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Understanding Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD)

PFBD Infected CockatooAlso known as Psittacine Circovirus Disease, PBFD, which is incurable, has been identified in over 60 species of wild and captive parrots. It has been much in the news lately, and the questions I’ve received indicate that some of the coverage has been confusing to bird owners. Today I’d like to summarize what we know, and what remains to be done in the battle against PBFD.

PBFD Natural History

The virus that causes PBFD was first described in 1987, when it was discovered in a captive group Orange-Bellied Parrots, a highly endangered species.  Further study revealed that the virus occurred naturally in Australia, and likely was endemic there (found nowhere else). The disease is now established worldwide, apparently having been spread by the legal and illegal trade in parrots.

The PBFD virus is an extremely hardy organism, and likely survives for many years in nest hollows and roosting/feeding areas. To date, only one disinfectant, Virkon S, has proven able to kill it.  The virus has been found in feather dust, feces and the crop lining of infected birds.  Transmission seems to occur in several ways – direct contact with sick birds, inhalation of the virus from dust and feces and via food passed to chicks by parents.

PBFB may incubate within a parrot for 3 weeks to 12 months, during which time symptoms will not be visible. Birds incubating the virus will, however, shed it in the feces and feather dust, and thus infect others. In rare cases, adult parrots may survive PBFD. Unfortunately, they continue to shed the virus even after full recovery.

The Various Forms of PBFD

Three forms on PBFD have been identified.  Peracute PBFD affects newly-hatched chicks and is usually fatal within 2-3 weeks.  As feather abnormalities are not visible, this form is usually diagnosed only upon necropsy.

Acute PBFD is seen among nestlings that are developing their first feathers, and usually causes death within weeks.  Infected birds become lethargic, and may vomit and exhibit abnormal feather growth (please see below).

Adult parrots afflicted with Chronic PBFD exhibit feather abnormalities such as the loss of powder down, curled feathers, retained sheaths and color changes.  The beak, especially in cockatoos, may flake and crack, and nails may curl as they grow.  Diarrhea, lethargy and vomiting may are often present.

PBFD is most accurately diagnosed via a blood test.

Immune System Effects

In addition to causing feather, nail and beak destruction, PBFD depresses the immune system.  Death often results from secondary infections (i.e. septicemia and pneumonia) caused by opportunistic bacteria.  Cracks in the beak, and skin wounds caused by abnormal feather growth, likely worsen the situation by providing an easy route for bacterial infection.

Managing PBFD in the Wild

PBFD FeathersPBFD is considered to be a serious threat to the survival of several rare Australian species, including the Swift, Orange-Bellied and Norfolk Island Green Parrots. Australia’s Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Act provides for a PBFD management program (please see article below).

Research into the development of a vaccine is ongoing, but success is not expected in the near future.

Managing PBFD in Captivity

While there is as yet no cure for PBFD, there are some steps that can be taken to increase the quality of life for infected pets.  As is true for all creatures, a proper environment and diet will strengthen the immune system and possibly reduce the severity of the disease or its symptoms.  Exposure to sunlight or artificial UVB, a natural photo-period (day/night cycle) and an appropriate diet have been found useful (please see article below).

If you maintain a parrot collection, newly-received individuals should be kept in isolation until they have been checked for PBFD.  Due to the severity of the symptoms, one may need to consider euthanasia as the disease progresses.


Further Reading


Australian Government PCD Abatement Plan

Arizona Exotic Animal Hospital Information, with tips on caring for infected Parrots

PBFD in wild CapeParrots (South Africa)

PFBD Infected Cockatoo image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by S B and Snowmanradio


  1. avatar

    I have a female eckie which has beak and feather, first i thought it was my male that bit the female chest bone and that cause her stress and loos of feathers. My female has ill say no feathers, what does grow on her wings she pulls them out again, she is now approx 4 ys old, her beak has grown fairly long but isn’t flaky or deformed, she certainly hasn’t lost her appetite, she seems pretty happy. I am worried about my male now because he has been with her for 4 yrs and has still all his feathers would he have grown an immunity to this disease being with her daily. He knows something is wrong with her because if she drops to the floor landing on her feet hell fly down and wait until she has climbed up again. For the past 12mths she has been sneezing pretty often and muck running out her nose. I guess i have been putting it off getting her put down in case i loose my male through stress because they are so bonded to each other. Have u any recommendations for me. thank you, Paula

  2. avatar

    Hello Paula

    Thanks for your interest and sorry for your difficulties.

    I’m assuming you’ve had PBFD confirmed via blood/DNA testing?…other conditions have similar symptoms.

    It would be best to seek the advice of a vet concerning expected lifespan, quality of life etc….your other bird should be tested as well. Unfortunately, it’s rare for a mate to escape infection, so that bird will likely need to be kept alone, stressful as that may be.

