FAQ

On this page we discuss the frequently asked questions by bird owners. Some symptoms can point to underlying health issues. Read more information on common diseases and conditions. Don't hesitate to get in contact if you have any questions.

  • How to feed my bird?
  • My bird vomits
  • My bird sneezes
  • My bird's beak is/nails are too long
  • My bird keeps laying eggs
  • My bird drinks a lot
  • My bird falls off his perch
  • My bird is going bald
  • My bird is getting thin
  • My bird is short of breath

How to feed my bird?

There are many different types of bird seed for sale. Every bird species has different dietary needs. It is therefore extremely important to give suitable feed that has been specially developed for the bird species you own.

When giving seed mixtures, it is important to ensure that the bird eats all the seeds and not just the ones it likes best (usually sunflower seeds). A selective bird will not get all the nutrients it needs and will therefore have an unbalanced diet.

One common problem is that the birds often likes the sunflower seeds the most, which are full of fat and contain few vitamins. If you want a healthy bird, it should finish all the seeds before it receives a new meal. The bird should get the amount of feed it can finish in one day. Check regularly to make sure the bird is not too fat. You should be able to feel the breastbone.

A good seed mix contains most vitamins, minerals and amino acids a bird needs, but not all of them. Feeding your bird only seeds will result in nutritional deficiencies and related health problems.

Adding a good nutritional supplement to the seed mix, is therefore essential. This can be a powder which you sprinkle on top of the feed. Pelleted food contains all the nutrients that your bird requires. They can't select a favourite pieces because every pellet has the same nutritional value. Some birds, however, refuse to eat pellets.

It is important not to add any supplements to pelleted food, because an excess of vitamins and minerals can cause serious health problems. You should also check regularly to make sure your bird doesn't get too fat because it eats too much of the pelleted food.

Fruit and vegetables are allowed to be given, but not too much. If you decide to change the feed, you should allow the digestive system of your bird to get used to the new composition of the food. Allowing the bird to eat leftovers from your own plate is not wise, because these often contain too much salt and spices. A bird's kidneys have great difficulty processing salt, which can lead to kidney problems. Vegetables with nothing else added are perfectly fine.

The diet of your bird should either consist mainly of a suitable seed mix with supplements or pelleted food. Always be sure that this is the major part of your bird's daily dietary intake.

Because a bowl of feed offers the bird little challenge, you could make feeding time a little more exciting. There is a wide range of toys on the market in which you can hide the feed. You can also come up with some ideas of your own to keep your bird busy for a longer time when eating its daily dose of feed. The Internet is a great place to find some interesting ideas.

My bird vomits

Birds can vomit for a variety of reasons. When a bird vomits, it will often shake its head quite vigorously to get rid of the contents. The vomit can then land on the head and cheeks. When it dries up the feathers on the head tend to get a spiky appearance. This is sometimes the only visual sign if the act of vomiting itself goes unnoticed.

Besides vomiting due to sickness, male parrots and parakeets may regurgitate as part of their courtship ritual. If the male bird sees people as its partner, he may regurgitate when seeing his favourite person. He will throw his head backwards when vomiting so the substance lands on his head.

Birds can also suffer from motion sickness and can vomit when travelling by car. Vomiting because of illness occurs in many different medical conditions.

It may be because the feed doesn't pass through the gastrointestinal tract well enough. An enlarged thyroid gland in budgerigars is a very common cause of vomiting. The thyroid gland is located at the bottom of the neck. If it becomes enlarged, it can place pressure on the oesophagus and the crop, thereby obstructing the passage of food to the stomach and causing the bird to vomit.

Psittacines (parrots) have an added risk of Proventricular Dilatation Disease (PDD). Due to the delayed food passage, the bird can vomit all the food out again. A disturbed food passage can also be caused by tumours, infections and parasites. Vomiting also occurs in combination with various viruses, fungi and bacteria.

The most common reason for baby birds to regurgitate is because of unsuitable feed or feeding methods. For example, they can vomit if the formula is either too hot or too cold, when too much feed is given in one go, when the formula is too thin, in case of crop burning or due to ‘sour crop/candidiasis’.

