pictured above this section.  Conversion to pellets will be required as well as a visit to Chicago Exotics or your veterinarian as this can be life threatening. Pictured below is what their serum can look like.  The yellow cloudy part is supposed to be clear.

Upper Respiratory Disease – There are numerous causes of respiratory problems.  Some are more serious than others but all must be addressed by your veterinarian.   Signs to look for are trouble breathing, abnormal sounds when breathing, open mouth breathing, decreased appetite, nasal discharge, and lethargy.

PBFD – Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease Virus – This is a chronic disease with signs of poor feather quality, feather loss, beak deformities and eventual death.  Although an infected adult can live many years, neonates and immunosuppressed birds can die from exposure to this virus.  There is no cure but medical management and supportive care can be attempted by your veterinarian.

PDD – Proventricular Dilatation Disease – This is a fatal disease commonly associated with weight loss despite a ravenous appetite, depression, chronic regurgitation, undigested food in feces, crop impaction and abdominal distension.  This disease can be passed from bird to bird and is ultimately fatal.  Call your veterinarian or Chicago Exotics immediately if these symptoms are seen.  Pictured below is a contrast study of a parrot with PDD.  Bornavirus is associated with this disease.

Suggested Reading and References

  • Avian Viruses: Function and Control  –  Branson W. Ritchie, DVM, PhD
  • Behavior of Exotic Pets  –  Tynes
  • BSAA Manual of Exotic Pets – 5th edition –  Anna Meredith and Cathy Johnson-Delaney
  • Tail Feathers Forum  –  www.tailfeathersnetwork.com
  • The Perch  –  www.theperch.net
  • Amazon Parrot  –  Gayle Souck
  • The Second Hand Parrot  –  Mattie Sue Athan
  • The Parrot Problem Solver  –  Barbara Heidenrich

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to provide helpful service to you and your pet. If you have any questions, give us a call at (502) 241-4117.

Myths and Facts 
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us at (502) 241-4117.

Disclaimer:  As of this writing, this is the most up to date information we have.  This disease is continually being studied and new information on prevention, treatment, and testing are being made available.  This hand out will be updated as new information is verified and available.

Myth #1:
If my bird tests positive for avian borna virus (ABV) my bird has proventricular dilitative disease (PDD)!

Fact:  
Your bird testing positive for borna virus does not mean they have PDD yet.  Generally, once clinical signs are present the patient is considered PDD positive.  However, medications can be given to help control the shedding and symptoms of the virus although there is no cure as of now.
Retesting your bird every 3 months helps the veterinarian adjust the medications appropriately to help control the shedding of the virus.

Myth #2:
My bird tested positive for ABV.  After the medications were given, he retested negative so my bird is ABV free.

Fact:
Unfortunately, there is no cure as of now for ABV.  A negative test result after a positive still means that your pet still has ABV but is not actively shedding the virus at this time and may have the clinical signs well managed. However, most boarding facilities still will not accept your bird if it initially tested positive.

Myth #3:
My bird tested positive/negative for ABV so, I don’t need to test the others because they are all positive/negative.

Fact:
If your bird tested positive or negative for ABV it is still recommended to test your other birds, especially if the test was positive.  All methods of transmission have not been verified yet so it is in the best interest of your pets to test them.  Even if there is no physical contact between the birds, it is recommended as feather dust as well as access to infected birds feces are known methods of transmission.  Excellent hygiene and sanitation is a must when a bird tests positive to prevent the spread of disease to the other birds in your home.

This is a confusing disease complex.  We will do our best to keep you informed!

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to provide helpful service to you and your pet. If you have any questions, give us a call at (502) 241-4117.

Erica Mede, CVT

Natural History

​These playful little parrots are an ideal companion for apartment dwellers and those that love parrots but can not handle the loud screams of larger ones.  Budgies typically live 8-15 years but the budgerigar will make a welcome addition with their chirping, singing, and mimicing.  Budgies are often referred to as common pet parakeets and shell parakeets.  The budgies in this care sheet are specifically the Melopsittacus undulatus and come from the drier open scrub and grasslands of Australia.  These birds are naturally social and found in small flocks always on the move searching for the best food.  Unlike most parrots, budgies are sexually dimorphic after 6 months of age with males having royal blue ceres (the fleshy part by their nostrils) and females will have brown or pale brown to white ceres.  Contrary to popular belief, pink ceres are immature parakeets not necessarily females.  Male pictured on the left, female on the right.

Home Safety There are many things in the average home that pet parrots encounter that can be harmful and even deadly.  Some concerns are obvious such as open flames but others such as an air freshener can be easily overlooked.

  • Potential Household Dangers:
  • Ceiling Fans:  Birds should never be out when a ceiling fan is on
  • Super Clean Windows and Mirrors:  Birds have a hard time identifying glass and mirrors!
  • Electrical Wires:  Dangling wires have the highest potential for issues due to birds desire to hang off or chew these “vines”
  • Aerosol Sprays:  Very harmful to the air sacs and lungs
  • Candles:  The smoke even in small amounts can be very harmful to the air sacs and lungs.  Avoid essential and exotic oils used to add scent to candles as well.
  • Non-Stick Cookware:  Over-heated non-stick cookware releases fumes that are both highly toxic to birds and have been linked to MS in humans
  • Other Pets:  This includes other birds, dogs, cats, etc.
  • Paint:  Paint from the walls of old homes may contain lead.
  • Jewelry:  Especially costume jewelry can contain zinc.
  • Tobacco smoke and residue

Diet and Feeding Budgies are herbivores, more specifically they are granivores (seed and grain eaters).  In the wild, these birds primarily consume spinifex seeds, various grass seeds, and ripening seeds from wheat and other agricultural products.  Budgies have an unique quirk about their food dishes.  They will not eat food out of a covered food dish!  Due to their natural propensity to eat the seeds of grasses off the ground it is recommended to offer new foods, such as pelleted diets, into their routine by placing them on the floor of the cage and/or a mirror on the floor of the cage.  The reason for the mirror is simple, if a budgie sees another budgie eating, it will eat that food more readily although a full conversion will still take time.   It is natural for these birds to gorge themselves on a particularly delicious treat or after they have been adopted from a rescue.  This is a natural behavior. The ideal budgie diet consists of: 75-100% Pelleted Diet

  • Harrison’s
  • Zupreme
  • Roudybush
  • Lafeber

15-25%  Natural Diet

  • Vegetables
  • Legumes
  • Grains
  • Fruit

10%  Treats

  • Seeds

Remember, all conversions to different diets must be made gradually and care must be taken to monitor food intake as well as weight.  Budgies are incredibly prone to obesity as well as fatty liver disease (hepatic lipidosis) and food consumption should be monitored and exercise encouraged with regular social interaction and activities. Unsafe Foods:

  • Chocolate
  • Caffeine (soda, tea, coffee, etc)
  • Avocado
  • Shelled peanuts (these can contain aflatoxins on the shell)
  • Potato skins (these can contain solanine)

Enclosure With parrots, the bigger the enclosure the better!  These birds are very active in the wild and need to have ways to relieve their natural energy in the home.  The enclosure needs to be wider than it is tall.  Although these birds enjoy climbing the bars it is more important that they can flutter to each side of the enclosure.  Bars should be spaced no more than half an inch apart.  It is incredibly important to make sure that the cage is not constructed of any form of zinc, lead, or galvanized metal as this can cause life threatening toxicity!  Unfortunately, most of the enclosures sold in pet stores for budgies are inappropriately small for this species. Perches should be placed at various heights throughout the enclosure with the softer perch being the highest as this is where most parrots prefer to sleep.  Toys should consist of soft wood tree branches, rope toys, cardboard toys, wooden toys, and leather (vegetable tanned only!).  Anything that can be “groomed” with their beaks are immediately appreciated as budgies love to preen!  These birds are chewers, and cannot help themselves, so perches and toys will frequently need to be replaced and should be inspected daily for wear and potential dangers.  Shredable toys are ideal as well.  Females, especially egg laying females, should not be offered mirrors or bells which often inadvertently stimulates their desire to breed and continue laying eggs. Lighting These birds, like most parrots, are early risers!  Once the sun comes up they are ready to go and will call out to their flock first thing in the morning!  It is important that budgie rooms are well lit and offered natural sun light as well.  However, never place a bird cage directly in front of a window.  During the day the sun through the window can easily over heat a parrot.  Ideally, the light cycle should be 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness.  In reproductive females, this time may have to be decreased to 8-10 hours of daylight depending on the severity of the hormonal issues.  Consult your veterinarian or behaviorist before making changes to the light cycle.  There have been several studies that illustrate the benefits of parrots, especially female parrots, receiving UVB lighting as well. Behavior These birds are very vocal and love to be the center of attention!  Generally, in the wild they are vocal while in their flock which explains why at home they can be louder especially when “flock members” are coming in the door.  One thing to remember is that parrots will match the decibel level of their environment which means that the louder the household is the louder the bird will be.  Being able to identify their vocalizations can help an owner understand what their bird is trying to communicate:

  • Normal: Medium to loud, harsh sounding or sing songy sounding
  • Eating:  Churtles
  • Excitement:  High pitched squawk
  • Morning and Early Evening:  Loud short lived squawking for 1-5 minutes (calling to the flock).  This is a sign of high spirits but it will get LOUD !  Also happens when people walk in the door or disturb their eating.
  • Contact Calls:  A loud call will be made to locate other flock members.
  • Screaming:  This is not a normal behavior.  In the wild, this behavior occurs during fear. Many behaviorists have found that this occurs often when there is no one home for long hours of the day.  For this reason it is recommended to house parakeets in pairs or more.  However, if this behavior goes uncorrected it can become a stereotypical behavior and will be difficult to remove.

Most owners will purchase these birds as slightly younger birds.  At this stage they are incredibly affectionate and loving.  As these birds start to reach maturity (past 6 months old) their behavior tends to change and they will bond closely with one another.  If they are housed alone, this is when they will form the strongest bond to owners.  Due to their monogamous nature, other members of the household may not be as privy to the level of affection.  These highly social birds, even adults that are newly acquired can be tamed down with patience although they are easier to acclimate at a younger age. In the wild, these birds are raised in the nest and stick close to the flock and their parents during their adolescence, very similar to humans.  When these parrots begin to mature and sexual hormones start to surge, these birds will go from the loving overly affectionate birds to trying to drive away their parents.   This is normal behavior and to be expected.  It is akin to a teenage human trying to leave the nest.  This stage, however, can be very trying for parrot owners, and especially first time owners.  As the hormones settle down with maturity, they may bond with owners strongly again, sometimes bonding to a new person in the household, as their potential mate.  Issues may arise occasionally if the owner fosters this mate relationship which can lead to aggression of the bird towards other members of the household.  Working with a bird behaviorist at this point may be extremely beneficial and prevent frustration on the end of the owner and the bird. Destruction is not a large problem with these birds due to their small size but don’t underestimate their ability to chew!  This is not meant to be a malicious act but is simply in their nature.  These intelligent and curious birds require owners to constantly think on their toes and out of the box to create enrichment and mental stimulation.  Providing branches to chomp, ropes to climb, toys to groom/crush/throw/shred, toys that can be picked up with their feet, and mechanical puzzles is just the beginning of their daily enrichment. Feather picking is another common concern with parrots, especially those suffering from obesity or hepatic lipidosis.  There are several beliefs about the cause of this issue including inappropriate intense bonding to owners, phobic behavior, boredom, anxiety, etc.  An avian behaviorist and a veterinarian (to correct any potential underlying medical issues) are the best way to help a feather picking bird.  To help prevent boredom induced feather destruction, toys meant to simulate preening are highly recommended and often cherished.  Feather destruction quickly turns into a stereotypical behavior and can become impossible to extinguish.  Consulting an avian behaviorist can make the difference! Biting, high pitched screaming, and feather destruction are often all signs of a bored and lonely bird but they can also be signs of a medical concern.  Any sudden change in a parrot’s behavior warrants a veterinary exam! ​ Grooming Budgies, like all parrots, require a certain level of grooming on a rather frequent basis.  Grooming can be a rewarding bonding moment.  For grooming such as beak and nail trims, these are often best left to veterinary professionals as this can be detrimental to the bird if done incorrectly and is often very stressful on the bird as well.

  • Bathing:  In the wild, these birds flutter through wet leaves or fly in rain storms to rinse themselves clean.  They also enjoy fluttering in rain puddles.  Bathing should be offered 3-5 times a week.  Misting with a spray bottle or on a shower perch are recommended.
  • Pedicure:  The nails of these birds can become long and often sharp.  To keep proper length and to help flatten out the tips to prevent accidental injury to owners, a pedicure is recommended as needed.  Typically, for most birds this becomes a 3-6 month routine.  Some may need it more often.
  • Beak Trim:  Beaks are the hands and thumbs that birds don’t have.  Proper maintenance of the beak can become difficult in captivity.  Beak trims, especially when there is a malocclusion or deformity, should be completed by a veterinary professional.  Typically, birds should not need this done.  Generally, budgies don’t require beak grooming unless there is damage to the beak or liver disease issue.
  • Preening:  Birds have a hard time preening their heads and neck, especially when new feathers are growing in.  Normally, in the wild, these birds would have a mate or other flock members to help groom them.  In captivity, they require assistance from owners.  This is an exceptional bonding experience!  Older birds, or injured birds, may have trouble reaching tail feathers or feathers growing in on their backs as well.
  • Wing Trims:  Wing trims are performed to prevent birds from flying with altitude.  This is NOT meant to prevent a bird from flying all together!

Veterinary Services to Consider​

  • Annual Exams:  Budgies should have an annual exam performed to check the health status of your pet as well as establish a relationship with an avian vet that can be used in future emergencies and/or for long term geriatric health care.  An annual exam should consist of a fecal analysis and blood work.
  • Infectious Disease:  Testing for diseases such as Psittacosis (which can be contracted by humans), Avian Borna virus (ABV), and Psittacine Beak and Feather disease (PBFD) are important in new birds being introduced to your home or flock.  Young birds may benefit from Polyoma testing as well too.  Talk with one of our veterinarians for more information on these viruses!
  • Grooming:  Grooming is ideally performed by a knowledgeable professional for health and safety reasons.

Spanish monks in monasteries on the Canary Islands fir started breeding canaries (Serinus canarius­) as far back as 1402.  Today’s canary fanciers pursue a wide range of activities, including preserving old and rare breeds as well as breeding new color mutations.  An important aspect of their hobby is showing and judging their birds, which fall into 1 of 3 groups:  song canaries, color canaries and form canaries.

Pet AppealCanaries are tidy, nondestructive and easy to care for and require a minimum of space.  Their song, color variations, size, shape characteristics and feather traits are the basis of their appeal.  Because they don’t like to be handled, canaries may not be ideal pets for children.

Canaries may be appreciated most for their pleasant melodious song.  Male canaries start singing around 3 months of age and will demonstrate 1 of 2 styles:  “chopper,” with loud trills and distinct component notes, or “roller,” with a long, rich, recurrent trill in which the notes are soft and continuous.

DietCanaries are primarily graniverous birds and may consume up to 30% of their body weight (BW) daily; their basal metabolic rate is 65% higher than that of nonpasserines.  The recommended diet consists of high-quality, toxin-free, canary-specific formulated foods (pellets) with alternate feeding of a variety of fresh pesticide-free seed mixtures.  In Belgium , seed mixtures for canaries contain canary seed (62%), niger seed (2%), rape seed (22%), hemp seed (3%), peeled oats (8%), and linseed (3%).
Sometimes additives are used to manipulate the color of the plumage.  For example, red color canaries are fed beta-carotene 2 weeks before breeding season until the end of the molt period.  Yellow color canaries are supplemented with lutein for enhancing he desired yellow color for exhibition.

Soluble grit, such as cuttlefish bone (Sepia spp.), oyster shell, limestone (calcium carbonate), marble (crystalline sulfate), and gypsum (calcium sulfate), offers a good calcium source and is usually completely digested by birds. Small amounts may be offered to egg laying hens. Vitamin/mineral supplement should be applied to moist food rather than added to seeds or drinking water, but is not necessary when feeding a pelleted diet.

During reproduction and molting, a high-protein commercial “egg food,” consisting of mashed hard-cooked egg and finely-chopped chicken or insects (fresh or commercially available powdered insects marketed for finches) should be fed on a daily basis.
Clean, fresh, uncontaminated water mush be provided daily for drinking and bathing.  Most small canaries drink 200-300 mL/kg BW of water daily.

Housing RecommendationsCanaries are rarely social birds.  Considered “skittish,” they will fly away when approached.  One bird kept as a single pet will be content and may bond with it’s keeper.  Males must be housed separately from other males to prevent fighting, but they may be kept within visual or auditory range to stimulate singing.  Group housing for mixed ages and both sexes will work only if the cage has sufficient perches and many feeding stations.

Housing for a single pet canary should be indoors or protected by mosquito screening if placed outdoors.  The cage should have dimensions of at least 25 x 25 x 46 cm (10” x 10” x 18”) and be constructed of durable nontoxic material; it should contain multiple perches.  The cage setup should be clean, secure, safe and easy to service.

SubstrateSuitable substrates include newspaper, butcher paper and plain brown paper.  Avoid using pressure-treated wood, cedar or redwood cage substrates as well as synthetic fibrous nesting material or fine thread in the nest box.  Natural materials are preferred for lining nests:  sisal (from Agave cactus), cotton fiber, moss or jute.

Environmental EnrichmentCanaries spend a great deal of their time eating and flying from perch to perch.  Fresh food and water must always be available, and multiple, small-diameter perches are important accessories.  Because they enjoy taking a bath on a daily basis, a bathing area should be available away from the feeding area for a limited time in the morning.  During the breeding season, nest pans made of plastic, stone, wood or wire with ventilation holes are provided and must be changed after every clutch.

If there is a continuous source of stress in the canary’s environment, such as fear, cage mate competition, infections, major changes in environmental temperature or daylight length, the bird’s feathers will not molt properly.  Instead of all the plumage being replaced once a year at the end of the breeding season, the feathers will be shed over the entire year.

Vital Statistics

Length
11-18 cm

Body weight
12-30 grams

Body temperature
41 C (105.8 F)

Water consumption
200-300 mL/kg BW/day

Food consumption
Up to 30% BW/day

Average captive life span
5-9 years

Heart rate
Resting: 265-325 bpm
Restraint: 400-600 bpm

Respiratory rate
Resting: 60-80 breaths/minute
Restraint: 80-120 breaths/minute

Environmental temp.
Greater than 15 C (59 F)

Humidity
60-80%

Age of sexual maturity
8 months

Eggs per clutch
4-7

Incubation
12-14 days

Fledging
11-17 days

What Every Canary Owner Needs to Know

  • Before adding new birds to a collection, they must be quarantined, tested and treated for parasites and infectious disease.
  • Protect outdoor aviaries from mosquitoes, free-ranging birds and predators.
  • Avoid using synthetic fibers for nesting materials as they may entangle feed, toes, or other body parts.
  • Weigh birds as least semi-annually or quarterly if they are breeders.
  • Feed a diet formulated for canaries or supplement high-quality seed with canary soft food.

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to provide helpful service to you and your pet. If you have any questions, give us a call at (502) 241-4117.

Chronic egg laying is a very common problem in cockatiels, lovebirds, and budgies; and is seen in other species of pet birds including macaws, cockatoos, amazons, and African greys.   This problem can begin in your bird as early as nine months or as late as several years of age. The most common age range is form one to three years.

The process of producing and laying an egg is stimulated by many factors. Day length, food availability, mate behavior, rainfall, competition for nesting sites, and many other factors can stimulate hens to lay an egg.  It is not necessary that an egg be fertilized before it can be laid. In fact, a mate does not even need to be present for a female to lay eggs.

The shell of an egg is made primarily of calcium.  The calcium comes from calcium stores within the bird’s body. The bones and muscles provide nearly all of the calcium required to shell an egg.  The calcium that is lost in forming the shell needs to be replaced so the body can continue to function properly. Calcium is primarily needed for muscle contractions and building strong bones.  In the case of chronic egg laying, calcium stores are depleted and the body is unable to function properly. The condition is known as hypocalcemia. The most common problem is egg laying females associated with hypocalcemia is egg binding. With calcium at a low level the uterine muscles are unable to contract and push the egg out.  Hypocalcemia can also cause seizure-like activity and brittle bones, which can be easily fractured.

During the laying cycle birds will begin holding their droppings for an extended period of time. This behavior is related to keeping the nest clean and free of poop.  Often the bird will release large, loose, foul smelling, and discolored droppings.  The odor is due to the presence of bacteria and yeast in the droppings. It is important to prevent excessive egg laying, since it can lead to many health problems.  The most important factor in preventing health-related problems is nutrition.  It is vital to be sure that your bird is on a complete and balanced diet.  No diet is better or more complete than a formulated or pelleted diet. Pellets offer all essential nutrients in the correct ratios.  Seeds are very inadequate in preventing problems related to excessive egg laying.  Seeds have no calcium, almost no phosphorous, no vitamin A, and no vitamin D; all of which are essential in calcium absorption and utilization.  Seeds are also deficient in essential amino acids (protein) and are unable to replace the protein lost in forming the inside of the egg (the yolk, albumin, and fetal membranes).

The first step in treating chronic egg laying is to put your bird on a complete diet. A bird that is on a balanced diet is in little danger of the health problems associated with chronic egg laying.  The next step is to have your bird examined by an avian veterinarian for a complete work up, including exam, blood work, cultures, and all necessary treatments. Your veterinarian will be looking for bacterial and yeast infections related to holding in the poops, signs of poor nutrition and stress, and clinical signs of calcium deficiency.  The next step is to decrease the amount of light your bird receives during the day. You want to provide them with a maximum of 10 hours of light per day. This will help prevent hormone release that leads to egg production.

Finally, you should remove anything that may be stimulating breeding behavior.  Dark, confining spaces such as shoeboxes, bags, cabinets and other places can serve as a nest.  Disallow association with such places.  Don’t stroke your bird on the back, especially during her breeding period. Leave the grates on the bottom of the cage to give an unsuitable place to lay and sit on eggs.  On rare occasions, females will chose a favorite toy or perch for masturbating.  This item should be removed if your bird exhibits this behavior.  Other changes may need to be made depending on your bird’s environment and play habits.

A mate is not a solution for the chronic egg layer.  Mates will only perpetuate the problem, not solve it.  Your bird may become less concerned about you, bond to the other bird, want to reproduce and you will lose the nice pet you have always had.

We, as responsible owners, should work to prevent excessive egg laying. Prevention can be accomplished by controlling these stimuli and providing balanced nutrition to our pet birds, which is critical in reducing the risk of secondary disease associated with chronic egg laying.

In summary, improve the diet, decrease the photo period, leave the eggs in the cage, remove any breeding stimulation that may be contributing to the problem, and see your avian veterinarian for a physical exam, diagnostics and treatments.

Branson W. Ritchie, DVM, PhD
University of Georgia
College of Veterinary Medicine
Athens, Georgia

Control of Viruses and Bacteria while Outside the Host

The goal of maintaining any bird in captivity, whether it is a single companion bird or a functional member of a large breeding aviary, is to assure that the bird remains in the best possible condition.  Preventing infectious disease is of fundamental importance to this sustained health.  Elsewhere in veterinary medicine, widespread uses of multivalent vaccines are used to create “herd immunity” and thereby reduce the unimpeded amplification of a virus through a respective population of hosts.    If vaccine is not available for a particular virus, then stopping the host from being exposed can only prevent infections by this virus.  Attempts to control the spread of viruses in the absence of vaccines require absolute vigilance in establishing and maintaining closed aviaries, correct use and interpretation of screening assays and assuring exceptional personal and aviary cleanliness.  For many bacterial and fungal organisms, sanitation is currently the only way to reduce the accumulation and spread of these microbes within an aviary.

In general, the cleaner a bird’s environment, the healthier a bird is likely to be.  However, one should be aware the excessive or improper use of even the safest of cleaners or disinfectants could create health hazards for the user, the environment or the animals that they are intended to protect.  While some cleaning and disinfecting agents can be considered safer to use than others, it should be remembered that if a disinfectant is to be effective it must be capable of destroying life and thus.  Safe is a relative term.

