8 Signs That You Have a Sick Bird

8 Signs That You Have a Sick Bird

 December 9th, 2009
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Blue Fronted Amazon Parrot

This is a topic I have covered in past posts, but an email I received today convinced me that this is a subject that can’t be discussed enough.

In this email, a young woman that I knew in Austin, told me that her much loved sun conure, Mango, had died unexpectedly.  She included her phone number, so I called her to offer my condolences.  In the course of the conversation, I found that Mango had indeed been showing signs of illness, but her owner didn’t know how to recognize them.


Let me begin with explaining flock mentality.  In the wild, when a single parrot’s health declines, it becomes a danger to the flock.  Predators will target a sick bird as an easy kill, thereby endangering the entire flock.  A bird showing signs of illness is typically driven from the flock by its peers for this reason.  A parrot knows that its safety depends on the protection of a flock as a unit and will hide its illness for as long as it can.  This behavior is hard-wired even into our companion parrots.  Once a parrot becomes visibly ill, it has been sick for a long time.

Military Macaw

As parrot owners, we have to be very aware of the clues our birds give us.  This is why I am always going on about monitoring your birds poops and frequently checking their weight.  These are two easy methods of determining the status of your bird’s health.

The following are signs that your bird needs the attention of an avian certified veterinarian:

  1. Poops are abnormal.  Here is a link to a post that will tell what an abnormal poop is.
  2. Weight loss.  A parrot, which should always be weighed in grams, can have huge fluctuations in its weight during the course of a single day depending on when it has eaten, how much, and if it has recently pooped.  If your parrot loses 10% of its body weight during the course of a month, it needs to see a vet.  In other words, if you have a 300 gram bird, the loss of 30 grams is 10%.  Because birds are so light, it is really difficult to judge a significant weight loss without the use of a gram scale, which can be purchased at Office Depot or most places where office supplies can be found.   Many are sold in bird stores or on-line with perches attached,
  3. Changes in appearance.  If you notice anything unusual about your bird: feather discoloration or barring, a fluffed up appearance, poop in the feathers by the vent area, or anything else that is untypical, it is a cause for concern.  Birds are fastidiously clean and it is a sign of illness if they are not keeping themselves well preened.
  4. Loss of appetite.  If your bird is normally a hearty eater and is now shunning its food, take him to the vet.  Birds burn a lot of energy and cannot go for long periods of time without eating to keep up their strength.
  5. Drooping wings/perched at the bottom of the cage.  These are common signs of an unwell bird.
  6. Discharge.  An excretion from the nasal areas, eyes or anywhere else is the sign infection or other problems and needs to be immediately treated.
  7. Lack of vitality or inactivity.  If your bird is not talking, singing or whistling or is not as active as she usually is, watch her closely.  These are often the first telling signs of an existing illness.  If her behavior doesn’t return to normal quickly, see your vet.
  8. Eyes are dull or cloudy.  A parrot’s eyes should be clear and sparkle with life.  They should show awareness of everything that is going on around it.  Lifeless, dull eyes are certainly a signal that something is wrong.

Blue throated macaw

These are all easy to spot hints to your bird’s health. Given the fact that once you see illness it is already somewhat advanced, your hesitation in getting the bird to the vet will only make matters worse.  If your parrot was going to get better on its own, it would have already done so, before you noticed he was ill.

Veterinarians are expensive, believe me, I know that.  But the expense that you incur now, at an earlier stage in your bird’s illness, will be far less than if you wait until the situation is dire.  The loss of your beloved parrot, your good friend and an important member of the family is a cost beyond measure.

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19 Comments on “8 Signs That You Have a Sick Bird”

Mike Benza  12/09/2009 8:01 pm

Hello Patty,

Where do you take your feathered friends in Austin? I moved here recently and I brought my cockatiel to West Gate Pet & Bird Hospital. I was very happy with the service, but I’d like to know if you have any other recommendations

Patty  12/10/2009 3:44 am

Hi Mike,
I am living in Orlando now, but Westgate is exactly where I took my birds (and cat). They are awesome and I can’t recommend them highly enough. Dr. Davis was my primary vet there, I just connected with her. She has been so helpful to me and really cares about her practice and her clients. Dr Lusk is great too and both are avian certified. They will take good care of you there.

mike  05/04/2010 10:48 am

Hi Patty I hope you can respond too my post. I have a sun conure and for two days the poop has been more liquid then the normal poop there is a little white mixed in I dont want too wait much longer too take too the vet. The parrot is active daily and vocal do you think this a a big concern w/his poop?
Thanks Mike

Patty  05/05/2010 12:44 am

Hi Mike,

It’s really hard to advise you without seeing the dropping. It is normal for there to be a white portion, those are the urates, the green/brown portion is the fecal matter and the clear liquid that emanates from the poop is the urine, which we often barely notice depending on what cage liner we use. Sometimes birds can have runny poops during the spring as a result of hormonal activity for a day, maybe two. I have dealt with this in my umbrella cockatoo on occasion. Two springs ago, however, he had runny poops for two days, on the third day I started worrying and on the fourth day I took him to the vet. He had a severe fungal infection that took nearly a year to clear up. Read this post on normal vs abnormal poops: http://www.old1.birdtricks.com/blog/what-your-parrots-poop-can-tell-you/. It is a good sign that he is active and vocal, and hopefully eating well too. I recommend that you get him in to an avian certified vet if this continues another day or two. Follow your instincts.

