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Articles concerning owning pet birds as pets as a whole.

Lumps, Abscesses, Tumors and Swellings on Budgerigars and other Birds (Part I)


Swollen areas and assorted growths are regularly seen on the otherwise hearty budgerigars (parakeets) and, less commonly, on other parrots, finches and softbills. Ranging from harmless to quite serious, these typically arise from trauma, abscesses, tumors, ruptured air sacs, hernias, cysts or egg-binding, but other -less obvious maladies may also be at work.

A Caution

The following remarks, while written with budgerigars in mind, are applicable to all types of birds. Please note that they are provided as guidelines, to help you understand what might be happening… only a veterinarian can accurately diagnose your bird’s medical problems.

Even benign growths, if accompanied by shivering, loss of appetite, breathing difficulties or similar symptoms, are cause for concern and necessitate an immediate visit to your veterinarian.

Ruptured Air Sacs

Budgerigars and other birds may rupture air sacs by flying into windows or other obstacles during their time out of the cage. Bird-proofing flight rooms and gradually adjusting your pet to such will go a long way in alleviating this problem. Less commonly, air sacs may be damaged when startled birds crash into cage bars or walls.

A swollen area along the breast, which emits a characteristic “crackling” sound when gently touched, is a sure sign of a ruptured air sac. Unless involving a huge area, air sac damage usually resolves quickly on its own.


Trauma-related injuries that do not involve air sacs may result in hematomas…swollen, blood-filled injuries below the skin (in people, such are often called “black-and-blues”, but skin color change will not usually be evident in a bird).

Resulting from broken blood vessels, the pooled blood typical of hematomas is usually re-absorbed by the bird without incident.



Avian abscesses present as swollen, painful, reddish areas that are warm to the touch. The swollen area, or abscess, is filled with white blood cells and other blood borne compounds produced by the bird to battle infection. The abscess usually also contains dead tissue and living and dead bacteria or other pathogens. Budgerigars often exhibit abscesses below the eye, but they may also occur on the feet, in the mouth and at other locations.

As a defense measure, the abscess has been walled off from the rest of the bird’s body, but the toxins and bacteria contained therein can escape and spread via the blood to vital organs. This can happen very quickly, and usually has fatal results. Therefore, all abscesses should be treated promptly by a veterinarian.

Gout, a disease that takes hold when uric acid is stored in the joints and internal organs, sometimes produces abscess-like growths on the feet of budgerigars. Known as tophi, these growths will bleed extensively if impacted or cut, and should be addressed by a veterinarian.


Tumors are often difficult to identify specifically, and may arise from a wide variety of diseases and conditions. Fatty tumors are usually benign and require monitoring but no other treatment, while others may be malignant.

Any unusual growth or swelling that you notice should be examined by a veterinarian. A biopsy may be used to confirm the doctor’s diagnosis if there is any doubt as to the nature of the problem.

Next time we’ll complete our review of noxious bird bumps with a look at feather cysts and cloacal swellings. Until then, please write in with your questions and comments.

Further Reading

You can access a detailed article concerning the types of tumors that afflict budgerigars here.


Parrot Health – Addressing the Psychological, Environmental and Medical Aspects

I recently received a very insightful comment from Yvonne, one of our readers, concerning parrot medicine and nutrition. Yvonne raised an important point that sometimes compromises the medical attention given to parrots and other animals, and so I’d like to address her concerns in this article.

Identifying the Concern…”Red Herrings”
Yvonne mentioned that, while psychological factors are critical to the health of captive parrots, excessive attention to such may cause people to overlook underlying problems that are purely medical in nature. For example, stress-related behaviors, while serious in and of themselves, may mask medical problems, and lead both bird owners and veterinarians to an inappropriate plan of action (the “red herring” concept in human medicine). In Yvonne’s example, treating feather-plucking as a completely psychological concern caused a severe medical condition to go un-noticed, leading to a cockatoo’s untimely death.

In my experience, the interplay of psychological and medical aspects in parrot care is a vital yet easily misunderstood concept. Both factors are critical and each affects the other. I do agree that there is a tendency for people to emphasis the psychological when it comes to parrots…I have seen the same among professional zookeepers, curators and veterinarians dealing with parrots, primates, marine mammals and other intelligent, charismatic animals as well.

