Signs of Disease in Birds

posted: 05/15/12
More InformationAspergillosis, Fatty Liver, Gout in Birds, Mosquito Control and Preventing Diseases They Transmit, Newcastle Disease

The presence of signs of illness in a bird is sometimes termed "sick-bird syndrome." This is because many illnesses cause the same signs, and, by the time a bird shows signs of illness, it really is sick. Aviary birds, like other prey animals, hide signs of illness. Predators look for signs of illness or weakness when choosing their prey, so a prey animal needs to appear healthy, or it will be a sure target. By the time they are showing signs of illness, in many instances the birds have become too weak to be able to disguise it. At this point, small birds, especially, have little reserve, and even handling them can put them into shock. This is why it is extremely important for bird owners to be aware of signs of illness in a bird, and monitor their birds at least twice daily for the presence of these signs.

If you notice any of the signs in the list below, contact your veterinarian. Weakness, labored breathing, bleeding, injuries, collapse, seizures, or other nervous system signs are especially serious, should be considered emergencies, and need immediate attention.

*Weakness, labored breathing, bleeding, trauma, collapse, seizures, or other nervous system signs are especially serious, should be considered emergencies, and need immediate attention.

Changes in general appearance or stance:


Sitting low on the perch

Sitting on the bottom of the cage

Hanging onto the side of the cage by its beak instead of sitting on a perch

Head tucked under wing and standing on two feet

Ruffled feathers (consistently)


Losing balance, teetering, or falling off of perch

Lumps or swelling of any portion of the body

Picking at its feathers or body


Not preening

Harassed by other birds

Eyes dull, sunken, or abnormal color

Walking in circles

Unusual smell to bird or droppings

Drooped or elevated wing(s)

Changes in behavior and general attitude:


Decreased or changes in vocalizations or singing

Drooping wings



Increased sleeping or eyes closed

Poor response to stimuli

Changes in personality, e.g.; more submissive, more aggressive

Displaying juvenile behavior, e.g., begging for food

Changes in color, volume, consistency, and number of droppings:

Change in color of the urates (normally white), urine (normally clear), or feces (normal varies with species)

Change in consistency: watery (increased urine), loose feces (diarrhea), hard feces (constipation)

Bloody droppings

Undigested food in feces

Decrease in number or size of droppings

Increase in urates

Changes in appearance of the head:

Discharge around the eyes and/or nares

Squinting or half-closed eyes

Overgrown or flaky beak

Shiny black beak in a cockatoo (symptom of Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease)

Loss of symmetry (one area seems swollen or smaller compared to the other side)

Redness or loss of feathers around the eye

Discoloration of the beak

Flicking or twitching of the head

Changes in feathers:

Ruffled or fluffed feathers

Lost, misshaped, or broken feathers

Decreased preening

Wet, stained, or matted feathers on the head, vent, or other area

Dull feathers

Long or excessive molt, bald spots

Pulling or picking at feathers Abnormal color or barring Changes in legs or feet: Lameness or favoring a leg Flakiness, crusting, or discoloration of feet Abnormal nail growth Shifting feet Swollen feet or joints Changes in breathing: Difficulty breathing Breathing with an open beak Tail bobbing when taking a breath Sneezing Discharge or crusts around the nares Wheezing or clicking sounds Exercise intolerance (heavy breathing after exercise, or inability to exercise) Change in sound of voice Changes in eating/drinking/digestion: Increased or decreased appetite Increased or decreased drinking Vomiting or regurgitation Straining to defecate or pass an egg Diarrhea Swelling in the crop area Weight loss (use a scale) and/or prominent keel (breast bone) Discharge from mouth Inability to pick up food or manipulate it Protrusion from the vent Injuries: Burns Bite wounds Injury from flying into a window or other object Bleeding

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