Tails You Lose! – Part 3

When a budgerigar loses tail feathers, you may finish up with a “tail-less wonder” – i.e. an otherwise super quality long feathered bird that you would normally exhibit at shows, were it not for this flaw.

As readers may already be aware, I am trying to establish if the loss of tail feathers can be attributed to nutrition, feather mite infestation, lice or another unknown cause.

For additional background information on tail feather loss, please read the following articles previously published on this website:

Naturally, I am on record that the problem is closely related to the longest feathers in the body (being connected to all the feathers involved) not receiving the FULLEST nutrition at the vital moment. It can, of course, also be regarded as a borderline French Moult syndrome as well.

Mites in Young Birds

Upon examination of one of my young budgerigars (5-6 weeks old), I noticed dense numbers of feather mites. Could this mean that young chicks were being infected by the mites from the parents?

I did now start to wonder if these feather mites, which accumulate in all our budgerigars, could be a contributory factor.

The mites could be coming at the “wrong time” – i.e. just as young birds were trying to grow tails feathers to their fullest extent.

All guesswork really, but to me, it was thought provoking.

Feather Mites

Feather mite - Click to enlargeThese were the steps I took to examine the feather mites:

  • Use an optician’s eye glass (I found that x8 magnification was ideal)
  • Remove some tail feathers from adults and the 6 week old chicks
  • Hold each feather up to a strong light source
  • Look at the main vein of the centre shaft
  • Your should see groups of feather mites accumulated between each sub feather

So what exactly are feather mites?

They are but one group of “bugs” called arachnids. They feed on feathers themselves.

Have you noticed transverse damage across tail feathers? This is caused by the feather mites.

Do we want them there? The answer is no!

So, the big question is: how to get rid of them – or at least to reduce them radically so that they are a minor problem?

Seeking Expert Advice

First of all I contacted Dr Rob Marshall.

Here is his opinion on tail losses (which basically goes back to my earlier thoughts on nutrition as the cause):

There are nutritional, genetic and disease factors in the symptoms you describe.

Nutritionally, the paired central tail feathers are the largest feathers in the body. Together with the end flights they take the longest time to grow and the protein required and the energy requirements to regrow these feathers is substantial (if the tail and flights have dropped).

There is a greater likelihood for this condition to occur in susceptible birds when the energy, protein and mineral content of the diet is lacking, or out of balance.

Energy is the most common deficiency in these bigger buff-feathered birds as they are less able to maintain their body temperature – because their buff feathers are less efficient at insulating them from changing temperatures.

The vitality of such birds is often compromised so that they require more food to remain healthy.

Healthy birds eat less.

So my thoughts now were twofold.

  1. Ask Dr Rob Marshall as to what actions he would advise given what he has said
  2. In the meantime, attack the mite factor

Further Questions to Dr Rob Marshall

Here are the additional questions I addressed to Dr Marshall (replies later):

  1. What should a breeder do to ensure a high energy output and protein input to avoid the problem in the first place?
  2. What action can be taken to clean / disinfect the follicles after the damage appears?
  3. What will stimulate re-growth in tail losses?

Attacking The Mite Factor

I decided to attack the feather mite factor (as well as any other forms of arachnids that could be around e.g. red mites, fodder mites, air sac mites and burrowing mites that cause scaly face).

Red mite - Click to enlargeI wondered whether there was a cure that could kill off at least 90% of them – on some form of a course at certain times in the season?

If so, how to achieve this with a big stud of 200 plus birds or even five times that number?

The only available product (that I am aware of) is of course Ivermectin Solution.

This is fine for gently rubbing into the neck area of a bird (with surgical gloves on please or it goes into your skin as well) but dealing with bird numbers is a problem.

Help was therefore needed so I started making enquiries.

The Abbate Technique

I received an illuminating letter from Reji Luke – a passionate breeder in India. Mr Luke believes that low nutrition is the basis for tail-less problems. He stated that, in his opinion, amino acids required for growth are used for body mass build-up during the initial stages of the chick’s growth.

Mr Luke’s letter proved most illuminating – especially on the matter of ridding feather mites on birds in big numbers.

Mr Luke credits much of his studies to G.A. Abbate (Snr), a cage bird breeder based in North America.

Apparently, Mr Abbate was reading about the use of Ivermectin on cows.

It struck him that could it be used for our birds – but in what quantity and medium and what dosage and for how long?

After many experiments and a lot of time, he managed to establish a safe and highly effective process for use on a large stud twice per year.

His technique is now used all over North America and in many other countries.

Here it is:

    IMPORTANT Preliminary Notes
  • Use “Ivermectin 1% Injectable Solution” – this is widely available, but we suggest you obtain it via your veterinary surgeon. (Note: Don’t worry about the word “injectable” as we will be giving it orally !)
  • Never exceed the dosage (see below) – An overdose can kill your birds so accuracy is vital. All external parasites and many types of intestinal worms can be removed in this way.
  • Perform this technique every 6 months when the stud is NOT breeding.
    Stage 1
  • In the evening, just before the birds roost, remove all the sources of water available to the stud. The next morning the birds are thirsty.
  • Vigorously shake the Ivermectin bottle.
  • Using a syringe, add the Ivermectin to a standard plastic / glass jug of drinking water using the most appropriate dosage below:
      Metric Dosage
    • 1 cc / 1 ml of Ivermectin to 0.95 litre of water
      British Imperial Liquid Dosage
    • 1 cc / 1 ml of Ivermectin to 1.7 pints of water
      U.S. Liquid Dosage
    • 1 cc / 1 ml of Ivermectin to 32 fl oz / 1 quart of water
    Stage 2
  • Vigorously mix the water treated with the Ivermectin before placing it before the birds in a clean pre-sterilised container.
  • Leave the mixture before the birds EITHER until they drink all of it OR until the next day.
    Stage 3
  • Exactly 2 weeks later, repeat stages 1 & 2
  • That’s it – job finished !

