Several recent inquiries have alerted me to the fact that many Eclectus owners are unaware of signs of sickness in their birds. Most knew that birds’ instincts make them experts at hiding signs of sickness and that it may be difficult to detect symptoms. In the wild, if a bird shows signs of sickness, that individual could be chased off by the flock to avoid attracting the attention of predators, for whom it may become easy prey.
One of the first signs you may notice in a sick bird is a change in the bird’s appetite, as a result of nervousness, depression, and a general upset in its system. Is your bird eating less, or only eating one or two favorite foods? Or has it dropped some weight? We have to be cognizant of the fact that dietary deficiencies and environmental conditions are the underlying causes of most physical and behavioral problems.
Another important signal is a change in the appearance, volume, and amount of droppings. This usually indicates a problem in the digestive or renal system and may also be distinguished by the bird sitting in a sleepy fashion low on the perch. If an odor accompanies the dropping, there is reason for additional concern. The experienced eye of a veterinarian can quickly evaluate the bird’s droppings. Stools consist of three parts: Urine, urates, and feces. The urine should be clear like water, the urates should be white to creamy in color, and creamy in consis-tency, and the feces should be green and tubular.
Have you noticed your bird sleeping during the day with its head turned around in the nighttime sleeping position and its feathers puffed up? This usually means the bird is cold for some reason, possibly because the nutrients and calories in its food are being used to fight off the start of sickness, molt, or stress, resulting in the need to stay warmer, and some refer to this as the first sign of sickness. I don’t usually get too worried if the bird occasionally sleeps with its head turned around during the day, especially if it is extremely tired, or if the room temperature is cooler than usual, but if it is sleeping on both feet, this indicates he lacks the strength to stand on one foot, or that position is uncomfortable for some reason. Also, if you find your bird sleeping on the floor, it may indicate lack of strength, or discomfort in the legs and/or feet.
If the bird has stopped talking and/or playing, and neglects toenail and beak care, this may indicate the start of a problem. An overgrown beak may also be indicative of liver problems. Birds, like humans, need activity to stay healthy, and Eclectus are generally very playful and animated, so if the bird is lethargic or too calm, it is time for a visit to the Vet.
Another early indication of sickness is a change in mood or attitude, and you may find that your bird is less friendly. We have observed that if one of our breeders is a bit under the weather, he or she may become aggressive towards its mate, even to the point of vengeance and blood-letting. When this happens, it is time to temporarily separate the pair until good health is restored to both.
I have purchased birds whose previous owners professed were 100% healthy, but found that their general appearance or posture was poor. Understand, however, this is not always the fault of the owner. Many bird owners purchase birds in poor condition, but due to lack of experience, do not realize a problem may exist. In the case of dirty feathers, the indication may simply be that the owners did not bathe the bird on a regular basis.
Black marks on feathers may be stress marks which are usually not serious and will generally molt out, but a large number of stress marks may indicate the bird has been sick recently. Liver disease black marks are scattered on the feathers, but the liver is a very forgiving organ according to Dr. Cherney, and fatty liver disease can be easily corrected with the proper regimen.
If you see an unusually large amount of completely black feathers, this might indicate a diet too high in oil or fat, or a bird who has been fed a large amount of baby cereal or other types of cereal. Generally, once the diet is improved, the feather color will be corrected during the next molt. The feathers are one of the last places the nutrients reach, so if appearance is in disarray, the nutrients are probably being used to aid some other part of the body, possibly due to stress, molt, compromised health, or other problems.
Dry skin is a common occurrence in Eclectus, and can indicate dehydration or skin sensitivities. Dehydration has many causes, such as previous medication, dry environment, or poor diet.
Feather plucking is a common problem in Eclectus, and some say it is caused by psychological reasons. I’m not so sure this is always the case, and would opt to look at skin condition, mineral deficiencies, reaction on feather nerve endings caused by chemicals, and poor diet and/or environment first.
Respiratory distress might be indicated by labored breathing while resting or after exertion, a change in the sounds the bird normally makes, or sneezing, wheezing or clicking noises. Dr. Cherney listens for these sounds with a stethoscope. Also, tail bobbing is a good indication of respiratory strain.
VISUALLY APPARENT LUMPS, BUMPS, OR LESIONS
Birds can get cysts or lumps just like other animals. Check to see if the bird is picking at one particular place on its body, or if there are any visible swellings. Specific location picking can also indicate infection of the skin or feather follicles. Discoloration, swelling ,inflammation, or crustiness of the skin could result in a bird picking itself to a point where it causes bleeding and self-mutilation.
The environment for an Eclectus being kept indoors should be free of pollutants, such as smoke, gases, bacteria, fungus and mold. While a normally healthy Eclectus’ immune system can easily combat all of these barriers, one whose health has been compromised in the past may have a problem when encountering these contaminants. A friend’s bird’s feet and legs became infected with an aspergillus type fungus much like athlete’s foot, due to moist, dirty bedding in her next box. By the time we learned of this and offered to bring her home to try to correct the problem, she had picked all the skin from her feet and legs, exposing bloody muscles all the way above the thighs to the leg joint. The feet and legs were swollen about five times their normal size from inflammation and infection. It took months for the skin to heal, and only after weeks of antifungal medication, along with anti-bacterial ointment and anti-itch medication, did we decide to put a collar on her. She finally recuperated 100% and the new owner is very pleased with her.
We check cage floors every time we walk past one, scrutenising anything unusual. Spotting a drop of blood underneath a cage or play area can cause great anxiety to owners. Is that red spot cranberry juice or blood? Is the discoloration in the stool from the fruit colored pellets or blood in the stool? Has the male been regurgitating food for the female, or is he vomiting? Is the bird passing too much urine, or did he just have a big drink of water or juice? While one dropping may be tubular and perfectly formed, the next may look like a cowpie.
Many readers have telephoned seeking help finding a qualified veterinarian in their geographical area. Unfortunately, veterinarians well trained in avian medicine are hard to find. Many, however, will do telephone consultations with you for a fee (Dr. Branson Ritchie’s is almost $3.00 per minute), and many dog and cat vets are happy to consult with qualified avian veterinarians to help find a remedy for your bird’s problems. I must admit, though, that I feel it would be a difficult task for a veterinarian, qualified in avian or not, to make a diagnosis over the telephone. There is no substitute for the knowledge gleaned from the proper tests and cultures. Before I found Dr. Cherney, I had sent, via Federal Express, samples of droppings to UCLA in Davis, California, and Dr. Susan Clubb in Florida, so mailing samples may be another option to consider if you simply cannot find a veterinarian in your geographical area.
If you notice any abnormalities in your Eclectus that you suspect may lead to a problem, please contact a veterinarian immediately.
We all want to provide the best possible care and nurturing for our feathered friends. All of our efforts should result in a safer, better life for them in captivity than they would have in the wild.