A virion that does not enter a bird, or come in contact with a target cell within the bird, will not replicate and will eventually become inactivated.  Thus, complete cleaning to remove a virus from a host’s environment is an effective method for reducing virus spread.  Disinfectants can be used in conjunction with thorough cleaning to inactivate any residual virions not removed by cleaning.  Once an item has been cleaned, it should be rinsed before being placed in disinfectant solution.  Thorough rinsing helps prevent the cleaning agent from reacting with, and possibly inactivating, the disinfectant.  It should be noted that disinfectants couldn’t be used in lieu of cleaning to reduce the spread of infectious agents.  Epornitics are frequently linked to veterinarians, pet retailers and aviculturists who become careless in routine cleaning and attempt to compensate with disinfectants or drugs.

The capacity of a disinfectant to destroy a virus varies with the type of virus, the type of disinfectant, the concentration of the disinfectant, the quantity of the virus and the material in which the virus is contained.  For disinfection to occur there must be direct contact for the necessary time between effective disinfectant and the agent to be destroyed.  Disinfectants may require minutes to hours of contact time to be effective.  However, in many applications, disinfectants may come in contact with an agent for only seconds.  For example, wiping an inanimate surface with a disinfectant-laden cloth provides a particularly short time of interaction between the disinfectant and contaminating viral particles.  Soaking and object in a disinfectant provides longer contact time, but many disinfectants are corrosive and may damage metals or plastics.

Hospital personnel should choose a disinfectant based on which an item for disinfection can be cleaned, the practical amount of time the item can remain in contact with the disinfectant, the time and type (direct or indirect) of exposure that personnel or animals will have with the disinfectant, the disposal options available for the waste disinfectant and when known, the type of organism for which the disinfectant is intended.  For personnel, animal and environmental health, it is best to thoroughly clean an object and then use the lowest concentration of the least aggressive disinfectant that will destroy residual target microbes.

Soaps and Detergents

Soaps and detergents reduce the attraction of greases and dirt to an object.  In some cases, specific chemical disinfectants are combined with a soap or detergent.  These agents are used to facilitate the cleaning and disinfecting of areas or objects that are contaminated with large quantities of blood, feces, food, or mucus.

Household detergents are excellent for cleaning bowls, enclosures, perches and nets that may be contaminated with food, excrement or secretions.  As is the case with any chemical, surfaces and objects washed should be thoroughly rinsed and dried before coming in contact with the bird.

Chlorinated compounds

Sodium hypochlorite (bleach) is the most common chlorinated compound used as a disinfectant.  Bleach is an extremely powerful oxidizer that, depending on concentration, can destroy many, if not most, microorganisms including bacteria, viruses, and chlamydia.  In general, a 1:32 dilution (1/2-cup bleach per gallon water) is effective in inactivating many infectious agents.

Bleach solutions are rapidly inactivated by organic debris, extremes in pH, exposure to sunlight or evaporation.  They require frequent mixing (every several hours) to maintain an active solution.  Unfortunately, bleach solutions and the fumes they produce are toxic to living tissues.  Irritation of mucous membranes including watery eyes, nasal discharge and sneezing may be noted in birds exposed to bleach fumes.  Use of bleach in poorly ventilated areas can result in fatal tracheitis and pneumonia in birds.

Stabilized chlorine dioxide

Like bleach, stabilized chlorine dioxide is an extremely powerful oxidizer that can destroy many microorganisms including bacteria, viruses, fungi and protozoa.  Some studies suggest that in many applications chlorine dioxide may be a superior disinfectant to sodium hypochlorite.  At working dilutions, stabilized chlorine dioxide is considered of low toxicity to humans and animals.  Solutions containing stabilized chlorine dioxide and the fumes it produces are toxic to living tissue, including skin, eyes, and lungs.  Organic debris and exposure to sunlight rapidly inactivate it.  It evaporates quickly and requires frequent mixing to maintain active solution.

Chlorhexidine gluconates

Chlorhexadine-containing compounds are frequently used as disinfectants and for wound cleaning.  They are considered relatively nontoxic and noncorrosive, and safe for use around birds.  They have good activity against many bacteria, yeast (particularly Candida) and some enveloped viruses.  It has limited use against some bacteria, spores produced by mycobacteria and nonenveloped viruses.  In general, it should not be considered viracidal.  It is ineffective in the presence of organic debris and has limited stability.  It must be made fresh at least once per day.

Glutaraldehydes

Glutaraldehydes rapidly inactivate many microbial agents including bacteria (including mycobacteria), many viruses, and chlamydia.  They are effective against viruses even in the presence of organic debris and are stable as a working solution from 2 weeks up to 1 month.  However, they are infrequently used as general-purpose disinfectants because they cause irritation to eyes, respiratory tract and skin.    The product information provided by the manufacturer will list the corrosive properties of a particular glutaraldehyde disinfectant.

Iodides

Most commercially available iodine-containing disinfectants are iodophors (iodines mixed with detergents) or “tamed” iodines.  Iodine-containing disinfectants generally produce limited toxic vapors, are available mixed with detergents to both clean and disinfect, and are effective for many bacteria, some viruses, and fungi.  However, they can be expensive, toxic if ingested, cause drying and cracking of skin, are not effective against all strains of Pseudomonas and are not effective against some viruses.

Phenols

Sodium orthophenol is the active ingredient in most phenol-containing disinfectants.  Phenols can inactivate many bacteria (including Pseudomonas and mycobacteria), fungi and some viruses.  They vary in activity based on the presence of organic matter and the temperature, concentration, and pH of the disinfectant solution.  They are inexpensive and easy to rinse.  They are toxic to many tissues and may be particularly toxic to cats and reptiles.

Quaternary ammonium compounds

Adding organic compounds to ammonia produces these.  They function as a detergent.  They are inexpensive at working dilution, are relatively nontoxic, and inactivate many types of bacteria, some viruses and chlamydia.

Organic debris and contact with soaps may inactivate these disinfectants.  They are not considered effective for spores, mycobacteria or fungi, and may have reduced efficacy against many nonenveloped viruses and Pseudomonas.  They are difficult to rinse and may leave a slimy residue.  Ingestion, and possibly inhalation, can cause respiratory paralysis and death.  These agents are recommended for objects that will not come in direct contact with birds.

Alcohols

Seventy- percent ethyl alcohol inactivates many bacteria and viruses when contact time approaches 20 minutes.  Parvoviruses and some enteroviruses are resistant to inactivation by it.  Alcohols may dissolve plastics, rubbers and glues.

Formalin

Formalin and formaldehyde are extremely dangerous, toxic compounds that should not be used as disinfectant.  Formaldehyde will inactivate most viruses, but require up to one hour of contact time.  It is very irritating to mucous membranes and should be thought of as a powerful carcinogen.

By Debra Schwarz
Photos and edited by Susan Horton, DVM

(Much of this article will also apply to all small Psitticines General Care of Cockatiels)

Cockatiels, Nymphicus hollandicus, are small parrots native to most of the Australian continent. There is only one species of cockatiel although there is many color mutations available. They generally range nbsp;in weight from 75-110 grams and are usually 11-13 inches in length. With good care, a cockatiel can live well into its twenties.

Your Cockatiel’s Home

A large, clean, well-appointed cage is imperative to your cockatiel’s health and happiness. When selecting a cage and furnishings for your cockatiel, think of the features that you would look for yourself. Size, location, quality, and cleanliness are all important. A cage should be no less than 20”x 20” for a single bird. There is no such thing as a cage that is too large, as long as the bar spacing is not more than ¾”. If the bar spacing is larger than that, your bird could get its head stuck between the bars and hang itself. Also, please do not select one of those tall cylindrical cages. Think of cockatiels as airplanes that move laterally, not helicopters that move vertically.

Your cockatiel is on its feet 24 hours a day, so the perches need to be comfortable. There should be a variety of sizes as well as textures so that the bird does not develop pressure sores from having its feet constantly in the same position. The diameter of the perches should be between ¾”-1 ¼”. Your bird should have a variety of perching surfaces available to it. You can use a mix of cotton rope, ribbon wood, manzanita, wooden dowel, and Wild Walk perches. Put the cotton rope perches near the top of the cage because this is where most cockatiels roost for the night. Please try to position the perches so that the bird doesn’t poop in its food, water, toys, or on the lower perches. Also, avoid the sandpaper perch covers and “pedicure” perches. A cockatiel doesn’t have a strong enough grip for those perches to keep the nails filed, and they are very rough on the bird’s feet. You may also want to avoid the cholla wood perches, as these are very difficult to keep clean. As the rope perches begin to fray, you need to trim off the strings or replace the perch so the strings don’t constrict the bird’s toes.

You also need to have some type of substrate in the cage tray. Newspaper is the best. It’s cheap, readily available, easy to change and safe. The particulate substrates (corncob, ground walnut shell, paper pulp, and kitty litter) tend to hide the number and consistency of a bird’s droppings, which are one of the first indicators of illness. They can also be dusty or give off mold spores within a day of becoming soiled. Please change the newspaper on a daily basis, so you can monitor the droppings.

Now that you’ve got the minimal set-up, your cockatiel wants to have some fun. Cockatiels tend to enjoy “shreddable” toys, such as Bird Kabobs, Shredders, balsa wood, mirrors (not for the girls), and other simple things like plastic beads or Popsicle sticks strung on leather strips. I will list some websites that sell toys that most ‘tiels would enjoy. Unfortunately not all toys are safe for your bird. Avoid bells, (especially “jingle bells”), frayed fabric or rope, rings small enough for the bird to get stuck in and those lead weighted penguins sold as parakeet toys. Colored wood and fabric should be dyed with nontoxic food coloring or child-chewable safe dye. Make sure leather pieces are vegetable-tanned. USAmanufactured rawhide is safe until it gets wet or soiled. After that, throw it away. Also, please remember to rotate toys at least every other week so your bird has some new stuff to destroy.

If you don’t already cover your bird’s cage at night, you may want to consider it. A dark colored bed sheet will filter out some light and buy you extra sleep if you have an enthusiastic singer who likes to greet the sunrise each day. Your cockatiel may get a better night’s sleep as well. Cockatiels need between 9-12 hours of shut eye each night, plus naps during the day. You don’t need to cover the cage for daytime naps.

Please also consider the location of your bird’s cage. The kitchen is a bad place because of the cooking fumes, smoke, and temperature fluctuations. Birds have been known to land in pots of boiling water and oil. Avoid putting the cage in a very high traffic room, but don’t isolate the bird. Daily interaction and handling is important. Also, avoid putting the cage near a very drafty window, air conditioning vent or right in front of a large window.

Cockatiels need time out of their cages every day. A play gym gives the bird a territory away from the cage. There are a lot of options available and it can be a fun place for your ‘tiel to hang out while you watch TV.  Most models come with food dishes and you can hang toys. Small T-stands are also available, but these provide fewer opportunities for exercise and mental stimulation.

You also need to consider the air quality around your cockatiel’s cage. Cockatiels are very dusty birds. It wouldn’t be bad ideas to have a HEPA filter running near the cage, especially if a member of the household has asthma, allergies, or respiratory disease. Most birds can tolerate temperatures between 65-85 degrees Fahrenheit. If you live in a very dry climate, use a humidifier. Be sure to clean and maintain your machines as per the manufacturer’s instructions.

Cleaning

For your bird to stay healthy, you need to keep things clean for him. It only takes a few minutes daily and about an hour for a once weekly scrubbing. You should change the newspaper in his cage tray every single day. You can spray the papers with a little water to keep the dust from flying up in your face. When you’re changing the newspaper, you should also take am moist paper towel and spot clean the poop that may be on the perches and grate. Lastly, you absolutely must wash the dishes every single day. The easiest and most effective way is in the dishwasher. Having an extra set of dishes will be helpful if you don’t run the dishwasher daily. Clean the dishes and try to keep them clean as if they were your own.
On a weekly basis you should take out all the perches and toys for a good scrubbing. First scrub all of the poop and other debris off the cage and perches with hot, soapy water. Rinse well, then disinfect with a 1:10 bleach solution. The bleach solution needs a contact time of 15 minutes. After 15 minutes you need to rinse everything really well. When you think you’ve rinsed enough, rinse it a little more, especially wooden items. Alternatively, perches could go in the dishwasher (not with human dishes) after you’ve scrubbed the crud off of them. The hot water will disinfect them. You should also wash the cage cover on a weekly basis.

Bathing

As I said earlier, cockatiels are very dusty birds. Frequent bathing will keep the dust to a minimum. Different birds like to bathe in different ways. Some birds prefer a shallow crock of water, but most seem to enjoy a spray bath. The cleanest way to do this is to stick a shower perch over the bathtub and spray your bird there. A shower perch is a textured PVC perch with suction cups. Start with a brand new spray bottle and mark it “water only”. Set the nozzle to the gentlest spray. Spray the water upwards so that it falls gently down on him. Your cockatiel should be bathed at least 3-4 times weekly, but you can bathe him daily if you like. You should always bathe your bird in the morning, so he has the whole day to preen and dry off. Putting a wet bird to bed is asking for trouble. The water should be a little warmer than lukewarm. If you would bathe a human infant in it, the temperature is probably OK. Also, please don’t ever add anything to the bath water. I don’t care what the guy at the pet store said, plain water is the best. If you think your bird needs to be washed with soap, give us a call. Remember to wash and disinfect your spray bottle and please don’t let it sit around full of water between baths. Empty it and let it dry. You don’t want to spray your bird with bacteria ridden water.

Diet

One of the most important things you can do to maintain your bird’s health is to feed it a healthy varied diet. A seed only diet is severely deficient in almost every nutrient except fat. It is the human equivalent of eating potato chips and candy bars as your entire diet, every day. Avian veterinarians generally agree that a healthy diet for parrots consists of about 75% high quality pellets, 20% dark green leafy and orange vegetables, and the remaining 5% can consist of treat items, such as seed and fruit. Offering a wide variety is important. Acceptable greens include dandelion, mustard, collard, turnip, kale, endive, escarole, and carrot tops. You can also add carrot, sweet potato, squash, broccoli, and peppers. Occasionally your bird can have a bit of very well cooked chicken, egg, or tofu as a source of protein. Use organic produce whenever possible. There are now several companies that offer organic pellets. If a vet has not seen you bird in the last year, please have him examined before attempting to switch his diet.
The first thing to remember when switching your cockatiel’s diet is to take your time. This is a change that will benefit your bird for the rest of its life, so have patience. Also, plan on wasting a lot of food when you start converting your bird’s diet. The first step is to just get the bird used to the presence of the new food item. You can put the new food in a bowl by itself and not change anything else until you are confident that the bird is not afraid of the new food. After a few days, you can start to restrict the amount of seed that the bird gets. I usually recommend feeding the bird in meals. For instance, offer your cockatiel seed for 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes before bed time. He is allowed to eat all he wants, but after the 30 minutes is up, pull out the seed and leave pellets in the cage all day. Mixing seed and pellets together and gradually reducing the amount of seed doesn’t always work well because a stubborn bird will just eat all of the seed right away and then not eat again until the next day. Vitamin A and calcium rich vegetables are also important in a bird’s diet. Sometimes the manner in which you offer a food item will determine whether or not the bird eats it. For example, my cockatiels love when I hang large leaves of greens from the top or side of their cages, and large chunks of carrot wedged between their cage bars, but will reject the exact same food items when cut up in a dish. You just need to experiment a little. Don’t give up after you offer something once or twice and the bird doesn’t eat it.

Home cooked mixed and mashes also have their place in a healthy diet. There are a lot of commercially available mash diets that you add water to and cook, but if you make your own you can control exactly what goes into it. It can be as simple as cooked brown rice mixed up with some baked sweet potato and low fat yogurt to something as extravagant and nutritious as Alicia McWatters, M.S. homemade mash diet. The recipe is as follows:

Frozen organic vegetables:  1/3 pound
Fresh organic vegetables: ½ ounce parsley, 1/8 large tomato, ½ ounce chayote ( a squash), ¾ ounce sweet potato/yam, ¾ ounce white potato
Bean mix:  ½ teaspoon each of the following: black-eyed peas, pinto beans, kidney beans, adzuki beans, green and yellow split peas, garbanzo beans, black beans, soy beans, and mung beans. (Rinse and drain well, soak in cold water 6-8 hours in the refrigerator.)
After soaking, boil for 10 minutes and simmer for 20 minutes, using only enough water so that none remains after cooking, to preserve vitamins.
Grains: ½ teaspoon each: wheat berry, pearl barley, triticale, and brown rice. Add to beans, soak and boil.
Organic greens:1/3 of a large leaf of either comfrey (an herb) and/or mustard green.
Organic fruit: 1/8 of a large banana, 1/8 large apple, ½ ounce grapes, ¼ teaspoon strawberry or cranberry.
Seeds: ¼ teaspoon each of pumpkin and sesame seeds
Vitamins/Minerals: ¼ teaspoon each of powdered kelp and blue green algae.

All of the ingredients should be chopped and mixed in a food processor and frozen into individual servings. An ice cube tray works well for this. This is a 3-4 week supply for a cockatiel. Caution should be taken when re-heating food for your bird. Microwaved food can develop “hot spots”. If you microwave something be sure to stir it well and let it sit for a few minutes before giving it to your bird. Please remember to remove all cooked foods from the bird’s cage within two hours as bacteria can grow after that. As long as your bird is on a healthy, varied diet, please do not add any vitamin or mineral supplement to your bird’s food or water. You can do irreversible damage to your cockatiel’s kidneys and other organs. Over supplementing vitamins and minerals can be even more dangerous than under supplementing. If you have an egg layer, she may need extra calcium. Talk to your vet before you supplement her diet.

Household Dangers

For your cockatiel’s safety, it must be kept in a secure cage when you are not around to supervise it. There area just too many things that your bird can get into that could hurt or even kill it. Wing clipping can prevent a lot of accidents, but you still need to supervise your bird constantly when it is out of its cage. Some obvious dangers are open containers of liquid, stoves, candles, ceiling fans, mirrors, windows (open or shut), mousetraps, glue traps, and fireplaces. Fumes of any kind should be considered dangerous. Sources of fumes include but are not limited to: overheated non-stick cookware, irons, bread makers, self-cleaning ovens, new heaters, anything that is burning, aerosol sprays of any kind, cooking bags, scented candles, plug-in air fresheners, carpet freshener, hair and nail products incense, potpourri, paint, and cigarette, cigar, pipe, and marijuana smoke. There are also many toxic chewables that a curious cockatiel may ingest. These include but are not limited to: toxic plants, (partial list to follow), and items that contain heavy metals, (lead, zinc, or cadmium), such as stained glass decorations, old paint, costume jewelry, curtain weights fishing weights, wine and champagne bottle foil, coins, duct tape, twist ties, solder, pencils and chalks, some cage paint, and galvanized wire. If you think that your bird has eaten any of these things you need to call your vet right away.

Here’s the toxic plant list I promised you: Amaryllis, Aloe Vera, Apple (seeds), Apple Leaf Croton, Apricot (pit), Asparagus Fern, Autumn Crocus, Avocado (fruit and pit), Azalea, Baby’s Breath, Bird of Paradise, Bittersweet, Branching Ivy, Buckeye, Buddhist Pine, Caladium, Calla Lily, Castor Bean, Ceriman, Charming Dieffenbachia, Cherry (seeds and wilting leaves), Chinese Evergreen, Christmas Rose, Cineraria, Clematis, Cordatum, Corn Plant, Cornstalk Plant, Croton, Cuban Laurel, Cutleaf Philodendron, Cycads, Cyslamen, Daffodil, Devil’s Eye, Dieffennbachia, Dracasna Palm, Dumb Cane, Easter Lily, Elaine, Elephant Ears, Emerald Feather, English Ivy, Exotica Perfection, Fiddle-leaf Fig, Florida Beauty, Foxglove, Fruit Salad Plant, Geranium, German Ivy, Giant Dumb Cane, Glacier Ivy, Gold Dust Dracaena, Golden Pothos, Hahn’s English Ivy, Heartleaf Philodendron, Hurricane Plant, Indian Laurel, Indian Rubber Plant, Janet Craig Dracaena, Japanese Show Lily, Jerusalem Cherry, Kalanchoe, Lacy Tree Philodendron, Lily of the Valley, Madagascar Dragon Tree, Marble Queen, Marijuana, Mexican Breadfruit, Miniature Croton, Mistletoe, Morning Glory, Narcissus, Needlepoint Ivy, Nephthytis, Nightshade Oleander, Onion, Oriental Lily, Peace Lily, Peach ( witling leaves and pits), Pencil Cactus, Plumosa Fern, Poinsettia, Poison Ivy, Poison Oak, pothos, Precatory Bean, Preimrose, Red Emerald, Red Princess, Red-Margined Dracaena, Rhododendron, Ribbon Plant, Saddle leaf Philodendron, Sago Palm, Satin Pothos, Schefflera, Silver Pothos, Spotted Dumb Cane, String of Pearls, Striped Dracaena, Sweetheart Ivy, Swiss Cheese Plant, Taro Vine, Tiger Lily, Tomato Plant (green fruit, stem and leaves), Tree Philodendron, Tropic Snow Dieffenbachia, Variegated Philodendron, Variegated Rubber Plant, Warnechei Dacaena, and Yew.

Domestic pets such as dogs, cats, ferrets, and other birds as well as small children can hurt cockatiels. Cat bites/scratches are particularly dangerous to birds because of naturally occurring bacteria on cat teeth and nails. The bacteria multiply quickly in the bird’s bloodstream, resulting in septicemia, which can be fatal.

Common Health Concerns

As long as you keep your cockatiels environment clean, feed him a nutritious, varied diet, and take precautions against accidents, you are doing your part to ensure your birds health. However, they do get their share of illness (usually bacterial or fungal in origin), and injuries, usually as a result of “night frights”. A night fright is when a bird flails wildly in its cage, usually at night. Sometimes the reason for the scare is obvious, sometimes it is not. Keeping a night light on near the cage sometimes helps. The girls are notorious for reproductive problems. As a rule, the normal grey cockatiels are healthier than the fancy mutations.

So how do you know if your bird is sick? Every new bird that comes home from the pet sore or breeder should immediately be examined and have the necessary lab work done by an avian vet. Pet birds should be examined once yearly, with the appropriate lab work performed. If you think your bird is sick, you’ll need to call your vet. Bird illnesses are not self-limiting, that is they won’t just get better with time. Cockatiels are prey animals and as a result they have evolved to hide their illness very well. A cockatiel that acts sick will be the first one targeted by a predator as well as be picked on by its own flock mates. By the time you notice that your bird is acting sick, it has probably been sick for a while.

Signs of illness include any change to the stool (think back to what you’ve fed your bird in the last few hours), excessive yawning, not being able to perch, poor posture while perching (being hunched over), eyes squinted shut not eating, labored or audible breathing, or discharge from the eyes, mouth nostrils or vet. Some of these situations are more critical than others. Call your vet to decide what’s an emergency and what can wait a day or two.

The mature girls often have problems with excessive egg laying. This can start as early as one year of age. The problem with this is that some of them lay almost constantly and this depletes their bodies of calcium and other minerals. As the birds overall condition worsens, she can start laying soft-shelled eggs or have difficultly passing the eggs (known as egg binding). If you think your bird is straining to pass an egg you need to call your vet immediately. There are some things you can do to discourage your girl from wanting to lay eggs. Remove all shiny things that she can see her reflection in, remove any toys that she can back herself up against, move her cage furniture around, move the cage itself every few days, and increase the amount of darkness until she has 16 hours of uninterrupted dark and quiet time every day for at least 30 days. Also, make sure that she does not have access to paper to shred; no nest box, and you can put something “scary” but safe in the corner that she chooses to nest in, if applicable. Your vet can talk to you about spaying her or bi-weekly hormone injections.

Whenever you bring a new bird home, you absolutely must quarantine the new bird, no matter what the pet store or breeder promise you about the health of the new bird. There are a lot of highly contagious diseases that birds can carry. Some are bacterial or viral. There are some diseases that we can’t even test for and there are some that are fatal.

