First Aid And Why

More than any other birds kept as pets, Parrots are wild animals. In their rapidly vanishing wild habitat, showing signs of illness or weakness singles the bird out for predators. If you have to chase your meals, you’ll try to find a slow one.

This instinct has not gone away in parrots, and it is up to those of us who care for them to be vigilant and watch for signs. And if you see signs, get help immediately. Because the bird has hidden these signs for as long as possible, and you may only have a few hours in which to help your pet.

The very first thing you need to have in your first aid kit is the name and phone number of a good avian vet. Ask your friends who have birds, look on Yelp for customer reviews, join a bird club and ask the members. Take your bird in for a well bird check-up every year so you both learn the routine and the bird isn’t traumatized further when an emergency arises. Likewise, as parrots might not get sick during the vet’s office hours, have the name and phone number of an animal hospital with 24 hour care and an avian vet on staff. Ask your primary vet to recommend one.

I have to admit that I am giving you the situation as it should be. Personally, with 70 odd birds, we don’t take them in for yearly well bird check-ups. Money being tight, and the horizon being far off, we get by with luck and lots of prayers. When we are better off, I will take at least the larger birds in for annual check-ups.

For the rest of the flock. I am vigilant. Aviculturists talk about Poopology, and it is an important thing to know. When a bird is healthy, the liquid and solid waste will testify to that condition. This web site ( has valuable information on what you should see, and what is probably meant by anything else. But all birds are different. Learn to recognize your bird’s healthy poop, and check it no less than weekly.

Another early sign of illness is if your bird stops eating. Again, if you keep your cages clean, and feed only enough seed for a day at a time, this should be obvious. I’m not going to get into talking about how much each bird needs or seed versus pellets, but I will say that most parrots eat about 15 to 20% of their body weight every day. If you want to look into the whole diet controversy, this web site is a good start:

Watch how your parrot breathes. Normally you should not be aware of the lungs and air sacs expanding and contracting. Birds do not have diaphragm, so things work differently than in mammals. So if you see your bird’s tail bobbing with each breath, and especially if you hear your bird breathing, you have a sick bird. Check the nares (nostrils at the top of the beak) for a discharge, and the vent for sticky poop or loose poop stuck to the feathers.

Sick birds have a hard time keeping themselves warm. Make sure you have a small cage, just big enough for the patient, and a heat lamp. Heating pads or heat rocks such as reptiles use are acceptable, but a heat lamp is easier to set up outside the cage so the parrot doesn’t chew on anything. Also if you use the red bulbs, the bird will sleep better. Make sure fresh water and food are available, and possibly administer a broad spectrum antibiotic. But call the vet and get the bird seen as soon as possible.

About hearing your bird breath, finches and canaries commonly get air sac mites. If you gently grasp the bird and hold it close to your ear, mites will cause the breathing of the bird to click or whistle. A bad infestation can be fatal. When I first notice signs of mites, I like to spray the birds with Avian Insect Liquidator. We buy it in the concentrated form and spray for ants, mites, and most pests in the bird room and aviary. I love this stuff. Just keep it out of food and water, and it can be used pretty freely. Another good product is Ivermectin, and the best way to administer it is by putting a thin bead of it along the perches. The birds will get it on their feet, and clean it off. Easy and safe. There is also a product called Scatt which will do the same job.

Blood feathers are an issue if the feather doesn’t come out. Have needle-nose pliers handy to pull it gently from the bird’s skin. Cuts and bleeding elsewhere will require a compression if the bird is tame, styptic, and Neosporin crème. Do not use the ointment form, because the greasy stuff gets on the bird’s wings and causes more problems.

These are the basics, and I hope you may have learned something here. Our birds are family, and we take care of them the same way we take care of the rest of the kids. This web site will give you more detailed information and some good things to add to your first aid kit that I didn’t think of.

As we roll into the Winter holidays, I’ll be looking at safe ways to decorate and gifts for your birds. Have fun!


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