Signs of Illness

Dealing with Illness


Our Tragic Experience

How to Do a Fecal Smear




Signs of Illness

Fluffed Feathers
There are many indications that a bird may be ill. One of the most common and easy to recognize symptoms is puffiness. A sick bird will often sit with fluffed feathers to stay warm. When this happens, they lose that sleek trim appearance. Sometimes a fluffed bird will look ragged or fat. On occasion, perfectly healthy birds fluff up for short periods. If you frequently see them in this condition, however, there may be a problem. Be aware that even a sick bird will tighten his feathers if he perceives danger. So don't be surprised or fooled by a fluffed bird who suddenly pulls in and tightens his feathers when you approach. This is a defense mechanism so that he doesn't look as vulnerable to prey.

Wet Vent
Another symptom of a sick bird is a wet vent (the bird's underside, where he/she excretes droppings from). This area should be clean and dry in a healthy bird.

Respiratory Symptoms
Heavy breathing is another telltale sign of illness. This is frequently accompanied by tail-bobbing. Coughing, sneezing, or nasal discharge is indicative of a problem.

If you hold a bird to your ear and hear a clicking sound while they breath, you should have him/her checked out immediately. This is a frequent symptom of air sac mites (among other things).

Lethargy and sleepiness are behaviors to watch out for. Obviously, all birds will nap periodically throughout the day. But a bird who is commonly napping while the others are active is most likely suffering from an illness. A social bird who suddenly prefers to be alone may be suffering from an illness. A bird sitting on the bottom of the cage or aviary most likely has a problem. (Note that my pair of strawberries have always enjoyed sitting together for periods on the bottom, even when totally healthy. This is why it is important to know the personalities and habits of your birds - so you can identify behaviors that are abnormal for that particular bird. When the male strawberry sat on the bottom alone and shunned the company of the female, I knew there was a problem).

Lack of Appetite
If a bird stops eating due to illness, this could be big trouble. Note that sometimes a sick bird will give the appearance of eating by sitting near the seed or sifting its beak through the seed. Make sure to watch carefully and see if they are actually hulling the seed and eating it.

Lack of Vocalization or Song
A sick bird does not want to draw attention to himself for fear that he may become victim to a predator. Sick birds also want to conserve energy. For this reason, a sick bird who normally sings or chirps may suddenly become quiet.

Unusual Droppings
A good practice is to check the droppings every day, looking for anything abnormal. This is very difficult for me, as I have a number of birds in the aviary and the droppings vary based on species, diet, and gender. However, there are certain basic things to watch out for. For example, the urates (the opaque fluid that accompanies the dropping) should always dry white. It if dries yellow, green, or any other color, there could be a problem. This linked article gives a good general description of normal and abnormal droppings. Because it is difficult to examine droppings when you use litter or bedding on the cage/aviary floor, many people recommend the use of paper instead. I make it a point to look at the droppings every day (if for no other reason than to become accustomed to what they should look like under healthy conditions).

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