How to tell if a bird is sick (and what to do)

Birds are fragile animals and will fall sick at least once during their long lifespan. As a prey animal, birds hide signs of illness because in the wild, predators look for signs of illness or weakness when choosing their prey. 

In this article, you will learn how a healthy and sick bird looks and behaves.

Many illnesses in birds have the same symptoms. If you notice that your bird shows any sick bird symptoms in the list below, bring your bird to an avian vet as soon as possible as your bird is at the stage where it is too sick to hide its illness.

Singapore readers, click here for a list of avian vets in Singapore.

If an avian vet is not immediately available, follow the steps here to provide supportive care to give your bird a higher chance of surviving the illness or injury. 

Behavior of a healthy and sick bird

  Healthy bird

Sick bird

General behavior

Perky and alert

Pays attention to the surroundings

Active and interested in what's going on around

Sudden change in personality (quieter, less vocal)

Squinting, closing eyes as if seeming to fall asleep

Looking drowsy throughout the day

Head tucked under wing most of the day

Respiration

Even and easy respiration

Breathing should be smooth, calm and quiet

Tail does not move with each breath

Tail bobbing when taking a breath

Making wheezing, clicking sounds

Rapid, puffing breaths or breathing with mouth open

DO NOT handle a bird that exhibits such behavior as those symptoms suggest respiratory disease! Stressing the bird can cause it to die from stress

Movement

Physically active 

Moves around the cage eating, hopping from one perch to another and playing with toys

Sitting low on the perch or on the bottom of the cage

Sitting too still, even when approached

Huddled

Reluctant or unable to fly properly

Sick bird behaviour

Eating and drinking habits Interested in food and water and maintain a regular schedule of eating and drinking Sudden increased or decreased appetite and drinking
Posture Upright and steady posture

Slouched and unsteady posture

Losing balance, trembling, teetering, or falling off of perch

Appearance of a healthy and sick bird

  Healthy bird

Sick bird

Weight

Stable weight appropriate for its species

Sudden weight loss - You can tell based on weight and a prominent keel (breast bone)

Sick bird underweight

Eyes

Bright and alert eyes

Even in shape

Bright and clear eyes bird

Dull or swollen eyes

Redness or loss of feathers around the eye

Discharge around the eye

Sick bird eye

Nares (nostrils)

Clear nares free from discharge

Red, blocked & swollen nares (most likely early signs of a sinus infection)

Frequent sneezing 

Sick bird swollen red nares nostrils

Beak/mouth

Beak should open and close easily and meet properly

Healthy bird beak

Beak is discoloured

Overgrown or flaky beak

Discharge from mouth

Sick bird overgrown beak

Crop It is normal for the crop to expand slightly after eating, but the crop should not be overly enlarged or swollen

Swelling in the crop area (possible ruptured air sac)

Sick bird swollen crop

Skin Clear skin free of inflammation, redness or swelling

Skin has visible injuries, lesions, or wounds - such as bite wounds, burns or bleeding

Sick bird injured feet

Lumps or swelling of any portion of the body

Sick bird swelling under wing

Feathers

Shiny, glossy and smooth feathers

Feathers should be neat and in place

Healthy bird feathers

Feathers are ungroomed, dull, dirty or matted

Picking at feathers

Damaged feathers or bald areas of missing feathers

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

Sick bird feathers missing

 

Wings

Wings fold evenly close to the body and when opened, they both extend fully

Healthy bird wings

Not holding wings the same way - suddenly drooped or elevated wing(s)

Sick bird wings

Feet

Sure and strong grip

Scales on the feet are uniform in color and texture

Healthy bird feet

 

Limping, lameness, suddenly favoring one leg over the other

Sick bird movement limping

Swollen feet or joints

Flakiness, crusting, or discoloration of feet

Sick bird feet

Vent

A clean and dry vent

Healthy bird vent

Vent area has fecal matter stuck to it and there is discharge, swelling or protrusion

Sick bird protruding vent

Providing supportive care to a sick bird

Important notes

  • As supportive care does not deal with the cause(s) of illness, it is not a replacement or alternative to receiving proper medical attention.

There are five important elements to consider in supportive care of a sick (or injured) bird, listed in order of importance:

  1. Heat
  2. Humidity
  3. Fluids
  4. Nutrition
  5. Quiet/Level of Activity

Heat: Use a heating pad to warm up your bird’s environment to 30 degree celsius

Humidity: Add humidity to your bird's environment with a vaporizer or humidifier

Fluids: If your bird is not drinking, give fluids from your finger, a spoon, or by syringe

Examples:

  • Mix 1/3 teaspoon (3g) Guardian Angel per 50ml water
  • Infant electrolyte solution
  • Apple or grape juice
  • D5W (medical glucose/saline solution)
  • Bottled water with a little sugar or honey

Nutrition: Provide food high in carbohydrates and easy to digest. If your bird is not eating, it may be necessary to hand feed it yourself with a syringe or spoon

Examples:

  • Mix 1 teaspoon (3g) of Poly-Aid with 1.5ml water. Handfeed 1.5ml of Poly-Aid solution per 60g bird body weight twice a day
  • Baby parrot hand-feeding formula
  • Infant rice cereal
  • Baby food
  • Papaya juice or nectar
  • Fruit juice (except orange)

Rest/level of activity

  • Separate from other birds
  • Let the bird rest in a semi-dark and quiet area of the house 
  • Remove all perches and toys or transfer the bird into a carrier

Sick Bird Rescue Pack Parrot Funhos

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