You should keep the new bird on the opposite end of the house as the established birds. When feeding and cleaning the cages, start with the established birds and take care of the new one last. Be sure to wash up very well between birds. You must be aware of outside contaminants as well. If you touch the birds at the pet store, you have to wash up before touching your own birds. Make sure that you take the new bird to your vet ASAP, even before you take him into your home, if possible. If you are ever unsure, please call your vet.

​Thanks, and feel free to call: (502) 241-4117.

Erica Mede, CVT

Natural History

There are 21 species of these crested birds found throughout Australia, New Zealand, and Indonesia.  The name cockatoo is believed to mean vice, so named for their powerful curved beaks.  These parrots are one of the most common large birds kept as pets and incidentally one of the most common relinquished to rescue groups.  These affectionate birds often become bounded to their owner and misidentify them as mates.  Due to their natural monogamy, this can become problematic in homes that aren’t equipped to handle the needs of such an attention demanding bird.  With proper care, these birds can become family companions for 30-80 years!

Home Safety

There are many things in the average home that pet cockatoos encounter that can be harmful and even deadly.  Some concerns are obvious such as open flames but others such as an air freshener can be easily overlooked.

Potential Household Dangers

  • Ceiling fans:  birds should never be out when a ceiling fan is on
  • Super clean windows and mirrors:  birds have a hard time identifying glass and mirrors!
  • Electrical wires:  dangling wires have the highest potential for issues due to birds desire to hang off or chew these “vines”
  • Aerosol sprays:  very harmful to the air sacs and lungs
  • Candles:  the smoke even in small amounts can be very harmful to the air sacs and lungs.  Avoid essential and exotic oils used to add scent to candles as well.
  • Non-stick cookware: over heated non-stick cookware releases fumes that are both highly toxic to birds and have been linked to MS in humans
  • Other pets:  this includes other birds, dogs, cats, etc.
  • Paint:  Paint from the walls of old homes may contain lead.
  • Jewelry:  Especially costume jewelry can contain zinc.

Diet and Feeding

Cockatoos are herbivores programmed naturally to eat off the ground and some species high in the canopy looking for nuts.  In the wild these birds primarily consume seeds, tubers, corm (which is not to be confused with corn), fruit, flowers, and insects as they meander by.  Due to their social eating habits, it may be best to feed cockatoos when the household is going to be near them or eating with them in the room.  One thing owners have noticed is their  tendency when they find something particularly delicious or have come home from an avian rescue is to gorge themselves on food. This is a natural behavior.  In the wild, during times of plenty, cockatoos will eat for hours on the best food they can find and store it in their crop for digestion later.

The ideal cockatoo diet consists of:

75% Pelleted Diet

▪   Harrison’s
▪   Zupreme
▪   Roudy Bush
▪   Lafeber


20% Natural Diet

▪   Vegetables
▪   Legumes
▪   Grains
▪   Fruit


5%Treats

▪   Seeds
▪   Nuts
▪   Table Scraps

Remember, all conversions to different diets must be made gradually and care must be taken to monitor food intake as well as weight.

Unsafe Foods:

  • Chocolate
  • Caffeine (soda, tea, coffee, etc)
  • Avocado
  • Shelled peanuts (these can contain alfatoxins on the shell)
  • Potato skins (these can contain solanine)

Enclosure

With cockatoos, the bigger the enclosure the better!  These birds are very active in the wild and need to have ways to relieve their natural energy in the home.  Outdoor aviaries are strongly encouraged for their immense energy!  However, this isn’t always possible in the home setting and an enclosure of at least 24 inches (2 feet) deep, 48 inches (4 feet) wide, and 48 inches (4 feet) tall are strongly recommended at the very least.  Bars should be spaced 1 to 1.5 inches apart depending on the size of the species (excluding cockatiels which really aren’t covered in this care sheet).  California King Cages are very popular among Moluccan and Umbrella cockatoo owners.  It is incredibly important to make sure that the cage is not constructed of any form of zinc, lead, or galvanized metal as this can cause life threatening toxicity!

Perches should be placed at various heights throughout the enclosure with the softer perch being the highest as this is where most parrots prefer to sleep.  Toys should consist of soft wood tree branches, rope toys, cardboard toys, wooden toys, and leather (vegetable tanned only!).  Anything that can be picked up with their feet are immediately appreciated as cockatoos love to manipulate and use items!

Lighting

These birds, unlike most parrots, are not early risers!  They will sleep in until the sun is up unlike other parrots who will wake up at dawn or just before.  Due to this unique behavior, it is important that cockatoo rooms are well lit and offered natural sun light as well.  However, never place a bird cage directly in front of a window.  During the day the sun through the window can easily over heat a parrot.  Ideally, the light cycle should be 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness.  In reproductive females, this time may have to be decreased to 8-10 hours of daylight depending on the severity of the hormonal issues.  Consult your veterinarian or behaviorist before making changes to the light cycle.

Behavior
           
These birds are very vocal!  Being able to identify their vocalizations can help an owner understand what their bird is trying to communicate:

  • Normal:  Loud and harsh sounding
  • Eating:  Soft growls
  • Threatening:  Hiss
  • Morning and Early Evening:  Loud short lived squawking for 1-5 minutes (calling to the flock).  This is a sign of high spirits but it will get LOUD !
  • Screaming:  This is not a normal behavior.  In the wild, this behavior occurs during fear. Many behaviorists have found that this occurs often when there is no one home for long hours of the day.  A day at work with no one home is too long for a cockatoo to be alone!  They are very heavy into their flock mentality and will view household members as their flock.  However, if this behavior goes uncorrected it can become a stereotypical behavior and will be difficult to remove.

Cockatoos tend to communicate not only vocally but also with their crest.  It is important to note the surroundings before an attempt to interpret body language.

  • Raised Crest:  Displaying for a mate, defending a territory, calling to the flock, curiosity, excitement, fear, frustration, or a warning that a bite will follow soon!
  • Lowered Crest:  Calmness, friendliness, or approachable

   
Most owners will purchase these birds as young birds under a year or two old.  At this stage they are incredibly affectionate and loving.  As these birds start to reach maturity (past 5 years old) their behavior tends to change and during this teenage stage is when most cockatoos are relinquished to rescue organizations.  Moluccan and Umbrella cockatoos are the most represented in this scenario!  These very sensitive birds go through a time in their life where they act out and can sometimes become aggressive towards owners.  This is not necessarily a permanent issue!

In the wild, these birds are raised in the nest and stick close to the flock and their parents during their adolescence, very similar to humans.  When these parrots begin to mature and sexual hormones start to surge, these birds will go from the loving overly affectionate birds to trying to drive away their parents.   This is normal behavior and to be expected.  It is akin to a teenage human trying to leave the nest.  This stage, however, can be very trying for cockatoo owners, and especially first time parrot owners.  As the hormones settle down with maturity, the cockatoo may bond with owners strongly again, sometimes bonding to a new person in the household, as their potential mate.  Issues may arise occasionally if the owner fosters this mate relationship which can lead to aggression of the bird towards other members of the household.  Working with a bird behaviorist at this point may be extremely beneficial and prevent frustration on the end of the owner and the bird.

Destruction is often a large problem with these birds.  This is not meant to be a malicious act but is simply in their nature!  These super intelligent and curious birds require owners to constantly think on their toes and out of the box to create enrichment and mental stimulation.  Providing branches to chomp, ropes to climb, toys to groom/crush/throw/shred, toys that can be picked up with their feet, and mechanical puzzles is just the beginning of their daily enrichment.  These birds also seem to respond to music and studies have shown that they can identify a beat and move with it. Yes, cockatoos CAN dance!  Dancing with your bird to music can be wonderful bonding but take care that you are not handling a potentially overstimulated bird as this can lead to accidental bites.

Feather picking is another common concern with Umbrellas and Moluccans again being the primary offenders.  Rose Breasted cockatoos are another species that frequently mutilate their feathers.  There are several beliefs about the cause of this issue including inappropriate intense bonding to owners, phobic behavior, boredom, anxiety, etc.  An avian behaviorist and a veterinarian (to correct any potential underlying medical issues) is the best way to help a feather picking cockatoo.  To help prevent boredom induced feather destruction, toys meant to simulate preening are highly recommended and often cherished.  Feather destruction quickly turns into a stereotypical behavior and can become impossible to extinguish.  Consulting an avian behaviorist can make the difference!

Biting, high pitched screaming, and feather destruction are often all signs of a bored and lonely bird but they can also be signs of a medical concern.  Any change in a cockatoo’s behavior out of the blue warrants a veterinary exam!

Grooming

Cockatoos, like all parrots, require a certain level of grooming on a rather frequent basis.  Grooming can be a rewarding bonding moment.  For grooming such as beak and nail trims, these are often best left to veterinary professionals as this can be detrimental to the bird if done incorrectly and is often very stressful on the bird as well.

  • Bathing:  Cockatoos can be very comical in their bathing habits and other can take their bathing very seriously.  In the wild, these birds may hang upside down over water, some may flutter through wet leaves, some may full out bath in a puddle, while others fly in rain storms to rinse themselves clean.  With the amount of feather debris and down powder that these birds create, bathing options should be offered daily or every other day at least.
  • Pedicure:  The nails of these birds can become long and often sharp.  To keep proper length and to help flatten out the tips to prevent accidental injury to owners, a pedicure is recommended as needed.  Typically, for most birds this becomes a 3-6 month routine.  Some may need it more often.
  • Beak Trim:  Beaks are the hands and thumbs that birds don’t have.  Proper maintenance of the beak can become difficult in captivity.  Beak trims, especially when there is a malocclusion or deformity, should be completed by a veterinary professional.  Typically, birds may not need this done or will need it once a year.  Some birds need it more often.
  • Preening:  Birds have a hard time preening their heads and neck, especially when new feathers are growing in.  Normally, in the wild, these birds would have a mate or other flock members to help groom them.  In captivity, they require assistance from owners.  This is an exceptional bonding experience!  Older birds, or injured birds, may have trouble reaching tail feathers or feathers growing in on their backs as well.
  • Wing Trims:  Wing trims are performed to prevent birds from flying with altitude.  This is NOT meant to prevent a bird from flying all together!

Veterinary Services to Consider​

  • Annual Exams:  Cockatoos should have an annual exam performed to check the health status of your pet as well as establish a relationship with an avian vet that can be used in future emergencies and/or for long term geriatric health care.  An annual exam should consist of a fecal analysis and blood work.
  • Infectious Disease:  Testing for diseases such as Psittacosis (which can be contracted by humans), Avian Borna virus (PDD), and Psittacine Beak and Feather disease (PBFD) are important in new birds being introduced to your home or flock.  Young birds may benefit from Polyoma testing as well too.  Talk with one of our veterinarians for more information on these viruses!
  • Grooming:  Grooming is ideally performed by a knowledgeable professional for health and safety reasons.

​Thank you for giving us the opportunity to provide helpful service to you and your pet. If you have any questions, give us a call at (502) 241-4117.

Converting your bird to a pelleted diet is not always quick or easy.  When given free choice most birds will go for the fattier seed diet, especially if that is what they are familiar with.  However, that doesn’t mean converting cannot or should not be done – pelleted diets are overall a more nutritionally balanced and a healthier option.  So here are a few tips to help make the process less daunting:

First, while we do recommend a pelleted diet there are a few circumstances in which you should not attempt conversion.  If your bird is sick, or experiencing a stressful change in environment, please wait until the issues are resolved and start converting at your doctor’s recommendation.  Throughout the process monitor your bird’s weight and feces.  Check with your doctor for a range of safe weight loss.

The method of conversion that we at Chicago Exotics recommend is the “Meal Time” method.  Offer your bird only the pelleted diet for the majority of the day.  For 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the evening (the “Meal Times”) offer the preferred seed diet.  At all other times there should only be pellets available.  Make sure to use the same bowls for both seed and pellets to make the experience as familiar as possible.  As with all conversion methods, regularly clean the cage and monitor stool.  If stool starts to appear dark or tarry this is a sign that they are not eating enough.  In this situation allow longer meal times with seed access.

Another common form of conversion is a gradual change which can be tried if the “Meal Time” method does not work for your bird.  Start by making 25% of your birds diet the desired pellet.  Monitor your bird’s food intake and weight. Gradually increase the proportion of pellets.  Between stages make sure to clean out the cage regularly and monitor the stool.  Small or very dark fecals can be an indication that they are not eating enough.
This method works best for birds that are inquisitive and likely to try a new food.  If it doesn’t seem to be working you can back up a step in the gradual changes for a week and try again.

Now, as I mentioned the “Meal Time” or gradual conversion method should be your first and primary conversion methods, but there are some other methods that can be used along with either method to help encourage your bird.

1)  Change up the environment

As we said earlier you don’t want too much change, and if your bird stresses easily this is not a method you should try.  However; sometimes moving around the furniture, the food dishes, or even the cage can encourage new behaviors including feeding.  Many birds will instinctively eat from the highest location.  You can try moving the food dish up or putting in a few dishes with the higher dish containing more pellets.

2)  Use a mirror or white paper

Birds are naturally social and respond to reflections.  This is why we discourage mirrors as toys because many birds will actually respond to the reflection as another bird or potential mate.  However it also means you can tap into that instinct to encourage pellet eating.  Try offering pellets on a mirrored surface.  This can help to draw the bird’s attention to the food and encourage eating either socially or competitively.  Sometimes a bright white sheet of paper offset against bright pellets can work similarly to draw a bird’s attention.

3) Eat with your bird

You are the greatest source of social interaction for your bird.  If your bird is a social eater, try pretending to eat pellets with your bird or offering them as treats during social times.

4) Make it more appealing

Try moistening the pellets with a small amount of sugar free fruit juice.  Gradually decrease the amount of fruit juice you add.  Make sure not to leave these pellets in the cage for more than an hour or so to avoid bacterial growth.

​5) Dust the seeds

​Crush pellets and sprinkle them over seeds or other readily eaten food.  This can give the bird a small taste for the pellets and make them a more familiar flavor

by David J. Kersting, D.V.M

Feather picking can be one of the most frustrating conditions that a bird owner will experience. This condition is also an extreme frustration to the veterinarian because of the complexity of the possible reason or reasons that creates it. Many times feather picking can be caused by some medical conditions. A full medical work-up by the veterinarian will be the first step that you will want to take to evaluate a cause. Once a medical reason for the feather picking is ruled out completely you will need to evaluate the bird’s environment to see if this could be behavioral or habitual. At this point it will be recommended to set up an appointment with a behaviorist that has experience with this problem. There are some things that an owner can do at home to evaluate some basic management problems that could be stimulating the feather picking.

The first management problem many birds have is the placement of their cage. We have always felt that a bird needed to be in the center of all the attention but with a nervous bird and some specific species of birds this is not going, to be recommended. Parrots have a natural “Prey” instinct, which is why it is important to have the cage in the proper place. The “Prey – Predator” instinct is responsible for the parrot being more visually stimulated then other animals. The cage should be in the corner of a room so that the parrot has only two sides to worry about instead of four. Also the cage should not be in the main area of traffic in the house, as this will encourage more nervous and defensive behavior. An owner needs to be aware if any animals in the house that may be jumping on the cage or stalking the bird from outside the cage because these activities can certainly make them very fearful. Also keeping them right in front of a window can be frightening for a highly stimulated animal who is trying to nap especially if there is a lot of wildlife activity: such as owls or hawks flying by. Remember that owls and hawks are a natural predator to your parrot. If the parrot is too visually stimulated, he will not be able to rest or relax. The reason we want to take these steps, such as keeping them out of windows, doorways, and from the center of the room, is to give the bird plenty of security.

Sleep is another basic management problem that we seem to have with our parrots. In the case of a bird that is feather picking, it is imperative to get adequate sleep. Each of our parrots should be getting at least 12 hours of sleep daily. Sleep is defined as continuous sleep from the time we put them to bed until the time they are uncovered in the morning. Naptime is never considered part of the 12 hours of sleep. The other mistake that we make as an owner is the cage needs to be in a quiet and dark area. If the cage is covered in the living area with the television still on, a dark and quiet area cannot be accomplished. The bird will still see flashes of light as well as hear some loud and scary noises, which will keep him or her from sleeping undisturbed. Sleep is important simply to reduce anxiety and nervousness that can be a result of the lack of a good night’s sleep. If for some reason the 12 hours of sleep cannot be accomplished in the room where the cage is, I would recommend either moving the cage to a separate room or have a sleeping cage in a separate room.

A third basic management problem is bathing. Bathing your parrot should, if at all possible, be done on a daily basis. There are many great benefits from doing this for every bird, especially on a bird that is picking or chewing his or her feathers. A significant amount of a parrot’s time is spent grooming himself or herself. When picking or feather chewing begins, this can be a result of a dry skin condition, poor feather condition, or poor grooming habits that the parrot develops from not being bathed. There are many parrots that do not enjoy getting a bath. For those cases, alternative methods can be tried. Some parrots like to be misted, some like to take a shower, and others do not mind a bath in a sink or a bowl that has been offered them. Remember we would want to find the least stressful method of bathing to reduce nervousness and anxiety and not create it.

Toys can be another basic management problem. It is very important to give your parrot’s beak other things to do than to pick or chew on its own feathers. Some toys are specifically made for the feather-chewing parrot such as “Shredders”, whiskbrooms, ‘Miss Millet Holders’, and pacifiers. These toys were made to resemble the texture of a feather shaft to encourage the parrot to preen or chew and destroy the toy instead of its own feathers. It is recommended for all parrots to have at least 4-5 toys in their cage at all times. It will also help to move the toys around the cage and to rotate new toys in the cage on a regular basis. This will stimulate more interest in playing and accepting new things in their environment. If a parrot seems nervous about a new toy being placed in the cage investigate the reason. Many times the toy can be too large or a certain-color can frighten a bird for a particular reason. First, try leaving it out on a table a few feet from the cage. Then slowly over the next few days move it closer to the cage and see if the parrot responds more positively to it. If the parrot still appears frightened or nervous, I would recommend going to a different toy all together. Some owners have never introduced or continued giving new toys because the parrot seemed to not like or play with the toys. If this seems to be the situation, I would try a new method of introducing your new toy or make sure that you are rotating the toys properly. Make sure that the toys are picked appropriately for the size of the parrot and keep in mind what would be something fun as opposed to boring. Always remember that if the parrot chews up a toy quickly, this means it is a great toy and either continue buying more of this type or make things that are similar. The greatest expense will be to keep the parrot stocked with toys.

A fifth management problem that can result in feather picking is incorrect perching. Correct perching is important not only for the health of your parrot’s feet, but if the perching is too large or too small your parrot could feel insecure and only be more anxious and upset in general. African Gray parrots have a terrible time with balancing with their small feet and large bodies and can fall easily where other species may not have as much of a problem. Baby parrots of any species will be very clumsy until they have achieved better balance and dexterity in their feet. This act of falling and sometimes injuring themselves can create high anxiety, which can be the beginning of some of the picking and chewing. A parrot that is falling a lot can break feathers, leaving broken or rough edges, which attracts more chewing. When picking out your perching, be sure to buy them according to the size feet that your parrot has. Keep in mind to use comfort perches, square, round, wild walks, and natural perching to have a good variety of perches. Also, soft perches like ropes, platforms, and happy huts can be used to sleep on, so remember to put them up high to encourage your bird to sleep there. Make sure that they can easily get from one perch to the next so that the footing is very confident and they do not fall.

The final basic management problem is rewarding the parrot for picking or chewing. One of the most important things we can do as an owner of a feather picker is not to reward the parrot for this act. Telling the parrot that they are ugly without their feathers or telling them to stop as they are picking their feathers will only stimulate them to do the act. Parrots, like young children, are always looking for attention from their “parents”, whether it’s positive or negative they do NOT care. Thus, because their parent noticed what they did and gave them a response, this encouraged them to repeat the behavior in order to get more attention. So, instead of making note of the behavior distract the bird from that activity (picking/chewing) by playing with one of their toys, pretending to eat some of the bird’s food or doing something that diverts the parrots attention away from the unwanted behavior.

We want to evaluate the basic management issues first. Once those issues are addressed, we want to start breaking down the other possible reasons that they are picking or chewing. Are they doing this at night or during the day? Are they doing this in front of us or when we are not in the room? Does your parrot seem nervous around someone in the family or has there been something newly introduced in the room where he lives? We need to understand the reason that he or she is so nervous and anxious before we can get the picking under control. Hopefully with this understanding and improving the management at home, we can have a happier and healthier parrot.

​Reprinted with permission from the American Cockatiel Society.

Erica Mede, CVT

(African Grey Parrots and Other Parrots)

Parrots have been kept in captivity for generation as a fashionable home accessory.  Recent generations have kept these feathered mimics for their intelligence and their companionship.  The longevity of most species allows owners and birds to have a deeper more familial connection with one another.  It is advised in many instances to have a written legal document in which you clearly state where you wish your avian companion to reside if something were to happen.There are so many wonderful avian rescues through out the United States that have parrots waiting for new homes.  Adopted parrots can be a challenge at times but the reward of trust and companionship is frequently worth even the worst screaming fits from your new adoptee.  Chicago Exotics firmly supports the adoption of birds and a staff member can provide you with a list of different rescues that can match you with your perfect companion.   If you want to raise a parrot from a young age there are numerous breeders for a variety of different species.  Chicago Exotics has worked with many reputable breeders and the staff is always happy to help you get in contact with one.

Natural History

African Grey Parrots (Psittacus spp.), Amazon Parrots (Amazona spp.), Pionus Parrots (Pionus spp.), and Eclectus Parrots (Eclectus roratus) are all commonly kept psittacines that come from a variety places around the world including Africa, South America, and Australia respectively.  All four species come from rather lush tropical areas where they fly great distances to roost, forage, and interact with other flock members.   Due to their natural behavior, they are more prone to obesity if not exercised enough in captivity.

These parrots are highly sociable and intelligent, often communicating great distances with vocalizations such as calls and songs.  Parrots also communicate through body language using signals and various display behaviors.  Very often, the behaviors that owners see as problematic stem from a very primitive instinct and have a specific meaning to that parrot.  It is advisable to research your parrots natural behaviors prior to acquisition or even as problems arise.  It is never to late correct a behavior.  There are various references listed in the “Suggested Reading and Reference” section to help you as well.

Description

The plumage varies between the species with colors from grey to bright green found in the feather color spectrum depending on the parrot species and in some cases such as the Eclectus, the gender.  All parrots have hooked maxillas (top of the beak) that fit over the hooked mandibles (lower part of beak) that house a thick muscular tongue.  All parrots have zygodactyls prehensile toes that allow them to hang upside down and hang sideways.

Housing

The cage should at least be large enough for the wings to be fully extended without touching the sides of the cage.  The larger the cage, the better it is for avian companions.  All birds require “play time” outside of their cage where they can interact with their perceived flock (you!).   It may be beneficial to leave a radio, TV, or video on for your parrot to listen to.  This stimulation will help prevent boredom and any sense of flock abandonment your bird may feel while you are away.   Cages should have vertical bars preferably made from stainless steel.  Some home made cages are made of hardware cloth which should be avoided due to the possibility of zinc and lead exposure.  A grated bottom will prevent the parrot from contacting its feces and old food.  An excellent substrate to use under the grate is newspaper or paper towel.  Both are inexpensive and easily cleaned while allowing you to visually access the parrots feces.

Perches should be made of various materials and available in a variety of sizes appropriate for your parrot.  Perches that are too large will prevent proper foot positioning that will interfere with the parrots ability to “lock” their toes for secure perching.  Perches that are too small however, place stress on the feet and can result in pressure sores.  Harwood and rope perches are wonderful additions to any cage.  Soft wood and cement perches should be avoided as soft woods can have sap or resin leftover and cement perches frequently leave pressure sores and abrasions on feet.  If cement or sandpaper perches are used, always have other perches for the parrot to switch to.