Binks Follow-Up

As the feather mite feeds on dead feather, how are they killed off?

The only way I can suggest is to use a bath of the aforementioned mixture as well as the drinking water so that many birds will splash around in it at a depth of about an inch and wet their feathers.

Also, when timing it for the first session, choose a period when there is a big moult approaching – with both both your young birds and adults shedding feathers in great quantities.

Fodder mite - Click to enlargeOnce treated, clean out all cages and flights of all the rubbish seed and droppings and the feathers in particular, so that cross infection does not repeat itself.

Your mature breeding stock can then be bred in the knowledge that the chances of mite-infested adults contaminating their chicks is now unlikely.

I have treated my stud using the aforementioned techniques – and the stud looks great!

Since the treatment, close examination of the feathers has seen a dramatic reduction in damage and the new feather growth seems very free of feather mites (and presumably any other mites or even lice that can be on birds).

With a small stud, spraying around the vent feathers can be done of course, but most fanciers have bigger numbers and this is a sure way to deal with matters provided you are systematic with the timing.

I am indebted to Reji Luke for steering me in this direction.

Further Binks Question

Now, think about this! In a non-treated aviary (knowing that the parents can infect their young with mites in the nest), does their presence cause the chicks to be “pulled back” nutritionally, resulting in one possible cause of French moult and / or the loss of the tails?

I do not yet know the answer, but I will be investigating further and the information will be published on this website.

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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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  1. Barrie Shutt says:

    A super article Gerald and much food for thought for us all.

    Barrie Shutt, UK

  2. BorderCanaryFancier says:

    Have you tried FRONTLINE (0.25% fiprinol) spray?

    This is unlike Ivermectin in that it does not enter the bloodstream, instead it remains active on the skin for about four weeks.

    Easy to use, safe and effective.

    BorderCanaryFancier, Ireland

  3. Miguel Sabino says:

    Very interesting article. Thank you very much for sharing it with us.

    I would love to hear more about the Frontline solution to this subject. Is it effective? How should we use it? And with what frequency?

    Thanks in advance.
    Miguel Sabino, Portugal

  4. Bader Nouman says:

    A very informative article.

    During the last non-breeding season, I used an injectable Ivermectin solution on my birds, including one scaly-faced hen.

    After a month she was perfectly alright.

    Now I will try it on my tail-less cock in next non-breeding season – fingers crossed!

    Bader Nouman, Pakistan.

  5. The following information is from Linda Hogan’s “Canary Tales” website.

    I know budgerigars and canaries are two totally different species, but I will be honest and say that I have found a lot of excellent information on this budgerigar website, and have enjoyed reading the many excellent articles and profiles of fanciers from around the globe.

    Many management techniques etc. can successfully be transferred from one type of bird to the other – this hobby is all about learning!

    Mite Problems

    Dear Linda:
    Due to a variety of circumstances I was unable to treat my canaries with Ivermectin (ivomec) this January. My birds are ready for breeding and I wonder if you think it is a good idea to treat them now.?
    Worried about Mites

    Dear Worried about Mites:

    Ivermectin is a very effective treatment for mites and lice. Unfortunately, it works by being absorbed into the blood stream. It kills the live mites when they bite the bird. It does not kill eggs so it is recommended that a second treatment be given about 4 weeks later. Because it is absorbed into the blood, it is a good idea to complete the two treatments at least one month prior to breeding.

    For breeding birds, a better treatment for mites is Frontline dog spray. Frontline contains an active ingredient fipronil which has a unique mode of action that effectively kills mites. Fipronil collects in the oils of the skin and follicles and continues to be released from the follicles onto the skin, resulting in long residual activity. The product is designed for dogs and kills fleas for up to three months and ticks for one month. The fact that one treatment lasts so long and it is not absorbed into the blood stream makes it ideal for treating breeding birds.

    Frontline is available over the counter at most veterinary offices. Be sure to buy the spray bottle and not the spot (top spot) kind. Here in Wichita (USA) a spray bottle sells for $10.35. Apply one drop to the skin under the wing or on the skin on the side of the neck when you pair the birds. Because of its mode of action on the skin, you need not be concerned with toxicity.

    If you want to know more about the Frontline, please visit my web site.

    Your Friend in the Fancy,
    Linda S. Hogan
    canarytales@juno.com

    http://canarytales.blogspot.com/

    BorderCanaryFancier, Ireland

  6. Thanks Gerald.

    I have been using Ivermectin for the last 15 years and I have avoided French Moult.

    Ivermectin is also a perfect treatment for worms.

    I use a solution of 1 part concentrated Ivermectin and 9 parts of Propylenclycol. (The Propylenclycol is just used as a transport solution for easier running in to the bloodstream.)

    I give it in the neck of the birds. It is a lot of work, especially when you have around 250-300 budgerigars, but it’s worth it.

    After treatment, I do it again 10 days after, because the eggs from worms and mites start a new generation after 10 days. I clean and disinfect everything. That’s it.

    I also just have to say, that food mites will be in your seed! No matter how many times our seed is rinsed, the mite’s egg will be in the seed.

    The mites develop and run on the birds. The best place to get their food is on the young ones in the nest box. This causes feather problems.

    If you can get rid of the mites, I think you may not suffer from French Moult.

    Another thing about those tailless wonders. If the feathers are too soft (especially the big feathers such as tails and flights), they have problems breaking out and we get lumps – no matter how much we take care of this problems.

    We have the problem when we want to breed those big head and mask. Help the feather to break out of the feather sack. Use a pair of scissors or a knife.

    Best regards,
    Hans Chr. Oestergaard, Denmark

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