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Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease – An Incurable Parrot Virus Spreads

Cockatoo with PBFD

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by snowmanradio

The pet trade is being blamed for an emerging epidemic that is threatening captive and wild parrots worldwide.  Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD) is caused by a Circovirus that evolves quickly, spreads easily, and survives for years in nests and roosting areas.  African Gray and Eclectus Parrots, Macaws, Cockatoos, Love Birds and Ring-Necked Parakeets are especially susceptible, but over 60 species have been infected. Included among these are wild populations of several endangered species, such as Swift, Orange-Bellied and Norfolk Island Green Parrots.  First identified in 1987, PBFD has recently reared its ugly head on New Zealand’s South Island, where it is killing rare Yellow-Crowned Parakeets.

 

An Emerging, Untreatable Parrot Disease

The virus that causes PBFD seems to have evolved in Australia, and for a time was endemic to that continent.  The threatened Orange-Bellied Parrot was the first species in which it was identified.  It has now been found in wild and pet parrot populations throughout the world.

 

Unfortunately, ongoing research has not yielded a cure.  Three forms of the disease are known.  Peracute and Acute PBFD afflict hatchlings and nestlings, and quickly lead to death.  Adult parrots infected with Chronic PBFD can be assisted a bit by strengthening the immune system, but they generally succumb as well.

 

A proper diet, exposure to sunlight or a UVA/UVB bulb, and the establishment of a natural day/night cycle has been useful in some cases.  Please see this article for more on testing, diagnosis, and treatments that may lessen the symptoms of PBFD.

 

The Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease Strikes New Zealand

Yellow Crowned Parakeet

Uploaded to Wiki[pedia Commons by Scott Wieman

In 2012, University of Canterbury researchers announced that a new strain of PBFD had been found on South Island, New Zealand, which until then had been free of the virus.  The island’s threatened Yellow-Crowned Parakeets were stricken.  The existence of a new strain is especially troubling, and illustrates the difficulties involved in studying and eliminating rapidly-evolving Circoviruses.  The disease was previously identified in the already-rare Red-Fronted Parakeets on Little Barrier Island, off New Zealand’s North Island (site of a Kakapo rescue operation).

The Pet Trade Connection

New Zealand is home to several of the world’s most unusual parrots, such as the alpine-dwelling, meat-eating Kea and the nocturnal Kakapo.  Despite decades of protection and study, the much-loved Kakapo is on the brink of extinction.

 

Kea

Uploaded to Wikipedia commons by snowmanradio

Escaped and released non-native parrots, products of the legal and illegal pet trade, are considered to be the source of the PBFD outbreak on New Zealand.  Eastern Rosellas, which are native to Australia but feral on New Zealand, were found to be infected with the virus.  Other Australian parrots that are or may be breeding in New Zealand include the Rainbow Lorikeet, Crimson Rosella, Galah, and Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo.

 

To determine the extent of the PBFD problem in New Zealand, researchers are monitoring native and introduced parrots.  In recent years, nearly 800 individuals representing 7 endemic parrot species were tested for PBFD.  Genetic analysis of the PBFD virus is also being undertaken.

 

Hi, my name is Frank Indiviglio.  I’m a zoologist, and book author, recently retired from a career spent at several zoos, aquariums, and museums, including over 20 years with the Bronx Zoo.

 

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook.   Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable.  I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.

 

Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly.  Thanks, until next time, Frank.

 

Further Reading

Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease in Pet Parrots

 Saving the Kakapo

Kea Intelligence Shocks Researchers

 

2 comments

  1. avatar

    Being from Australia, I regularly see wild Sulphur-crested Cockatoos that are suffering from PBFD

  2. avatar

    Thank you…many of my readers are in the USA, so it’s very useful to have first hand observations from Australia, best regards, Frank

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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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