Xain  07/11/2010 11:18 pm

i have 2 green parrot once in a year they get bald.which is weird.but rest of the year they r fine. their head can be seen cleary.i dun knw whats the reason, is it okay, if nt what should i do?
and i have one White Cockatoo whenever i hug it or sumthin my whole shirt gets white.its lyk powder, is it natural? how can i over cum it?

Patty  07/12/2010 10:04 pm

If excessive amounts of powder is coming from your cockatoo, you probably need to bathe him more. You can always expect there to be a bit though. That’s normal.
Molting is a normal process yearly, but not to the extreme where you can see the skin or head beneath the feathers. Are they plucking each other? I would see a vet about this.

Kathy P  10/27/2010 4:03 am

Hi, Patty, I found what appeared to be some kind of worm at the bottom of my daughter’s parrot’s cage.Should I be alarmed, is this common, and most importantly what should I do?

Patty  10/27/2010 11:26 pm

Hi Kathy,
First a few questions: 1) What kind of parrot are we talking about? 2) Can you describe the worm? 3) Are you thinking that the worm was passed by the bird? and 4) Where is the cage located?

Kathy P  10/28/2010 1:32 am

Hi, Patty! My daughter’s bird is a parakeet,the worm was quite small and the head was black/brownish and the rest of it was white.I found it under the paper @ the bottom of the cage,so thinking she did not pass it. Lastly, the cage is located in the kitchen. Thanks for your time!

Patty  10/28/2010 10:55 pm

Hi Kathy,
My concern was that your bird passed the worm, but it doesn’t sound that way. My guess is that this is the larva from a moth or a beetle, perhaps a weevil. If you are a gardener, it might be coming in from the soil. Check the dirt in your indoor potted plants too.
I would keep checking the cage for more of them and be sure to change the papers often. There is no need to worry that the worm will harm the bird, even if it’s gets eaten.

Janet Larson  01/22/2011 2:13 pm

Hello Patty
My bird has craw problems, it seems like one side swells. I bring her to the Vet and she said that is bacteria and gives me drops of anti biotics. It will help her a lot. My question is this: How does she get it? Am I feeding her something she shouldn’t have? I try to make sure she eats the right food plus fruit and veggies. Could it be something in her cage? I alway clean it everyday, bottom part and wipe the cage down once a week. She is a great egg layer, I try to keep her busy but she just likes to lay eggs then about a week later she will swell in the craw again. I am worried. I sure would like to know if anyone else has had this problem.. thank you Jan

Patty  01/23/2011 12:40 am

Hi Jan,
I’m sorry your bird is having problems. You didn’t mention what kind of bird this is or her age. If this is a baby, it could be the result of contaminated hand feeding formula.
Is the swelling you mentioned perhaps that the crop, or craw, that is not draining properly. Did the doctor give you Baytril as the medication?
If there is seed in her diet, make sure you are throwing out the uneaten seed often and replacing it with new. Do the same with pellets, especially if they have gotten wet. Wash the food bowls carefully and make sure the wet foods don’t stay out in the air for too long. Also be careful to wash the veggies and fruits well before serving them.
It seems as though you are careful to keep things tidy, but no matter how clean we are, sometimes bacteria sneaks into the environment. Just take some extra precautions and do the best you can. Unfortunately, there is no way to be able know exactly what caused this infection. Good luck!

Esther U.  06/20/2014 5:48 pm

Hello Patty.
one of my birds passed away and he was sneezing. my mom didnt let me take him to the vet bc of $$. my other bird has started to sneeze like hes puffing air out. i have a cockatiel. i got him from my aunt 2 months ago. hes not trained or tamed so i dont notice any dire change in behavior and cant weigh him. he cleans his feathers all the time but sometimes he poops in the water or food. i have noticed poop on his back every once in a while. my mom wont let me take him to the vet. is there anything i can do?

karen  02/07/2015 6:40 pm

Hi patty
I have an African grey parrot not sure what sex it is I’ve had him for 3 yrs now and I can’t stop him biting and ripping his feathers out I had to a vet and he says he is stressed don’t know why as he is always out his cage he doesn’t like toys or fruit or vegetables doesn’t seem to want to learn things doesn’t like getting wet he’s a right bore haha but I am concerned and worry why he is doing this any ideas what I could do would be helpful

Haley  03/03/2015 1:06 am

Hi patty
I have a sick red tail black cockatoo, she is ten months old and was happy and active then bamm within an hour she started to vomit and become really lethargic I took her to the vet and he did a crop spray and X-ray and gave her some fluids while she was under anaesthetic, I’ve brought her home but she still seems quite unwell and loss of appetite, her eyes look a bit cloudy too, is there anything else I can do for her, I’m scared she won’t get better 🙁

jp  09/20/2015 12:18 pm

Hi i have a blue and gold macaw he doesn’t talk anymore and have spots on his tung it is being going on for 3 days know let me know please


Name (required)  09/22/2015 11:30 am

I lost my parrot today ….I wish I had red it before

viki  09/22/2015 11:31 am

I lost my parrot today ….I wish I had read this before

Roland  01/01/2018 5:13 am

Hi, i have an african grey who is 7 years old. I found him very listless this morning with drooping wings and his head turned upwards and eyes closed. I also discovered that his water bowl was empty. It was a hot day yesterday. Compounding the issue was tbat it was the new years eve and he was in an outside aviary. I am not sure if he is dehydrated, stressed or is there something else wrong. His breathing sounded throaty for a little while when we tried to handle him, but it has returned to normal. I tried feeding water through a syringe, which he puked out. Please help