Medical and Non-Medical Considerations
Where people are concerned, Western medicine has only recently begun to give ample consideration to the non-medical aspects of disease treatment. We can now measure the output of hormones which, excreted during times of stress, compromise the immune system, proving that both mind and body must be addressed.

The same applies to birds. I often cite an example from my zoo years…birds which easily tolerate normal environmental levels of Aspergillosus can be killed by the same levels of the fungi when stressed by, for example, a move to a new exhibit.

That being said, a secure environment and proper social grouping, etc. can only go so far – medical intervention is needed where appropriate. The key is finding that fine line.

As regards reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates – creatures for which medical care is less-well advanced than for birds – environmental and social factors are, in effect, considered to be “medical treatment”. Often the best we can do is to provide them with appropriate habitats, and hope that this is enough to keep medical troubles at bay. The same holds true to a large extent for birds, especially the poorly-studied species – proper environment is the key to good health. Fortunately, however, we also have significant medical resources to assist our avian friends.

Avian Nutrition…Learning More
Yvonne also laments the lack of information on what constitutes a healthy diet for many species. In this area we do indeed have much to learn, and many surprises await us. As a starting point, I always go back to sources that cite field observations – Forshaw’s classic Parrots of the World (TFH: 1997), for example.

Unfortunately, published observations of free-living parrots (i.e. what parrots eat, seasonal variations in diet) are not easy to come by, and are given far less importance today than in years past. I have access to people and journals which may be of use to those of you who are interested in such research…please write in if you need further information.

Further Reading
The degree of research that goes into zoo avian diets is well-illustrated by article abstracts posted by the European Zoo Nutrition Center


Image referenced from Morguefile.

Bird Health: Enriched Environments Speed Healing and Affect Behavior

A study published this month (May, 2009) by the Massachusetts General Burn Hospital establishes for the first time that a stimulating captive environment can reverse the negative health effects of injury and isolation.  Although rats were the study subjects, the results are believed applicable to a wide range of animals, including birds.

Stress and Captivity

Stress has previously been shown to significantly delay wound healing in humans and many animals.  Students of ethology (animal behavior) have long advised that providing captive animals with opportunities to play, explore, build nests and otherwise remain stimulated improves overall health.  In fact, the American Zoo Association now requires member organizations to incorporate “behavioral enrichment” into the husbandry protocols of most species.

Environment and Health

In the current study, 92% of young rats raised in group situations exhibited normal to rapid healing abilities.  Only 12% of those raised in isolation (a stressful situation for young rats) healed well.  However, when rats raised in isolation were provided with stimulating environments (in this case, the opportunity to build new nests twice weekly), 64% healed normally.

Environmental stimulation was also shown to reduce hyperactive behavior and even to positively affect gene expression in the brain’s hypothalamus, which is important in regulating stress response.

Parrots and other Birds

The implications for parrot owners are clear – provide these intelligent, social birds with companionship (human or otherwise) and as stimulating an environment as is possible.  But don’t forget finches, doves and others not deemed as “intellectually gifted” as our Psittacine friends – my experience has shown that a host of animals, including frogs, lizards and fishes, utilize and benefit from behavioral stimulation.

Enriching Your Pet’s Life

For ideas on improving your bird environment and, it follows, health, please check out our extensive line of bird toys, playpens and cages.

Further Reading

For more on this important topic, please see my article Behavioral Enrichment for Parrots and Finches Use Parrot Toys Too!


Images referenced from Morguefile.

Bird Cage Overview…Time to Give Your Pet More Space?

Sun Conure CageCage size has a direct impact on pet bird health and quality of life.  This fact is well-recognized by experienced aviculturists…zoos in the American Zoo Association must adhere to strict exhibit size requirements for all species they maintain.

Small Birds

Oddly, smaller birds sometimes fare worse than larger species.  Most people realize that large birds need large cages.  They often assume, however, that finches and budgerigars can get by in tiny cages because they are “small”.  But size is relative, and each bird’s particular lifestyle must be taken into consideration.

Actually, many of the tiniest finches are quite high strung and, having evolved in a world where even large spiders are potential predators, are stressed by limited quarters.  Also, because they do not climb about as do parrots, most cannot use “as much” of their cages as can parrots, and need comparatively larger living quarters.

Cage Size and Health

Providing your bird with a larger cage is one of the most important steps that you can take in ensuring its good health.  Although an expense in the short term, it usually pays off in terms of reduced health care costs.