Toys are a must for parrots.  If your parrot does not play with the toys you have provided you will have to reassess and replace the toys.  Some birds prefer wood, others plastic, some only shredable toys.  Be patient and take care to note what toy your parrot responds to.  Play is an important part of a companion parrots life for stimulation.  Rotation of your toy stock is recommended every month or so.  Take care to remove broken pieces from the cage.

Many researchers believe that UVB (ultra violet radiation B) is required for indoor birds to correctly synthesize vitamin D3 and to promote proper preening behavior.  These lights are ideal especially for egg laying hens (female birds) and African Grey Parrots in general are prone to hypocalcaemia (calcium deficiency) and would benefit from an UVB light.  The light must remain on for at least 6 hours a day.

The typical light period for these parrots is 10 hours of light to 14 hours of darkness.  The darkness however may be increased in hens that are overly reproductive.   The temperature in the room should be comfortable for a person to wear a t-shirt as a rule of thumb.  It is important to prevent any drafts from reaching your parrot as this can chill your bird and lead to potential health problems.  It is advisable for all parrots to have their cages covered at night.  This helps the bird feel secure as well as keeps the cage dark for maximum sleep.

It is important for your parrot’s mental health and physical well being to bathe daily.  This preening behavior will keep their plumage in good condition allowing for better insulation and healthy skin.  Bathing can be done in a shallow dish, a sink, shower, or with a gentle mister always using warm water.  Most birds love to bath on their own while others prefer to be sprayed gently.  If your bird does not enjoy bathing in one style, try another.  Remember, your bird should be completely dry before they are put to bed.

Diet

Ideally, all companion parrots should be maintained on a formulated pelleted diet to maintain good health.  In the pet stores however, seed is the staple for most parrot diets.  Conversion from an all or mostly seed diet to a pelleted diet can be difficult.  Patience and determination with a little bit of stubbornness will go a long way during the conversion process.   Your parrot should never lose more than 10% of its body weight during conversion.  If you see your bird is loosing too much weight, return the bird to the previous diet and revise your conversion method.  A Chicago Exotics staff member can give you a conversion handout and moral support as well as technical tips.  A consumption of at least 50% of the pelleted diet during feedings is considered a winning situation.  There are a variety of different pelleted diets available.  Currently, Chicago Exotics recommends and sells Harrison ’s and has samples of both Harrison’s and Zupreem parrot diets.Supplementation with dark leafy greens and other vegetables is a welcome addition to any diet for most parrots.  Many parrots view fresh produce as a stimulating play thing as well.  Fruits should be limited due to the high sugar content which can cause obesity, runny stool, and mouth infections.  Treats such as honey sticks should be avoided but healthy treats such as Lafeber Nutriberries and AviCakes are wonderful for bonding and training.  Vitamin and mineral supplements should not be put into the water.  The parrot should have fresh, clean water available at all times.  Vitamin and mineral supplements may be used under the supervision of a veterinarian as these can lead to toxicity (over supplementation) or deficiency.  Generally, if your parrot is consuming at least 50% of pelleted diet additional vitamin and mineral supplementation is not required or advisable.Table scraps can be fed to your parrot during meals.  Parrots enjoy eating socially and the sharing of food with their flock.  Never feed your bird chocolate, avocado, raisins/grapes (especially if your bird feather picks), or caffeine.  Feeding an inappropriate diet can lead to an over weight parrot.

Common Health Problems

  • Feather Picking – This is one of the most common behavioral problems brought into the veterinary clinic.  There are numerous reasons why a parrot feather picks including boredom, pain, and pruritic (itchy) skin.  A visit to your veterinarian or Chicago Exotics for a full work up to eliminate causes is strongly recommended.  Sometimes, behavioral consultation is required as well.
  • Hypocalcaemia – A common problem in overly reproductive hens and African Grey Parrots.  Feeding foods higher in calcium helps but may not be enough.  Look for signs of weakness, swollen abdomen from possible egg retention, shaking, falling from perch, and seizure.  This can led to a serious condition called egg retention where the eggs are not released from the body.  Call Chicago Exotics or your veterinarian immediately if you notice these symptoms.
  • Hepatic Lipidosis – This disease is often called, “liver disease” and can result in over grown beaks and nails in parrots.  Typically brought on by obesity and high fat diets such as seed only diets.  See Amazon pictured above this section.  Conversion to pellets will be required as well as a visit to Chicago Exotics or your veterinarian as this can be life threatening.
  • Upper Respiratory Disease – There are numerous causes of respiratory problems.  Some are more serious than others but all must be addressed by your veterinarian.   Signs to look for are trouble breathing, abnormal sounds when breathing, open mouth breathing, decreased appetite, nasal discharge, and lethargy.
  • PBFD – Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease Virus – This is a chronic disease with signs of poor feather quality, feather loss, beak deformities and eventual death.  Although an infected adult can live many years, neonates and immunosuppressed birds can die from exposure to this virus.  There is no cure but medical management and supportive care can be attempted by your veterinarian.
  • PDD – Proventricular Dilatation Disease – This is a fatal disease commonly associated with weight loss despite a ravenous appetite, depression, chronic regurgitation, undigested food in feces, crop impaction and abdominal distension.  This disease can be passed from bird to bird and is ultimately fatal.  Call your veterinarian or Chicago Exotics immediately if these symptoms are seen.

​Suggested Reading and References

  • Avian Viruses: Function and Control  –  Branson W. Ritchie, DVM, PhD
  • Behavior of Exotic Pets  –  Tynes
  • BSAA Manual of Exotic Pets – 5th edition –  Anna Meredith and Cathy Johnson-Delaney
  • Tail Feathers Forum  –  www.tailfeathersnetwork.com
  • The Perch  –  www.theperch.net
  • The African Grey Parrot Handbook  –  Mattie Sue Athan
  • Amazon Parrot  –  Gayle Souck
  • The Second Hand Parrot  –  Mattie Sue Athan
  • The Parrot Problem Solver  –  Barbara Heidenrich

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to provide helpful service to you and your pet. If you have any questions, give us a call at (502) 241-4117.

Here are several links to informative videos on how to hand feed Baby birds:

I will continue posting good videos as I find them!

Listed below are some nutritious foods for you to incorporate into your family member’s diet.  Nutrition plays a major role in the health and longevity of any animal.  Keep in mind that moderation and variety are the keys to offering a complete, well-balanced diet.

Vegetable/Fruit            Calcium              Vitamin A
Broccoli Leaves            Excellent            Excellent
Mustard greens            Excellent            Excellent
Turnip Greens              Excellent            Excellent
Collard Greens             Excellent            Excellent
Kale                              Excellent            Excellent
Swiss chard                  Excellent            Excellent
Endive                          Good                 Good
Escarole                       Good                 Good
Dandelion greens         Good                 Excellent
Beet greens                 Good                 Excellent
Cilantro                        Poor                  Good
Parsley                        Poor                   Good
Mache                         Poor                   Good
Cress                           Poor                   Good
Romaine                      Poor                   Fair
Boston                        Poor                    Fair
Carrot                         Poor                   Good
Yam                            Poor                  Good
Pumpkin                     Poor                  Good
Papaya                       Poor                  Good
Mango                        Poor                  Good
Apricot                        Poor                  Good
Red Pepper               Poor                  Good

Katy A. Parr, DVM

Viral diseases

Beak and Feather Disease

Beak and Feather Disease is caused by a virus which attacks the beaks and feathers of parrots.  There is no cure for this disease, and it is spread through the feather dust and bodily fluids via inhalation, ingestion, or contact with open wounds.  Infected birds may have abnormally formed feathers and beaks which get worse with each molt, or may have no symptoms at all.  Affected birds often have additional bacterial or fungal infections as a result of the beak and feather abnormalities. Birds infected as babies usually die, while birds infected as adults may die, or become carriers and develop disease later in life.  Beak and feather disease is diagnosed through samples of blood or damaged feathers. Birds are eventually euthanised due to the severity of the deformations produced by the disease.

Papillomavirus/Herpes Virus

Papillomas are wart-like growths which are usually found in the mouth and vent, but can also affect the face and internal organs. They can still be seen from time to time but are less common now that many birds are captive bred instead of wild caught.  Both Herpes virus and Papillomavirus have been implicated as the cause for this disease, which is lifelong, and can have varying effects on the bird. In some birds the growths become large enough to block the normal function of the mouth or vent, and require surgical trimming.  In some cases, papillomas can lead to cancers of the liver and pancreas, and eventually death.
PDD (Proventricular Dilatation Disorder)

The Bornavirus which causes PDD was only very recently identified.   The disease is latent, meaning that the virus may be present for many years before signs of disease develop.  The virus attacks nerves, especially those of the digestive system, so signs vary from vomiting and passing whole seed in the stools, to wobbling or seizures.  There is currently no cure for PDD, so it is eventually fatal, but some medications may help improve quality and length of life.
Polyoma

Polyomavirus is very contagious and is most commonly a problem in breeding colonies, especially in budgies.  Signs of this disease may include abnormal feathers, bruising, distended abdomen, or sudden death.  It is spread via feather dust and bodily fluids which are aerosolized, thus it is very difficult to decontaminate the environment.  There is no treatment, but a vaccine is available for prevention. This vaccine is usually recommended in baby birds, breeders, or those exposed frequently to other birds from outside the home (e.g. at bird fairs).

Bacterial Diseases

Psittacosis

This disease is caused by the bacterium Chlamydophila psittaci which is contagious to people.   It can cause respiratory disease and liver disease, so sick birds may have a variety of signs of illness ranging from sneezing, runny nose, eye discharge, and conjunctivitis, to diarrhea, yellow urates, vomiting, and lethargy.  However, birds can be carriers of the disease and never show clinical signs. Psittacosis is spread through contact with body fluids from infected animals or people, but it is usually not fatal and is curable with antibiotics.

Gram Negative Bacteria

There are many steps to identify bacteria.  One step in identification is a procedure called Gram staining, which separates bacteria into two large groups called “gram-positive” bacteria and “gram negative” bacteria.  These are very broad groups, and do not tell us the exact species of the bacteria, but help the veterinarian to determine the general health of the bird’s respiratory or intestinal tract.  Birds should normally have mostly (90%-100%) gram positive bacteria, while cats, dogs, reptiles and people can normally have many gram negative bacteria.  If gram negative bacteria are detected in the nasal sinus, crop smear or fecal smear of your bird, your veterinarian may culture the area in question and prescribe antibiotics and/or pro-biotics as is appropriate.

Fungal Disease

Yeast

Yeast infections in birds most commonly affect the digestive system, and may overgrow due to a variety of conditions.  Baby birds often get yeast infections of the crop or stool because they are fed warm, soft foods which are a perfect environment for yeast growth.  Adult birds that dunk their food in water, or have a diet high in sugar may also get yeast infections.  Birds who have yeast infections may or may not show signs of infections such as vomiting, scratching the beak, or diarrhea.  These infections are usually easily treated with anti-fungal medications.

Aspergillosis

Normal healthy birds are not usually prone to aspergillosis; however individuals with weakened immune systems, such as those with nutritional deficiencies, are more susceptible.  Aspergillosis is caused by the fungus Aspergillus sp. which is naturally found in the environment.  You may have seen Aspergillus sp. growing on rotten fruits and vegetables, stale bread, or as a component of mildew in your home.  It is so common in the environment that it is impossible to completely eradicate.  You can however reduce your bird’s exposure to it by promptly removing any uneaten soft, moist foods from your bird’s cage, and routine cleaning of the cage.

Aspergillosis most commonly causes respiratory disease, and is often not noticed until the pet is very sick.   Common signs include sneezing, nasal discharge, general
weakness, inability to tolerate exercise or handling, open mouth breathing, and increased breathing effort.  Severely affected birds often need to be hospitalized.  Blood tests can be done to confirm whether a bird has aspergillosis, but diagnosis is often difficult and may require endoscopy.  Treatment is usually with liquid medications and nebulizations (aerosol medication) for several months.  Some birds recover from aspergillosis, but many do not.

Parasites

Giardia and other protozoa

Protozoa are microscopic parasites, which can cause diarrhea, malodorous stools, feather-picking, or even no signs at all.  It is usually spread by oral contact with infected feces. In birds, flagyllated protozoans can be very difficult to clear completely, and may go away for some time, then return in times of stress.  Although this can be a frustrating infection, it is still important to treat it to keep your bird as healthy as possible.

Mites

The most commonly diagnosed mites in birds are the “Scaly Leg Mites” or Knemidocoptes sp., which is most often found in budgies and canaries.  These mites burrow into and around the beak, and under the skin on legs, causing a spongy, scaly appearance.   Canaries may also have tracheal mites, or Sternostoma tracheacolum, which can cause respiratory disease. Treatment for both types of mites consists of a series of injections which kill the mites.

Conclusion

While not all diseases and treatments are included here, these are some of the most common ones.  Contact your Chicago Exotics veterinarian if you have more questions or notice any unusual signs in your pet bird.  Having your bird examined yearly by an avian veterinarian increases the likelihood of detecting any of these diseases early, before they become a severe condition for your bird.

​Thank you for giving us the opportunity to provide helpful service to you and your pet. If you have any questions, give us a call at (502) 241-4117.

Kristin Claricoates, DVM

Animals sometimes eat inappropriate items that may have high levels of lead.  Things found around the house that may be high in lead include paint, linoleum, grease, lead weights, and lead shot.  Sometimes owners may also unintentionally feed plants that are contaminated by growing near smelters or if along roadsides.

If lead is ingested, it enters the body and eventually redistributes to the bones.  Depending on the calcium and iron levels, more or less lead may distribute to the bone.  Lead has a significant effect on antioxidant defenses, can cause immunosuppression, can cause defects in babies, toxic to the kidneys, and also toxic to the blood-making organs (mainly the bone marrow and lymph nodes).  Lastly, there can be bleeding in a part of the brain called the cerebellum which is associated with capillary damage caused by the lead.

How can you know if your pet has ingested lead?  Clinical signs can vary and can be pretty nonspecific, so if you are unsure if your pet has ingested lead, please bring your pet in to the hospital immediately.  Signs can sometimes appear as nervous system signs such as blindness, salivation, eyelid twitches, muscle tremors, and convulsions.  In low levels of lead poisoning, you can see constipation followed by diarrhea, incoordination, colic, and increases in sensitivity to stimuli.  In birds specifically, anorexia, wing and leg weakness, and anemia are the biggest signs.

How does the doctor know if my pet has ingested lead; how is that diagnosis made?  Typically, we will take radiographs (x-rays) of your pet.  Bright objects in the intestinal tract are suspicious for lead toxicity but not conclusive.  We will also recommend taking bloodwork, doing a heavy metal panel to see what possible material was ingested (as many metals can look alike and present similarly, but require different treatments), and getting urine.  These tests will tell us if this is a toxicity, how extensive the damage from this toxicity is, and if it is lead or another type of toxic material your pet has ingested.  Because the severity of the toxicity depends on how quickly you bring your pet in and how strong your pet’s chances are from recovering from this.​

Once my pet comes in what will we recommend?  In addition to the above mentioned tests, we will want to keep your pet in the hospital to try to stabilize your animal by managing the symptoms medically with fluids and medication to help slow the absorption of the lead if it is indicated.   Unfortunately, if tissue damage is extensive, especially to the nervous system, treatment may not be successful and quality of life should be assessed.  If the source of lead is still present, we will remove the source of lead surgically.  Also, a chelator to help remove lead from the body is important, and thiamine will be given to reduce the depositing of lead in the body.  Eliminating the exposure to lead is also important to prevent this from occurring in the future.  If your pet is having seizures, we may also administer tranquilizers to help control the convulsions.

Source
Blakley, Barry. “Overview of Lead Poisoning.” The Merck Veterinary Manual. Sept. 2013. Web.

Fresh and Natural Mash Diet
by Alicia McWatters, M.S.

We all want the best for our birds, and nutrition plays a vital role in their health, happiness, reproduction, and longevity. Whether we own birds for the pleasure of their companionship as pets, of for breeding and producing quality offspring, we must consistently provide them with the highest quality and freshest foods available.

First of all, we would like to say that we very strongly believe the best diet in the world for birds is a home-made diet of fresh foods and appropriate supplements. It is really not difficult to do correctly and efficiently, and the health rewards for the birds are immeasurable. If a commercial brand must be used we can purchase one without synthetic preservatives and additives, though an enzyme supplement is suggested to promote efficient digestion. Most importantly, a quality commercial brand is preferable to a homemade diet done incorrectly. If you are not going to take the time to prepare a fresh diet right, please don’t do it at all.

Birds have a high metabolic rate, therefore we recommend a diet rich in complex carbohydrates, followed by fats and protein which can be supplied by a cornucopia of foods. Natural nutritional supplements may also be added to your bird’s diet. Foods, which contain a high-water-content, such as fruits and vegetables are ideal and provide our birds with enzymes and other life-promoting elements. Raw foods, with their abundance of nutrients and enzymes, are what our birds are biologically adapted to, therefore the best results will be attained when offering them. Enzyme sare an important part of our bird’s diet and are destroyed under low heat, between 105-115 degrees F or above.  There are many types of enzymes at work in their bodies at all times. For example, they maintain proper metabolic function of their bodies, stimulate production of antibodies which fight infection, aid in the digestion of food and help to breakdown and remove toxins in the blood. They are substances which make life possible.  No vitamin, mineral, or hormone can do any work without the presence of enzymes, as they are responsible for all the body’s biochemical reactions. A bird’s digestive organs produce some enzymes endogenously. However, food (plant) enzymes are necessary for optimum health, therefore, fresh raw foods should form a large part of the diet.

Energy foods are high in calories and are the main source of a bird’s diet in the wild. The amount of nutrients required by an individual bird is influenced by species, sex, size, stress, illness/injury, environment, level of activity, hormonal status, type of diet consumed (its bioavailability), and nutritional status. Also, each bird is biochemically and genetically unique, therefore their dietary requirements may vary. Lifestyles of our birds should be a factor in the quantities of what we feed, and changes made when appropriate, for the various stages they encounter throughout their lives, such as growth, molting, and breeding

Have you ever wondered how much of what you were serving your birds was actually eaten? How many times have you found most of their food thrown about, picked at, and wasted on the ground or at the bottom of their cages?

We all know birds don’t have good manners at meal time and you never really know if they are getting all of the proper nutrition. The “mash” diet will alleviate any doubt as all ingredients are minced through a food processor with the idea being that the birds cannot select only a few favorite items, but would receive a wide range of nutrients with every beak full.

Preparing a fresh diet consisting of wholesome ingredients need not require a drastic adjustment in preparation. In fact, with the mash diet, preparation is done in advance at your convenience. This method of feeding eliminates the daily slicing and dicing of fruits and vegetables. We make up ten day worth for nearly twenty pairs, which takes about one and a half hours to complete. Then, serving is as simple as scooping out the correct amount for each bird or pair. You can modify this recipe for feeding only one bird.

To begin, all ingredients are put through the food processor briefly (with the exception of certain foods eaten readily) and then scooped into a 20 quart stainless steel pot for mixing. Note: remember to always place cover over pot in between adding an ingredient to prevent oxidation. The mash is then placed in air tight containers and stored in the freezer, but must be removed to the refrigerator for thawing well in advance (30-36 hours for a 5 up container). Scheduled feeding times are at 8:00am (mash) and 2:00pm (seed mixture), simulating the natural eating patterns of birds in the wild. The 8:00 am feeding provides them with enough to fill their crops throughout the morning hours. Although each pair is treated individually, about ½ cup per pair is the average (for medium-sized parrots). As you learn how much each bird or pair will eat in each time period the amount can be adjusted so that none is wasted. Any uneaten mash should be discarded after four to six hours to prevent spoilage, which if eaten, could cause a bacterial infection. Special care should be taken in this matter, particularly in the warmer months. These frequent feeding times will also allow you the opportunity to observe your birds often, which is very important in keeping you closely in tune to their overall health. Feeding times may vary and are adjusted to your schedule: these are guidelines only.

MASH INGREDIENTS;

  • Frozen organic vegetables – (corn, carrots, peas) 12 lbs Fresh organic vegetables – 1 lb parsley, 5 large tomatoes, 3 chayote (fed raw), 3 medium sweet potatoes or yams, 4 medium white potatoes (fed lightly steamed, skins included).
  • Bean mix – ( ½ cup each of the following beans and peas) black-eyed peas, pinto beans, kidney beans, adzuki beans, green and yellow split peas, garbanzo beans, black beans , soy beans, mung beans. (Rinse and drain well, soak in cold water 6 to 8 hours in refrigerator. After soaking they are boiled for 10 minutes, simmer for 20 minutes, using only enough water so that none is left after cooking, to preserve valuable vitamins).
  • Grains– (1/2 cup each, added to beans, soak, and boil) wheat berry, pearled barley, triticale, brown rice.
  • Organic greens – (fresh grown) comfrey and/or mustard greens. Comfrey (an herb), which provides vitamin A, B-complex, c & E; one of the few plants known to contain vitamin B-12, normally found only in animal protein foods. Up to 33% protein is contained in the leaves and it is high in minerals. Mustard greens are high in vitamins A, B, C, calcium and iron. Frilly-leafed and broad-leafed are available. (about one dozen large leaves are used).
  • Organic fruit – 5 large bananas, 5 large apples, 1 ½ lbs. of grapes fed whole, (1/4 cup strawberries or cranberries seasonally).
  • Seeds – (1/4 cup each) pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds, both provide an additional source of 8 “essential” amino acids which cannot be manufactured by a parrots body.
  • Nutritional supplements – ¼ cup powdered kelp (contains iodine, therefore helps to prevent thyroid disorders, such as goiter), ¼ cup blue green algae or alfalfa powder (aids in digestion, strengthens immune system, contains essential fatty acids, and is nutrient dense),  sprinkle of *Kyolic (garlic), *Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) and *Calcium Magnesium Liquid (* see below)

In addition, orange chunks, celery sticks, herbs, seedling grasses, ans shelled/unshelled almonds, are served regularly as well. Also, occasionally served is mashed hard-boiled egg with shell included (boiled 20 minutes), wholegrain wheat bread, and a “bird breeding/conditioning cornbread”, which is always eagerly consumed.

The above recipe can be used as a guide for a healthy diet. You may substitute an item for another equivalent food item; for instance, if a particular one is seasonally unavailable. Examples: collared or dandelion greens in place of comfrey, or zucchini in place of chayote. Some greens, such as spinach and beet greens contain calcium but the mineral is not well absorbed because of binding substances, called oxalates. The oxalates bind to the calcium and other minerals in the intestine and reduce the absorption of calcium along with these other valuable minerals. However, if your bird’s diet is sufficient in calcium, foods which contain oxalic acid, especially in the raw form, should not pose a problem if given in moderate amounts. It is also quite possible birds have the ability to break down these salts by the bacteria in their digestive tract.

*Kyolic ( garlic) can be sprinkled over the mash daily for its benefits in aiding digestion, stimulating the immune system, and keeping your bird’s resistant to infection and disease. We use Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) over the mash using a plastic squirt bottle. We use ½ tsp. for medium to large size birds, ¼ tsp. for smaller species. ACV is an immunity enhancer, its natural antibiotic action protects your birds from infections. It is rich in enzymes, potassium, and other important minerals, while also aiding in digestion and the assimilation of food. An organic non-distilled brand is recommended.

The high phosphorus ratio versus calcium inmost foods requires an increase in calcium through a quality supplement. The ratio of calcium to phosphorus, should be 2.5:1, including D3. Extra calcium is provided daily by the use of Calcium Magnesium Liquid by Nature’s Life for the requirements of the African Greys, while other species receive it regularly with frequency depending upon age, activity level, and breeding cycles. Juvenile birds (under 1 year) and pairs which are aging or less active receive it more often, as are birds prior to and during egg laying, and while raising young. Remember that birds under stress (which includes extreme heat or cold) need additional calcium, as well as an increase in all essential nutrients. We add 1 tsp. of the *CALCIUM MAGNESIUM LIQUID daily to the mash for each pair of Greys:other medium-sized birds, e.g., Amazons and Pionus use ½ tsp. per pair. Small birds, such as cockatiel size, use ¼ tsp. per pair. Large parrots, same for Greys. Adjust properly for a single bird.