Many nutrients are lost when vomiting occurs. If a bird is also ill at the same time, its condition could rapidly worsen. It is therefore always advisable to visit a vet when your bird vomits.

My bird sneezes

Sneezing is a symptom that is linked to afflictions of the lungs and airways. When a bird sneezes, it could be due to irritation because of smoke. Possible reasons for sneezing can be infectious, an infection with a virus, fungus or bacteria can cause sneezing (e.g. parrot fever is a well-known cause of sneezing).

The mucous membrane in the frontal airways can also be affected due to nutritional deficiencies, which can cause the bird to sneeze. Birds that sneeze can also have rather watery eyes, especially in case of infectious causes.

Birds do not have a diaphragm. Therefore, they cannot cough in the same way mammals and humans do. Mammals build up pressure inside the lungs and expel the air forcefully by making a coughing movement.

Because the abdominal cavity in birds is one large space, they can't build up the pressure needed for a coughing reflex. This means it's more difficult for birds to cough any harmful particles out of the body, leaving them more susceptible to respiratory problems. Psittacines that talk, such as parrots, have the ability to make coughing sounds. This is likely to be an imitation of the human cough.

Because sneezing can be associated with any number of diseases, it is always wise to visit an avian vet. Especially birds that belong to the Neophema genus can contract parrot fever, with watery eyes and sneezing being the most noticeable symptoms. Because this sickness can be passed on to humans, treating the birds also makes sure you don't get sick.

My bird's beak is/nails are too long

A bird's beak grows continuously throughout its life. It naturally wears down through the peeling of seeds and by grinding it on a grooming perch and branches. When the positions of the upper and lower beaks are normal, the length of the beak is naturally maintained.

Sometimes, however, the upper beak and the lower beak are asymmetric and don't wear down correctly. This abnormal position could be the result of a fall, being bitten by other birds or an incorrect diet. The birds get a so-called cross beak or scissor beak, whereby the ends of the upper and lower beak continue to grow. This eventually leads to the birds having difficulty eating, grooming and preening.

Correcting the beak back to normal proportions is needed for these birds to live a healthy life. This can be done by filing the beak back to its natural shape, or by burning away any excess beak tissue. In most cases this procedure will have to be repeated every so often, or the upper and lower beaks will need to be operatively aligned to help the beak to wear down naturally again.

A beak can also continue to grow despite it being correctly aligned. Usually it is the upper beak that is too long. This can often be seen in parrots with liver problems. Budgerigars will get a very long and abnormally shaped upper beak if infected by the Knemodikoptes mite.

Since these are very slow and ongoing processes, the birds will often adapt their eating methods so they can continue to eat, even with a severely deformed beak. An overgrown upper beak also needs to be brought back to its natural shape, and the underlying cause needs to be determined and treated.

If a bird's nails are too long, it means they don't wear down well enough. This could be because the perch is the wrong size or too smooth. Natural, wooden perches of various diameters make great perches for birds. This enables them to change grip and naturally wear down the nails. There is also less chance of foot sole problems.

If a bird's nails are too long, it could mean it is getting too many vitamins. This occurs with birds that receive food supplements on top of their daily pellet feed. Long nails can be shortened. This is preferably done by cauterizing the end of the nail with heat. When clipping a bird's nails, the nail can split lengthwise and leads to infections. What's more, if the nail is cut into the quick (blood supply) it will cause severe bleeding.

My bird keeps laying eggs

Adult hens can start laying eggs. This is normal behaviour. It is controlled by hormones, which in turn are influenced by environmental factors, such as the length of the day, whether or not there is a partner, whether or not there is a nesting box. Birds that imprint on humans (see humans as 'one of their own') may see their owner as a partner and be stimulated to lay eggs. Hens can continue to lay eggs even until it brings about physical problems. Making eggs and laying them uses up a lot of energy and nutrients. If, on top of that, a bird doesn't receive a well-balanced diet, deficiencies in the body can easily occur.

For a bird that no longer breeds, it is in her own best interest to try and stop her laying eggs, as this is a strain on her body. A bird that continually lays eggs also has a greater chance of becoming egg-bound or getting peritonitis. Simply leaving the eggs will suffice for some birds. Once they have collected the normal amount of eggs, the motivation disappears and they just stop laying.

