Tails You Lose! – Part 1

Budgerigar tail feathersMany years ago I wrote an article with this title following an incident at a massive national show in London.

Among birds being checked in was an outstanding bird (for its time) in full condition, and the buzz among the officials was on the lines of – “Here is the Best in Show”.

Overnight, both tail feathers disappeared!

They were not even on the cage floor. The question was, who was the culprit among the overnight stewards? Then it was realised that one of them had a very good bird in the same class. Such are the vagaries of human nature to win at all costs! The outcome, of course, was that no tail – no win!

Quality Nutrition is Everything

Anyway, that was yesterday, but in 2010 the problem takes on a different aspect which results in the same feeling of depression by the owner(s).

I refer, of course, to the fact that you can breed a super bird with all the right head qualities, depth of mask and so on, until it gets to 5-7 weeks of age and suddenly it loses its tail feathers! It can be earlier or later. The bird is what I have always thought – a borderline French Moult victim.

The reasoning is that the tails are the longest feathers in the budgerigar body, and thus require a perfectly nutritious metabolism to sustain these feathers soundly to full growth and permanence, until the first normal moult.

The Puzzle

So, your “Best in Show” winner has succumbed to the dreaded title of a “Tail-less wonder”.

It is now left with a familiar situation, where, for the very observant, the tips of the feathers that normally are left in the feather follicle, as in a standard French Moulter, are not there! I find this difficult to understand and so far I have no answer to it.

As the bird continues to grow, tiny new tail feathers start to appear – but then stop growing. If pulled out, you find a clean outer stump from within the follicle at the base, where growth has started, but stopped, as the poor nutrition (?) has failed to support them further.

To contradict this statement, we can now look at the adult “Tail-less wonder”. By the time the bird has reached, say, 10 months of age, it still continues to create the same kind of stumps as before – but it has, by then, a high quality metabolism because it has been fed under your good management. So why no normal tail growth at this stage?

Feeding Changes Can Cause Trouble

Light green normal - headLight green normal - tailObviously, we are not all good avian managers and so many fanciers try all sorts of commercial products (that may affect their studs adversely) in the hope that something “works”.

In “The Challenge” book, this is discussed at length. In my case, I realised many years ago that one new product can upset the complete metabolic balance that can easily precipitate French Moult. Budgerigars are very sensitive to nutritional changes!

Binks Receives A Hit!

By reason of a balanced nutritional input, I have not had any French Moult for years – unless I push a pair to breed too far and ask for trouble.

This season (2010) I have produced a light green normal chick that at 5 months of age looked superb. Mick Freakley and Geoff Tuplin saw it and waxed lyrical – but days later – no tails!

I immediately thought of something that has been in my mind for many many years. We have all these specialist veterinarians, some of whom are paid by various societies in the world, who deal with the basics of diseases that in the most part are well recorded and have been so for years. The question in my mind is simple and is vitally important to us breeders, namely: Why has no research been carried out on the tail loss factor?

Infected Follicles?

In the past decade we have swiftly become interested and have acted upon acquiring longer feathers and directional feathers on either side of the head, to create what I termed for the hobby as “The Buffalo Effect”.

Not easy to achieve, but the hobby at large is trying and is already succeeding in many aviaries. This has to put extra strain on avoiding the loss of tails for the reasons given above.

So, with this personal experience in mind, I approached Dr Rob Marshall for his (and I stress his) comments and the possibility of some positive research into the state of the follicles, post the loss of their tails.

My mind says:

  • How do I clean up the follicle, so that the growth can behave normally?
  • What is inside the follicle that is stopping new tail growth?
  • Is it an infection? If so, which bacterium is it, and how do we knock it on the head?

Finding A Cure?

When I was approached, at the age of 19, with a kind invitation to join Her Majesty’s Armed Forces (for two years at her expense), I tried to join the Black Watch Regiment- as I have a Scottish (and Lancashire) background.

I was rejected for flat feet much to my now wife’s amusement!

So, I found myself in the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) and was eventually put in charge of The Medical Centre near Aldershot, under a gaggle of qualified Doctors.

Where is this getting to, you will be asking?

Well, I learnt a great deal in patient treatment – especially treating boils. We used a paste that was applied to the infection called Magnesium Sulphate paste. This is still available from your pharmacy. It has the capability to draw out all forms of nasty boils until they are clean and heal.

I decided to get some recently and, while it is early days, I am melting the paste and working it into the tail zone and seeing what happens – if anything! There have to be more modern treatments, of course, but I am currently stuck in the past!

Conclusion

I have now received the report from Dr Rob Marshall (see below).

Close scrutiny will reveal that the possibility of a cure has to overcome factors in the bird’s background – but my latest question to him is “How do you explain that the bird with the best head qualities – with the slightly longer feathers – is affected, but its nest mates – also stunning light greens – do not have the problem? Certainly ALL have the same genetic background!”

Please note: If you are serious about your hobby, I would urge you to obtain Dr Marshall’s book “The Budgerigar” which took 12 years to compile. Details of how to obtain a copy can be found below.

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About the Author: Gerald Binks began breeding budgerigars when he was 12 years old and is now arguably the most knowledgeable budgerigar fancier in the world. He has bred his fair share of Best in Show birds, judged in no less than 20 countries, founded the World Budgerigar Association, and has published two of the three classic books on the hobby. His stud in the UK attracts fanciers from near and far and is always high on the list for those wishing to purchase BA23 quality budgerigars.

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