Budgerigar Health Part 3 of 5 – Self Diagnosis

sick budgerigarFor breeders, an ability to detect the first signs of an illness is essential as many budgerigar diseases are rapidly fatal with the best quality show birds often being the first to die.

Changes in the behaviour or physical appearance of an individual bird may indicate the beginning of an illness or an inherent weakness.

Individuals that display any of the distant signs of failing health or disease should be caught and examined more closely in order to identify the exact nature of the health problem (See pages 210-239 Chapter 18: “The Budgerigar“).

This article covers troubleshooting of budgerigar health problems using self diagnosis as follows:

  • By Close Inspection
  • By Common Symptoms
  • By Treatment Trial
  • By Location of Problem

By Close Inspection

During a close examination the eyes, cere, nostrils, body condition and plumage (frontal feathers, feathers above the nostrils, facial feathers especially around the mouth, breast feathers, vent feathers, wing and tail feathers) should be inspected systematically for symptoms of failing health or disease (See Figure 18b pages 219 Chapter 18: “The Budgerigar“).

  • Abdomen Symptoms

    The abdomen is examined by passing the middle or ring finger over its length whilst holding the budgerigar in such a way as to avoid the feet. Changes in the abdomen (See photo 9.11 page 104 Chapter 9: “The Budgerigar“) include a “soft belly”, hernias, internal tumors, ovarian cysts, fatty, or cancerous tumors (See page 230 Chapter 18: “The Budgerigar“). Treatment varies according to the exact diagnosis.

  • Body Condition

    In the hand, the healthy budgerigar feels strong but buoyant. The body should be carefully examined using the fingers to feel for abnormalities.

    • Crop Problems

      The crop region is gently examined for the presence of bloating or crop herniation. Air in the crop is an abnormal finding in budgerigars and a sign of crop stasis, trichomoniasis and crop infections (sour crop) (See Chapter 30: “The Budgerigar“).

    • Obesity

      The weight of a budgerigar can be assessed in the hand by feeling for fat depots or a prominent keel. Overweight budgerigars are less likely to be fertile (See pages 226-227 Chapter 18: “The Budgerigar“). Often they are fat because of an inability to fly due to missing flight feathers. In overweight birds, paired fat depots may be found in the area between the crop and breast muscle. Fat tumors may also be found in this area. Additional fat depots may be found as small bean shaped fat pads in front or behind the vent.

    • Going Light

      The degree of prominence of the keel bone and fullness of the breast (pectoral) muscles help identify weight loss in budgerigars. “Going light” is a sign of an unhealthy budgerigar and describes an excessive loss of weight that occurs in budgerigars that are not eating, digesting or absorbing enough food. A prominent keel bone accompanies the weight loss. “Going light” may occur rapidly within a day when toxic diseases such as coccidiosis cause a sudden dehydration (See Chapter 28: “The Budgerigar“). Megabacteria infections (See Chapter 29: “The Budgerigar“) and worm infestations (See Chapter 28: “The Budgerigar“) prevent the digestion and absorption of food so that birds “go light” more gradually.

  • Cere

    • Cere Changes

      Cere colour and texture vary between sexes. The colour of the cere of healthy female budgerigars is brown across all varieties. The blue cere colour of male budgerigars is present in all varieties except albinos, lutinos and some individual pied birds. The surface texture of a healthy male is smooth and that of a healthy female is rough.

      The colour and texture of the cere may be used to assess the health of both sexes as these features change in response to hormonal fluctuations, failing health and disease (See figure 18e page 223 Chapter 18: “The Budgerigar“).

      When cere changes are discovered look for other symptoms as an abnormal cere may occur as a result of natural hormonal flucutation or as a result of a disease process. Cnemidocoptes mites may infect the surfaces of the cere and facial skin and may permanently damage the beak. This condition is not highly contagious but treat with ivermectin / moxidectin according to veterinary recommendations.

    • Nostril Problems

      Cere changes associated with female hormones or Cnemidocoptes mites may cause the nostrils to become occluded. Stress related Streptococcus or Mycoplasma and Chlamydophila infections produce a watery discharge from both nostrils, whereas a mucoid discharge appears in one, or both nostrils when Staphylococcus or fungal infections occur as a result of dusty and humid stud environment. Treat according to veterinary recommendations.

  • Ear Infections

    Ear infections are uncommon in budgerigars but most often associated with dust-related Staphylococcus infection. (See photo 9.8 page 103 Chapter 9 & page385 Chapter 30: “The Budgerigar“). Treat with Penicillin antibiotic and ear drops according to veterinary recommendations.

  • Eye Problems

    Close inspection of the eye whilst holding the bird is required to detect infections, inflammations and injuries as the budgerigar’s eye and eyelids are very small.