If this doesn't work, another possibility is to change the environmental factors that encourage the laying of eggs. If there is a nesting box, it should be removed. The length of day is shortened to 8 to 10 hours of light per day by placing a cloth over the cage in the evening. It sometimes helps to also move the cage.

Birds that imprint on humans can see one single person as their partner. This is a strong impetus to lay eggs. These birds will often also show other sexual behaviour, for instance by regurgitating (this is a bird's normal behaviour towards its partner) as a reaction to seeing its 'partner', masturbating to the person, showing aggression towards others who come close to the 'partner'. These birds can stop laying if the person spends less time with the bird, even temporarily.

Hormone injection can also (temporarily) stop the bird from laying. The problem is that these medications can have serious side effects. As a last resort, a bird can be sterilised by removing the ovary. This is, however, a major operation with a number of serious risks.

My bird drinks a lot

Different bird species drink different amounts of water. The feed also greatly influences the daily water intake. Birds that also eat fruit and vegetables in addition to their seeds/pellets will drink less than birds that only eat seeds or pellets.

If you notice that your bird is drinking more than usual, while there is no change in diet, it could be that it is drinking too much. Drinking too much water is often a result of the bird losing a lot of fluid with the urine. Drinking more water is the bird´s way of preventing dehydration. For this reason, you should never restrict the water intake of your bird, if the reason behind the increase water intake is not clear.

You can recognise a bird that is losing a lot of fluid in its urine by the larger portion of urine in its stool. You may even see a small puddle around the normal stool. This can also happen if the bird is in a situation that causes it stress. Because certain hormones are released following a stressful situation, the urine becomes less concentrated. The urine takes up a larger portion of the stool and the bird needs to drink more in order not to dehydrate. This phenomenon goes away again once the bird is able to relax.

Pigeons that feed their young often drink more for a number of days during the transition of feeding crop milk to feeding seeds. This is due to the changes in hormone levels. A bird that drinks too much water can also have renal problems. This could vary from kidney tumours to an infection. Certain medication can also cause damage to the kidneys, such as certain antibiotics.

In case of renal problems, there are often other symptoms, besides drinking more. Birds can be more lethargic, have less appetite which makes them lose weight, and they can have problems with their legs. The nerves that control the legs run through the rear section of the kidneys. If the kidneys are inflamed because of a tumour or an infection it could affect these nerves, causing the muscle strength and coordination in one or both legs to decrease. The birds can sometimes no longer sit on their perch properly. Enlarged kidneys can also cause abdominal distension. The bloated abdomen can also be filled with fluid.

Drinking too much water can be a symptom of many other illnesses or diseases. Pigeons, for example, will drink much more if they are infected with the paramyxovirus. Birds with liver diseases also drink more.

Because drinking more than usual could be associated with a number of illnesses, it is recommended that you consult an avian vet.

My bird falls off his perch

Falling off the perch can happen due to loss of balance or muscular strength.

Calcium

Calcium is a substance that regulates the muscle contraction in the body. Calcium deficiency can reduce muscular strength, resulting in weak muscles and causing the bird to fall off its perch.

Birds that are fed a low-calcium diet for a long period can develop calcium deficiency. This often occurs with birds that are only fed a seed mix, without a dietary supplement. A bird can sometimes get enough calcium, but use most of it up again, resulting in a deficit. This is often the case with hens that continuously lay eggs. The calcium needed is taken from their own bodies.

Calcium deficiency is relatively common in the African grey parrot and we often see them falling off their perch. This bird species has greater difficulty withdrawing the calcium from the bones when needed, which can result in acute calcium deficiency. Blood tests can establish the calcium level in the body and determine whether this is sufficient or not.

Treatment consists of supplementing the calcium deficiency up to a healthy level. This will often have to be done by daily injection to begin with, as the deficiency will take too long to resolve if only supplemented in the feed. When the calcium level in the body is back to normal, it remains important to prevent any new shortages. You can do this by making sure there is enough calcium in the feed (by feeding pellets or by adding supplements to seed mixes). With African grey parrots, you will often have to give a lot of extra calcium to make sure the birds stay healthy.

