Georgie’s Story – Egg Peritonitis in Breeder or Pet Birds

Late one evening, my telephone rang and several of my birds answered “hello”, as I picked up the phone. The caller said “I have an African Grey that I want to sell for $100.00 and if you don’t come and get him, I am going to let him out the door”. I asked the caller how she found me and she replied ” I live on the same street as you, in the middle section of the block.” So I wrote down her name and address and told her I would be there in a few minutes.

I arrived at her house 10 minutes later. She promptly answered the door and led me into her dining room. Sitting on a metal perch in a small dirty, old rusty homemade cage was the most beautiful Blue Crown Conure that I had ever seen.

I approached the cage slowly and began talking softly to the bird. The bird jumped to the front of the cage clinging to the bars. I turned to my neighbor and I asked ” what is the bird’s name?” She replied “George”.

Then, I told her that the bird was not an African Grey, but a Blue Crown Conure. She said, “But, it talks”. I explained to her that many different species of parrots are capable of speech, although certain species such as Greys and Amazons are more commonly known to talk. She didn’t believe me so I asked her if I could use her phone to call home. My husband answered, and I asked him if he would bring me my Atlas of Parrots book. I didn’t want to enter my house and risk bringing in a disease.

While we waited for my husband to arrive I asked my neighbor to tell me about George. She said that she had owned George for about 6 months and that she had gotten him from a friend at work. She was George’s 7th owner in the past 2 1/2 years. I asked her why she wanted to sell George and she said because he bites and screams too much. She also stated, that she was tired of screaming at him, and that she had to shake his cage in order to shut him up. During the entire conversation, George was curiously eyeing me and making these soft cooing sounds.

I asked her if I could take George out of his cage and she said that he won’t come out of the cage and that he will bite if you try and get him out. I told her I wanted to try anyway. We walked over to the cage and I could tell that George was not a vicious bird. He was clinging to the bars, with his feathers fluffed up, and he was turning his head toward me so that I could give him a good scratch. I put my fingers through the bars and I gave him a good head scratch and I preened his head feathers. My neighbor was totally amazed that he had allowed me to pet him. I opened the cage door and my neighbor stated “Hit him in the head if he tries to bite you.” I place my hand in front of him and he gently grabbed my finger with his beak, and my neighbor shouted “hit him”, then he eagerly stepped onto my hand. Astonished, my neighbor asked me why I let George bite me. I explained to her that he did not bite me and that he wasn’t trying to bite me. I informed her that parrots use their beak as a third foot to grip, and climb, and grab.

As I preened George’s feathers, my husband knocked on the door and I took the book from him. We walked over to the dining room table and sat down. I put George on my shoulder where he happily preened my hair while I thumbed through the book looking for the section on Blue Crown Conures. I found the page and pictures of the Blue Crown and showed them to my neighbor. George became irritated that he wasm’t getting my attention, and he began kissing me. He was the sweetest little bird and I knew that I couldn’t leave him with his present owners. After looking at the pictures of African Greys and Blue Crowns, my neighbor agreed that George was a Blue Crown Conure.

I asked her about George’s diet and medical history. She said that she bought the bulk seed mix from the pet store, and that she didn’t even know that birds needed to go the vet.

I offered her $50.00 for George and she said she wanted a $100.00 for George and the cage. I told her that I didn’t want the cage because I had a nice cage at home. She agreed to sell George for $50.00, without the cage.

Once again, I asked if I could use the phone. I called my neighbor, Diane, and asked her if I could quarantine George at her house. Diane doesn’t have any birds of her own and she had been very gracious in the past having allowed me to quarantine birds at her house. Once again, she agreed to let me use her home for quarantine. Then, I called home and asked my husband if he would set up a cage at Diane’s house.

George blossomed during his stay at Diane’s house. After a week, he began talking and his large vocabulary was amazing. He accepted all of the foods that I offered him and he ate with gusto. George did not have a leg band but I believe that he was handfed. Even thought the people I purchased George from, abused and neglected him through their own ignorance, I believe that one of his previous owners had taken excellent care of him. He chewed his toys like a mini buzz saw. He has never shown any fear or nervousness at new toys. Not only was he NOT afraid of strangers, he often greeted new visitors by saying “Come here” and making kissing sounds. After 2 weeks George had his first visit with my veterinarian. A few weeks later all of his test results came in with only one surprise…..George was a hen.

Now, George was officially called Georgie Girl. After another 30 days, I brought Georgie home and I quarantined her in my extra bedroom/ home office for another 30 days. I also promised her that this would be her last home.

I enjoyed having Georgie in my office so I kept her there. She kept me company while I was working and she always made me laugh. She was such a delight that I decided that I wanted to breed these wonderful birds.

I found a breeder in Ohio who had 5 pairs of Blue Crowns. 3 of the pairs were proven breeders. I purchased all 5 pairs. During my search, I found a lady in St. Claire Shores, MI, that had an extra untamed, single imported male, named Max. I purchased him with the hope of pairing him up with one of my pairs if they didn’t breed or with one of the babies that I hoped to have.