    “Red eye” is a common condition of budgerigars (See figure 18d page 221 Chapter 18: “The Budgerigar“) that starts as a painful conjunctivitis, has several underlying causes and is symptomatic of self-inflicted trauma. Administration of one drop of antibiotic eye drops daily for 2-3 days is the best treatment for “red-eye”.

    Eye symptoms should be viewed with great caution, as they may be the only indication of the presence of contagious diseases such as Psittacosis (See figure 27h page 345 Chapter 27: “The Budgerigar“) and Mycoplasmosis.

  • Feather Problems

    Changes to the colour, cleanliness and strength of a budgerigar’s feathers, offers a warning sign for failing health or disease (See pages 216, 222, 224, 226-229 Chapter 18: “The Budgerigar“).

    Birds with dry feathers can be recognised from the distance by the physical characteristics of tail feathers. Frayed, soiled and bent tails warn of dry and weak feathers that lack strength and durability. Their presence is often the result of coexistent Megabacteria (See figure 29a page 371 Chapter 29: “The Budgerigar“) and Polyomavirus (See page 334 Chapter 27: “The Budgerigar“) infections although genetically based structural weaknesses may also be involved.

    Feather soiling is a sign of failing health that indicates dry feathers, “sticky” droppings or reduced preening activity. Dirty feathers are not present in healthy birds under normal conditions but may appear across a flock when prolonged wet weather prevents feathers from remaining perfectly dry.

    Viewing the vent and tail feathers of roosting birds from below offers a good opportunity to identify birds with soiled dry feathers. These birds should be caught and undergo a close physical examination.

    • Frontal Feather Changes

      Changes of the frontal feathers may be used to diagnose a variety of conditions (See page 222 Chapter 18: “The Budgerigar“).

    • Feather Stains above the Nostrils

      Staining of the feathers above the nostrils is an indication of a sinus infection (See photo 9.6 page 103 Chapter 9: “The Budgerigar“), the cause of which is most commonly a stress induced Streptococcus or dust related Staphylococcus infection. Treat with Penicillin antibiotic according to veterinary recommendations (See figure 18f pages 224-225 Chapter 18: “The Budgerigar“).

    • Feather Picking of Young

      Feather plucking of chicks by a mother is an indication that she is ready for another breeding cycle. Feather picking is also a sign that a breeding hen is experiencing a metabolic disturbance caused by energy & mineral depletion. It may be necessary to stop her entering another breeding cycle if she is showing signs of fatigue. Treat with “Quik Gel“. Fortify food with additional protein and energy.

    • Facial Feather Changes

      The facial feather area starts beside the cere then follows the margins of the beak down the length of the mask. The feathers of this region should be clean and colourful.

      The persistence of food remnants that soil or adhere to these feathers during the feeding of young is an indication that the feathers are dry and failing health. Slimy, bubbly and discoloured mouth discharges that matt the facial feathers is a sign of disease (See figure 18g pages 224-225 Chapter 18: “The Budgerigar“). Look for other symptoms to help you diagnose and treat the cause of the changes in facial feather qualities.

    • Tail Feather Changes

      The tail feathers provide information regarding the genetic quality of the plumage, conditions under which the budgerigars are kept and their health status in respect to Polyomavirus infection (See page 332 Chapter 27: “The Budgerigar“). It is the longest paired tail feathers that reveal most about health and these are best viewed from beneath (See figure 18l page 234-235 Chapter 18: “The Budgerigar“).

      Tail feather changes represent a fundamental problem in a stud that needs to be addressed by the breeder in consultation with a veterinarian.

    • Vent Feathers Changes

      Examination of the vent feathers can be a useful procedure for checking the health of individual budgerigars. The vent feathers of the healthy budgerigar are dry and clean as this finding reflects silky waterproof feathers and healthy droppings. Wetness, staining, pasting and clagging of the feathers surrounding the vent signal failing health or disease (See figure 18h page 228-229 Chapter 18: “The Budgerigar“).

      • Wet Vent

        Wet vent is caused by any sudden stress. Most breeders will recognise a wet vent as it is commonly seen in budgerigars entering their first show. (See page 227 Chapter 18: “The Budgerigar“). Treat with Emergency First Aid treatment and Penicillin antibiotic according to veterinary recommendations.

      • Staining of the Vent

        Soiling or staining of vent feathers indicates failing health or disease (See page 227 Chapter 18: “The Budgerigar“). It is the colour of the staining that reveals the nature of the disease.

        Liver disease is indicated by vent feathers that are soiled with a yellow stain.

        Dark forest green coloured stains of the vent feathers often appear in birds that have stopped eating from diseases such as trichomoniasis and coccidiosis.