Trauma

A bird with a broken or bruised leg will definitely find it hard to stay on its perch. Even birds that continuously stay in the cage can easily injure themselves. For instance, they could get their leg caught between the bars or become entangled in the play rope. If the bones are also brittle because of calcium deficiency, they can quite easily break. It's not always clear to see, so a visit to the vet is often necessary for a diagnosis and for treatment.

Kidneys

As the most important nerves of the legs run through the last part of the kidneys in birds, tumours or infections of the kidneys can cause these nerves to become damaged. This results in less strength in the legs. Animals with kidney problems will often drink a lot more than usual and a larger part of the droppings consists of urine.

Balance disorders

Balance disorders can occur due to a middle-ear infection or an infection elsewhere in the brain. Other associated symptoms can often also be noticed, for instance tilting the head or diminished appetite.

Other causes

If a bird is generally ill or simply very weak, it will not have the strength to sit on its perch. You will often notice these birds sitting on the ground of the cage. If birds don´t eat, they may have sugar deficiency. This means they are short of energy and become very weak quickly.

If your bird can no longer sit on its perch or continuously falls off, you should always visit a veterinarian. In addition, if your bird appears to be ill, eats and drinks poorly and is lethargic, it becomes a matter of urgency.

My bird is going bald

Baldness in birds can have a number of reasons.

Feather-plucking/feather-picking

The bird uses its beak to pluck its own feathers out of its body. These can be feathers from the body itself, tail or wings. Some birds tend to mainly pluck the down feathers from the body, while others pull out the large contour feathers. What´s striking is that the feathers on the head are normal, for the simple reason that the bird can´t reach them. Plucking can have a number of causes. One of the most common reasons is probably boredom and/or stress.

Sometimes, plucking can have a physical origin. A bird could be itchy because it has skin parasites. Intestinal parasites or liver problems can also cause itchiness and make the bird start to pluck itself. If the physical symptoms are treated, it doesn't always mean the bird will stop plucking. It may continue plucking itself simply out of habit.

One treatment method is to reshape the beak so the bird can no longer grab hold of the feathers. This is, among other things, done by burning a groove in the lower beak. Another way of making sure the bird can´t reach its own feathers is by putting a collar around its neck. These are some methods to try and break the habit of feather picking. There could, however, be an underlying cause and the bird will start plucking again as soon as the beak grows back or the collar is removed.

If the physical reasons have been ruled out, it´s most likely to be a behavioural problem. Stress and boredom can be tackled in several ways. What often helps for a bird that plucks itself is to provide more distraction and to keep the environment safe and orderly.

Making the feeding session more interesting for birds is an important stimulant. A wild bird spends most of its time foraging for food and then eating it. The goal is to partly mimic what a bird does in the wild by making the feed more difficult to reach. You can find a lot of good ideas on the Internet about new and challenging ways to present the feed to your bird.

Giving your bird a partner can also solve many of the problems related to feather picking. If the bird plucks its feathers for too long, it will end up staying bald. The feather follicles are then irreparably damaged.

Skin infection

If feathers spontaneously fall out and no new feathers are pushed out through the skin (as they normally should), it could mean there is a skin infection that also affects the feather follicles. An infection of the skin can be caused by a fungus or by bacteria.

Viruses

There are several viral diseases that can cause abnormal feather growth and feathers to fall out, such as PBFD/beak and feather disease and Polyomavirus/budgerigar fledgling disease.

General poor health

A bird’s health is important and general poor condition or wrong bird feed can have huge negative effects on the plumage. Developing new feathers use up a lot of energy and nutrients. If the bird can't get enough of these nutrients from its feed, feathers will grow back abnormally or not at all after moulting. A discolouration of the feathers can be the first visible sign of certain nutritional deficiencies.

Hormones

Hormones can also influence the plumage. For instance, birds get a featherless spot on the stomach during breeding season, called a brood patch. This bald patch of skin is also well supplied with blood vessels, giving it a red appearance. This is quite normal in birds and its function is to transfer the warmth of the body from the parent to the eggs. Usually only females develop brood patches, although in some species the male can also have them.