    Please let me know if you need help in located a local avian veterinarian.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  3. avatar

    I found a kakariki in a shop here in Holland that looked like it was feather-pulled by the others. It behaved relative quit and trusting to humans. Just felt pitty for it and wanted to give it good home so bought it.
    Well to be short: the feathers fall off by themselves, about 2 to 4 every day. Not the big ones on the wing and tail but all smaller ones so flying around is still oke. Beak and nails look normal. The bird is busy like a kakariki should be and tells a lot of stories when it feels it should.

    Looked everywhere in the internet and in the end decided the bird has a mild case of PBFD. Feathers do constantly grow on so the bird starts looking a bit better. It seems to enjoy live and starts to look for communication with me for getting those delicious seeds ;-). Being familiair with medicine I know diseases can show up from almost no sign to being death in days so I guess the bird will be with me for a long time. Looking a bit weird now and than by moulding all year long.
    What I found studying the feathers is that the tips of all shafts are longer, smaller and curved. More or less like the yellow one in middle of the picture above. My feeling is that the follikel ones the feather is ready does not stop and keeps on growing but now on a low level. These redundant shaft-ends look to be not strong enough to hold steady. The feathers turn around, point out and are easily pulled out when the bird is cleaning itself. This ongoing growing is also what I read on beak deforming/weakening. My feeling is that it looks a bit like a wrath-virus where the human skin is triggered not to stop growing.

    Evenso you can read everywhere in the internet about the multiple virus-diseases at birds you almost cannot find detailed pictures. Bold birds and writtings, yes, but no pictures.

  4. avatar

    Sorry I do not have any useful sites for photos, but in any event it is very difficult to diagnose by appearance, as so many diseases present with similar symptoms. PBFD is most easily diagnosed via a blood test; you can locate avian by country through the Association of Avian Veterinarians.

    Sorry I could not be of further assistance, please keep me posted, good luck, Frank

  5. avatar

    i have a female umbrella cockatoo, and i have noticed how she picks on her feathers and scratches her head. one time when i wasn’t home i saw a feather she pulled out with its root turning brownish. i googled photos of cases like these and it led me here. Is it possible for her to have PBFD? she’s so picky in food that i can’t even feed her a complete diet .. she sticks her head in anything and bites everything she doesn’t know, she destroyed anything near her. she sticks her foot out and grabs the inanimate object. she practically dissected a slipper. i don’t know what to do anymore, i want nothing but the best for her but i’m too young to take big actions like drive to the vet or something but i juts really want her to be happy and healthy. She also hates water, the smart bird knows when we’re planning to wipe her beak or giver her a bath. she cries for endless hours and sounds like she’s being butchered when we’re merely wiping food from her feet ..
    How can i cure her unhealthy fear of water?

    PLEASE HELP, i’ve got no one to turn to. i’m surrounded by retards and no one gives a damn about my bird but i love her to bits and i can’t make big choices and i’m worrying myself to death about her condition!


  6. avatar

    Hi Pia,

    PBFD is not likely, based on what you’ve written, but the only sure way to diagnose this is via a blood test. The other problems you describe are, unfortunately, very common in pet cockatoos and other parrots, abnd very difficult to change. Cockatoos are highly social birds that live in huge flocks, and in constant contact with a mate. They are also very active, covering many miles each day in their search for food, etc. Keeping a single bird in the average home often leads to behavioral problems..they are simply too large, social, active and intelligent to be cared for properly. Hand raised chicks sometimes adjust well, but even there we see problems many times.

    I’m sorry, but I do not have any good news for you. Highly skilled, experienced parrot keepers can sometimes work with problem birds, but it is a long and not always useful process. The best thin g for your bird would be to have her placed with someone who accepts such birds and works with them…a parrot rescue organization, for example. I know this is not what you wish to hear, but as time goes on the bird may become more stressed, as will your family. In experienced hands, and near other birds, she may change for the better. Please let me know if you need help in locating such an organization. There are other birds that are better suited as pets…none of the parrots are easy, but some are more manageable. Best, Frank

About Frank Indiviglio

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I believe that I was born with an intense interest in animals, as neither I nor any of my family can recall a time when I was not fascinated by creatures large and small. One might imagine this to be an unfortunate set of circumstances for a person born and raised in the Bronx, but, in actuality, quite the opposite was true. Most importantly, my family encouraged both my interest and the extensive menagerie that sprung from it. My mother and grandmother somehow found ways to cope with the skunks, flying squirrels, octopus, caimans and countless other odd creatures that routinely arrived un-announced at our front door. Assisting in hand-feeding hatchling praying mantises and in eradicating hoards of mosquitoes (I once thought I had discovered “fresh-water brine shrimp” and stocked my tanks with thousands of mosquito larvae!) became second nature to them. My mother went on to become a serious naturalist, and has helped thousands learn about wildlife in her 16 years as a volunteer at the Bronx Zoo. My grandfather actively conspired in my zoo-buildings efforts, regularly appearing with chipmunks, boa constrictors, turtles rescued from the Fulton Fish Market and, especially, unusual marine creatures. It was his passion for seahorses that led me to write a book about them years later. Thank you very much, for a complete biography of my experience click here.
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