        Dark green greasy droppings that hang from the vent feather area signal a dehydrated and seriously ill budgerigar that requires immediate first aid treatment. Look for other symptoms, treat with Emergency First Aid treatment with a “guestimated” medicine – See Part 2 Medicine Selection.

      • Pasted Vent

        A pasted vent refers to the matting of vent feathers together with a white paste-like material (See page 227 Chapter 18: “The Budgerigar“). The white paste is dried urates and a sign of disease. The presence of large amounts of pasting indicates dehydration and kidney malfunction.

        Wet pasted vents that appear in budgerigars soon after entering the breeding cabinet are a result of the stress associated with pairing, courtship and egg production. These birds may not have been in breeding condition when they entered the breeding cabinet, be inherently weak or be incompatible with their selected partner. They should be transferred to a hospital cage for observation in order to avoid the likely outcome of breeding failure or death.

        Look for other symptoms to “guestimate” an appropriate medicine – See Part 2 Medicine Selection.

      • Caked Vent

        A caked (or clogged) vent occurs when droppings block the vent. Often tail wagging accompanies the constipation caused by the clogged droppings. Seed may also stick to the caking. Immediate and then daily treatment by removing the caked droppings and cleaning the vent area gives soothing relief to most budgerigars.

        Look for other symptoms to “guestimate” an appropriate medicine – See Part 2 Medicine Selection. For example, caking with large moist droppings may appear rapidly with acute diseases such as Megabacteria infection (treated with amphotericin) that interrupt digestion and stimulate thirst.

        It is helpful to smell the vent area when it is pasted or caked with droppings as the presence of a particular odour may be used to identify a particular disease.

        Thrush infections (treated with Mycostatin) and infections of the uterus (often referred to as vent gleet) produce a pungent yeast-like odour to vent discharge (treated with Penicillin antibiotic) whereas E.coli infections produce a distinctive chicken-like smell (treated with Sulfa-type antibiotic).

    • Wing Feathers Changes

      Both wings should be examined (See page 232-233 Chapter 18: “The Budgerigar“) one at a time by first passing the finger over the outside rim of the wing to feel for any lumps (feather cysts) and then extending each wing fully to inspect its outer and inner surfaces for mites and lice. The number and condition of the primary flights of each wing reveals much about the stage of moult and health. Abnormal or missing flight feathers and a delayed moult represents failing health irrespective of the outward appearance of the individual bird.

      Polyomavirus (French moult) is a common cause of missing flight feathers.

      Quill mites are a major underlying cause of failing health and breeding failure in budgerigars (treated with lice spray & ivermectin).

      Feather cysts may be felt along the rim of the wing as hard fleshy swellings. They are usually found towards the wing butt in the area of the outermost primary flights (treated with Penicillin antibiotic and surgical excision under veterinary supervision).

  • Feet & Leg Problems

    The feet of a healthy budgerigar remain clean as a result of a good circulation keeping them warm and dry. Soiling of the feet, toes or toenails is therefore a sign of failing health as it indicates poor circulation and cold feet.

    The feet are examined by enticing the budgerigar to grasp a finger in order to check the perching reflex (See page 231 Chapter 18: “The Budgerigar“).

    Splay legs (see page 306 Chapter 24: “The Budgerigar“) and deformed toes are poorly understood conditions that may occur with nutritional deficiencies, incubation problems, injuries sustained in the nest or with inappropriate perch shape and size.

  • Preen Gland

    In a healthy budgerigar, the preen gland is barely discernible as a slight swelling near the base of the tail (see figure 9d page 105 Chapter 9 & page 306 Chapter 24: “The Budgerigar“). Roughened feathers or excessive grooming over the preen gland area is the first sign of a blocked preen gland. Tail feather abnormalities occur with large preen gland tumors because of the close proximity of the tail feather follicles with this gland.

    Preen gland infections are usually the result of vitamin D deficiencies and lack of direct sunlight.

  • Vent Problems

    Examination of the vent feathers in the exhibition budgerigar can be a useful procedure to check the health of the individual bird. Wet-, pasted- and caked vent feathers are early signs of failing health. These conditions are discussed in this section and also in Feathers – Vent Feather Changes. Prolapses (see photo 9.26 page 110 Chapter 9: “The Budgerigar“) are other problems of the vent area.

    • Early Signs of Deteriorating Health
      • Wet Vent

        Wet vent (see photos 18.51 & 18.52 page 227 Chapter 18: “The Budgerigar“) refers to the wetness around the vent feathers, occurring as a result of a sudden stress.

        Breeders are aware that budgerigars at a show develop a wet vent as a sign of stress but any type of acute stress will produce a wet vent as it occurs as a result of cloacal malfunction.

        The cloaca is a three-chambered structure that separately stores the droppings passed down the bowel from the urine produced in the kidney. The uterus also opens into the cloaca (see figure 9k page 110 Chapter 9: “The Budgerigar“).