The seeds, which are offered in the afternoon, make up about 30% of their total diet. Most seeds are beneficial, but you must be sure they come from a quality source. Ideally, some can be grown in your own environment, if space permits. The basis of our raw organic seed mixture is hulled millet 30%, hulled sunflower 5%, shelled peanuts 5%, rolled oats 5%, and buckwheat 5%. The most important nutritive elements of seeds are the B-complex vitamins, vitamins A and E, unsaturated fatty acids, protein, phosphorus, and calcium. For example, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and sunflower seeds are high in protein, plus all of the above vitamins as well as magnesium, zinc, iodine, and potassium. The value of seeds, nuts, and grains along with beans and peas, are unsurpassed, especially in the sprouted form. Sprouting seeds will increase their total vitamin content and may be added to the morning mash. Seeds also have a positive effect on birds by supplying quick energy, beak stimulation, and are certainly healthful in rationed amounts. Over indulgence of seed, especially fatty seed (such as sunflower, peanut, etc…) may crowd out other essential foods from the diet and can therefore result in nutritional deficiency as well as obesity. Your seed mix should be stored in a cool, dry place, away from direct light, and in air-tight containers to prevent rancidity caused by oxidation. Some protection from rancidity will be provided by vitamin E which is a natural anti-oxidant, and present in varying amounts in oil-bearing foods. No more than six weeks worth should be purchased in advance.

Vitamin A deficiency is common in birds. Symptoms may include allergies, sinus trouble, sneezing, susceptibility to infection, rough dry skin, as well as abnormal hormone activity, possibly creating reproduction problems. Vitamin A aids in the growth and repair of body tissues and helps maintain smooth disease free skin. Internally it helps protect the mucous membranes of the mouth, throat, lungs, and gastrointestinal tract, thereby reducing the chance of infection. To ensure prevention of this deficiency we supplement their diet with vitamin A, D, and Omega-3 fatty acids from cod liver oil. A natural source of vitamin E is provided by wheat germ oil. While vitamin E assists in greater storage of vitamin A, it has also been shown in many studies to increase fertility and reproduction, and may improve stamina. We mix 1 TBS. per lb. of seed mix, or 2-3 drops (per bird) in their soft food or seed mix, slightly less for small species ad a bit more for larger species.

For keeping our birds’ beaks active and healthy we provide them a constant supply of soft pine sticks, a variety of toys (i.e. acrylics, rawhide, wood, solid plastic loops and shapes) along with eucalyptus, acacia, and pyracantha branches. They are enjoyed for hours, fulfilling their instincts to chew as well as preventing boredom. You can lodge the thinner branches through the top of each aviary and your birds will have great fun climbing, hanging, and swinging from them. Be sure to use only safe and clean branches, plants, etc. in your bird’s environment.

Mash Shopping List

Ingredients                        1 medium sized parrot              For 10 pair

Frozen Organic Vegetables             1/3 pound                        6 pounds
Fresh Organic Vegetables
Parsley                                             ½ ounce                        ½ pound
Large tomatoes                               1/8 tomato                         2.5
Chayote                                             ½ ounce                         1.5
Medium sweet potatoes/yams              ¾ ounce                          1.3
Medium white potatoes                        ¾ ounce                           2
Bean Mix
Black-eyed peas                              ½ teaspoon                   ¼ cup
Pinto beans                                       ½ teaspoon                  ¼ cup
Kidney beans                                    ½ teaspoon                  ¼ cup
Adzuki beans                                    ½ teaspoon                  ¼ cup
Green split peas                                ½ teaspoon                   ¼ cup
Yellow split peas                                ½ teaspoon                   ¼ cup
Garbanzo beans                                ½ teaspoon                   ¼ cup
Black beans                                      ½ teaspoon                   ¼ cup
Soy beans                                        ½ teaspoon                   ¼ cup
Mung beans                                      ½ teaspoon                   ¼ cup
Grains
Wheat berry                                    ½ teaspoon                   ¼ cup
Pearled barley                                  ½ teaspoon                   ¼ cup
Triticale                                           ½ teaspoon                   ¼cup
Brown rice                                      ½ teaspoon                   ¼ cup
Organic Greens
Comfrey and/or mustard greens       1/3  large leaf           6 large leaves
Organic Fruit
Large bananas                                1/8 banana                     2 1/2
Large apples                                    1/8 apple                       2 1/2
Whole grapes                                   ½ ounce                      ¾ pound
Strawberries or cranberries               ¼ teaspoon                2 tablespoons
Seeds
Pumpkin seeds                              ¼ teaspoon                  2 tablespoons
Sesame seeds                               ¼ teaspoon                   2 tablespoons
Nutritional Supplements
Powdered kelp                              ¼ teaspoon                   2 tablespoons
Blue green algae or alfalfa powder  ¼ teaspoon                    2 tablespoons

Erica Mede, CVT

Natural History

There are 17 species of these large hook billed parrots found throughout Central and South America rain forest canopies.  The largest macaw is the Hyacinth and the smallest mini macaw is the Hahn’s macaw.  Macaws typically are broken down into two informal groups, the large macaws (Hyacinth, Scarlet, Blue and Gold, etc.) and the mini macaws (Severe, Noble, Hahns, etc.) These birds are highly intelligent and social so it is no surprise that there are records of Aztecs keeping these animals (particularly the Scarlet macaw) as pets.  These parrots are one of the most common large birds kept as pets and incidentally one of the most common relinquished to rescue groups.  These highly sociable birds often become bounded to their owner and frequently misidentify them as mates.  In the wild, these birds pair bond to one another and then join a small flock.  Due to their natural monogamy, this can become problematic in homes that aren’t equipped to handle the needs of such an attention demanding bird.  With proper care, these birds can become family companions for 30-75 years!

Home Safety

There are many things in the average home that pet macaws encounter that can be harmful and even deadly.  Some concerns are obvious such as open flames but others such as an air freshener can be easily overlooked.

Potential Household Dangers:

  • Ceiling fans:  birds should never be out when a ceiling fan is on
  • Super clean windows and mirrors:  birds have a hard time identifying glass and mirrors!
  • Electrical wires:  dangling wires have the highest potential for issues due to birds desire to hang off or chew these “vines”
  • Aerosol sprays:  very harmful to the air sacs and lungs
  • Candles:  the smoke even in small amounts can be very harmful to the air sacs and lungs.  Avoid essential and exotic oils used to add scent to candles as well.
  • Non-stick cookware: over heated non-stick cookware releases fumes that are both highly toxic to birds and have been linked to MS in humans
  • Other pets:  this includes other birds, dogs, cats, etc.
  • Paint:  Paint from the walls of old homes may contain lead.
  • Jewelry:  Especially costume jewelry can contain zinc.
  • Tobacco and tobacco residue

Diet and Feeding

Macaws are herbivores programmed naturally to feed from the canopy.  In the home however, this can be simulated by placing food bowls higher in the enclosure.  In the wild these birds primarily consume seeds, palm nuts, various other nuts, fruit, flowers, and insects as they meander by.  Due to their social eating habits, it may be best to feed macaws when the household is going to be near them or eating with them in the room.  It is natural for these birds to gorge themselves on a particularly delicious treat or after they have been adopted from a rescue.  This is a natural behavior.  In the wild, during times of plenty, macaws will eat for hours on the best food they can find and store it in their crop for digestion later.
The ideal macaw diet consists of:

75% Pelleted Diet

  • Harrison’s
  • Zupreme
  • Roudybush
  • Lafeber

15%  Natural Diet

  • Vegetables
  • Legumes
  • Grains
  • Fruit

10% Treats

  • Nuts (Palm nuts, Macadamia nuts, Almonds, Walnuts)
  • Seeds
  • Table Scraps

Remember, all conversions to different diets must be made gradually and care must be taken to monitor food intake as well as weight.

Unsafe Foods:

  • Chocolate
  • Caffeine (soda, tea, coffee, etc)
  • Avocado
  • Shelled peanuts (these can contain aflatoxins on the shell)
  • Potato skins (these can contain solanine)

Enclosure

With macaws, the bigger the enclosure the better!  These birds are very active in the wild and need to have ways to relieve their natural energy in the home.  Outdoor aviaries are strongly encouraged for their immense energy!  However, this isn’t always possible in the home setting and an enclosure of must be large enough for the macaw to fully extend their wings without touching the sides of the enclosure.  Bars should be spaced 1 to 1.5 inches apart depending on the size of the species. California King Cages are very popular and the #506 and #506 Twin are recommended for the larger macaws whereas the #406 is recommended for the mini macaws.  It is incredibly important to make sure that the cage is not constructed of any form of zinc, lead, or galvanized metal as this can cause life threatening toxicity!

Perches should be placed at various heights throughout the enclosure with the softer perch being the highest as this is where most parrots prefer to sleep.  Toys should consist of soft wood tree branches, rope toys, cardboard toys, wooden toys, and leather (vegetable tanned only!).  Anything that can be picked up with their feet are immediately appreciated as macaws love to manipulate and use items!  These birds are aggressive chewers so perches and toys will frequently need to be replaced and should be inspected daily for wear and potential dangers.

Lighting

These birds, like most parrots, are early risers!  Once the sun comes up they are ready to go and will call out to their flock first thing in the morning!  It is important that macaw rooms are well lit and offer natural sun light as well.  However, never place a bird cage directly in front of a window.  During the day the sun through the window can easily over heat a parrot.  Ideally, the light cycle should be 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness.  In reproductive females, this time may have to be decreased to 8-10 hours of daylight depending on the severity of the hormonal issues.  Consult your veterinarian or behaviorist before making changes to the light cycle.  There have been several studies that illustrate the benefits of parrots, especially female parrots, receiving UVB lighting as well.

Behavior

These birds are very vocal!  Generally, in the wild they are vocal while in their flock which explains why at home they can be louder especially when “flock members” are coming in the door.  One thing to remember is that a macaw will match the decibel level of their environment which means that the louder the household is the louder the bird will be.  Being able to identify their vocalizations can help an owner understand what their bird is trying to communicate:

  • Normal:  Loud and harsh sounding
  • Eating:  Soft growls or churtles
  • Excitement:  High pitched squawk
  • Morning and Early Evening:  Loud short lived squawking for 1-5 minutes (calling to the flock).  This is a sign of high spirits but it will get LOUD !
  • Contact Calls:  A loud call will be made to locate other flock members.  These calls can be heard over half a mile away in some of the larger macaws!  These can feel ear shattering!
  • Screaming:  This is not a normal behavior.  In the wild, this behavior occurs during fear. Many behaviorists have found that this occurs often when there is no one home for long hours of the day.  A day at work with no one home is too long for a macaw to be alone!  They will view household members as their flock.  However, if this behavior goes uncorrected it can become a stereotypical behavior and will be difficult to remove.

Most owners will purchase these birds as young birds under a year or two old.  At this stage they are incredibly affectionate and loving.  As these birds start to reach maturity (past 7 years old) their behavior tends to change and during this teenage stage is when most macaws are relinquished to rescue organizations.  Blue and Gold macaws as well as Scarlet macaws are the most represented in this scenario.  Blue and Golds tend to be more rough and tumble at this age and can become aggressive in an owners opinion.  This is natural for these birds but can be a bit hard to handle.  Scarlet macaws however are sensitive birds that will act out and can sometimes become aggressive towards owners.  This is not necessarily a permanent issue!

In the wild, these birds are raised in the nest and stick close to the flock and their parents during their adolescence, very similar to humans.  When these parrots begin to mature and sexual hormones start to surge, these birds will go from the loving overly affectionate birds to trying to drive away their parents.   This is normal behavior and to be expected.  It is akin to a teenage human trying to leave the nest.  This stage, however, can be very trying for macaw owners, and especially first time parrot owners.  As the hormones settle down with maturity, the macaw may bond with owners strongly again, sometimes bonding to a new person in the household, as their potential mate.  Issues may arise occasionally if the owner fosters this mate relationship which can lead to aggression of the bird towards other members of the household.  Working with a bird behaviorist at this point may be extremely beneficial and prevent frustration on the end of the owner and the bird.

Destruction is often a large problem with these birds due to their natural urges to chew.  This is not meant to be a malicious act but is simply in their nature!  These super intelligent and curious birds require owners to constantly think on their toes and out of the box to create enrichment and mental stimulation.  Providing branches to chomp, ropes to climb, toys to groom/crush/throw/shred, toys that can be picked up with their feet, and mechanical puzzles is just the beginning of their daily enrichment.

Feather picking is another common concern with macaws, especially the Blue and Gold and Scarlets.  There are several beliefs about the cause of this issue including inappropriate intense bonding to owners, phobic behavior, boredom, anxiety, etc.  An avian behaviorist and a veterinarian (to correct any potential underlying medical issues) are the best way to help a feather picking macaw.  To help prevent boredom induced feather destruction, toys meant to simulate preening are highly recommended and often cherished.  Feather destruction quickly turns into a stereotypical behavior and can become impossible to extinguish.  Consulting an avian behaviorist can make the difference!

Biting, high pitched screaming, and feather destruction are often all signs of a bored and lonely bird but they can also be signs of a medical concern.  Any change in a macaw’s behavior out of the blue warrants a veterinary exam!

Grooming

Macaws, like all parrots, require a certain level of grooming on a rather frequent basis.  Grooming can be a rewarding bonding moment.  For grooming such as beak and nail trims, these are often best left to veterinary professionals as this can be detrimental to the bird if done incorrectly and is often very stressful on the bird as well.

  • Bathing:  In the wild, these birds flutter through wet leaves or fly in rain storms to rinse themselves clean.  Bathing should be offered 3-5 times a week.  Misting with a spray bottle or on a shower perch are recommended.
  • Pedicure:  The nails of these birds can become long and often sharp.  To keep proper length and to help flatten out the tips to prevent accidental injury to owners, a pedicure is recommended as needed.  Typically, for most birds this becomes a 3-6 month routine.  Some may need it more often.
  • Beak Trim:  Beaks are the hands and thumbs that birds don’t have.  Proper maintenance of the beak can become difficult in captivity.  Beak trims, especially when there is a malocclusion or deformity, should be completed by a veterinary professional.  Typically, birds may not need this done or will need it once a year.  Some birds need it more often.
  • Preening:  Birds have a hard time preening their heads and neck, especially when new feathers are growing in.  Normally, in the wild, these birds would have a mate or other flock members to help groom them.  In captivity, they require assistance from owners.  This is an exceptional bonding experience!  Older birds, or injured birds, may have trouble reaching tail feathers or feathers growing in on their backs as well.
  • Wing Trims:  Wing trims are performed to prevent birds from flying with altitude.  This is NOT meant to prevent a bird from flying all together!

Veterinary Services to Consider​

  • Annual Exams:  Macaws should have an annual exam performed to check the health status of your pet as well as establish a relationship with an avian vet that can be used in future emergencies and/or for long term geriatric health care.  An annual exam should consist of a fecal analysis and blood work.
  • Infectious Disease:  Testing for diseases such as Psittacosis (which can be contracted by humans), Avian Borna virus (ABV), and Psittacine Beak and Feather disease (PBFD) are important in new birds being introduced to your home or flock. Young birds may benefit from Polyoma testing as well too.  Talk with one of our veterinarians for more information on these diseases!
  • Grooming:  Grooming is ideally performed by a knowledgeable professional for health and safety reasons.

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to provide helpful service to you and your pet. If you have any questions, give us a call at (502) 241-4117.

Thank you to our friend Pat Pecora for these helpful suggestions Written by Carolyn Swicegood
Email: Carolyn@landofvos.com
Eclectus website: www.landofvos.com

FOODS that are dangerous to parrots include avocado, including guacamole, chocolate or cocoa, alcohol, caffeine, mushrooms, the pits of apricots, peaches, plums, prunes, and  seeds of the cherimoya fruit, as well as foods containing large amounts of salt, sugar, grease, preservatives, artificial coloring, and other additives. Foods that are high in oxalic acids such as rhubarb and spinach should be avoided in favor of healthier foods. Raw or improperly stored peanuts are known to be a source of aflotoxins produced by a fungus that grows on them. Obvious dangers such as moldy foods, under-cooked meat, or raw meat should be avoided.  Parrot foods should be the same quality as human infant foods.

METALS such as lead, zinc, copper, mercury and iron cause metal toxicosis if ingested by birds. Some sources of heavy metal include galvanized cages and aviary wire, hardware cloth, house keys, (especially gold colored keys), zippers, solder, putty, fish weights, lead-based paints, metallic paints, paints containing zinc, linoleum, vinyl mini-blinds, foil from champagne and wine bottles, lead weights, bells with lead clappers, stained glass, some improperly-glazed ceramics, costume jewelry, mirror backing, copper pennies, zinc oxide, artist paints containing cadmium, cardboard or paper with high gloss inks, and magnetic business cards.

LITTER
 composed of walnut shells or corn cobs can cause life-threatening impaction if ingested by birds. It also harbors fungal spores that when soiled or wet start to grow. Newspaper is a far safer litter material to use.

WOOD SHAVINGS
 like cedar and redwood are toxic to birds because they contain aromatic oils and should not be used in cages, aviaries, or nest boxes. Pine or aspen shavings are safer for nest box substrate.

KITCHENS
, especially when cooking is in progress, are unsafe for birds.  The obvious hazards of open flames, hot ranges, open pots of hot food or boiling water are as deadly as smoke or other toxic fumes (even from dishwashers if a plastic item falls into a heating element during the drying cycle). Remember, a stove stays hot for some time even after a burner is turned off.

OPEN WATER 
such as in sinks, tubs, toilets, fish tanks or open pots pose the risk of drowning to your bird especially if he is flighted.  Be sure to keep these surfaces covered if your bird is out of its cage. Birds are so naturally inquisitive that even a glass with liquid in it is a potential drowning hazard to your bird especially to the smaller ones.

OPEN DOORS OR WINDOWS
 are an obvious danger. Your bird may fly out and be lost forever.  Screens should be checked occasionally to make sure they are in tight.

MIRRORS AND CLOSED WINDOWS 
do not appear to be a barrier to birds. They often fly head on into them causing a severe injury to themselves or sometimes even death.  Either keep your bird’s wing feathers clipped to prevent him from flying into these things or else keep them covered. You might also try placing decals on them as a visible reminder.  Many birds can be trained to avoid large expanses of glass by repeatedly holding the bird on your hand and imitating flight toward the glass and then lightly pressing their beak, feet, and body against the surfaces.

OTHER BIRDS 
can cause injury to your bird also.  If birds have access to each other, be careful when allowing them to interact with one another especially if they are different sized birds.  Always provide careful supervision.  Regardless of how friendly they seem to each other, that can quickly change when  they are scared, hormonal etc. Keep birds off the tops of other bird’s cages.  Birds are often very possessive and territorial with their cages and many a toe has been lost by having it bit off when on another bird’s cage.

PTFE 
treated products such as Teflon and other name brands of non-stick cookware kill birds by releasing deadly, odorless gases when overheated. PTFE is used in some space heaters, ranges, ovens, stove-top burner bibs  or liners, heat lamps, irons, griddles, bread makers, woks, waffle makers, electric skillets, crock pots, corn poppers, coffee makers, roasters, curling irons, hair dryers, and more. Check labels before purchase.

SELF-CLEANING OVENS 
use extremely high heat to burn off oven debris. During that process, toxic fumes that kill parrots within minutes are emitted.

COOKING BAGS
, especially those treated with PTFE, emit harmful fumes when heated. Any substance that releases smoke and/or fumes when heated should be avoided in homes with birds. It can be fatal.

ELECTRICAL CORDS 
are an obvious danger.  If chewed they can cause a severe burn or fatal shock.

FLOORS AND FURNITURE 
should be off limits to your bird. Far too many birds, especially the smaller ones, have been stepped on or sat on and crushed.  Get in the habit of looking before you step or sit in a room where your bird is loose and don’t move until you locate your bird.

CAGES 
should be made of safe metal with non-toxic paint, no sharp points that can cause injuries, proper spacing between cage bars to prevent strangulation, and no empty cup holders.  Birds have been injured or killed by getting stuck in empty cup holders in cages. Use empty dishes or fill them with toys or treats, but never leave empty cup holders in a cage. Stainless steel is the safest metal.

LEG BANDS 
can cause the loss of a bird’s toes, feet, legs and sometimes, lives are lost. Microchips are a safer way to identify lost birds. Leg bands should be removed only by a veterinarian.

GRIT 
is unnecessary for parrots and can cause impaction of the avian digestive system.

HALOGEN LIGHT FIXTURES 
such as torchiere-style floor lamps create extreme heat and can kill birds that land on them. Choose only bird-safe light fixtures for bird homes.

QUIK-STOP 
and other styptic products should never be applied to avian skin or feather follicles. Styptic products are safe for bleeding toenails when broken or cut too short, but they destroy skin and feather follicles. For broken or pulled blood feathers, cornstarch or flour are safer. Aloe gel can be applied first to help the flour or cornstarch to adhere to the wound and to help with pain and healing.

CATS, DOGS, FERRETS 
(and many other pets) are a danger to birds. The cat scratch can infect birds with Pasturella multocida bacteria, among others, and immediate vet treatment is required to save the bird’s life. The saliva from these animals can be deadly to a bird also. Never allow birds to interact with ANY pet without close supervision.

PESTICIDE SPRAYS, NO- PEST 
STRIPS, and FOGGERS poison the air and can kill birds.  Safer solutions are roach traps, ant bait, and other solid insect poisons that can be safely secured in the back of cabinets and other areas that are inaccessible to birds.

FLEA COLLARS and SPRAYS 
emit toxins and should not be used in bird homes. The metal discs sold in pet stores to attach to cages for killing lice also poison the environment — do NOT use them!  Shampoos for lice contain dangerous toxins that never should be used on birds.

STICKY PEST 
STRIPS for flying insects should always be enclosed in old cages or other containers accessible to insects but out of the reach of birds and other pets. Mineral oil or peanut butter can be
used to safely remove sticky substances from feathers.

WING CLIPS 
should be checked on the first day of each month to prevent flight-related accidents. Wing-clipped birds can often fly well enough to escape so they should be protected by a harness, leash, or carrier when taken outside. While checking the bird’s wings, also check it’s nails. Nails that are too long and sharp can easily catch on things and cause accidents.  Beaks are not a job for the amateur and should only be done by someone properly trained in trimming them.  Healthy birds should not need beak trims.

CEILING FANS 
should not be used in homes with flighted birds. Other household dangers to flighted birds are open windows and doors, hot pots and stove burners, open containers of water (sinks, toilets,
tubs, boiling water), poisonous or thorny houseplants, electrical wires, medication, insect bait traps, and many other toxic substances.

TOYS
, both new and used, should be cleaned and examined for loose parts that could lodge in a bird’s throat. Loose strings and threads can trap and cut off circulation to necks, wings, legs, and toes. Use only stainless steel (not zinc) “quick links” as toy fasteners and never use strings, chains or ropes long enough to wrap around a birds’ neck or other body parts.

PRESSURE TREATED LUMBER
, conventional plywood, and particle board contain a variety of toxic substances. Untreated pine boards are a safer choice.

HOUSEPLANTS and FERTILIZER 
including “fertilizer spikes” can poison birds so they should be kept out of their reach. Some of the most common poisonous houseplants are azalea, oleander, castor bean, sago palm, yew plants, dieffenbachia (dumb cane), asparagus fern, flower bulbs, mistletoe, poinsettia, philodendron, and potato sprouts or “eyes”.  Choose only non-poisonous plants for bird homes.

CIGARETTES, CIGARS, PIPES, AND OTHER SMOKING SUBSTANCES 
should never be used in air space shared by birds.  Passive inhalation of smoke, including smoke from burning incense, damages the sensitive avian respiratory system, eyes and skin. Nicotine can settle on perches and other cage surfaces and cause the self-mutilation of feet and legs in sensitive birds, especially Amazon parrots. Tobacco smoke is often the cause of feather picking.

ESSENTIAL OILS 
and potpourri oils should never be used in the breathing space of parrots. Perfume, hairspray, and other aerosolized grooming products also can damage the avian respiratory system or perhaps even kill your bird if used in the same area.