It is important to bear in mind that “survival” does not indicate that a bird is healthy or enjoying an appropriate quality of life.  Unsuitable living conditions are a primary source of stress in captive birds.  Stress weakens the immune system, and can leave birds open to attack by microorganisms (i.e. Aspergillosus fungi) which are of little concern to properly-housed individuals.

Birds should be able to “stretch their wings” each day…ideally, their living quarters should be large enough to offer reasonable exercise opportunities.  You will need to think carefully when deciding upon a cage purchase or upgrade…unfortunately, birds usually offer little indication of their needs in this area.  And, no matter how smart your parrot is, he or she will not tell you that the cage is too small (but if it does, by all means let me know!)…so please write in with your questions.

Improving Life for Bird and Bird Owner

Larger cages allow our birds opportunities to explore and engage in natural behaviors.  It is easier for us to hide food, add a variety of bird toys  that encourage foraging behavior, alternate perches and otherwise improve their lives and add to our own pleasure in keeping them in our homes.

Training is also greatly simplified, as personalities usually improve when additional space is provided.  A bird stressed by tight quarters is nearly impossible to interact with.


When it comes to reproduction, a comparatively large cage is a necessity for most species.  Often, a move to larger quarters will actually stimulate breeding activity.

One caution … sometimes increased space, and the possibility of establishing a territory, leads to aggression among birds that co-existed in close quarters.  I learned this when I gave a group of laughing jay thrushes access to larger quarters without monitoring the situation…two of the five were dead the next morning.  Please write in if you feel this may be a concern in your collection.


Further Reading

You can read about the effect of cage size on finch behavior at http://www3.sympatico.ca/davehansen/finbehav.html.

Bird Vision: the Uniquely Adapted Avian Eye

Pet keepers have long known that birds react to our own eyes, seeming to be very aware of when we are and are not looking at them.  Researchers at the University of Bristol have now confirmed that birds modify their behavior in accordance with observers’ eye movements (please see “Further Reading” below).

Bald EagleVision is the most important of the senses for most bird species…the optic lobe of a bird’s brain, and the size of the eyes in relation to the head, are comparatively greater in birds than in mammals.  Today I’d like to pass along some interesting facts on avian eyes.

Location of the Eyes

The eyes of predatory birds such as eagles are set close together at the front of the head, allowing for binocular vision (both eyes focus on the same subject) as in people.

Birds that are hunted by other animals usually have eyes that are set well-off to the sides of the head.  This allows for a greater range of vision and helps them to spot danger.  The ring-necked dove’s field of vision is 300 degrees, and by a slight movement of the head reaches 360 degrees.

Focusing Vision

KingfisherBirds focus their vision by muscular action which changes the shape of the lens and/or cornea.  The avian eye lens is softer than that of mammals, allowing for quicker focusing.

Visual clarity is also affected by the angle of light as it passes through the eye’s cornea (as well I know – my corneas are pointed, and I’m virtually blind without a covering lens to push them back into shape!).  Cornea angle changes allow penguins to see well under-water, and diving birds such as cormorants to switch quickly from water-based to air-based vision.

Color Vision and Acuity

Structures known as cones and rods affect acuity (clarity) and color vision.  Birds see objects located at the very edge of their field of vision quite clearly – we see only “glimpses” and must turn and focus.  Most see at least 3-4 colors, but more research is needed.

The retinas of some birds have depressed areas, known as foveas, which are supplied with extra cones, allowing for particularly acute vision.  Foveas enable hawks to assess speed and distance while swooping down on prey.  Kingfishers, which dive on fish from above, have two foveas in each eye – one for air acuity and one to help them see when submerged.

Rods are light sensitive, and are particularly abundant in the eyes of nightjars, owls and other nocturnal birds.


The eye’s pupil regulates the amount of light that reaches the retina.  Birds change the size of their pupils with highly specialized muscles.  The pupils of bird eyes are thicker than those possessed by most mammals, allowing for greater light penetration and sharper vision.

The Third Eyelid

Birds possess a clear, third eyelid, or nictitating membrane.  This membrane prevents the cornea from drying out during flight and offers protection underwater.

Further Reading

Please see my article European Starlings can Determine When People are Watching  for some interesting research and a personal story about the visual powers of an owl that liked to feed people.







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