        In the healthy budgerigar, the water from the urine is recycled into the bowel and re-absorbed into the body. The system provides this desert bird with an extremely efficient method for conserving water. Under stress, the budgerigar becomes highly excited and defecates before water re-absorption is completed producing the water that appears around the feathers near the vent.

        The wet vent is a common occurrence in the birds under acute stress. Acute or sudden onset stress is associated with emotional stress as seen in birds at the show, when young birds are places in the “nappy cage”, when the juveniles are moved into the flights and in overcrowded studs.

        Physical factors that cause wet vents include sudden changes in temperature in the stud (too cold or too hot), fright (predators) and excessive fighting between birds due to a lack of perch space.

        The presence of wet vents is an early warning signal of an imminent and possibly serious health threat to the individual bird or the entire stud. The natural resistance and fortitude of budgerigars can be assessed by the absence or presence of wet vents. Birds repeatedly getting wet vents are not suitable for showing or breeding as they lack a calm nature. This nervous type of bird is also more susceptible to disease and a potential health hazard to a stud. These birds should be removed from a stud.

      • Pasted Vent

        A pasted vent indicates a prolonged stress. Pasted vents in one or more budgerigars indicate a long standing and potentially serious illness that is capable of infecting the entire flock including robust and vital birds. Look for other symptoms to “guestimate” an appropriate medicine – See Part 2 Medicine Selection.

        An infection requiring Sulfa-type antibiotic is present when a smell accompanies a pasted vent. Alternatively the acid contents of Quik Gel should be effective to control this stage of most infections whilst waiting for the results of veterinary testing.

      • Droppings Caked Around the Vent

        Dry, enlarged black droppings – This type of dropping is seen with low grade Megabacteria infections. Individual crop needle treatment using Amphotericin and Quik Gel is the treatment of first choice – See Part 2 Medicine Selection.

        Moist, large khaki green droppings – These droppings usually carry a bad odour when removed from the vent. Bacterial enteritis, coccidiosis and uterus infections are the most common cause of these droppings. Look for other symptoms to “guestimate” an appropriate medicine – See Part 2 Medicine Selection.

      • Stained Vent


By Common Symptoms

  • Breeding Problems

    Many breeding problems occur as a result of introducing budgerigars to breeding cabinets when they are not ready to breed. Others occur because of a failure to provide the breeding pairs with the nutritional balance and dietary energy level needed to maintain their vigour throughout two breeding cycles. A plan to prevent these kinds of breeding problems is needed because breeding failures may result in deaths of important birds or the loss of an entire breeding season when sick birds fail to recover in time to breed again during that breeding season. For a detailed description of breeding cock and hen problems refer to pages 278-287 Chapter 22: “The Budgerigar“.

    Infertility is an inherent failing of some championship quality budgerigars and for these birds it is incurable. However, there are other causes of infertility that can be reversed. For a detailed description of infertility and other egg problems refer to pages 288-297 Chapter 22: “The Budgerigar“.

    The other egg problems discussed in “The Budgerigar” refer to those conditions involved with the failure of a fertilised egg to hatch. Although the cause of most of these egg problems can be identified and cured, their presence largely goes undetected by breeders who unknowingly blame infertility for the failure of these eggs to hatch.

    Nestlings refer to young birds in the nest from hatching until weaning age, when they leave the nest.

    The health of a newborn chick and the parental care it receives from hatching until weaning age determine its future value as breeding or show birds. Nestlings bred and reared by healthy parents will be strong at hatching and will grow to their full genetic potential when they receive good parental care and nutritious food in the nest. Those that are born weak will never achieve their true show potential irrespective of the level of care and nutrition they receive.

    Chicks are born weak due to a variety of reasons. Stress induced diseases such as Psittacosis or Polyomavirus infections produce weak chicks by devitalising the mother and undermining her ability to brood properly. Other diseases and nest contamination may infect the egg directly and debilitate the developing embryo resulting in a weak born chick.

    Death is the usual outcome of weak born chicks. For a detailed description of nestling deaths and other nest problems refer to pages 298-308 Chapter 22: “The Budgerigar“.

  • Deaths

    Highly contagious diseases such coccidiosis, roundworms and trichomoniasis and toxic infections associated with contaminated foods are the most common causes of deaths in the flights, whilst energy depletion associated with inadequate nutrition, hormonally induced interruptions to the breeding cycle are the most common causes of deaths in the breeding cabinets.

    The highly contagious diseases have potential catastrophic consequences that can decimate a stud within a matter of weeks, abruptly destroying bloodlines that have taken years to create. Refer to pages 244-245 Chapter 19: “The Budgerigar“.

