Bumblefoot (Pododermatitis) in Captive Birds

The term “bumblefoot” is often applied to a variety of un-related ailments.  In actuality, however, it is a very specific medical condition that strikes the underside (or plantar surface) of the foot.


A number of factors, including poor nutrition and trauma, may contribute to the development of bumblefoot.  However, inappropriate perches or, in the case of quail, waterfowl, pheasants and other ground-dwellers, rough substrates, are the usual culprits.  I have rarely if ever come across bumblefoot among wild birds or those housed in huge zoo exhibits with a variety of perches.  It is only when birds are forced to perch or walk upon certain substrates that the condition becomes common.

Diagnosis and Prevention

Bumblefoot first manifests itself as redness or swelling on the bottom of the feet.  If left untreated, abscesses develop and opportunistic bacteria take hold.  Eventually, the bacterial infection may spread to the bone, at which point amputation may be the only recourse.

As afflicted birds may not limp or otherwise evidence discomfort for some time, it is important that you check your pets’ feet regularly, especially if they are house in small cages with a limited variety of perches.

Prevention is simple – you must research the particular perching or substrate needs of each species that you keep.  This varies greatly among different types of birds – please bear in mind that the perches provided with a cage may not be suitable (in terms of width and composition) for the species you intend to house there.

Further Reading

Perch selection is not quite as simple as it may first appear.  To learn more, please see my article Choosing the Proper Perches for Pet Birds.

Image referenced from Wikipedia and orignally posted by snowmanradio.

Enjoying Hummingbirds in the Wild and Captivity

Hummingbirds have provided some of my most memorable bird-watching and bird-keeping experiences.  While most birders are aware that they can be lured to special feeders, it is less well-known that there is also great interest in keeping hummingbirds in captivity.

Hummingbirds in Zoos

When I began working with hummingbirds in zoos, I was quite fearful that I would not be up to the task of caring for such obviously delicate little birds. While captives do have very specific requirements, I soon found out that these dynamos were surprisingly hardy.

With the ability to speed forward and backwards on wings that beat up to 78 times per second, hummingbirds seem to “know” that nothing can catch them.  They are, therefore, quite bold.  Anna’s hummingbirds were remarkable in this regard – approaching to within in a few inches of my face when I entered their exhibit, and very carefully travelling up and down my body from head to feet. Needing to consume at least half their weight in food each day, hummingbirds are always hungry and readily fed from nectar tubes that I held out to them.

Hummingbirds in Private Aviculture

Not surprisingly, serious aviculturists have long sought to keep these unique, brilliantly colored birds in captivity.  Although none can be classified as simple to maintain, several species are well-established in private collections.

Of these, the sparkling violet-eared hummingbird (Colibri coruscans) is perhaps the best known.  At 5 ½ inches, it is quite large for a hummer.  Like all, however, it needs a large, spacious greenhouse or aviary in which to live, and must be supplied with live fruit flies and other tiny, flying insects (in addition to nectar) if it is to thrive.

Hummingbird Feeders

Over 320 species of hummingbirds range from Alaska to the southern tip of South America.  Thirteen species nest in the USA with only one, the ruby throated hummingbird, occurring east of the Mississippi River.

The easiest way for most of us to enjoy hummingbirds is to observe them in the wild.  Fortunately, many take readily to hummingbird feeders  stocked with specially formulated hummingbird nectar.  Give hummingbird feeding a try – assuming they show up, you will not be disappointed.

Further Reading

You can learn more about hummingbird natural history at the web site of Cornell University’s Laboratory of Ornithology.


Image referenced from Wikipedia and originally posted by Wolfgang Wander

Parrot Health Concerns: Feather Plucking or Self Mutilation

Feather plucking is one of the most serious and commonly encountered parrot care concerns. Failure to provide parrots with a stimulating and socially appropriate environment will lead to a host of problems, including feather plucking.

Medical Aspects

The first step when confronted by a self-mutilating parrot is to rule out a medical disorder. Digestive system parasites, Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease and other ailments can lead a parrot to pluck its feathers.

A poor diet may also be at the root of the problem. Be sure to provide your veterinarian with a detailed description of the food consumed by your pet.

Social and Environmental Aspects

Knowing your pet’s history is vital, as the events that triggered feather plucking may have occurred in the distant past.

It is important to bear in mind that treating feather plucking is somewhat unlike curing a disease. Even with the best of care, parrots that have acquired this behavior may not relinquish it, and may resume plucking for no apparent reason. The care of such a bird requires a great deal of dedication and the input of an experienced veterinarian.

Sleep and Light

A common problem is sleep duration and quality. Most parrots hail regions where nights typically average 12 hours in length, yet a sleep period of such length is often difficult to provide in captivity. Consider where and for how long your parrot sleeps, and whether it is disturbed by noise or lights.

The quality of daytime light is also vital to your parrot’s well-being. Be sure to use a UVA /UVB bulb over your pet’s cage.

Activity Levels

When I first began to observe parrots in the wild, I was struck by how active and engaged they remain throughout the day. Parrots suffer greatly when confined in bare cages, especially if a mate is not available. Foraging toys, large cages, or outdoor aviaries and a companion will help to prevent self-mutilation.


