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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.



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.






Further Reading

Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease in Pet Parrots

 Saving the Kakapo

Kea Intelligence Shocks Researchers


New Bird Species in 2013 – Owls, Jays and other Surprises

Rinjani Scops Owl

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by or Sangster G, King BF, Verbelen P, Trainor CR

Birds are the most intensely observed and studied of all vertebrates, yet each year ornithologists and birders, surprise us with new species.  2013 was a particularly fruitful time for the species-seekers.  Included among the year’s discoveries are an owl endemic to a single island, a loud, colorful songbird found in the middle of a bustling capital city, and scores of others, some quite large and brilliantly-colored. Without further delay – check out the new bird species of 2013 below!


Rinjani Scops Owl, Otus jolandae

This owl was confused with the Malaccan Scops Owl until an ornithologist noted a difference in their calls.  The Rinjani Scops Owl produces  whistling vocalizations that are most “un-owl-like” and, once heard, cannot be confused with those of its relatives.  The fact that it is endemic to Lombok Island, in Indonesia’s Lesser Sunda chain, lends greater importance to the find…island endemics often face threats to their survival.


Birds of the Amazon Basin

C. chrysops

Uploaded to Wikipedis Commons by David.Monniaux

Once again, the Amazon Basin yielded more new birds (and a great many insects, fishes, mammals and other creatures) than anywhere else on earth.  This might be expected, as it is a world center of bird diversity, with over 1,300 species identified thus far.  But many of the 15 new species described this year surprised even seasoned local ornithologists with their size and coloration…the Campina Jay (a similar relative is pictured here) and the Tupana Scythbill (a

similar relative is pictured below) are good examples.   Other new species included woodcreepers, puffbirds, antwrens, flycatchers and gnatcatchers.


Cambodian Tailorbird, Orthotomus chaktomuk

Although the Cambodian Tailorbird is only wren-sized, it sings loudly and its rust-colored head cap and black throat are very distinctive.  So ornithologists were quite surprised to find that it had been “hiding in plain sight”.  It was first seen at a construction site in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s bustling capital city.  Further investigation revealed that it inhabits patches of scrub throughout the city, and is common on nearby river floodplains.


Orange billed Sparrow

Uploadedto Wikipedia Commons by Jerry Oldenette

Guerrero Brush Finch, Aremon brunneinucha

This beautiful little bird, a relative of the sparrows and buntings, is in need of study and protection.  Found only in the cloud forests of Mexico’s Sierra Madre  del Sur mountain range, it is similar in appearance to related species (please see photo), but little is known of its natural history or the status of its population.


Sierra Madre Ground Wren, Robonius thompsoni

This newfound bird is placed in a very unique genus, which contains only two other species.  Ground Wrens are found only in the northern Philippines, and seem unrelated to other songbirds.  They stay mostly to thick brush and forest undergrowth, and are believed capable only of weak flight.  The newly-discovered species is, like the others, a master ventriloquist…locating one by voice alone is said to be impossible.  Much remains to be learned about the group’s natural history and conservation needs.


Red Billed Scythbill

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Michael Woodruff



Further Reading

Bald Parrot Discovered in Amazon

2012’s New Bird Species


The Best Way to Prevent Feather-Plucking – Make Your Parrot Work!

An exciting new study has revealed that healthy parrots prefer working for their food to eating from a bowl.  Parrots involved in feather-plucking, however, go right to their bowls and show no interest in solving problems that led to food rewards.  I think this research is important to all who share their homes with parrots.  Some progress was also made in developing a medication for birds that have begun to damage their plumage.  I have dealt with feather-plucking even in well-run zoos; it’s a sad and frustrating condition, and I hope that this new work points the way to some solutions.

Sun Conure playing

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Melanie Phung

Busy Minds and Bodies Remain Healthy

Feather plucking is heartbreaking to see, and immensely frustrating to cure.  Despite much interest from the parrot-keeping community, foolproof solutions elude us.  Feather-plucking and other forms of self-mutilation ruin the lives of countless pet parrots, many of which are eventually turned over to rescue centers, euthanized, or released.

A researcher at the Utrecht University Clinic for Companion Animals in the Netherlands offered African Gray Parrots the option of eating from a bowl or removing food from a pipe lined with holes.  Healthy birds invariably ignored the food bowls and went right to work on the pipes. Read More »

Healthy Parrot Foods – New Study Compares Pellets, Seed and Produce

When I first began work as a Bird Keeper at the Bronx Zoo, much of my time was spent cooking eggs and horsemeat, rearing and capturing insects, chopping produce and otherwise preparing the diets for thousands of birds (please see the article linked below for more information on feeding zoo birds).  The introduction of nutritionally-sound pellets and chows for birds ranging from parrots to cassowaries forever changed how birds in both zoos and private homes are fed.  A recent study of Parrot foods and nutrition has shed some new light on caring for these exotic pets.

But while it may be convenient to know exactly what nutrients our pets are consuming, many parrots look upon commercial pellets with disdain.  And because pellets can be consumed far more quickly that seeds, parrots that do accept them are left with extra “free time” to fill; boredom becomes a problem unless additional enrichment opportunities are provided.  Much of the research concerning standardized bird diets has focused on species typically kept in zoos.  However, one recent study examined diets commonly fed to Amazon Parrots.  Its results, I believe, have important implications for owners of all types of parrots. Read More »

Audubon’s Bird Conservation Report – Many Common Birds in Trouble

The National Audubon Society has released the 2012 State of North American Birds Report, an impressive annual study that highlights species and habitats at risk.  Because many birds respond quickly to changes in their environments, the report’s findings are also useful to organizations studying pesticide use, air quality, pollution, climate change and similar concerns.  Compiled in conjunction with the US Fish & Wildlife Service and the North American Bird Conservation Initiative, the report also relies heavily upon the input of “citizen scientists” participating in the Christmas Bird Count and similar projects (please see the articles linked below to learn how to become involved…help is needed and appreciated!).  Today I’ll summarize some of the report’s key points, including the disturbing finding that populations of many common birds, including typical garden and feeder visitors, are in steep decline.

Baltimore Oriole

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Mdf

Common Birds in Decline

I was especially troubled to read about the population crashes being experienced by quite a few species that were so common that we might have been tempted to “take them for granted”.  But as with so many other animals around the world, large populations are proving no match for rapidly changing environmental conditions.  All of the common species on Audubon’s watch list have declined by at least 50%, while the 10 mentioned below have lost 70-82 % of their populations.  Bobwhite Quails (one of my all-time favorites to observe and care for), for example, have decreased from approximately 31 million to 5.5 million individuals! Read More »

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