    Although there are advantages and disadvantages associated with each type of flight – internal or external – the cause of a death or illness occurring in the flights is more likely a result of stud management rather than whether the flights are indoors or open to the weather.

    Sooner or later all budgerigar flocks will become exposed to life threatening diseases. Breeders should be prepared for such a situation and have a tactical response plan prepared in order to avoid unnecessary deaths.

    A tactical response plan should incorporate an emergency first aid treatment protocol for individual sick birds, a method for “guestimating” a treatment to protect the remainder of the flock and a method for identifying the nature of the disease.

    An emergency treatment plan needs to be activated whenever two or more birds die in the flights within 2 weeks, because the earlier diagnosis and treatment is initiated the better the chances of averting catastrophic losses.

    • Deaths in the Flights

      An occasional death in the flights is considered a normal occurrence and often the result of natural attrition involving older or inherently weak birds. Concern, however, should be aroused when more frequent deaths and an increasing number of sick birds appear in the flights, as this is the pattern of a contagious disease.

      First Choice of Medicine
      The following emergency medicines should be mixed together in the drinking water with Quik Gel whilst a diagnosis is being confirmed.

        Qwik Gel is the first choice emergency medicine when:

      • Deaths with no other symptoms
        Sulfa-type antibiotic is the first choice emergency medicine when:

      • Deaths associated with the presence of a “chicken-house” smell in stud
      • Deaths associated with green droppings, smell to droppings or occurring within a week of wet weather rain
        Penicillin antibiotic is the first choice emergency medicine when:

      • Deaths associated with stained feathers above nostrils
      • Deaths associated with white or brown watery droppings and signs of vomiting
      • Deaths are associated with symptoms of dropping changes that carry no odour
      • Deaths associated with French Moult outbreak
        Doxycycline is the first choice emergency medicine when:

      • Deaths associated with ongoing conjunctivitis and “red eye” problems
      • Occasional deaths associated with infertility during the breeding season
      • Deaths are associated with green staining of vent feathers
        Baytril is the first choice emergency medicine when:

      • Deaths associated with mice infestation or the presence of a mouse dropping smell in stud
      • Deaths associated with yellow staining of the vent feathers
        Piperazine Wormer is the first choice emergency medicine when:

      • Deaths associated with birds of all ages and sexes “going light” over a short period following wet warm weather
      • Deaths associated with large watery dark brown droppings in unrelated birds
        Amphotericin is the first choice emergency medicine when:

      • Deaths associated with white or blue mould on droppings
      • Deaths associated with related birds going light with dry feathers and black droppings

    • Deaths in the Breeding Cabinet

      An occasional death in the breeding cabinets should not be considered a normal occurrence but a cause for concern. Treatment must be confined to affected breeding cabinets alone until a definitive diagnosis confirms a need for flock treatment – because of an airborne contagious disease, mite infestation or food/water contamination.

      Choice of the emergency first aid medicines is the same above list for sick birds in the flights.

  • Dropping Changes

    Examining the droppings of budgerigars from a distance can reveal helpful information as to the health status of a flock. The size, colour and consistency of droppings offer the best clues as to whether a change in behaviour or plumage appearance is a significant risk to a flock’s continuing health.

    Close inspection of the floor of the flights or breeding cabinets is required to notice a change in the droppings (See page 217-218 Chapter 18: “The Budgerigar“).

    Droppings of a healthy flock are uniformly small, round, dry and black in colour with a white topping. Down feathers are often attached to these droppings. A change from small, black and white droppings to tan or khaki coloured droppings is an indication of a stressful event that if allowed to persist may lead to disease. Failing health or disease is present when large coloured droppings appear on the floor of a flight. When seen in the breeding cabinet large khaki coloured droppings may be considered normal when a hen is in the process of laying eggs, eating soft foods or parents are feeding young.

    • The Healthy Dropping

      The healthy dropping is characterised as follows:

      • Small, black with white caps
      • Have an attached down feather
      • Dry with no sign of wetness or smell

      The healthy dropping of the healthy budgerigar is black in colour, round, has a white cap and a down feather attached to it. The droppings of healthy breeding birds are not always small and black. The small, dry dropping of the healthy budgerigar is a reflection of the top fitness and a fully functional cloaca. The character of the droppings may change from day to day dependent upon many factors but the budgerigar breeder can look to the droppings as a most reliable and sensitive measure of the health of the flock. The healthy budgerigar may produce from 25 – 50 stools per day because of its extremely high metabolic rate. The healthiest aviary birds produce the smallest droppings.

      Down feathers or pin-feathers are those very small fluffy feathers that are dropped every day in the perfectly healthy budgerigar. They are seen on the floor, attached to the wire or droppings in the healthy aviary, but are no longer “dropped” at the first instance of stress of any kind. Their absence from the flight floor is a sure sign of a potential health problem.