AIR FRESHENERS 
which includes plug-ins and scented sprays are considered unsafe. Bird deaths have resulted from using them. To safely freshen the air, use spices like cinnamon, cloves, vanilla, and citrus rinds.

SCENTED CANDLES 
release toxins when burned, so only unscented candles should be used in bird homes. (Protect birds from the open flame). Beeswax and soy candles are generally safe and unscented unless they
are imported and contain lead wicks (which are illegal and rarely used.)

CARPET POWDERS AND SPRAYS 
such as Carpet Fresh, as well as similar treatments for upholstery such as Febreze, often contain toxins which are dispersed into the air when they are vacuumed so they should not be used in bird homes. Carpets can be cleaned safely with solutions of water and baking soda, vinegar, or grapefruit seed extract.

CLEANING AND DISINFECTING PRODUCTS 
like pine oil, ammonia, mold and  mildew cleaners, toilet bowl cleaners, drain cleaners, furniture polish, oven cleaners, dishwasher detergents, furniture polish, car
cleaning products, and laundry products, including bleach, can irritate or burn the skin, eyes and respiratory tract of birds when used in their air space. Spray starch is also toxic to birds.

HOLIDAY 
HAZARDS are another potential threat to our birds.  Live trees are often coated with chemicals such as fertilizer or insecticide.  Lights pose dangers also since they are hot and if the bird chews the electrical cord he may receive a severe burn or fatal shock.  Ornaments are often fragile and toxic if pieces are ingested and tinsel with its bright finish and flexibility is an attraction to birds and can easily wrap around them causing strangulation.  Use extra caution with your bird at holiday time.

HOME IMPROVEMENT PRODUCTS 
that create fumes include fresh paint, new carpet, drapes, furniture and flooring that uses toxic glues. The out gassing of toxic chemicals from new furnishings, paints, solvents, adhesives, various finishes, and  other building materials are sometimes described as the “new smell” and can damage  the sensitive avian respiratory system of even kill your bird.  If you are having new carpet installed ask the carpet company to “air” your new carpet for a week before installing it.

MEDICATION 
and natural remedies containing tea tree oil, which contains the oil of the melaleuca tree, as well as all over-the-counter medications, should be kept out of the reach of parrots.

MOLD 
on food or in the air is dangerous to parrots. Aspergillus mold spores can cause the deadly disease, aspergillosis. It can grow on improperly handled and stored foods, especially grains such as corn as well as in the environment around the bird. Peanuts, because they grow below ground are often another source of fungal toxins and aspergillus. Excessive moisture in bathrooms promotes the growth of various molds in homes.

CARBON MONOXIDE 
is an odorless, colorless, tasteless gas produced by furnaces and other heaters. Birds in poorly ventilated, heated areas are at high risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. It robs the blood of oxygen and can be particularly harmful to animals and humans with heart ailments when inhaled at levels often found indoors. Be sure to install carbon monoxide detectors in your home and check them regularly to assure that they are working.

MOTHBALLS 
and moth-repellent cakes and crystals contain paradichlorobenzene, which also is found in toilet disinfectants and in deodorizers, and it causes cancer in lab animals.

DRY CLEANED CLOTHING 
should be aired outside or in airspace not shared by birds until there is no remaining odor. The chemical “perc” (perchloroethylene) causes cancer in lab animals.

HUMAN SALIVA 
contains pathogens that are deadly to birds. Never allow a bird to place its beak in your nose or mouth. Do not allow them to “clean your teeth”.

CLEANLINESS 
is important to the prevention of bacterial infections. Wash your hands frequently when working with birds and preparing their food and dishes. Be sure to wash all produce extremely well before feeding it to your bird.

DISEASE EXPOSURE 
should be avoided by quarantining all new birds from your existing flock or companion birds for one to three months. Taking birds to pet stores, bird fairs, and other bird gatherings with birds can expose them to deadly diseases. If you go on vacation or need to be away for an extended period of time it is far safer to have a friend or relative come into your home and care for your birds.

AVIAN FIRST AID KITS 
are a must have item for all bird owners and should be kept stocked and readily accessible at all times. They are not intended to replace vet care but rather to help stabilize your bird until getting him to the vet.

EMERGENCY INFORMATION 
such as your vet’s contact numbers and the animal poison control center should be kept handy at all times.

Kenneth Welle, DVM, AVBP (avian)

The goals of physical therapy are to minimize the loss of range of motion (ROM), prevent changes in soft tissue flexibility, improve muscular strength, and cardiovascular endurance.   In addition physical therapy can serve to promote neuromuscular re-education, allowing the patient to regain coordination for normal active daily living.  Additionally, physical therapy can give psychological benefits to you and your bird.

Passive, range-of-motion exercises are performed by manipulating the limb through its entire range of motion.  The limb is controlled by the hands and first brought to maximum flexion and held for 15-20 seconds, then brought to maximum extension and held for 15-20 seconds.  This process is repeated for several repetitions, which are gradually increased to about 20.  The sessions should be carried out once or twice daily.  Sessions should be increased in intensity, in number of repetitions, or in frequency as each level is readily tolerated

Active assisted, range-of-motion exercises are natural movements of the limb aided by the therapist.  Forced wing flapping by holding the feet and dropping the hand rapidly is a common form of active assisted exercise used in birds.  In pet birds, the bird perches on the hand and the handler gently but firmly holds the toes.  The hand is then dropped gently to force the bird to flap the wings.  Physical therapy can be painful to the patient and appropriate analgesia is indicated.

It is more difficult to do physical therapy with the legs of birds.  Unfortunately, a functional recovery from leg injuries is even more important in most birds. Birds with only one functional leg often develop pododermatitis or other problems associated with abnormal weight bearing.  While passive range-of-motion exercises are the same as in the second paragraph, it is difficult to get a bird with an injured leg to hop or walk. The legs can be exercised by using either a perch that moves or your hand.   A gently rocking perch or hand will force a bird to move, flex, and grip in order to maintain balance.   Swimming is an excellent leg exercise but is only applicable for waterfowl.

Massage is used to reduce pain, to reduce fibrosis, and improve blood flow.  This method may be to stressful to birds unaccustomed to close handling.  Tarsitis and pododermatitis are two conditions in which massage seems to help.  Gently roll the toes and “ankle” of the bird between your thumb and forefinger.  A small amount of vitamin A and D ointment can be gentle massaged into the foot at this time.  Canaries seem to benefit the most from this treatment.

​Resumption of normal leg and wing function is most important for birds that will be released into the wild, for those used in falconry and those for racing.  These birds must regain almost perfect athletic function.  Even in pet birds, however, every attempt should be made to return the patient to its pre-injury state.  The use of sound medical and surgical principles is only the first step.  Physical therapy can greatly enhance functional recovery.

by Susan Horton, DVM

History

First described as Budgerigar fledgling disease in 1981, was called papovavirus
It is a nonencapsulated DNA particle
Avian polyoma viruses are apparently worldwide, but presentation of the disease is different between species
Effects Budgerigars, nonbudgerigar psittacines, finches and gallinaceous species

Clinical Features 

Budgerigars

  • Feather abnormalities: reduced formation of down (Head and neck), contour feathers, and flight feathers; these birds are older then 15 days (runners, French molt)
  • Develop normally for 10-15 days, then die
  • Abdominal distension, hemorrhage under the skin, neurologic signs: ataxia, tremors of head and neck
  • Mortality rates vary dependent on age of bird at time of exposure to virus
  • Embryonic death

Nonbudgerigar psittacine birds

  • Peracute death with no signs (most common in young birds)
  • Acute infections: 12 to 24 hour period of clinical changes such as depression, anorexia, weight loss, delayed crop emptying, regurgitation, dehydration, diarrhea, polyuria, difficulty breathing, bleeding under the skin followed by death
  • Subcutaneous hemorrhage over the crop and across the cranium-common in larger psittacines (any disease causing vasculitis, clotting disorders or damage to the liver)
  • Yellowish urates
  • Increased LDH, AST, AlkPhos
  • Eclectus parrots may also exhibit gastrointestinal stasis, melena, hematuria, and abdominal pain
  • Chronic form (Europe ): Weight loss, intermittent anorexia, polyuria, poor feather formation, and recurrent bacterial or fungal infections.  Renal failure may follow

Passeriformes

  • Acute death (fledglings, adults)
  • Beak abnormalities (fledglings)


Epizoology

All species should be considered susceptible to polyomavirus.
Most commonly effected species include young budgerigars, macaws, conures, Eclectus parrots, lovebirds, ring-necked parakeets, and caiques

Birds considered naturally susceptible to avian polyomavirus
Psittaciformes
  • African Grey Parrots
  • Budgerigars
  • Conures
  • Hawk-headed Parrot
  • Lorikeets
  • Meyer’s Parrot
  • Quaker Parakeets
  • Senegal Parrot
  • Amazon Parrots
  • Cockatiels
  • Grey-cheeked parakeets
  • Kakariki
  • Lovebirds
  • Parrotlets
  • Rose-ringed Parakeets
  • Splendid Parrot
  • Bourke’s Parrots
  • Cockatoos
  • Eclectus Parrots
  • Lories
  • Macaws
  • Pionus Parrots
  • Scarlet-chested Parrot
Passeriformes
  • Canaries
  • Seedcrackers
  • Blue Bills
  • Finches
Others
  • Chickens
  • Lady Amhurst Pheasant
  • Peaceful Dove
  • Brown Pigeon
  • Turkeys
  • Golden Pheasants
  • Ostriches

Age Susceptibility/Mortality

Mortality rate with budgerigars less than 15 days may be as high as 100%, older birds range from 30-80%
Nonbudgerigar neonates are highly susceptible (parent or hand-raised)- usually signs show up at time of weaning; mortality rates from 31-41%

Older psittacine birds

  • Can seroconvert and may be clinically normal (budgies over one month, and over five months of age in others)
  • Exceptions seem to be Eclectus, caiques, grass parakeets and cockatoos

Persistent Infections

These are individuals (budgies) that develop latent infections and shed virus periodically throughout their lives.
They are responsible for the persistence, transmission and spread of virus through budgie flocks as well as exposure to others.
Polyoma virus inclusion bodies can be detected in feathers, feather follicles and renal tissue in and may be protected in these areas from the neutralizing effects of antibodies.
Persistent (latent) infection has not been proven in other nonbudgie species.

Incubation

Budgerigars naturally exposed have peak mortality rates between day 15 and day 19
Incubation period in nonbudgie species has not been determined but is estimated to be as long as 14 days and as short as 2 days.

Transmission

Horizontal transmission- virus-contaminated feather dust, feces, urine, urates, respiratory secretions, crop secretions… Aerosolized virus: intranasal route of infection, ingestion

Vertically – Parent to offspring (infected embryos, Budgies only)

  • In Budgerigars- horizontally and vertically; ie both among members of the flock and between parent and offspring.
  • In Nonbudgerigars-Just horizontally

Pathology

In Budgerigars

  • Hydropericardium
  • Cardiomegally
  • Hepatomegally with multifocal yellow-white foci
  • Ascites
  • Splenomegally
  • Hemorrhage under the skin, of the intestines and heart
  • Feather dystrophy
  • Histologically there is atrophy of the lymphoid tissue in the spleen and cloacal bursa; inclusion bodies can be found in most tissues

In Nonbudgerigars

  • Clear fluid in the abdominal cavity
  • Small, pale spleen
  • Congested, hemorrhagic liver
  • Splenomegally
  • Pale, swollen kidneys
  • Pale cardiac and skeletal muscles
  • Feather dystrophy (rare)
  • Ascites
  • Hemorrhage under the skin and over any serosal surface
  • Histologically there is hepatic necrosis, lymphoid depletion of the cloacal bursa, and membranous glomerulopathy
  • Intranuclear inclusion bodies can be found in spleen and liver tissue most often

Immunity

Natural exposure to the virus can produce virus-neutralizing antibodies; titers usually decrease over a two to three month period

Diagnosis

Most accurate confirmation involves recovery of virus in cell culture from tissues of an infected bird
Electron microscopy
Four fold increase in antibody titer in paired samples
Specialized staining techniques of tissue sample
Detection of viral nucleic acid using polyoma-specific DNA probes (cloacal swabs)
DNA testing shows there is no correlation between active shedding of polyomavirus in feces and the titer of neutralizing antibodies… 98.2 % sensitivity, 100% specificity

Prevention and Control  

Reduce exposure to virus
Sound hygienic practices

  • Virus is shed in feces, urine, and feather dust
  • Good disinfectants are Avinol-3 (Synthetic phenol), Clorox (Sodium hypochlorite), Dent-A-Gene (Stabilized Chlorine dioxide), and Alcohol (ethanol 70%)
  • Nursery is cleaned and disinfected regularly

Closed Aviaries

  • Limited visitors

Managed Aviaries

  • Quarantine all new birds for 60-90 days
  • Do not accept or ship unvaccinated birds
  • Budgies are not in same airspace as other neonate psittacines
  • Use biosecure shipping containers to prevent exposure
  • Ship only weaned birds
  • No Visitors in the Nursery
  • Do not return neonates to nursery that have been exposed to other birds
  • Separate feeding instruments for each bird
  • Do not replace feeding utensil into common food container

Vaccination

  • Vaccinate susceptible adults and neonates
  • Do not ship unvaccinated birds

Disinfectants found to experimentally inactivate avian polyoma and their sources

Agent                     Active ingredient                       Dilution   
Synphenol              Synthetic phenol                          1:256
Clorox                    Sodium hypochlorite                    1:10
Dent-A-Gene         Stabilized chlorine dioxide           1:400
Alcohol                  Ethanol 70%                                Undiluted

Treatment

To date, there is no effective treatment
Interferon, acyclovir and AZT have been tried, may show some promise.
Seriously effected birds need intensive supportive care

Vaccination

Adults (at risk breeding birds, birds going to shows)

  • Vaccinated during nonbreeding season
  • Series of 2 vaccinations, 2 to 3 weeks apart
  • During the vaccination process, it is expected that 2 to 4 % of the breeding population will also be found to have serious pre-existing medical problems (even in best managed aviaries)

Immature birds

  • In general, vaccination is started 4 weeks prior to weaning
  • Series of 2 vaccinations 2 to 3 weeks apart
  • Last vaccination 2 weeks before shipping
  • If aviary has a history of polyoma disease, start vaccination at 40 to 50 days of age
  • If having an outbreak, vaccine can safely be given at 20 days of age; these birds are boostered 2 additional times, 2 to 3 weeks apart
  • Original certificate of vaccination should be sent with bird

Companion birds

  • If kept in complete isolation, not necessary
  • Dr. Ritchie points out that if the bird or it’s keeper leaves the home to go to the groomer, veterinarian, club meetings or anywhere else where direct or indirect exposure might occur, vaccination is not a bad idea.
  • It is interesting to note that we protect our dogs and cats who are maintained in relative isolation with yearly boosters against common viruses

References  

  1. Ritchie BW.  Avian Viruses: Function and Control.  Wingers Publishing, Inc., Lake Worth , Florida .  1995. Pp136-170
  2. Ritchie BW, Niagro FD, Latimer KS , et al: Avian Polyomavirus.  An overview.  J Assoc Avian Vet 5:147-153, 1991
  3. Clubb SL,  Davis RB: Outbreak of papova-like viral infection in a psittacine nursery-a retrospective view.  Proc Assoc Avian Vet, 1984, pp 121-129.
  4. Niagro FD, Ritchie BW, Lukert PD, et al:  Avian Polyomavirus: Discordance between neutralizing antibody titers and viral shedding in an aviary.  Proc Assoc Avian Vet, 1991, pp22-26.

By Kristin Claricoates, DVM 

Psittacine beak and feather disease is a contagious circovirus that can have two forms: an acute and a chronic form.  This disease can be passed on from the parents of a bird or by other affected birds in the same household.  As the name implies, the beak and feathers are often affected by this disease.  Additionally, the immune system is suppressed often leading to secondary bacterial infections as a result of this viral infection.

In young birds, psittacine beak and feather disease- or PBFD- can be an acute infection that causes death within just a few months.  You could see nonspecific symptoms of lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, and loss of appetite are present.  In this acute form, the signs of feather and beak changes are typically not visible, as the virus’ effects occur so quickly, and the infected birds die so rapidly.  Other young birds can undergo seroconversion and can thereby survive and recover from this disease.

Older birds typically are affected with the chronic form of the disease, and signs typically manifest when the birds molt.  Abnormal feathers replace the molted normal looking feathers.  Down feathers tend to be the first types of feathers affected.  Eventually, the feather follicles constrict and all feather growth stops. Birds’ beaks are also affected with abnormal growth and beak deformity.

Of the birds affected with beak and feather disease in the United States, cockatoos tend to be commonly visibly affected, and while lovebirds can also be affected, they may not show any signs of the disease at all.  Budgies, lories, lorikeets, Eclectus, and African grey parrots are also commonly seen to be affected, although this virus can affect all old world and new world parrots.  In African grey parrots, this disease appears to often be confined to the tail feathers, or like lovebirds, may not show any signs of the disease.  Eclectus parrots tend to show signs with delayed molting or poor-quality feathering.  Cockatoos may show signs of beak lesions in addition to deformed feathers.

Initial signs of beak and feather disease may be poor molting, discoloration of feathers in the form of less exuberant colors or a transition from one color to another color entirely, and stress lines in feathers.

Management by prevention of PBFD is the key to this disease as sadly, there is no treatment currently for this virus, only management of clinical signs.  In chronic forms of PBFD, treatment is aimed at preventing secondary infections.  If only the feathers appear affected, a bird may have a moderately good quality of life.  Sadly, this disease is progressive and will ultimately result in death.  When the beak and nails become infected, euthanasia is the kindest option.

As there is no cure for PBFD, only medical management, it is important to screen all new birds coming into a home to ensure they are not affected with this virus for the safety of all birds in your home.

Kenneth R Welle, DVM, Dipl ABVP-Avian

Pharangitis caused by spiral shaped bacteria, herein referred to as psittacine spiroform pharangitis (PSP), and is often found in cockatiels.

Clinical signs observed with this disease are similar to those caused by pharangitis of any etiology.  Most often, owners are unaware that there is a problem.  A pharynx that is bright scarlet red has increased mucous, and oral pain can be exhibited.  Other signs include head shaking, excessive yawning, dysphagia, and retching.  Occasionally, sinus swelling will be present.  In one case, a cockatiel chick presented with a ‘lockjaw’ syndrome similar to those described for Bordatella Avium infection and Enterococcus sp.  No Bordatella or Enterococcus was isolated.  Other associated problems include elevated lower eyelids, conjunctivitis, phthisis bulbi, blepharitis, and crusts.  These last signs may not be related to spiral bacteria, but more to concurrent disease.

Diagnosis is made based on the finding of spiral shaped gram-negative bacterial organisms on gram stained pharyngeal swabs.  These organisms may also be found in a crop wash.  Elevated white blood cell count will most likely be associated with concurrent disease and not PSP.

Treatment with oral doxycycline is highly successful.

As pharyngeal inflammation appears to be the primary lesion of this disease, the name psittacine spiroform pharangitis is proposed for this disease.  The pharyngeal inflammation is more common and more severe that upper respiratory signs.  The number and variety of concurrent problems suggest that this disease often occur in birds that are otherwise compromised.  Many of these problems are common in the general population of cockatiels.  It is not suggested that this disease is responsible for these concurrent problems.  This disease should be considered when vague clinical illness occurs in cockatiels.

Kristin Claricoates, DVM

Baby starlings and sparrows are a challenge to take care of.  If you happen to find a baby starling or sparrow (or a baby bird in general) and do not know what to do follow the below rules:

1.       If the bird does not have any signs of injuries, bites, or other illnesses, please return a baby bird to the nest where it came from if possible.  It is an old wives’ tale that birds will not accept their young if they babies leave the nest and protection of their mother or if they have been touched by a human.  If the mom does not return to the next right away do not worry- she is likely looking for food to give to her babies.

2.       If the bird is completely feathered and you cannot find its nest, please place the fledgling in a bush or tree limb.  Keep any cats indoors because it is likely the young bird is learning to fly.  Ask the neighbors to do the same for the next few days.

3.       If the bird does appear injured, please drop the bird off at a wildlife clinic. Baby birds cannot be managed without proper medicine such as antibiotics and pain medicines.

Taking care of a baby starling or a baby sparrow is very time and labor intensive.  We recommend that you take the baby bird to a wildlife clinic or a wildlife center.  Please call the rehabber or wildlife facility first to check and see if these species are accepted, as some facilities will not take species that are not native to Illinois (sparrows and starlings both are invasive species).

If you want to raise the baby bird to become your family pet then observe the following instructions.
Baby birds need to be placed in a small container such as a margarine tub with paper towels crinkled inside to create a “nest”.  This container needs to be placed on a heat pad and the temperature must be specific for the age and appearance of the bird and the baby’s requirements.  New featherless babies need the temperature at 90° F.  Baby birds with pin feathers should have a temperature of 85°F for their environmental temperature, and baby birds with a full set of feathers should be in a “nest” with the heating pad temperature set at 75° Fahrenheit.

With baby birds, dehydration is an issue.  Do not give any baby birds fluids directly into the mouth because it can cause pneumonia.  Pneumonia is caused because fluids are often accidentally sucked into the lungs of the bird instead of the esophagus.  To help fight dehydration, offer instead small slivers of fruit, pieces of bread with a special liquid added to it (see below for liquid; squeeze the bread out to remove any excessive liquid), or apply a small drop or two of the liquid to the top of the beak.  A good liquid solution to help with dehydration is ¼ cup Karo syrup, 1 cup water, and a pinch of salt.  This concoction is boiled and then brought to room temperature so it is not hot or cold for the baby.  **I could only find this, Gatorade, or 1 pinch salt and 1 pinch sugar in 1 cup of water as solutions to help rehydrate a baby.  The rest recommend a rehabilitator

Starlings and sparrows are omnivores that require high levels of animal proteins.  Baby starlings do not want liquid food, rather, they need solid foods.  Typically in the wild, they are fed insects by the parents until they become fully grown.  Parrot formulas are not appropriate for this type of bird.  Starlings and Sparrows require 33.1% protein and 12.1% fat.  Feeding the birds a dog or cat food with chicken as the primary ingredient and the above percentage requirements works best for feeding the babies.  A good handfeeding formula for sparrows, starlings, and other omnivorous passerines is as follows:

1 cup soaked cat food (12.1% fat, 33.1% protein)
¼ cup applesauce
1 hard boiled egg
Avian vitamins
750 mg calcium (tums smooth dissolve tablets work) ground to a powder and dissolved in water

To feed baby birds, feed the birds with something flat such as a coffee stirrer, chop sticks, or a straw with the cut end such that it makes a scoop. Do not use something small like a Q-tip or a toothpick as these can be swallowed by the baby birds.  When the food is fed, it should be at room temperature.  The age of the bird determines the frequency the bird should be fed.  Birds without any feathers should be fed every 30 minutes over 12 hours a day.  Birds that have pin feathers or are developing feathers should be fed every 45 minutes (although they can occasionally go 1-2 hours without food if they show signs of disinterest at these feedings.  When offering food, tap the top of the baby bird’s beak lightly.  This should stimulate a feeding response, where the baby bird opens its mouth and begins begging.  The baby birds may not initially beg for you to feed because they are not used to human feedings.  However, once they adjust to this they should be begging at each feeding.  Please do not ever feed any sort of worm to a baby bird as worms could have parasites that could have deadly consequences for babies.  At 4 weeks of age, you can begin leaving food in a bowl in the cage for the baby birds.  This will help them learn how to eat on their own.  Continue to hand feed, however hand feed a little less during the feedings to help encourage eating on their own.  When reducing the frequency of feedings, this should be done slowly and the baby birds’ weights must be monitored.  You will still need to handfeed until somewhere around 6-8 weeks of age (varies from bird to bird)- you may need to continue handfeeding even longer.  You will know when to stop handfeeding because the baby bird will be eating out of the bowl of food regularly and prefer to feed itself from the dish than from your handfed meals.  Once birds are eating on their own for 3 weeks, they can be switched to an adult starling diet.  Below is a rough timeline of the growth of baby starlings and sparrows

18 days- first drink or bath
21 days- beginning to fly
4-7 weeks old- eats from a bowl of food or the ground
8 weeks- begins to mold for the first time
20 weeks- develops a full grown adult set of feathers
15-30 weeks- starlings begin talking

For birds that will become family pets, you may offer them toys.  They like toys that can be thrown around and toys that are shiny.  Your pet bird should be exposed to natural sunlight on a daily basis unless the weather becomes too cold.

