Illness in pet birds


While our brightly plumed friends have been kept as coveted creatures for centuries, birds as pets in modern times continue to build in popularity. Their bright, cheery songs and their amusing antics make them welcome housemates for people of all ages. If you’re one of the millions of individuals that keep them as companions, it’s important to know the warning signs of illness among aviary birds. By doing so, you may be able to prevent an early passing.

Hiding Signs of Illness

Aviary birds are what are known as prey animals. Unfortunately, they are like other prey animals that have evolved to hide illness in an effort to escape the clutches of stronger predators. Their ability to hide weakness is a boon in the wild, but in a caged setting it can lead to death all the same. That’s because by the time they’re exhibiting signs of failing it can often already be too late to do anything to save them. That’s why it’s important to know what to look for and spot it early while there’s still a chance of survival.

Changes in Outward Bird Appearance

Here are some things to look for in general stance and appearance:

  • Consistently ruffled feathers
  • Drooping or elevated wing(s)
  • Tucking head under wing while standing on both feet
  • Cessation of preening
  • Pulling/picking at feathers or body
  • Sitting on bottom of cage
  • Sitting low on perch
  • Loss of balance/teetering or falling off perch
  • Walking in circles
  • Weakness
  • Trembling
  • Huddled
  • Being picked on by other birds
  • Lumps/swelling on body
  • Change in appearance of eyes
  • Hanging on side of cage by beak instead of perching
  • Unusual odor in bird or droppings


Changes in Bird Behavior

There are also changes in behavior to consider. Keep an eye out for these signs:

  • Notable increase in sleeping or closed eyes
  • Inactivity/lethargy
  • Personality changes
  • Changes in vocalization/singing
  • Seizures
  • Collapsing
  • Poor response to stimuli
  • Sudden display of juvenile behavior


Changes in Bird Feathers

The appearance of their feathers or lack of them can point to illness as well. Look for these signs:

  • Ruffled, fluffed or dull feathers
  • Abnormal coloring or barring
  • Misshapen, lost or broken feathers
  • Prolonged or excessive molt, balding
  • Stained, wet or matted feathers on head or vent


Changes in Appearance of Bird Feet

Your bird’s feet can also be a window into their health. Here’s what to watch for:

  • Abnormal nail growth
  • Swollen feet or joints
  • Shifting from foot to foot
  • Lameness or favoring one foot/leg over another
  • Crust, flakiness or discoloration of feet


Birds in captivity should be monitored for signs of illness

Signs of Bird Illness

A sudden or even gradual change in your bird’s appetite or water consumption is not a good sign. This includes an increase in either, not just a decrease. All of these symptoms are indicators there could be something wrong. If your bird or birds are exhibiting multiple signs off illness, don’t wait. Consult with a vet, because these are just the tip of the iceberg. There are actually more serious symptoms that could arise, and they likely will if left unchecked. For a more comprehensive list of things to look for and their level of seriousness, visit