      What is the significance of “down” on the droppings? The healthy budgerigar starts producing “down” feathers soon after the juvenile body moult (i.e. when the bars disappear from the forehead) is complete. The down feathers are used for insulation and produce a fine powder that waterproofs and lubricates the feathers. Their growth reflects the health and vitality of the budgerigar. The healthiest birds drop down feathers daily, producing copious amounts of powder (bloom) in the process.

    • Interpretation of Droppings

      The droppings are a very reliable and sensitive reflection of health. The careful observation and understanding of dropping changes in the flights or breeding cabinet is an incredibly powerful health management tool, allowing the observant breeder to quickly restore the health balance of the flock by using products such as Quik Gel rather then medicines.

      These products stimulate health by returning the flock to its natural balance. The best results are achieved when they are used at the first signs of a change in health. They act differently to medicines, which cure illness by killing the germ. Instead they restore the natural conditions of inner health to the body, having no direct effect on the germs. Their action prevents illness before it has had time to establish itself.

      The daily examination of the droppings on the floor is the most useful method for monitoring the health of the budgerigar flock. It is best to have flight and breeding cabinet floors free of any grit, sand, wood shavings or saw dust so that the droppings can be easily monitored every day. The small black and white is the dropping of a top heath and the first thing a breeder should see first thing in the morning.

      A change form healthy dropping indicates a potential health problem. View with caution any change in the colour, consistency or smell of the droppings. The discoloured dropping is abnormal in budgerigars fed a dry seed mix, although breeding birds and aviary birds may produce a larger, green coloured and watery dropping for a short time (24 hours) after eating soft foods, greens or soaked seed.

    • Abnormal Droppings

      The dropping is a very reliable and sensitive measure of the health of the aviary birds and reveals a wealth of information for the observant breeder, reflecting the health and management of the flock. The fancier is able to monitor the health of the flock by observing for any dropping changes. The early recognition of a dropping change allows the fancier to implement an immediate recovery plan that protects the health of the entire flock by using the water cleansers.

      The detection of abnormal droppings is only possible when the flights or cabinet floor is cleaned regularly. It is impossible to detect early illness in aviaries with sand, soil or deep litter systems.

      The Early Signs of a Potential Health Problem

      These changes can indicate deterioration in health, not a disease:

      • Watery droppings or wet vent
      • Larger droppings
      • Absence of down feather on droppings
      • Change in colour of the droppings
      • Smelly droppings

      What are the effects of stress on the droppings? The high metabolic rate of the wild budgerigar protects the livelihood of the budgerigar in the wild but exposes the health of the budgerigar to the stresses of captivity. The wild budgerigar has adapted to the harsh arid environment of central Australia largely due to its small size and high metabolic rate. It has evolved totally dependent upon the perfection of nature. Unfortunately, the aviary situation is far less then perfect in providing the budgerigar with its evolutionary requirements for health. It is the high metabolic rate of the budgerigar, the Achilles heel for survival in the wild bird that exposes the aviary budgerigar to so many illnesses. This high metabolic rate allows it to withstand the effects of stress for only short periods of time. The sudden disease outbreaks and mortality so common to the budgerigar aviary are usually the result of prolonged stress.

      The careful observation of the droppings is by far the best remedy against disease outbreaks in the budgerigar aviary. Any change in character of the droppings is a warning sign of an immediate health problem, because stress of any kind provokes and immediate change in the droppings of birds, especially those with a rapid metabolism such as the budgerigar. The changing droppings reflect the bird’s natural response to stress largely controlled by the body’s protection and survival systems.

      Although the signs of stress in birds are subtle, they become more obvious to the trained and observant eye. The weaker birds are the first to show signs of stress. The watery dropping is the first sign of stress but is very short-lived (24-48 hours) and often missed, because of the budgerigar’s extremely high metabolic rate. After a day or so the droppings become larger and change usually to a khaki-green colour. Without treatment at this time the stressed birds’ health deteriorates and disease appears and spreads throughout the aviary. Treatment to restore the health of the flock is best given at the first signs if stress.

      Signs of Stress

      • A watery dropping or wet vent is a sign of sudden (acute) stress. This is by far the most effective stage to prevent illness. Health is restored using water cleansers, energy supplements and by repairing the management flaw

      • Large, soft, discoloured droppings appear with prolonged (subacute) stress. Illness can still be prevented at this stage without using medicines

      • Pasted vents, large watery an often-smelling droppings are signs of long standing (chronic) stress. The disease already established within the aviary at this stage requires veterinary assistance and the appropriate use of medicines to restore the health of the flock.

      • The absence of down feathers is an early sign of stress. Down feathers on the droppings is a good sign that the birds are healthy and their absence reflects a stress of some kind. Water cleansers are used immediately the down feather disappears from the droppings. At the same time the dropping should be examined to see if any further treatment is needed.