If you are raising a bird for release, the diet still should be the same as for pet birds, which is listed above.  The only difference between raising a bird for release and a bird for a family pet is the frequency of handling the bird.  If you plan on releasing the bird, do no handle unless absolutely necessary.  Also, do not let pets or family members interact with the bird.  We recommend giving any birds you find that appear ill to a rehabber, and any healthy birds are recommended to be returned to their nest or a bush depending on their appearance.  Once birds that are destined for release have grown, you will need a large enclosure for the birds to practice free flight as well as exposing these birds to their species’ bird calls.  If you have found just one baby bird, you will NEED to give it to a wildlife rehabber.  A single baby bird cannot be raised without the bird imprinting on its caretaker, which makes the bird tame.  A tame bird has very low chances of surviving in the wild.

What is imprinting? During a critical period of time early in life of a young bird, the bird develops a sense of identification.  All courtship, mating, and species-directed behavior is directed towards that class of subspecies and is irreversible.  If you have a bird imprint upon you, this bird can never be released into the wild as it will consider itself to be a human, not a bird and will attempt to mate with humans.  This is why if someone finds one bird it must be sent to a rehabber or become a domesticated house bird.  Because, if it only sees a human that feeds it, it will assume it is human as well.  Unlike imprinting, taming a bird is socializing it to humans.  This is reversible, but it requires a lot of work.  The bird will not exhibit species specific behaviors such as courtship will humans should it become tame.  If an animal acts tame, sometimes it cannot be released.  Taming can potentially be reversible.
For many reasons, baby starlings and sparrows ought to be rehabilitated by a wildlife facility. Please check with local rehabbers to see if they accept baby sparrows and starlings.  The above suggestions are for owners who plan to make the starling or sparrow a family pet.  Should you plan to make this bird a family pet, we recommend a veterinary visit to ensure your bird is healthy.

A common baby starling problem is that mites may infect them.  The mites are species specific and therefore will not cause harm to any other bird in your life.  However, it has been indicated that there is a mite infection, we treat these mites.

We would like to do a physical examination to verify that mites and all other health issues are taken care of to ensure your new pet is healthy.

Psittacine aggression is one of the more serious of behavioral problems for pet bird owners. The strong jaws and hooked bill of parrots can inflict serious pain and do substantial damage to the owners. Aggression in parrots takes the form of biting or lunging at the object of their aggression. As in any other species, this type of behavior has several causes. While an individual bird can have overlapping and interacting causes, it is helpful to categorize the problem in order to treat it. Causes of aggressive behavior in pet birds include fear, dominance, territorial behavior, and possessive behavior. Diagnosis is based upon the behavioral history.

Territorial aggression is particularly common in certain species. Quaker parakeets, conures, miniature macaws, African grey parrots, and Amazon parrots are prone to develop this problem. Breeding birds of all species tend to be territorial about their nest area and cage. In these birds, this behavior is considered desirable. Guarding of the nest territory is an important breeding cue. While the sex of many avian patients is unknown, it appears that territorial aggression is somewhat more common in males than females.
Diagnostic criteria for territorial aggression are very simple. For territorial aggression, the aggressive behavior must occur when the bird is in or on its cage, playpen, or other living area. If this is not the case, the aggression cannot be territorial aggression. If the bird exhibits aggression in other circumstances, then other behavioral problems exist. The instructions found here may not be enough to control the unwanted behavior.

Behavior modification for territorial aggression is multifaceted. In order to achieve the specific goals, general obedience training is essential. The step-up command should be automatic for the bird. This command is an important training tool. To avoid personal injury, your bird should be removed while servicing the cage. You should know how to perform atraumatic but secure towel restraint of your bird if necessary. Birds that will not leave the cage without biting should be caught and carried to a separate area. Some birds can be safely handled following voluntary exit from the cage. This facilitates training measures.

Corrections can be given when bites occur but many of the appropriate reprimands will not be applicable. Repeated step-ups can be used, but only if the bird can be brought out of the cage within a few seconds of the bite. Towel restraint can be a useful method of gaining control, especially with smaller birds. Verbal reprimands can be effective as long as they are stern but calm. Dramatic responses like yelling are entertaining to birds and should be avoided. Striking the bird and beak grabbing are unacceptable corrections. They further excite the bird, induce fear, and can potentially injure the bird.

An attempt should be made to make the bird less dependent on the cage. This helps both in the prevention and treatment of territorial aggression. Birds that spend most or all of their time in one cage can become viciously aggressive about defending it. In the wild, birds roost in the same area each night. During the day, they travel to other locations to forage, usually with their flock. A two-cage housing system helps provide a more natural system. A large, well-furnished cage or playpen should be used during the daytime to encourage activity. The cage should be rearranged frequently to promote adaptability in the bird. During the night, a smaller roosting cage with rather Spartan accommodations should be used. Each morning the bird can be transported to the larger cage and evening to the roosting cage. If further measures are needed the bird can be meal fed twice daily in another location.

The bird should be integrated into the family social unit. Portable stations allow the bird to sit close to the activity of the family. This, combined with consistent handling and training, provides the bird with the social skills needed to be well-adjusted pets. Regularly scheduled handling and training are important for maintaining socialization. The two-cage housing system described will force you to handle birds at least twice daily to transport them.

Psychotropic drugs are not generally indicated in the treatment of territorial aggression in birds. The chemical basis of aggression is unknown in birds. Additionally, the prognosis for territorial aggression with behavioral modification alone is favorable.
Like any behavioral disorder, improvement will usually occur slowly and gradually. Keep a journal of your bird’s behavior. The frequency, severity, and nature of any occurrence of aggression should be logged. A reduction in the frequency or severity of aggression indicates that the treatment plan is working.

​The success of behavioral modification is improved when the cause of the behavior is determined. A diagnosis of territorial aggression can be easily made from a behavioral history. This problem is exceptionally common in certain species. Often birds will be banished to their cage, further aggravating the problem. When integrated approach is used, this problem can be successfully treated and prevented in most cases.

Harmful Plants (first source)
Amaryllis – bulbs
American Yew
Avocado
Azalea – leaves
Balsam Pear – seeds, outer rind of fruit
Baneberry – berries, root
Bird of Paradise – seeds
Black Locust – bark, sprouts, foliage
Blue-green Algae – some forms toxic
Boxwood – leaves, stems
Buckthorn – fruit, bark
Buttercup – sap, bulbs
Caladium – leaves
Calla Lily – leaves
Castor Bean – also castor oil, leaves
Chalice Vine/Trumpet vine
Christmas Candle – sap
Clematis/Virginia Bower
Coral Plant – seeds
Cowslip/Marsh Marigold
Daffodil – bulbs
Daphne – berries
Datura – berries
Deadly Amanita
Death Camas
Delphinium
Deffenbachia/Dumb Cane – leaves
Eggplant – fruit okay
Elephants Ear/Taro – leaves, stem
English Ivy berries, leaves
English Yew
False Henbane
Fly Agaric Mushroom – Deadly Amanita
Foxglove – leaves, seeds
Golden Chain/Laburnum
Hemlock – also water the plant is in
Henbane – seeds
Holly – berries
Horse Chestnut/Buckeye – nuts, twigs
Hyacinth – bulbs
Hydrangea – flower bud
Indian Turnip/Jack-in-Pulpit
Iris/Blue Flag – bulbs
Jack-in-the-Pulpit
Japanese Yew – needles, seeds
Java Bean – lima bean – uncooked
Juniper – needles, stems, berries
Lantana – immature berries
Larkspur
Laurel
Lily of the Valley – also water the plant is in
Lobelia
Locoweed
Lords and Ladies/Cuckoopint
Marijuana/Hemp – leaves
Mayapple – fruit is safe
Mescal Beans – seeds
Mistletoe – berries
Mock Orange – fruit
Monkshood/Aconite – leaves, root
Morning Glory
Narcissus – bulbs
Nightshade – all varieties
Oleander – leaves, branches, nectar
Philodendron – leaves and stem
Pointsetta – leaves, roots, immature
Poison Ivy – sap
Poison Oak – sap
Pokeweed/Inkberry – leaf,root,young berries
Potato – eyes, new shoots
Privet
Rhododendron
Rhubarb – leaves
Rosary Peas/Indian Licorice – seeds
Skunk Cabbage
Snowdrop
Snow on the Mountain/Ghostweed
Sweet Pea – seeds, fruit
Tobacco – leaves
Virginia Creeper – sap
Water Hemlock
Western Yew
Wisteria
Yam bean – roots, immature roots

Harmful Plants (other sources)
Alacia
Apricot
Autumn Crocus/Meadow Saffron
Beans – all types if uncooked
Birch
Bittersweet Nightshade
Bleeding Heart/Dutchman’s Breeches
Bloodroot
Bracken Fern
Broomcorn Grass
Candelabra Tree
Cardinal Flower
Cherry Tree – bark, twigs, leaves, pits
Chinaberry Tree
Crown of Thorns
Croton
Elderberry
Euonymus/Spindle Tree
False Hellebore
Ficus (weeping)
Firethorn/Pyracantha
Four O’Clock
Glory Bean
Ground Cherry
Honey Locust
Honeysuckle
Horsetail
Indian Licorice Bean
Ivy
Jasmine
Jimsonweed/Thornapple
Jerusalem Cherry – berries
Johnson Grass
Kentucky Coffee Tree
Lupines/Bluebonnet
Mandrake
Mango Tree – wood,leaves,rind-fruit safe
Moonseed
Mountain Laurel
Mushrooms – several varieties
Nectarine
Nettles
Nutmeg
Oak – acorns, foliage
Peach
Peanuts – raw
Pencil Tree
Periwinkle
Pigweed
Pikeweed
Pine needles – berries
Plum
Pothos
Prune
Rain Tree
Ranunculus/Buttercup
Red Maple
Sandbox Tree
Scarlet Runner Beans
Snowflake
Sorghum Grass
Sorrel
Sudan Grass
Tansy Ragwort
Vetch
Yello Jasmine
Yew (Amer,Engl,Japan) – needles, thistles

Taken from Birds n Ways http://www.birdsnways.com/articles/plntstox.htm

Sources: American Medical Association Handbook of Poisonous and Injurious Plants ; R. Dean Axelson, Caring for Your Pet Bird; Gallerstein, Gary A., DVM, The Complete Bird Owner’s Handbook; Garry Gallerstein, Bird Owner’s Home Health and Care Handbook; Greg and Linda Harrison, eds, Clinical Avian Medicine and Surgery; Gillian Willis; Wade and Carol Olyer Parrot Pleasures, Safe Wood Products and more

by Pat Pecora

Weaning is a gradual process in which babies learn to eat on their own.  Each baby is an individual so there is no set time table or schedule in which to wean, but rather something that is done at the chick’s own rate.  Even siblings within a clutch often wean at very different times. Different species of birds wean in different general time frames and usually larger species of birds take longer to wean than the smaller species. A baby parrot’s weaning experience can affect him for the rest of his life.  It is up to the hand feeder to make it a pleasant one in which the baby feels safe and secure and builds confidence and independence.  Keeping him well fed helps him develop desired traits such as trust and happiness which enable him to be a good companion.

It is important that anyone hand feeding or weaning a baby have an accurate gram scale and a notebook. The baby should be weighed the first thing every morning before any food is fed and his weight recorded. The weight can speak volumes in terms of how baby is doing. It will also let you know if at any time during the weaning process you need to take a step back and start giving him a bit more formula.  At this time I always do a quick check of the baby and make a note of anything out of the ordinary.   Is he alert and responsive?  Do his eyes look bright and shiny?  Are his nares clean and dry? How is his posture?  Are his feathers ruffed up?  Is he breathing normally with no harsh clicking, whistling or raspiness?  Do his feet look nice and plump.  Is his mouth clean rather than sticky or slimy?

One of the most important things to do when weaning a baby is to keep him well fed.  Hungry babies are far too frustrated to try eating on their own. When they are hungry they can only think of how they want that hunger satisfied.  When their hunger is well satisfied they are happy, ready to explore and try new things.  A full, well fed baby will go over to a crock of food and taste or eat the food, whereas a baby that is hungry might just sit there and cry waiting for someone to come feed him.  As babies get a little older I often find that the first thing babies will do after a formula feeding is toddle over to their food bowl and practice their independent eating skills.

I start to offer babies food long before they are actually able to eat it.  As soon as I see babies start to pick at the bedding, their feet, a poop (I know gross), etc, I will put bits of food in with them.  I like to use foods that they can be successful with in picking up.  Crumbs of birdie bread, Cheerios or any non sugared cereal work well as does anything that is easy to break apart. At this point the food bits are something for them to explore and play with but eventually they accidentally swallow some and start to associate it with the fact that it is something to eat.

Babies will not search for food so it needs to be highly visible and easily accessible.  Food dishes need to be heavy so they are not easily tipped over. Wide bowls with low sides placed on the cage bottom work well. I usually put a few bowls of food in with them so that they never have to go far to find them. I start giving them a water bowl about two weeks after first giving them food bowls or when I see that they are actually starting to eat and might want a drink after they eat.  This usually corresponds to about the time I am taking them down to two formula feedings a day.  Up until then they are getting plenty of water in their formula.

In the wild eating is a social event that parrots enjoy and babies learn quickly by example.  I find it much easier to wean babies when I have more than one baby rather than just a single baby. With a group of babies, all it takes is for one to try something and it perks the others curiosity and they want to try it too. I usually keep a calm adult bird in my nursery with the babies to act as a mentor.  I will bring the adult bird a dish of the same food at the same time I bring the babies a bowl.  I will move the babies close enough so they can see the adult eating and hopefully they will want to do the same thing.  When I have a single baby I eat all my meals with the baby and will offer him foods while I eat.

The consistency and variety of food I offer changes as the chick matures and his eating skills develop.  In the earliest stage when the baby is still on paper towels but starting to be aware of things and pick at them I will sprinkle a few pieces of cereal or birdie bread on the paper towel with him.  After I see him recognize and seek out these food crumbs as something he wishes to play with and explore I will start putting them in a small dish.

Scenic weaning pellets are one of my very favorite baby foods.  They are served warm and wet and offer complete nutrition.  I will offer these to chicks as soon as I take them out of the nest box.  They are readily accepted by the chicks because they closely resemble what the parents were feeding them.  I often use my fingers to feed the Scenic.  At times I will gently grab the chick’s beak which usually elicits a feeding response.  As the chick gets used to eating the Scenic I will then switch to a spoon with bent up sides and eventually just put them in a dish for him to eat on his own. Chicks that have been hand fed from day one don’t accept the weaning pellets as easily but after a few tries they soon learn to like them and look forward to them.

About the time I move the chicks into a small cage they are ready to start learning to eat other foods. At this stage they are usually on three formula feeds, are at least partially feathered and no longer require a supplemental heat source. I start with soft easy to eat foods like beans, rice, cooked veggie mash, scrambled eggs, small pieces of banana or apple, cooked pasta, cooked sweet potato, etc. I usually offer them each a couple of bites with a spoon or my fingers as I bring the food and then leave them to eat on their own.  This type of food spoils fast so I always make sure I change or remove it after about two hours. As their eating skills progress the foods they are given become more challenging for them to eat on their own.  Once they are eating the soft foods well, I will start giving them fresh fruits and veggies rather than the softer cooked ones.  These are served in larger pieces.  I try to offer them a wide variety of healthy foods daily.  The wide variety at an early age helps prevent them from becoming finicky eaters as they are older.  Babies also like fresh millet sprays.  I usually give them one daily and sometimes I will boil it first.  I hang it in their cage from a millet holder. They enjoy eating/playing with it.

I feed all my birds pellets as part of their daily diet. Pellets are formulated to provide the balanced nutrition that all birds need.  As soon as the baby has mastered crunching Cheerios, or something similar, I start giving them a small bowl of pellets which I leave in with them at all times.  Babies seem to like to crunch on things and even though the transition from crunching softer Cheerios to the harder pellets is challenging at first, they soon master it and appear proud that they did so.

While I consider pellets the most important part of my birds diet, they are lacking in variety and stimulation which is also important for the bird.  The addition of nutritious veggies, fruits, sprouts, cooked beans, grains, birdie bread, etc. fulfills this need.  I also feed some birds a small amount of seed and they get an occasional nut as a treat.

I try to observe my babies carefully every day to see about how much food they are actually eating.  When it is time for their mid day feeding I check their crop to see if they have been eating on their own and get an idea of how much food is in it.  When I consistently find that they have eaten a fair amount of food I start to drop this feeding.  I do it gradually rather than all at once.  For example, if I am normally giving them four syringes of formula per feeding, I will eliminate one syringe per day and then stop giving the mid day feeding completely as long as I feel food in their crop.

As the chick’s eating skills continue to improve, the next feeding I drop is the morning one.  I start by giving them a bowl of foods to eat on their own the first thing in the morning followed by their formula an hour or two later. I will usually feed them a couple of mouths full of food the first few times I make this change to let them know that this is what they are to eat now. As they start eating more on their own in the morning, I start to decrease the amount of formula I give them. Most of the time, they will naturally do this on their own. When they start to refuse to eat or regurgitate I know they are telling me they have fulfilled their hunger.  Eventually they refuse the morning feed and just run away and go play.

The night time feeding is always the last one to be dropped.  Even if the baby has a fair amount of food in his crop at the end of the day I still like to top him off with some nice warm formula. Babies generally don’t eat during the night and this helps keep his appetite satisfied until morning.  I think it also helps baby to feel secure, content and happy which enables him to get a good night’s sleep.  When baby no longer wants the formula he will simply refuse to eat it or will regurgitate it.  Once baby has not had any formula for two weeks and has maintained his weight I consider him weaned.

Weaning regression will sometimes occur when a baby goes to a new home.  He may feel nervous and insecure and need a little extra nurturing.  This is simply a natural occurrence like when a person starts a new job feeling a bit nervous and should not be mistaken for “forced weaning” or not really completely weaned. Offer him some extra food; feed him some warm comfort foods or a bit of formula using a spoon, your fingers or a syringe. Eat your meals with him and offer him food. Put your hand gently on his back like a mother bird putting her chick under her wing.  Talk softly to him and tell him how glad you are that he is here.  He will soon learn that he can trust you to take care of him and his confidence and eating skills will quickly return.

​Thank you for giving us the opportunity to provide helpful service to you and your pet. If you have any questions, give us a call at (502) 241-4117.

By E.R. Bennett, DVM

Virtually all new-bird owners feed their birds a seed diet (sometimes supplemented with vitamins, minerals, fruits, vegetables, and other table food treats). This diet represents a starvation ration and these birds are suffering from malnutrition. While seeds do provide some nutrition, they lack about 20 important nutrients such as proteins, vitamins, minerals and trace minerals (see addendum), and therefore, cannot serve as a complete diet.  Seeds are too high in fat (safflower/sunflower seed = 38.4/49.5% fat vs. formulated diets = 4-6% fat) and have almost no vitamin A, vitamin D, or calcium.

Some owners try to compensate for deficiencies in seeds by adding a vitamin/mineral mix to the water of food. The problem is that the vitamins break down and quickly become useless in water.  Even worse, vitamins enhance bacterial contamination of the drinking water. Powdered supplements on the seeds are worthless since even the trace amounts that might be on the dry hulls will be discarded when the bird cracks the seed. Table foods can be used to create a balanced diet, but the ingredients must be in proper proportions, and the birds must eat the entire mixture. Simply offering some table food (even sprinkled with a vitamin/mineral mix) to a seed-eating bird does not adequately compensate for its excess fat and nutritional deficiencies.

Signs of malnutrition

To their credit, birds will live for years and even successfully breed on an all seed diet. The early signs of nutritional deficiencies are often subtle. Greg Harrison, DVM, AVBP (Avian Practice) believes the early signs of nutritional disease include malformed feathers, excessive growth of the beak and nails, flaky skin, black discoloration on green or yellow feathers, excess keratin accumulation on the beak, chronic infections, and even changes in personality. Dr. Harrison estimates that about 90% of illness in the birds he sees is due partially or, in many cases, entirely to poor nutrition.

Some nutritional diseases are subtle. For example, most budgerigars presented with overgrown beaks and nails are suffering from hepatic Lipidosis secondary to being fed an all seed diet. Selenium/vitamin E deficiency may cause paralysis, which is most commonly seen in color mutation cockatiels.  Budgerigars may present with a pathologic brown thickened flaking cere (vs. benign brown hypertrophy), flaky skin and are overweight. In many cases this is due to a decreased function of the thyroid gland. The therapy is not to put the patient on thyroid supplementation, but to change the diet to increase iodine (also increase protein and vitamin A), so the thyroid gland can function normally.

We commonly see canaries that have stopped singing and have scaly feet and legs. Mites may be a cause, but usually these are signs of malnutrition and are corrected when the birds are slowly converted to a proper diet. Virtually every Amazon parrot we see has excessive flaking and growth of the beak, dull green feathers, sometimes with black discoloration. Within 1-2 years of changing to formulated diets, these birds will have normal beaks and bright green feathers.

So what should owners feed their birds?

The easy answer is to feed a formulated diet. The harder part is to slowly train your birds to accept the new food. Just as there are formulate d foods diets for dogs, cats, and rabbits, formulated diets for birds are also available form veterinarians and pet stores. Many veterinarians carry Harrison ’s Bird Foods. Pet stores carry other brands of formulated diets such as Hagen, Kaytee, Lafeber. L and M Animal Farms, Pretty Bird, Purina Mills/Mazuri, Roudybush, and Zeigler. Scientific research about psittacine nutrition is just in the beginning and thus, there is still controversy about the ideal avian diet. While we still have a great deal to learn about avian nutrition, current formulated diets are based on extrapolations from years of poultry nutrition research, new psittacine nutritional research, and experience of aviculturists and veterinarians.

Many owners ask about what birds eat in the wild with the assumption that “natural” diets would be the best for their pets. Wild birds in Africa , South America , and Australia may be eating various seeds, vegetation, and insects. They are certainly not eating sunflower seeds, millet, and the vegetables found in grocery stores. Even if we could reproduce their natural diet, there are still good reasons why this diet would not be appropriate for our pets. Captive birds are not exposed to the same activity and environmental stresses encountered in the wild and therefore, would not have the same nutritional requirements of wild birds. More importantly, free ranging birds do not live as long as pets. Starvation does occur in nature. Our nutritional goal for pet birds is to maximize their health by exceeding the level of nutrition they would otherwise have in the wild.

There is also controversy about how to feed and supplement diets. The late Dr. Ted Lafeber (manufacturer of Lafeber’s Bird Food) recommended feeding birds twice daily with treats in between meals. Sally Blanchard (editor of Pet Bird Report) considers this a myth and recommends having formulated rations available at all times. Dr. Greg Harrison (manufacturer of Harrison ’s Bird Foods) strongly believes that supplementation with table food will imbalance the carefully designed formulated rations. Sally Blanchard argues that parrots get bored with one food, and there is not enough knowledge for any one ration to be considered complete. Despite the controversies, there is no debate that the all seed diet in inadequate for pet birds.

