Early Detection Of Illness Inside Bird Cages


Catching Illness Early: Looking Beyond the Bird Cage's Mask

Birds' Natural Behavior Is To Cover Sickness for "Protection"

Even birds that haven't been exposed to the outdoors or other birds can still become ill, and it may be difficult for owners to identify the early signs. Because birds are prey animals, they will instinctively hide any signs of illness. Unfortunately, often when owners recognize something is wrong, it is because their birds have become too weak to mask the illness, and by then it is sometimes too late to help. Early detection is imperative to treating all kinds of avian illnesses. Owners can learn to detect early signs of sickness by studying a bird's behavior and a bird cage's environment.

Behavioral Changes from Your Favorite Bird Cage’s Inhabitant

Owners who spend time with their birds will be able to identify the slightest changes in their dispositions, which are often the earliest warning signs that something is wrong.  Healthy birds are active and alert.  They spend most of their days playing and can maintain excellent balance.  A healthy bird should also be able to recover quickly from stressors such as a bird cage's new toy or other environmental changes. 

Behavioral warning signs can be visible in a bird's daily routine or how the bird cage's environment adversely impacts him.  One warning sign is if something in a bird cage's environment suddenly irritates a bird when he never exhibited anxiety before.  The opposite can be true as well: Sick birds may not appear as responsive to their bird cage's toys or other accessories.  Sick birds also may sit with their heads tucked in, lose their balance easily, or remain at the bottom of their cages.  They may have irregular sleeping and eating patterns, vocalize less or more often, or become suddenly aggressive towards their owners or cage mates.  Owners must get to know their birds' baseline behaviors so that any subtle change can be noted and addressed with an avian veterinarian.

Physical Changes

There are many physical signs of illness, all of which warrant immediate attention.  Owners should pay special attention to any of the signs listed below which may be indicators of issues with different body systems.

The Nervous System

  • Clumsiness or decreased balancing ability
  • Apparent paralysis or postural changes
  • Cloudy eyes or unusual eye movements

The Endocrine System

  • Increased appetite or thirst
  • Abnormal growth
  • Reproductive problems
  • Bone problems

The Senses

  • Differences between eye color, size or shape
  • Crusty eyes
  • Red or swollen eyes
  • Cloudy eyes or eyes with white spots
  • Constantly tilted head
  • Ear discharge
  • Apparent plugged nares (stuffy nose)
  • Changes in diet interests

Integument (Surface Tissues like skin, feathers, beak)

  • Areas of wet or matted feathers
  • Swollen bumps on the skin
  • Crusting at the corners of the mouth, around the beak or the legs
  • Overgrown toenails or beak
  • Unkempt feathers
  • Bloody feathers
  • Visible skin that is normally covered by feathers
  • Feather-plucking


  • Droopy wing
  • Uneven weight bearing
  • Pectoral muscles that resemble a letter 'V' or "W" rather than a 'U' shape

Cardiovascular System

  • Tiring easily
  • Coughing
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Bleeding

Respiratory System

  • Labored breathing
  • Swollen or red nares (nasal openings)
  • Discharge coming from the nares
  • Wheezing
  • Swollen eyes
  • Prolonged and repetitive tail bobbing


  • Distended abdomen
  • Abnormal beak shape or length
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • White patches on the roof of the mouth
  • Mouth odor
  • Vomiting
  • Abnormal consistency or color of droppings
  • Slow-emptying crop

Cloaca and Vent (intestinal, genital, and urinary tracts)

  • Matted feathers
  • Dropping accumulation
  • Tissue or growth protruding from the vent

Reproductive System

  • Abdominal swelling
  • Waddling
  • Excessive straining

What Can We Learn About a Bird Cage's Droppings?

Much about a bird's health can be learned by studying what is left inside the bird cage.  A bird's droppings will vary depending on its diet.  Owners should become familiar with their appearance in order to note any changes.  Bird droppings have three parts: the feces, urine and urates (the substance surrounding the feces).  A bird cage's feces should be tubular and coiled with a consistent color.  Seed-based diets usually produce dark green or black feces.  Formulated diets will produce brownish feces.  Urine should be clear, and urates should be white.  Any change from a bird's normal dropping color or consistency is an indicator of health problems.  Examples of this may include a lack of fecal matter or an increase in amounts of urine.  Bloody stools are never normal.  Finally, healthy birds will leave droppings all over their cages.  If one area of a bird cage's floor is piled with droppings, this could indicate lethargy or inactivity.

Perform Daily Assessments

Because early detection is paramount to helping sick birds, owners should spend some time observing their birds each day to learn normal patterns of behavior and search for changes in appearance.  Owners can perform a bird cage's examination on a daily basis to search for warning signs and bond with their birds in order to help sense when something is wrong.  As owners perform this brief daily ritual, they can ask themselves a few basic questions:

  • Has the bird's daily routine changed?
  • Are the bird's eating habits normal?
  • Is the bird vocalizing normally?
  • Is the bird eating and drinking normally?
  • Are any of the bird cage's accessories missing or chewed on?
  • Are the bird cage's floor or perches and bars covered in droppings?
  • Does the bird cage's floor have feathers on it?
  • Do the bird cage's floor or perches have blood on them?
  • Is the water staying clean and dropping-free?

Understanding a bird's baseline behavior is key to helping them maintain their health.* Because even companion birds will instinctively hide signs of illness, it is important that owners do not rely on a general veterinarian and instead connect with a certified avian veterinarian when they see signs of trouble.  Some non-avian veterinarians unfortunately don't have enough experience working with sick birds and may even cause more harm than good.  Avian veterinarians will work with owners to identify abnormal behaviors or physical conditions and work to restore their birds' health as quickly as possible. 

*While you may "know your bird" well, it still might be wise to take a series of overall and close up photos of the different parts (systems) noted above. Photos of it's feces may also serve as a reference.

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hand feeding of new cage birds can be done by pet bird owners
While a bird whose health has greatly deteriorated like the one above may be easy to spot, almost all birds will hide signs of illness to protect them from predators. This instinct has survived into captivity, making it difficult for companion bird owners to detect health problems early

bird cage training materials

Understanding normal behaviors, like those outlined in bird-cage.com's parrot training videos, will help owners recognize and treat the earliest signs of illness.

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