      • Poor stud conditions may be responsible for the absence of down feathers. The stud design can be assessed by looking for down feathers on the droppings first thing in the morning. When down feathers appear in the afternoon and not in the morning, then the flight conditions are too cold, too hot, too wet or humid. Poor environmental conditions “stress” the birds, depriving them of restful sleep, retarding down feather production, reducing their ability to conserve body heat and exposing them to illness. The absence of down on the droppings may be the only sign of illness in many studs.
    • Watery Droppings

      Watery droppings are early signs of illness in budgerigars. A wet vent and watery droppings on floor recognize their presence.

      An increased water intake due to thirst is also a cause of a watery dropping. Often the budgerigar will pass a watery dropping within ten minutes of drinking a lot of water. There is a wetness around a normal looking “snake like” dropping when an increased thirst is the cause of a watery dropping. A wet “mushy” abnormal looking dropping is caused by bowel infection. The cause of watery droppings can be determined by the time of day that they occur.

      What is the significance of watery droppings of a morning?
      Watery droppings in the morning but turning normal in the afternoon is stress induced indicating a design flaw of the stud (too cold, too wet) that may be remedied by insulating the flights, especially the ceiling.

      What is the significance of watery droppings of a afternoon?
      A watery dropping in the afternoon rather than first thing in the morning is also stress induced and may occur with predators (rats, mice, snakes, dogs, cats), draughts or a sudden weather change.

      What is the significance of watery droppings during the night and day?
      Watery droppings during the day and night are commonly associated with illness such as canker, coccidiosis, Chlamydiosis, fungal or thrush infections. Wet droppings also occur when sugar based medications are administered (vitamins, electrolytes, antibiotics etc.).

      What is the significance of white, watery droppings?
      White droppings occur when there is a gizzard obstruction. The bird with white watery droppings requires immediate first aid treatment and crop needle feeding. The white watery dropping is a common finding with cold stress when birds over-engorge on grit. It is important to remove all grit temporarily from the cage when white watery droppings are seen.

    • Enlarged Droppings

      What is the significance of larger droppings?
      The size of the droppings is a very good indicator of the fitness and health of the budgerigar. The metabolism of the most healthy and fit birds purrs with efficiency and requires minimal energy to run at top capacity. The budgerigars in top health eat and drink less because their energy systems are highly efficient. They produce droppings that are small, tight, low in water and are well formed; the fittest birds have the smallest droppings. Large droppings occur when the birds eat too much. Excessive hunger occurs with feeding parents, illnesses, parasite infestations or as a habit. Large droppings may indicate a fitness or heath problem and should be tested microscopically.

      Large droppings reflect a continuing stress. The use of Quik Gel immediately large droppings are noticed in the flights or breeding cabinet, is the best and most natural means for preventing illness in budgerigar flocks.

      A large dropping is an early sigh of a health problem. On closer examination a change in the colour and wetness may also be noticed.

      Persistently large, discoloured, wet droppings indicate a health problem in the breeding cabinet.
      Large droppings do occur in the breeding cabinet of healthy hen birds. Healthy cock birds that are not feeding should have normal droppings. Look at the perch site to check the health of the cock and hen in the breeding cabinet. Cock birds may produce stress related droppings soon after pairing in incompatible pairs. Feeding cocks may produce larger droppings, but too much moisture in the droppings indicated a problem in either sex. Mould growth on the dropping in the breeding cabinet is a sure sigh of a health problem.

  • Vomiting

    Vomiting is a life-threatening symptom requiring immediate attention.

    The most likely causes of vomiting are:

    • Blocked gizzard (with sour crop)
    • Canker (Trichomonaisis)
    • Megabacteria

    First Choice of Medicine
    Birds showing symptoms of vomiting must receive immediate emergency first aid treatment. The following emergency medicines should be mixed together in the drinking water and administered together with ER formula / Quik Gel by crop needle whilst a diagnosis is being confirmed.

    Metronidasole and Penicillin antibiotic are the first choice emergency medicines when:

    • Vomiting is associated with a sudden illness following wet weather with additional symptoms of a wet head, gas in the crop and continuing appetite. Hens are more likely to suffer these symptoms in the breeding cabinets and cocks in the flights. These are symptoms of Sour crop related to a blocked gizzard. Sour crop may also occur as result of feeding a contaminated soft food. Under these circumstances birds of both sexes will show symptoms within 72 hours of eating the contaminated food.

    Baytril is the first choice emergency medicine when:

    • Vomiting is associated with a sudden illness following wet weather with additional symptoms of a wet head and gas in the crop. Several birds of both sexes show the above symptoms within 72 hours of eating the contaminated food. These symptoms occur when sour crop is unrelated to a blocked gizzard but occurs as result of being fed a contaminated soft food.