Methods of converting birds to formulated diets  

  1. Mix the formulated ration with the seed diet. As the bird begins to “accidentally” taste and eat the new diet, gradually decrease the percentage of seeds, eventually eliminating seeds. This may take weeks to months to accomplish.  Some birds never convert with this method. Once the bird starts to nibble at the new ration, you may want to try method 2.
  2. Offer the seeds only in the morning and evening for a limited time. Leave the formulated ration in the cage at all times. As the bird eats the new diet, gradually eliminate the seeds.  Ask your vet for the correct amount of time to leave the seed mixture in.
  3. Try to get your bird to first eat table foods such as yams, carrots, and dark leafy vegetables. You can entice your bird by eating these items in front of them and making exaggerated sounds about how good it tastes. Try sharing the food with another person, passing the food in front of the bird but not giving it to them until they really beg to try it. You can try the same technique with pieces of Harrison ’s Bird Food since it is a human quality organic food. The package even recommends that you taste the food to test for freshness before offering it to your bird.
  4. Mashed or crumbled versions of formulated rations may be offered and accepted more readily than the larger pieces.
  5. Formulated diets may be incorporated into a homemade recipe such as Dr. Raymond Krays diet (see addendum).

There are many other methods to convert birds from a seed diet to a more balanced ration. Some excellent articles, such as Hooking your hookbill on pellets and My bird won’t eat that, are listed in the references.

Final notes

  1. If you feed Harrison ’s bird foods, remember that they are 100% organic and have no preservatives. Be sure to discard any uneaten food within 24 hours. Please note that the color of the feces will change from dark green or black to light brown.
  2. Birds must be provided with fresh clean water. Wash water bowls daily.
  3. Once a malnourished bird is converted to a proper diet, there will be changes in the bird’s body, Birds may itch more as dry flaky skin sheds and birds molt. Aloe/Penetran spray is very helpful in alleviating the itch during this time. They may initially lose fat and increase muscle. Once they start eating the new diet, they may initially overeat, but after several weeks, they will reduce their consumption to lower, normal amounts. This does not mean they “don’t like” the food anymore.

Addendum

The following homemade recipe was developed by Dr. Raymond Kray and has been reported by bird owners to give good to excellent results as a regular maintenance diet or used to help convert birds from a seed to formulated ration.

Ingredients
Equal portions of :

  • Mixed vegetables (fresh, canned, or frozen)
  • Boiled brown or white rice
  • Boiled beans (black-eye peas, chickpeas, kidney beans, lentil beans, lima beans, navy or pinto beans)

This mixture is combined and frozen until ready to feed. Thaw ¼ cup of the mixture, and add ¼ cup pellets, and ¼ cup of seeds, 1/8 teaspoon dicalcium phosphate, and ¼ teaspoon of a multivitamin/mineral/amino acid powder. This recipe is used as 75% of the final diet with the remaining 25% consisting of fruits, vegetables, cheese and meats.

Nutrient Deficiencies of Seed Diets

Protein (amino acids): lysine, methionine
Vitamins: A, D3, B12, and riboflavin: possibly vitamins E, K, pantothenic acid, biotin, niacin and choline.
Minerals: calcium, and possibly sodium
Trace minerals: possibly iron, copper, zinc, manganese, iodine and selenium.
Source: Dr.Randal N. Brue, Director of Nutritional Reaserch, Kaytee Products, Inc.

REFERENCES

  1. Abramson J, Speer BL, Thomsom JB : Th eLarge Macaws. Their Care, Breeding, and Conservation. Raintree Publications. Fort Bragg , CA 1995
  2. Altman R, Clubb S, Dorrestein G, Queensberry K (eds): Avian Medicine and Surgery. Philadelphia WB Saunders Co, 1997.
  3. Anderson , N.L. Hints on Avian Nutrition. Client education from Ohio State University , College of Veterinary Medicine .
  4. Blanchard, Sally. Food and Diet Myths. The Pet Bird Report Vol. 3 #2.
  5. Blanchard, Sally. My Bird Won’t Eat That. The Pet Bird Report Vol. 8 #3.
  6. Burgmann, Petra M. Feeding Your Pet Bird. Barron’s Education Series, Inc. 1993.
  7. Hagen, Mark. Hagen Avicultural Research Institute Brochure.

Going Home with a Wing or leg Injury, What You Need to Know 

Special precautions should be taken to reduce that chance of further injury.

The bird should not be returned to a cage or enclosure which provides climbing surfaces.  A bird that had been flying may not realize it can no longer fly and leap from a high position causing further injury.

An aquarium or terrarium tank is a safer environment. The bird can’t climb the smooth sides, you can watch the bird, and the bird can see out.  The tank should have a screened top so the bird has air but can’t escape.  The top should fasten or be weighted down to prevent the bird from opening it.  The tank should be large enough so the bird can move around, and deep enough so the bird can’t hop up to the rim when the top is temporarily removed.

For a budgie, a minimum sized tank would be about 9 by 12 inches and 10 inches deep.  A bigger bird needs a larger tank.

The bottom of the tank should be well padded to minimize injury to the bird.  The material should be easy to replace when soiled.  Many layers of thick paper towels can be used.  When using cloth, be sure the bird’s nails are clipped to avoid hooking the cloth.

Food and water containers must be down low where the bird can easily reach them.  Containers that rest on the floor of the tank can be used.  Hooded containers reduce the chance of the bird soiling the food or water if the bird perches on the container.  Make sure the bird’s wing or leg bandage doesn’t prevent it from eating and drinking from its food and water containers.  The shape of the container shouldn’t provide an easy surface onto which the bird can climb or perch.

A perch should be provided that is near the bottom of the tank.  A self standing perch can be purchased or home made.  For example for a budgie, cut a 3 inch circle of heavy cardboard exactly in half (through its diameter).  Cut a wooden perch to about 3 inches long.  Drive a small nail or tack through each cardboard piece at a point farthest from the straight side. Then drive the nails or tacks into the ends of the perch.  The cardboard pieces are now stands on the ends of the perch.

If the bird is returned to a room with other birds, it should only be for a few hours a day, and the injured bird’s reaction should be monitored closely.  Some distraction will probably reduce boredom during recuperation.  But the injured bird shouldn’t become overly excited, or encouraged to try to escape it’s tank or chew off its bandage.  This can easily happen if other birds are very active or flying around the room.  In this case, the injured bird should be moved to another room. The bird’s bandage should be inspected frequently.  If it become loose or wet, contact the veterinarian immediately.

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to provide helpful service to you and your pet. If you have any questions, give us a call at (502) 241-4117.

What is a wing trim? 

A wing trim involves cutting one to a few feathers from each wing to decrease your bird’s flight potential. It is not a way to completely stop your bird from flying.

What can I expect from a wing trim? 

Your bird should be able to float to the ground and not be at the mercy of gravity. And your bird may be able to fly forward a bit. Your bird should not be able to take air and fly upward.

What can I not expect from a wing trim?

You cannot expect your bird to be incapable of flight. A wing trim that completely prevents flying is excessive and inappropriate.

Can I take my bird outside with me after a trim?

We recommend that no pet bird go outside with its owner unless it is in a cage or well-fitted flight suit. Birds with trimmed wings are less able to adapt to wind and can be carried away by an updraft. Their trimmed wings may also make it impossible for them to return to you even if they try.

How is a wing trim performed?

Anesthesia is neither required nor recommended. Simple restraint in a towel is usually all that is needed. Their outermost primary feathers are cut at the level of the covert feathers. Blood feathers are avoided, and no bleeding should occur. An equal number of feathers are trimmed from each side. The trim is tested until the bird can float to the ground and not take air.

Can my bird die because of a wing trim?

Wing trims do not cause death. An excessive wing trim can result in severe injury from falling. Birds that are sick, obese, or hiding signs of disease or that have a poor diet can have problems with the restraint needed for a proper wing trim. We do not perform any bird grooming services without first conducting an examination, and we will discuss any risks with you at the time of the trim.

​Thank you for giving us the opportunity to provide helpful service to you and your pet. If you have any questions, give us a call at (502) 241-4117.

by  Susan Horton, DVM

A Lecture From Dr. Horton On Reproductive Female Psitticines

The Reproductive Female

Introduction

Today’s talk will lightly cover the basic female avian anatomy, then discuss some of the problems associated with that anatomy.  In the end I will offer some suggestions for controlling unwanted female reproductive behaviors.

Female Reproductive Anatomy and EggOvary

In most species, only the left ovary and oviduct are present.  In Kiwis and some raptor species, both left and right sides are present and functional.  When the hen is young the ovary is barely visible.  It is attached to the left kidney and the body wall by the mesovarian ligament.  As the hen matures the ovary starts to look like a small bunch of grapes, only clear.  When breeding season occurs, some of the follicles start to grow rapidly.  Yolk and protein produced by the liver start to accumulate in these larger follicles, making them yellow in color.  During the nonbreeding season, the follicles should shrink.  The body should harmlessly absorb the protein and yolk material. Older hens may never return to active reproductive status. If ovulation ceases suddenly due to stress or trauma, the developing follicles will regress.

Oviduct

The oviduct is the structure in which fertilization and development of the egg occurs.  In actively reproductive females, this muscular structure becomes very thick and large.  In the inactive female, it shrinks incredibly to a threadlike structure.  It is connected to the body wall just under the ovary and transverses down to the cloaca.  It consists of five distinct regions: Infundibulum, magnum, isthmus, uterus (shell gland), and vagina.  Oviduct transit time varies among species and is approximately 24 hours.

The infundibulum catches the egg from the ovary.  Fertilization occurs here. The suspensory apparatus (chalazae) of the developing embryo is added at this level.  The egg spends about one hour in the infundibulum before it moves on to the magnum.  This portion of the oviduct deposits most of the albumen, sodium, magnesium and calcium used in egg development.  This takes three hours.  Then, on to the isthmus, where the inner and outer shell membranes are added.  The egg spends about two hours here.
The uterus (shell gland) retains the egg for 20 to 26 hours.  During this time the egg receives salts, water, the shell, and shell pigment.  The vagina is the thickest portion of the oviduct.  The vagina does not contribute to the formation of the egg.  The egg spends a few seconds here before it is expelled from the body.  The vagina and cloaca work together during the expulsion of the egg.
Sperm can be stored for about a week in psittacine (parrot) species.  In turkeys, sperm can be stored for 40 to 50 days.  It is stored at the uterovaginal junction in the sperm host glands (spermatic fossa).

Ovulation occurs shortly after an egg is laid.  In psittacines (parrots), the laying interval is two days (an egg every other day).  In Passeriformes (softbills), lay intervals are 24 hours, but can extend up to four or five days.

Female Hormonal and Physiologic Factors

The hormones involved in reproduction and the tissues they come from are important.  I am not going to discuss them in depth at this time.  There are some select factors influencing reproductive behavior and egg production that I will mention in this section.  Understanding a few basic physiologic facts will help in developing a plan to control unwanted reproductive problems.
Increasing day length influences the onset of reproductive behavior in temperate climate species.  Photoperiod is less important in equatorial species where the day length is similar year round.  In chickens, the maximum stimulation is received when light periods are around 12 to 14 hours.  The hypothalamus (a part of the brain) receives signals from the optic nerve (a part of the eye). Hypothalamic control of reproductive behavior is controlled by other environmental factors.  In arid dwelling species, such as budgies and Zebra Finches, drought will inhibit reproductive behaviors.  During these dry conditions, when food is scarce, hypothalamic secretions suppress reproduction.

Several hormones secreted by the follicle affect the oviduct, including progesterone.  Progesterone in large doses may inhibit ovulation or, if given 36 hours before expected ovulation, will induce follicular regression.  If given 2 to 24 hours pre-ovulation, progesterone can cause premature ovulation.  Of course this varies among species.  It is best used after a complete clutch has been laid.  It must be used with extreme caution as it can affect the overall health of the bird.  The use of progesterone can cause liver disease.

Estrogen increases total plasma calcium levels, among other things.  During the egg laying process, plasma calcium levels can be extremely high, reaching levels of 30 mg/dl.  Laying hens will preferentially consume calcium-rich diets.  In laying hens, it is recommended that they be fed a diet of 0.3% calcium (1:1 or 2:1 with phosphorus), but no more than 1 %.  Usually most of the egg shell calcium is obtained from the intestine and bone calcium is used only when blood calcium is low.
Bone calcium does serve as a source of calcium for shell development in hens that lay eggs during morning hours.  Calcification of the inner space (medullary space) of the femur, humerus and tibia primarily, occurs approximately ten days before egg formation and is driven by estrogen.  If the hen does not consume enough calcium, the bone calcium will be used.  At some point, calcium deficiency will stop the egg laying process.  Diets high in fat will inhibit calcium absorption from the intestine.  Impaired liver function may be the cause of overly calcified bones (polyostotic hyperostosis) in hens.  The liver is responsible for inactivating estrogen. Excess circulating estrogen creates this chronic bone problem.

Female Reproductive DisordersEgg Binding and Dystocia

Egg binding is defined as failure of an egg to pass through an oviduct at a normal rate.  Most pet bird species lay eggs at greater than 24hour intervals, but the exact interval varies among species.  This makes it difficult to determine when there is a problem.  Dystocia is defined as a condition in which a developing egg is in the caudal oviduct and is either obstructing the cloaca or has caused oviductal tissue to prolapse through the oviduct-cloacal opening.  Common causes of dystocias are oviductal muscle dysfunction (calcium metabolic disease, selenium and vitamin E deficiencies), malformed eggs, excessive egg production, previous oviduct damage or infection, nutritional insufficiencies, obesity, lack of exercise, heredity, senility, and concurrent stress such as environmental temperature changes or systemic disease.

Abnormally prolonged presence of an egg in the oviduct causes a multitude of complications in the hen.  The severity of these complications depends on the species, previous health, the cause of the binding, the egg’s location in the oviduct, and the time elapsed since the egg’s development began.  An egg lodged in the pelvic canal puts pressure on blood vessels and nerves.  It can prevent defecation and urination.    This can lead to kidney damage or failure.   The uterus may rupture.  Circulatory shock and death can occur.

The smaller the bird, the more serious the situation.  Cockatiels, budgies, lovebirds, canaries, and finches often have egg related problems.  Generally the hen will appear droopy winged and wide stanced.  She will be reluctant to fly or perch.  There may be tail wagging and straining movements of the abdomen.  The legs may become paralyzed.  These birds need to visit the veterinarian right away.  Do not steam these birds.  Do not apply mineral oil.  These things do not work at all.

Prolapse

Prolapse of the oviduct may occur secondarily to normal physiologic hyperplasia and egg laying or as a result of dystocia.  Excessive contraction of the abdominal muscles, poor physical condition, and poor nutrition may cause these prolapses.  Usually the uterus protrudes through the cloaca; often an egg is present.  It is important to keep these tissues moist.  A small amount of Neosporin or triple antibiotic ointment can be placed on the protruding tissue and then you must proceed to the veterinarian.  This problem will not resolve without medical intervention.  Prolapses often recur.  The veterinarian may place small sutures to keep the cloacal tissue in place while it heals and the hen regains muscular strength.

Salpingitis and Metritis

Salpingitis is infection of the upper reproductive tract.  This can occur through infection from other organ systems such as the liver, air sac, pneumonia, or retrograde infections of the lower uterus, vagina or cloaca.  Excessive abdominal fat has also been associated with many cases of salpingitis.  The infectious agent most often isolated from birds with salpingitis is E. coli. Other infectious agents include Mycoplasma gallisepticum, Salmonella spp., Streptococcus spp. and Pasteurella multocida.  These bacteria are often affecting other organ systems simultaneously.

Depression, weight loss, anorexia, and abdominal enlargement can occur with salpingitis.  A discharge from the cloaca may occur.  The inside of the infundibulum may contain cream colored, slimy fluid, or cheesy, yellowish thick exudate.  Culture and cytology are necessary for diagnosis.  Cockatiel hens that have a history of egg laying followed by mild depression and weight loss may have salpingitis or focal egg laying peritonitis.

Metritis is a localized problem within the uterine portion of the oviduct.  It can be a result of dystocia, egg binding or chronic oviductal impaction.  Bacterial metritis is often secondary to systemic infection. Shell formation and uterine contractions can be affected by metritis.  Embryonic infection can be caused by coliform metritis.  Metritis can also cause egg binding, uterine rupture, peritonitis, and septicemia.

Oviduct Impaction

This is a condition in which soft-shelled eggs, malformed eggs, or fully formed eggs are stuck in the lower oviduct.  It is usually a result of salpingitis, but can also result from egg binding and metritis.  Usually the hen will stop egg production and slowly lose condition.  There will be periods of alternating constipation and diarrhea.  Periodic anorexia, reluctance to fly or walk, and abdominal enlargement (usually left side) are all signs.  Endoscopy or exploratory laporatomy are usually the only way to diagnose this one.  The oviduct must be surgically removed.

Cystic Ova

This is when an ovarian follicle becomes grossly enlarged and filled with fluid.  Ovarian tumors and cystic hyperplasia can occur secondarily.  The cause of cystic ova is not fully understood.  In affected birds, difficulty breathing, altered movement, and abdominal distension are found.  Cysts can rupture easily, sometimes flooding into the airsacs.  I often treat these with Lupron.  I do occasionally pull fluid out of the cysts to give the hen breathing space. Occasionally, I have surgically removed them.

Cloacal Problems

Inflammation of the cloaca, stricture of the cloaca, cloacal liths, and chronic prolapse of the cloaca will all interfere with egg passage.  Cloacal papillomas will interfere with copulation and semen passage.  Birds with papillomas should not be breeding.  Treatment success for cloacal papillomatosis varies.  One case was helped by a diet low in fat, and high in fruits and vegetables rich in beta-carotenes.

Parasites

Found mostly in waterfowl, this involves flukes (Prosthogonimus ovatus and related trematodes).   Prevention involves the control of aquatic snails.

Neoplasia

Budgerigars often have neoplasia in the ovary or oviduct.  Many other species have been reported with ovarian neoplasia, though with less frequency than budgies.  The hen will present with similar signs to cystic ovaries or oviductal impaction.  Ovarian tumors can account for up to 1/3 of body weight.  Egg retention, cysts, ascites, and abdominal herniation often occurs due to ovarian neoplasia.  Secondary sexual characteristics may also occur such as cere color in budgies. Radiographs may help diagnosis, but to confirm neoplasia, histopathology is needed.  A variety of other tumor types have been reported including adenocarcinomas, leiomyomas, leiomyosarcomas, adenomas, and granulosa cell tumors.

Peritonitis

Peritonitis can be divided into two categories: Septic and non-septic.  Whether the peritonitis is septic or not depends on whether bacteria is involved or not.  In non-septic peritonitis, egg material without bacteria is free in the abdomen.  Acsites may or may not be present.  Treatment includes removing the egg material surgically.  Septic peritonitis is much worse.  It is the most frequent cause of death associated with reproductive disorders.  It is most likely not one disease but part of several diseases such as salpingitis, ruptured oviducts, and ectopic ovulation.  Usually it is the yolk that introduces the bacteria into the abdomen.  E. coli is the most common bacterium isolated.  The hen will be very depressed, have abdominal swelling, difficulty breathing, anorexia, high white blood cell count, and cessation of reproduction.  Death is a common finding.  This peritonitis is most frequently found in cockatiels, lovebirds, budgies, macaws, and ducks.

Septic peritonitis will cause severe adhesions of the abdominal organs leading to chronic pain.  Egg-related pancreatitis may cause temporary diabetes mellitus in cockatiels.  A temporary stroke-like syndrome is found in cockatiels with yolk peritonitis.  Yolk emboli are suspected.  Treatment for peritonitis is long term.  If diagnosed early, the prognosis is better.

Anatomic Abnormalities

Occasionally a functional right ovary is found.  In Kiwis and Falconiformes this is normal, but not for the rest. Functional right ovary and oviduct have been reported in the budgerigar.

Behavior ModificationChronic Egg laying

Chronic egg laying occurs when a hen lays eggs beyond the normal clutch size or has repeated clutches regardless of the existence of a suitable mate or breeding season.  Humans, inanimate objects (toys, etc.), or birds of another species will stimulate this behavior.  The chronically active female may exhibit weight loss from constant regurgitation and feather loss or mild dermatitis around the vent in association with masturbatory behavior.  In some cases removing the eggs helps: in others, it doesn’t.  Egg laying is ultimately controlled hormonally.  It is noted that the most domesticated birds, cockatiels, budgerigars and lovebirds are the most chronic egg layers.  Perhaps we have selected for this problem by producing birds that will breed in a variety of environmental situations (selective pressure).

If a completely nutritious diet is provided, hens can lay eggs for years.  In most cases, however, malnutrition and the progressive stress and physiologic demands of egg laying will ultimately destroy the hen.  Calcium deficiency leads to brittle bones, malformed eggs, uterine inertia, and generalized muscular weakness.  Egg binding is common.  Behavioral modification must be attempted to stop egg laying.  Diminish the amount of daylight hours to eight, with sixteen hours of continuous darkness.  Objects stimulating sexual behavior should be removed.  Nest boxes and enclosure partners should be removed.  Changing the location of the enclosure and rearranging the objects inside the cage often may help.  Owners may need to stop handling the hen until reproductive behavior stops (sometimes 30 to 60 days).

Medical therapy includes correcting nutritional imbalances and infections.  Hormones may be used to interrupt the cycle.  They are not without side effects.  Lupron seems to work the best. Ultimately, if nothing works, salpingohysterectomy is the long-term solution.

Certain species will reproduce up to four times a year (mainly Blue and Gold Macaws, cockatoos and Eclectus Parrots).  Egg production in excess of two clutches a year will eventually lead to the same problems associated with chronic egg layers.  Extra clutches should be avoided.

Resources

  • Richie BW, Harrison GJ, Harrison LR (eds): Avian Medicine: Principles and Application.  Lake Worth, Fl, Wingers Publishing, 1994.
  • Millam JR: Reproductive Physiology.  In Altman, et al: Avian Medicine and Surgery.  Philadelphia, WB Saunders Co, 1997.
  • Fudge AM, Speer BL (eds): Reproduction and Obstetrics.  In Seminars in Avian and Exotic Pet    Medicine, WB Saunders Co, Volume 5, No 4, 1996.

Kristin Claricoates, DVM 

Zinc is required in small amounts for an animal to function well.  However animals sometimes eat inappropriate items that may have high levels of Zinc.  Things found around the house that may be high in zinc include: batteries, automotive parts, paint, pennies from 1983 or later, vitamin and mineral supplements, board game pieces, zippers, the screws in an animal carrier, certain pipes and cookware, and zinc oxide creams.

If zinc is ingested, the acid in the stomach causes the release of the zinc.  The zinc is then absorbed in the intestines and sent to the liver, kidneys, muscle, bones, pancreas, and prostate.  There, they act as a corrosive substance, change the metabolism of some ions, and prevent red blood cells from being made and from working.  This can lead to organ failure and death.

How can you know if your pet has ingested zinc?  Clinical signs can vary and can be pretty nonspecific, so if you are unsure if your pet has ingested zinc, please bring your pet in to the hospital immediately.  Signs can sometimes appear as anorexia and vomiting, progressing to diarrhea, lethargy, irregular heart beats, and seizures.

How does the doctor know if my pet has ingested zinc; how is that diagnosis made?  Typically, we will take radiographs (x-rays) of your pet.  Bright objects in the intestinal tract are suspicious for zinc toxicity but not conclusive.  We will also recommend taking bloodwork, doing a heavy metal panel to see what possible material was ingested (as many metals can look alike and present similarly, but require different treatments), getting urine, and possibly checking to see how the blood is clotting (called a coagulation profile).  These tests will tell us if this is a toxicity, how extensive the damage from this toxicity is, and if it is zinc or another type of toxic material your pet has ingested.  Because the severity of the toxicity depends on how quickly you bring your pet in and how strong your pet’s chances are from recovering from this.

Once my pet comes in what will we recommend?  In addition to the above mentioned tests, we will want to keep your pet in the hospital to try to stabilize your animal by managing the symptoms medically with fluids and medication to help protect the gut and slow the absorption of the zinc if it is indicated.   If the source of zinc is still present, we will remove the source of zinc surgically.  If this is caught early and treated quickly, the outcome is often favorable.  If this is detected after a long period of time, however, the outcome may be poor.  Eliminating the exposure to zinc is also important to prevent this from occurring in the future.

Source
Cahill-Morasco, Raymond. “Overview of Zinc Toxicosis.” The Merck Veterinary Manual. Aug. 2014. Web.

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