MDPR Standards of Care Course – Part 3 – ANATOMY, HEALTH AND EMERGENCIES


Parrots are a prey species, and therefore will mask illnesses for as long as possible to avoid looking vulnerable. It is important to recognize the signs of illness in birds. A bird that appears obviously ill is very sick, and should immediately be taken to a qualified veterinarian.

If you are a bird owner, it is important to establish a relationship with a bird-experienced veterinarian before there is an illness or emergency, so that your vet can understand what is normal for your birds and be better able to treat them when needed. To find an avian veterinarian, check the www.aav.org website or ask your local bird club or bird-owning friends for referrals. All birds should have annual wellness exams just like cats and dogs do to prevent or identify disease, diet, care, or behavioral issues.


All parrot owners should be educated on the important physical traits and body systems of parrots. Please click the link below to review the anatomy portion of this course:

MDPR Parrot Anatomy Overview 2015


In order to react effectively to any illness, injury, or other emergency, preparedness is key. Have a ready to go kit and the proper first aid supplies available at all times:

  • Heating pad (portable/microwavable)
  • A carrier with towel and perch for each of your birds
  • Styptic powder for bleeding nails or beaks (not for feathers or soft tissue wounds)
  • Antiseptic solution
  • Pure aloe vera gel
  • Tweezers/needle-nose pliers
  • Sterile gauze bandage
  • Cotton balls & swabs
  • Disaster kits with food and bowls for at least a week
  • Find a place in advance that you could go to with your pets – most human shelters do not accept pets.
  • For more information contact the Red Cross or State Animal Response Team in Colorado.

Note: If you do not have experience and training, do not attempt to address illnesses or injuries without guidance from a veterinarian. Birds have unique anatomy and physiology, and you can easily do more harm than good.

A simple and effective tool to monitor your bird’s physical health is a weight scale. Birds’ weights fluctuate, and keeping a weight chart can be a good way to catch early signs of potential illness by becoming familiar with “normal” for your bird(s). Weigh your bird when its crop is empty, and stick to a scheduled weekly routine. It can be considered “normal” for a bird’s weight to vary about 15% during the course of charting its weight. For further information, please discuss this subject with your veterinarian. If you notice a sustained increase or decrease (trend going up or down) or sudden fluctuation, notify your veterinarian. Weight gain or loss can be an early sign of serious illness.

Normal parrot droppings have 3 distinct parts: feces, urates, and urine. Normal droppings have little or no odor. The fecal portion is solid with a worm-like shape and is the darkest part of the dropping. Feces can change colors depending on what the bird has eaten (such as berries, cherries, or beets), making blue or purple droppings. Urates are a white/ivory color, and the urine should be clear and watery. If the bird has eaten a lot of high-water content food, the droppings will have more urine, often mistaken for diarrhea. Diarrhea is indicated by unformed feces that are nearly indistinguishable from the urates and urine.


  • Normal activities such as preening, playing, vocalizing, and feeding usually cease in a sick or injured bird.
  • Most illnesses cause decreased food and water consumption. Increases are also possible, especially in the consumption of water.
  • A bird that has not eaten in 12 hours is a starving bird and may die within 24 hours
  • A bird that exhibits a listless and ruffled appearance
  • Sleeping a lot during the day
  • Vomiting or regurgitation (non-reproductive)
  • Changes in droppings: diarrhea, undigested food, blood (red/black), bright green droppings, or other color changes that are not food-related
  • Inability to perch
  • Sneezing, open-mouthed or heavy breathing with tail bobbing

Birds displaying signs of illness are very sick and should be taken immediately to the vet for medical care. Foster caregivers should notify MDPR immediately if they believe a bird is ill.

Birds are very susceptible to respiratory distress from airborne particles or toxins and can die very quickly from exposure. If you notice wheezing, rapid breathing, breathing with an open mouth, tail bobbing, neck stretching, swelling around the eye, loss of voice, or a clicking sound, then the bird is likely in respiratory distress.

Immediately remove the bird from the environment if strong odors are present or if you suspect an airborne irritant or toxin. Place the bird in a carrier and keep it as warm as possible. Don’t attempt to “comfort” a bird in respiratory distress in your hands. Keep handling to an absolute minimum as birds in these situations can die from even tiny amounts of additional stress. Take the bird to the vet immediately. The vet will place the bird in an oxygen cage and stabilize it before conducting an exam.


  • If the bird is bleeding, try to determine the source of the bleeding.
  • If blood is coming from the mouth, nares or vent, the bird is bleeding internally and should immediately be taken to the vet.
  • If the wound is outside and superficial, gently clean with the water or antiseptic (only if recommended by a vet). Observe the bird for an hour to ensure bleeding has stopped.
  • If the wound is external and deep, consult a veterinarian for assistance. Handling the bird yourself to clean and bandage the wound may cause additional, unnecessary stress. However, if the wound is bleeding profusely, your veterinarian may want you to apply pressure or a makeshift bandage until the bird can be seen.
  • If any animal has attacked, bitten, or even mouthed the bird, the bird must be taken to the vet immediately as the bacteria from the mouth can very quickly cause a lethal infection.
  • If the bird has a bleeding feather, place him in a quiet area for 30 minutes. Cover the cage and resist the temptation to keep checking on him. If bleeding has not stopped after one hour, consult your veterinarian. Do not attempt to pull the feather out yourself – this is an outdated recommendation, though some veterinarians may still suggest it. Serious pain and injury to the bird can result from doing this. Most blood feathers will stop bleeding on their own once the bird is calm and his blood pressure drops.
  • For an injured or broken toenail, apply styptic powder to stop bleeding, and check for any other injury to the foot.

For housing and transporting an injured or sick bird, it is extremely important to keep the bird in a warm enclosure, such as a wrapped carrier or plastic bin with ventilation. The ideal temperature for most sick or injured birds is 85° F. You can place a heating pad (portable/microwavable) into the carrier or bin. Birds have an extremely high metabolism and temperature, and the less energy they have to expend to maintain their body temperature the more likely they are to recover.
Birds that are dehydrated or in need of supportive care may be given Pedialyte and soft foods like baby food, which can be syringe/spoon fed or placed in a shallow bowl in the enclosure. Do not force feed or water your bird. Sick birds are more likely to aspirate this fluid into their lungs. Water must also be provided in a shallow dish.

If your bird has escaped and you do know where it is:

  • Keep it in your sight.
  • Put its cage, food, and water where they are visible to the bird.
  • If you have other birds, put them outside (in their cages and weather permitting) where they will attract your bird.
  • Don’t do anything that could scare the bird into flying farther away.
  • Be patient, and watch the bird as much as you can. Hopefully it will get hungry and come to its cage.

If your bird has escaped and you do not know where it is:

  • Post a lost bird ad on Craigslist.com, newspaper, and www.911parrotalert.com.
  • Notify all of the animal control agencies and veterinarians in your area.
  • Be prepared with the bird’s band number/photo.
  • Check back to all contacts every day.
  • Offer a reward for the bird.
  • Make sure the person calling about the reward does not get the reward until they give you the bird.
  • Put posters up in your neighborhood.




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