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Devitalised budgieNobody knows your bird as well as you do. If you notice any unusual behaviour pattern or strange new habits, please keep in mind that this can indicate a health problem. If your pet birds aren't tame it may be more difficult to recognize a disease in its early stage. Therefore, you should observe your birds very closely, because pet birds are very good at disguising any health problems or unease.

But even though it is important to keep an eye on your birds regularly, you should not frighten them. Most predators share an important body feature: The position of their eyes on the head is typical - both eyes point to the front what ensures a binocular vision. Humans also show this eye position and therefore some birds feel uneasy in case they are watched by humans. You can prevent this kind of stress if you slightly turn your head away from your birds and just watch them by moving your eyes towards them.

But what exactly do you have to look for if you want to learn more about your bird's health? This chapter provides information on this important topic.

Never show weakness!
If a bird is suffering from a (beginning) infectious disease or any other kind of illness, it will usually try to make a healthy impression. In fact, this is innate behaviour and it is driven by the bird's survival instinct. Wild birds are always threatened by enemies such as birds of prey. Those predators look for sick and weak flock members. Therefore it is essential for a sick bird to hide any kind of weakness as long as possible and avoid being noticed by a predator.

The above mentioned behaviour occurs in pet birds as well, because for the birds it is very essential for the survival of their kind. You should keep this in mind each and every day. Your pet bird will act like this because he or she follows the inborn instincts. Therefore bird owners tend to notice diseases in an advanced stage when the bird isn't able to hide it any longer. You should therefore be prepared for it and be trained in noticing the inconspicuous details a bird cannot hide.

That's odd, the bird has never done this before...
Sick budgieIf you notice something very unusual and if you think your bird might feel weak, you should be alarmed. Something may be wrong if for example a bird who normally sleeps standing on one leg suddenly perches on both legs. And sometimes you can observe an even more alarming sign: Birds who are very exhausted can hardly stand on their perches. Therefore they sit on the floor and take shelter in a corner (see photo on the right). You should take their weakness very seriously. Another example is a change in a bird's eating and drinking habits. If a bird drinks significantly more than usual, this may happen due to a kidney problem. Another alerting signal can be the fact that a bird eats a lot while constantly losing weight. In most cases an infection of the digestive tract is responsible for this symptom.

When birds are living together as a pair and one of them is currently not as interested in its mate as usual and wants to be left alone, this can also mark an early stage of a disease. If the bird shows aggressive behaviour, this can be a hint as well, because many birds who suffer from pain or who feel unwell start biting if they feel harassed.

From bundle of energy to lazybones
If your bird sleeps more than usual without any obvious cause, it is a good idea to have a close eye on your animal. A bird sleeping the whole day may be ill or it simply can't sleep in the night because blood-sucking mites plague the bird at night. Nocturnal disturbances can be detected by the distribution of excrements on the cage floor. And by the way: Another reason for sleepless nights may simply be that the cage or aviary is located in a place with too much noise.

Sick bugdie

Hey, little fatty!
Sick budgie who is fluffed upIf a bird's plumage is fluffed the whole day - thus looking round as a ball -, this behaviour may indicate a severe weakening. The situation is even worse in case your bird won't pay attention to its environment and mates, you most probably have to deal with an acute or chronic disease. So you should always keep in mind: A bird with ruffled feathers, dull eyes and without any interest in its flock mates is definitely sick! Birds also often fluff their feathers when they're sleepy or feel very comfortable. But they look different then! In case the feathers show no perfect silhouette and you can see "edges" like on the photo on the right, your bird's health is poor.

Shaky, cold and a bobbing tail
Sick budgieSick birds tend to have a low body temperature, in fact it is often less than 105.8 degrees Fahrenheit (41 degrees centigrade). Some birds are even shaking from feeling cold. You can easily notice it by having a close look at the fluffed feathers. If your bird is tame, you can check the body temperature wicht the help of the bird's feet: In case they are extremely cold, the bird most probably is ill.

Depending on the actual disease, birds may breathe heavily and move their tail feathers up and down at every breath. Such bobbing of the tail feathers indicate that the bird may suffer from a (beginning) infection of the respiratory tracts. Another reason that could lead to this tail bobbing is a swelling inside the body that impairs the respiratory system: If there is for example a tumour, it may squeeze the lungs or air sacks. Thus the affected bird can breath only with some efforts.

Take your bird to a vet immediately!
After you have recognized that your bird shows typical signs for sickness, you shouldn't waste any time and take it to a competent vet at once. In addition, the bird should be separated from its mates. Please don't lose any time by writing messages on internet forums, asking other people for help. Always keep in mind that only a vet is able to examine the bird adequately and make a specific diagnosis. Don't hesitate to go to a vet because most diseases can be cured best when recognized in an early stage.

German version of this text: Gaby Schulemann-Maier,
translation of this chapter: Stefanie Demandt and Gaby Schulemann-Maier

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