Know your parrot well

Parrots, in nature, are gregarious and live in very large flocks with a very well-structured pecking order or avian hierarchy, which comes into effect at water points, feeding areas, roosting sites and any other competitive event. 

Instinctively, parrots will try as long as possible to hide any signs of weakness within their group system to avoid being persecuted and pecked to death. Parrots in captivity housed in aviaries adopt the same inherent behaviours.


A pet parrot in a cage will also apply similar principles of holding out demonstrably if feeling “under the weather” and the owner may only detect something is out of kilter when the incubating condition is fairly advanced.

Only an observant bird owner with sufficient experience may be able to detect early symptoms of illness.

What most people tend to notice is a change in the activity level by talking less, not singing and being less responsive to environmental stimuli. Another common detection by owners is the appearance of ruffled feathers, weakness, not perching properly, holding on to wires in the cage with the beak most of the time, spending more time on the floor of the cage and playing with the food and not eating much. Often parrot owners misunderstand the activity in relation to the sickness in the bird.

If questioned if the bird is eating, often they will acknowledge the bird is at the food bowl all day, but what they have failed to vigilantly observe is that the parrot is breaking the husks of the seeds but not eating. It may be pushing the food from side to side in its bowl similar to a human anorexic. It may even throw the food out and give complete attention to the contents on the floor without ingesting anything. This is an advanced indicator of illness.

Other common symptoms include breathing changes, which may vary from wheezing, clicking, open-mouthed respiration, drooping wings, swollen eyelids, increased blinking or tail bobbing when the abdominal muscles are overworking to help the bird increase oxygen uptake. Vomiting, straining to pass droppings and diarrhoea are also serious. 

It is incumbent on all bird owners to acquaint themselves with normal physiology so that they are equipped to detect abnormalities more rapidly. How many parrot owners know what a normal dropping looks like and what they are seeing at the bottom of the cage is a nervous condition or liquid droppings owing to disease? Damaged, broken or deformed feathers are a problem. This may be caused by feather picking, a prolonged moult or plucking.

For any abnormal symptoms, a veterinarian is the only professional who can advise on managing the situation. Some veterinarians are specialised in avian medicine and surgery and often birds are so ill and so far down the line by the time they are first presented that intensive care by a specialised vet may be required.

 Read more on this topic next week.

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Dr Platzhund pet Your Home

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