    Ronidasole are the first choice emergency medicines when:

    • Vomiting is associated with a sudden onset serious illness following warm weather with additional symptoms of gas in the crop, stop eating, dark green droppings and any discharge from the mouth (See page 393 Chapter 30: “The Budgerigar”).

    • Cocks are more likely to suffer these symptoms in the breeding cabinets and flights. These are symptoms of Trichomoniasis (canker). Follow an Emergency First Aid Treament forthesick individuals as well as a flock treatment.

    Amphotericin is the first choice emergency medicine when:

    • Vomiting is associated with an ongoing illness following an acute stressful period – cold stress, weaning etc) with additional symptoms of going light, excessive hunger, dark brown to black droppings, seed in the droppings. Related birds of both sexes may be affected simultaneously or over a period of time. These symptoms occur with Megabacteria infections have blocked the stomach and gizzard.

  • Weaning Problems

    Due to their much larger size, exhibition budgerigars take 20% longer to reach weaning age. They start to wean when 5 weeks old and may take several more days before they are able to eat and drink by themselves. It appears many exhibition budgerigars have lost their instinctual ability to wean quickly and for them weaning as well as fledging are very slow processes.

    It is the diminished ability of exhibition budgerigars to wean and fledge quickly that predisposes them to weaning problems. In order to minimise weaning problems most breeders move nestlings of weaning age into a communal nursery (weaning cage) for between 1-3 weeks, where under close observation, they learn to eat, drink and fly before they are allowed to enter the flights.

    (See pages 310-319 Chapter 22: “The Budgerigar”)

By Treatment Trial

A treatment trial is an important means for diagnosing many budgerigar diseases, because it is difficult to diagnose many of the more serious diseases in early stages of infection (e.g. Coccidiosis, trichomoniasis, round worm infestations) and for others diagnostic testing is unreliable (e.g. Psittacosis, Megabacteria ) or takes may days to finalise (e.g. Fungal infections and toxins).

A positive response to a treatment trial involving a “guestimated” medicine and emergency first aid treatment within 48 hours of treatment should be expected when the correct medicine is chosen.

A positive or negative response to treatment trial helps confirm the correct diagnosis and determines a need to continue or stop treatment for the entire flock.

  • Positive Signs to Treatment: Individual bird

    • Increased activity within 12 hours
    • Fawn colour droppings within 24 hours
    • Perching behaviour within 48 hours
    • Eating after 72 hours
    • Feather colour returns within 72 hours
    • Climbing up wire of hospital cage after 72 hours
  • Negative Signs to Treatment: Individual bird

    • No increased activity within 48 hours
    • Droppings remain dark green after 48 hours
    • No perching behaviour within 72 hours
    • Not eating after 96 hours
    • Feather colour returns within 96 hours
    • Climbing up wire of hospital cage after 96 hours
  • Positive Signs to Treatment: Birds in Flight

    • Increased activity and noise within 24 hours
    • Smaller droppings within 24 hours
    • Feather colour visibly brighter within 72 hours
    • Down feather appear on floor within 72 hours
  • Negative Signs to Treatment: Birds in Flight

    • Dark green watery droppings after 48 hours
    • Fluffed up look within 48 hours
    • No increased noise or activity after 24 hours
    • Vomiting

By Location of Problem

See Part 2 Medicine Selection.

Dr Rob’s Products

To order the products mentioned in this article, please use the links on the Dr Robert Marshall page.


Filed Under: Health



About the Author: Dr Rob Marshall B.V.Sc., M.A.V.C.Sc. (Avian Health) is arguably the finest and most experienced veterinary surgeon in the world currently highly active in the field of avian diseases. His knowledge, supported by his extensive Curriculum Vitae, plus papers and books on avian health, is unequalled. His latest publication, "The Budgerigar Book", took 12 years to produce and is undoubtedly the most extensive volume concerning budgerigar health ever produced. Dr Marshall has his own veterinary practice in Carlingford, near Sydney, Australia.

RSSComments (2)

Leave a Reply | Trackback URL

  1. Vicky Van Vliet says:


    I am struggling to find any mention of a wet vent plus missing feathers in an area the size of a pea – pretty large for a bird of this type.

    The vets here are pretty much admitting they don’t know anything about this and I am upset – this is my favorite bird.

    In a large cage I have 3 females and one male (sold the wrong sex) I feed kibble plus broccoli, apples & carrots and they have some calcium.

    I don’t know what to do.

    Any suggestions would be lovely.

    Vicky Van Vliet, Florida, USA

  2. melvin says:

    my bird has lost feathere around its eye,it also has a itiching around the eyes please suggest suitable medicine available or any home remedy

Leave a Reply