My bird is getting thin

The best way to establish whether a bird is too thin is by checking the pectoral muscles that run over the breastbone. There is a protruding keel bone on the breastbone, which you should just be able to feel. A bird that is too fat will have a round chest and you won't be able to feel the keel. If a bird is too thin, the keel will stick out more and feel somewhat 'sharp'.

When a bird is thin, it generally means it is not receiving enough nutrients to maintain its weight. This could simply be because it doesn't eat enough, but it could also be that the body uses up an abnormally high amount of energy.

If a bird isn't eating enough, you should check the quality of the bird feed. Also look at the bird's beak. If there is an abnormality in its shape, it could mean the bird is having difficulty eating. Sometimes the feeder is empty while the unpeeled seeds just lie at the bottom of the cage. A deformity of the beak can result from a wrong diet, a trauma or an infection.

When a bird loses weight even though it is eating the same amount as before, it could mean it is not able to digest its feed properly. The bird isn't able to use a portion of the energy found in feed. This could be a symptom that arises from severe worm infection, gastroenteritis, proventricular dilatation disease, atoxoplasmosis, etc. In most patients, the stool will also be different. It may still have undigested seeds in it or it could contain a lot of fat.

Another possibility is that the bird is using up more energy. The plucker is a good example. A bird that has been plucking itself for a long time will be almost featherless (besides its head). A bird without feathers loses a lot of its body heat to the environment (the feathers were once an excellent form of insulation). To stay warm, the bird has to use a great deal of energy. If the bird can't eat more than it already does, it will lose weight.

Being sick also uses up energy. What's more, a sick bird eats less food. It is therefore important to check regularly if the bird is not too thin, especially a bird that isn't fully fit. A bird that stops eating altogether is always considered an emergency situation. Because of their high metabolism and small dimensions, birds can't handle fasting. Small songbirds in particular can die within 5 hours of not eating food. 

My bird is short of breath

A bird that breathes easily shows hardly any sign of breath movements. A bird with respiratory distress can therefore be recognised by the much more laboured movements when breathing. The outward movement of the breastbone is more pronounced than it usually is. Another sign is that the bird may bob its head with every breath and some birds may move their tail up and down. An open beak may indicate severe shortness of breath.

Diseases or ailments whereby fluid is produced may be accompanied by guttural sounds while breathing. Disorders of the air sacs are often accompanied by clicking sounds. A bird that has difficulty breathing may have an acute illness or it may have been suffering from a dormant illness for quite some time.

Sometimes a bird may become acutely short of breath without any prior signs, this could be caused by exposure to toxins. A well-known cause is the so-called Teflon poisoning. When nonstick pans are overheated, toxic fumes are released. These fumes aren't harmful to mammals; however birds develop severe pneumonia and produce excessive amounts of fluid within a very short time. Their bodies can no longer absorb oxygen as a result. They become acutely short of breath and can perish quickly.

Another cause of acute shortness of breath is when an obstacle becomes stuck in the windpipe. This could be because the bird inhaled a seed. Also birds with a fungal infection, whereby the fungus forms small growths, can become acutely short of breath. For instance if the fungal growth comes loose and gets stuck in the windpipe.

If a bird hasn't been feeling well for some time and is finding it increasingly hard to breathe, it could be affected by a number of diseases and illnesses. As an example, tracheal mites often occur in small songbirds. These mites can cause respiratory distress when in the bird's windpipe. Chickens can sometimes have gapeworms in their airways.

Fungus in the lungs slowly expands and symptoms/shortness of breath will be gradually become more pronounced. Budgies that have an iodine shortage in their diet often have a strongly enlarged thyroid gland, which puts pressure on the windpipe and causes breathing difficulties.

Because birds do not have a diaphragm, their body consists of one large cavity. In case of enlargement of abdominal organs, there will be a direct negative effect on the air sacs and lungs. For example, egg binding can cause respiratory problems because of pressure from the egg. Free fluids in the abdominal cavity can also quickly cause problems due to interference with lung function. Simply being too fat can give a bird respiratory problems, as the fat puts pressure on the lungs and air sacs. Overweight birds will have more difficulty breathing than more slender birds.

All in all, shortness of breath should always be taken seriously. Acute respiratory distress is an emergency. But slowly worsening respiratory distress is also a cause for concern and requires swift action before the situation further deteriorates.

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