Hormonal secretions, associated with seasonal changes and the onset of sexual maturity, may also stimulate feather plucking. This is especially likely if the bird is exposed to a light and temperature cycle that frequently changes, or is at odds with what the bird would experience in its natural habitat.

Parrots that are kept alone may also be stimulated to express mating behavior if stroked above the hips and under the wings by their owners. The stress of being unable to engage in normal mating behavior may bring on feather plucking.

Environmental Changes

Parrots are keenly attuned to their environments, and often respond negatively to change. New people, pets, noises, scents or similar factors may all play a role in your parrot’s behavior.

Parrots are noisy by nature…yelling at your bird when it feather plucks may actually encourage the behavior. Striking the cage or squirting water will only raise the bird’s stress level.

A Reader’s Experience

Blog reader Nicole was kind enough to write in recently concerning her Goffin’s cockatoo. A confirmed feather-plucker, the bird responded favorably when given the opportunity to bathe frequently. Nicole’s experience highlights the importance of experimentation and research when dealing with this troublesome issue.

Further Reading

A number of articles on our blog address parrot husbandry. For further information, please check out Providing the Proper Light to Pet Birds and Behavioral Enrichment for Parrots.


Introducing the Purple Throated or Van Hasselt’s Sunbird

Over 130 species of tiny, colorful sunbirds are distributed across Africa, southern Asia and northern Australia.  They are, in many ways, the ecological equivalents of the hummingbirds and honey-creepers, and are just as brilliantly colored.  I have worked with several species, none of which I would describe as “hearty”, but all of which I find irresistible.

Sunbirds should only be kept by aviculturists who are well-experienced with other delicate tropical birds.  I consider them to be nearly as demanding as hummingbirds in their dietary requirements, and far more delicate in terms of stress tolerance.

Today I would like to introduce the Van Hasselt’s sunbird, Nectarinia (Cinnyris) sperata, a species that, while not commonly available, has been captive bred for some time now.


At a mere 4 inches in length, Van Hasselt’s sunbird is one of Asia’s smallest species, and arguably among the most beautifully colored.  Males sport a purple-blue gloss to their black backs, iridescent gold-green napes and foreheads and amethyst throats.  Females are olive-green with yellow under parts.


Despite their tiny size, these brilliant little birds require a great deal of room.  If breeding is desired, the pair should be housed in a densely planted outdoor aviary if at all possible.  They have been bred indoors, but usually when at liberty in a sun room equipped with live plants.  They will not accept artificial nest boxes, and must in stead be provided with fine grass, bark and moss.

Feeding Sunbirds

A high quality hummingbird nectar mix  can provide the bulk of the diet, with lorikeet nectar  being provided for variety as well.

Sunbirds will not thrive, and certainly will not be able to rear their young, unless provided with large quantities of tiny, flying insects.  Fruit flies, either bred or attracted to outdoor aviaries, can form the bulk of their insect-based food.  Tiny moths are also readily accepted.  Most individuals will attempt to take tiny, newly molted (white) mealworms and waxworms, but their thin bills are not well suited for this “rough” fare.  Birds housed outdoors (in warm, protected locations) invariably fare better than those kept indoors, partially due to the greater variety of insects available to them.

Although not for everyone, these tropical gems are well worth consideration if you are prepared to meet their demands.

Further Reading

You can read more about this and all related sunbirds at http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/species/index.html?action=SpcHTMFindResults.asp&hdnAction=SEARCH&hdnPageMode=0&cboFamily=180&txtGenus=&txtSpecies=&txtCommonName=&cboRegion=-2&cboCountry=-2.



Image referenced from Wikipedia and orignally posted by snowmanradio.

Convincing Your Parrot to Accept Pellets – Lafeber Nutri-Berries

It’s now well-established that pellets designed for cockatiels, budgerigars, Amazons, cockatoos, macaws and other parrots represent one of the most effective means of providing these birds with a balanced diet.  It is equally well-established that many of our feathered friends adamantly refuse to eat pellets, and easily thwart our best efforts to disguise or hide them within other foods!

A Useful Feeding Technique (or Trick!)

Enter Lafeber Nutri-Berries.  Nutri-Berries are a unique combination of pellets, molasses, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and other ingredients, combined in a nugget that is very well-accepted by a wide variety of parrots.  Most importantly, their consistency is such that even the most fastidious pet will be unable to pick out favorite items.

Nutri-Berries offer, therefore, the best option available to those seeking to introduce pellets to a bird’s diet in a manner that pleasing to both parrot and parrot owner alike.  In fact, they are being increasingly recommended by veterinarians and serious aviculturists.

Their nutritional content is such that, when supplemented by fresh fruits, vegetables, sprouts and such other foods as may be needed by various parrot species, Nutri-Berries can be used as a dietary staple.

Species-Specific Nutri-Berries

Nutri-Berries  are available in a wide variety of flavors and in sizes suitable for average-sized parrots, cockatiels, and macaws and cockatoos. Budgerigars, who are often among the worst offenders when it comes to being picky eaters, readily accept cockatiel-sized Nutri-Berries.

Further Reading

There are a great many other feeding options available to those who keep parrots and other birds.  For a look at what zoos and private aviculturists have tried over the years, please see my article Alternative Bird Foods.


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