After the initial quarantine and vet checks of the new Blue Crowns, I brought them home and put them downstairs in the Conure breeding room. Upon hearing their screams, Georgie became really excited and answered their calls.

Several days later, while I was cleaning the Conure breeder room, I figured out that it was Max who was calling to Georgie. I knew Max was lonely, and I began a search to find a mate for him. In the interim, the screaming and calling between Georgie and Max grew with greater intensity.

After several weeks, I was unsuccessful in finding a mate for Max. My husband had enough of the screaming Blue Crowns and he strongly suggested that I sell Max, since I couldn’t find a mate for him. I did not want to sell Max, so I decided to move his cage into my office too, hoping that he and Georgie would stop screaming for each other.

Well, it worked. Max was happy to be in a cage next to Georgie, and she was really happy to have him near her. They would sit as close to the other’s cage as possible. One day when I was feeding Max, he quickly ran out of his cage and onto the top of Georgie’s cage. I ran out of the office to get a towel so that I could retrieve Max. When, I entered the office, he was feeding her through the cage bars. I watched them intently, while feeling guilty for keeping them apart for so long. I wanted to keep Georgie as my pet, not as one of my breeding pairs, so I toweled Max and I put him back in his own cage. Then, I fed Georgie, and she climbed out of her cage onto my shoulder. She kissed me and played in my hair, then she hopped onto Max’s cage. I knew that she wanted to be with Max. I opened Max’s cage door, and Georgie climbed down the front of the cage and walked right in and perched next to him. They began preening each other and within 5 minutes started mating. It was the first time that I had ever seen Conures mating. None of my other pairs of Conures have ever mated anywhere except inside of their nestboxes.

After a month had passed, I noticed that Georgie was going to lay an egg. I set up a breeding cage in my office and I put them in it. Georgie immediately went into the nestbox and began adding her personal touches to the box. 3 days later, she laid her first egg. She laid a total of 4 eggs. Georgie would not only let me inspect the nextbox, she would proudly, step aside to show off her eggs. Upon candling the eggs, I was disappointed to note that all 4 of the eggs were infertile. Georgie didn’t seem to mind, she kept sitting tight, and she allowed me to give her head scratches while she incubated her eggs. Even though Georgie enjoyed my intrusions into the nestbox, Max didn’t. He never tried to bite me, but he took a defensive position , ready to defend his mate and eggs, every time I peeked into the box.

I let them sit on the eggs for 4 weeks, then I removed them from the box. A month later, Georgie and Max went to back to nest. Georgie laid her first 3 eggs on schedule. On the day that the fourth egg was due, I peeked into the box and Georgie didn’t step aside. When I tried to pet her, she lunged at my hand. Puzzled, I thought that I had interrupted her egg laying, so I closed the nestbox door and left her alone.

Several hours later, I checked on Georgie. Once again, she did not step aside or allow me to pet her. My concern grew and I decided to chase her off of the nest. She weakly climbed out of the nestbox and perched next to her mate. Immediately, she defecated, and I saw yolk colored yellow in her droppings. Quite alarmed, I rushed to get the phone and I called my vet at his home.

It was early Sunday afternoon, and my vet said it didn’t sound good and that I should bring Georgie in immediately and he would meet me at his office. After the examination, the diagnosis was egg yolk peritonitis. My vet., Dr. Kevin Roose, said that she had a 50-50 chance of fighting off the infection caused by the yolk poisoning. Georgie’s x-ray did not show any signs that the egg shell had formed around the yolk. Dr. Roose explained that the yolk travels from the ovary through the oviduct and into the vagina where the shell is formed. Peritonitis can develop when the yolk enters the abdominal cavity instead of the reproductive tract, and the hen does not absorb the yolk, thus causing a serious bacterial infection.

Egg peritonitis is a serious illness that all bird owner’s need to aware of. Female pet birds can ovulate and lay eggs even though they do not have a mate. I recommend that all pet owners have their birds DNA sexed so that they can look for signs of illness that are sex related.

Some of the symptoms of egg peritonitis can include: lethargy, loss of appetite, fluffed feathers, lack of vocalizations, yolk colored droppings, swollen vent and/or abdomen (the swelling will feel spongy to the touch). Some of these symptoms also mimic egg binding. If you suspect either egg binding or peritonitis, an avian vet should be consulted immediately.

Georgie’s treatment included keeping her warm in a brooder, injections of fluids to prevent dehydration, tube feeding, and aggressive antibiotic therapy. The treatment plan also called for surgery to clean out the abdomen as soon as she was strong enough to endure the operation. Unfortunately, she did not respond to the antibiotics as we had hoped, and she was never strong enough to have the surgery. She fought the infection for 5 days before she passed away.

Peritonitis is not a common occurrence, but it can, and does happen. Always look for any signs of illness and/or behavioral changes in your bird. Always consult your vet at the signs of any symptoms.

Learning your bird’s preferences, habits, and personality traits will help you notice any changes that could be an indictation of illness. Parrots mask their symptoms, so early detection is imparative to sucessful treatment.