Symptoms of a Sick Bird

By Eleanor McCaffrey
Copyright©, No photos or any portion of this text may be, copied,
printed or reproduced without owner's written permission.

What are the symptoms of a sick bird? Most bird owners can recognize the classic symptoms of a very sick bird: being fluffed up and sleeping on the bottom of the cage. By the time a bird reaches this stage of an illness it will be much more difficult for the bird to recover. Sick birds will often look and behave like a normal, healthy bird until it's too late for medical treatment to be effective. (This is why we quarantine new birds being added to our flocks.)   In the wild, birds have to hide their illnesses to protect themselves from predators. Predators will attack weak, sick and disabled birds first because they are easy targets and can't fly away or fight back. Our pet birds will instinctively hide their illnesses from us the same way. If we are observant and pay close attention to our bird's daily living habits and behavior, we may be able to identify subtle physical or behavioral changes that may be early symptoms of illness. Seeking medical treatment for your bird from an avian veterinarian in the very early stages of an illness may just save the life of your bird. 

Initial symptoms of illness may include: a fluffed up, cranky, inactive or sleepy bird that naps more often, a change in normal vocalizing, a decrease in food consumption or a change in the color, consistency or frequency of droppings. Your bird may look smaller and feel lighter in your hand because he's  not eating much and losing weight. Sick birds quickly become anorexic, refusing to eat or drink water. If you keep track of your bird's weight on a regular basis, a weight loss of few grams each day is a sign of illness. Once a bird loses 20% of his or her body weight, the prognosis is not good. Very small, dry, scant, black droppings mean that your bird is not eating much and is dehydrated.  Sick birds will also sleep fluffed up on the bottom of the cage because they are too weak to grasp onto perches. Fluffing up helps them to maintain body heat. Other symptoms of illness are listed below.

 Symptoms of a Sick Bird

  • any change in behavior or energy level (stops eating singing, playing, interacting with people)
  • excessive sleeping or sleeping on the bottom of the cage
  • sleeping on both feet instead of 1 foot with head tucked under wing
  • change in color or consistency of droppings
  • watery droppings
  • droppings that contain whole undigested seeds and food
  • black colored droppings
  • a soiled vent
  • drinking more or less water than usual
  • loss of appetite
  • vomiting or regurgitation
  • sticky, wet looking facial feathers
  • a discharge from the beak, eyes or nostrils
  • inflamed, or crusty nostrils or eyes
  • swelling around the eyes
  • increased blinking, squinting or cloudy eyes
  • coughing, sneezing, irregular breathing, open mouth breathing
  • panting, noisy breathing with a clicking sound, wheezing
  • tail bobbing while breathing, (visible up and down movement of tail)
  • a change or loss of voice
  • drooping head, wings or tail
  • a change in body posture with a bent over, hunched appearance
  • lameness, swollen legs or feet
  • inability or difficulty perching
  • diarrhea, (looks like splattered pea soup, often stuck to tail and vent feathers)
  • black droppings, bright red or bloody droppings
  • bright yellow or green urine or urates
  • a distended or bloated abdomen, straining to eliminate droppings
  • foul or sour odors from droppings or from the mouth
  • loss of balance, unsteadiness or tremors
  • inability to fly, walk or grasp onto a perch.
  • falling off the perch
  • disorientation
  • abnormal molting, feather growth, plucking or feather chewing
  • bleeding
  • lumps or swelling on the body

Vomiting and Regurgitation in adult birds can be a sign of illness or normal avian affection. There is also a difference between regurgitation and vomiting. Regurgitation is the expulsion of undigested food from the mouth, esophagus or crop. Vomiting is the forceful expulsion of partially digested material from the stomach. When vomiting, a  bird usually shakes his/her head back and forth. When regurgitating, a bird will make more of a neck pumping motion. Parrots will often regurgitate on their human mates if they are closely bonded. This is normal and this is how mates feed each other in the wild. Some pet birds in captivity will feed each other this way as well, especially when breeding. Sometimes vomiting and regurgitation are not noticeable because the bird shakes his/her head back and forth. Get into the habit of visually examining your bird closely each day. Suspect vomiting  if facial feathers look sticky with specks of food. 

If you notice any of these symptoms and think your bird is sick, he probably is. Please don't waste valuable time looking for home remedies, over the counter medications and ways to treat your bird yourself on the web. Your bird needs the help of an avian vet. Please give your bird the same medical treatment that you would provide for a cat, dog or another family member. Cockatiels have the same if not longer lifespan than other pets and they deserve the best medical care too. If money is an issue, talk to your vet about purchasing Pet Bird Health Care Insurance, which is now available in the USA. If you don't have an avian vet and live in the USA or Canada, you should be able to find one here CLICK HERE 


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