Disclaimer: these are just some of the signs of a sick bird. Not all birds who display these are sick, and not all birds who are sick display these. Always, always consult your vet! And darn it, read real avian publications for more information and more things to look out for.

If your bird is sick or injured please take it to an AVIAN VET; don't email me!!

If you get a new bird, always take it to your vet ASAP for a thorough exam and medical advice!!

And remember, birds often pretend to be fine when someone is watching nearby (survival instinct), so observe very carefully.

  • Puffed-up feathers. Birds fluff up their feathers to keep warm, and also when they relax for sleep ... and also when sick. A bird who sits puffed up much of the day is likely in trouble.
  • Tail-bobbing when breathing. Birds who sit there puffed up, bobbing their tails, may be sick.
  • Not eating their favorite food. Maybe the bird's full -- but they need to eat often, so if after a day the favorite food is untouched, something's likely wrong.
  • Half-closed or closed eye(s) for much of the time. Alert and healthy birds usually have both eyes wide open while awake. If the eyes start closing, and it's not because you're scratching a birdie head and inducing pure birdie joy, the bird might be sick. Oh, and be careful: birds often close one eye but not the other. You may not notice a bird is keeping its farther eye closed sometimes.
  • Sleeping excessively. Like people, birds who sleep a lot more than usual may be in trouble.
  • Bad posture when at rest. Healthy small parrots usually sit somewhat vertically, not fully horizontally, though it depends on the type. Bad posture from sickness is usually combined with puffed up feathers.
  • Discharge/wetness around the nose. It may be hard to see the nose, but it's usually at the top of the widest part of the bill, right near or under the feather line. Watch for moisture/discharge there. An occasional sneeze is OK, but if it stays moist....
  • Throwing up/getting undigested or half-digested food stuck to the cage in weird places. Can be mistaken for harmless courtship-related regurgitation. New owners should play it safe and check with a vet. You can eventually learn to tell if it's nausea vs. lovey-dovey behavior, but watch very carefully.
  • Poop sticking to the vent feathers. This is apparently a common sign of possible sickness, especially if it keeps happening.
  • Discolored, undigested, or runny poop. Watch for changes in the shape/color of the poop. Runny poop can happen if you've just given your bird a bath or if it just drank lots of water, but those effects only last for about an hour with small birds. Color changes can mean a change in diet (seed diets usually produce greenish poop, pellets usually produce brown), but off-colors or unusual colors are a warning sign (black is usually a bad sign). The poop should also look well-digested -- no lumps in it that can be identified as what they used to be. If your bird eats seeds, there should NOT be whole, undigested seeds in the poop -- that's a sign of dreaded PDD.
  • Ragged, poorly preened feathers. A sign the bird isn't feeling up to caring for its feathers, which is a bad sign, since feathers are vital to a bird's survival in the wild.
  • Sneezing. Especially if it's frequent.
  • Lack of energy. If a normally playful bird doesn't play very much any more, it may well be sick.
  • Sudden temperament change. A normally mellow bird may get grouchy and nippy, or a rambunctious bird might just get very quiet and mellow. It might be just hormones or a bad feather day ... or it could be something else.
  • Weight loss. Dangerous especially to small birds, who don't have much in the way of bodily reserves. Most casual bird owners don't weigh their birds very often, so it's important to work with a vet to check a bird's weight. Sometimes you can tell by feeling the keel bone, the bone that runs down the center of the bird's chest -- if it sticks out like a razor, the bird is starving! In a healthy bird, there's so much flesh on the chest you can hardly feel the bone.
  • Crooked beak/crooked toenails. Either can be a sign of long-term illness, and should be checked out by your vet as soon as possible.
  • In budgies, crusted-over nose (cere) and/or feet. A possible sign of mites. Talk to your vet about the options.
  • Dull feathers/feathers with unnatural banding. Many possible sicknesses here! With cockatoos and cockatiels, also watch for a lack of "powder" (though young birds don't seem to have as much of it). If the bird's appearance is gradually getting worse, see a vet!
  • Plucked feathers. I've heard this is often due to parasites or other problems, not just boredom. Get a full battery of tests. This site has more information.
  • Any sign of blood! Bad sign. If your birdie is bleeding, you need to stop it immediately. Call your vet if you're not sure how. If it's a broken pin feather that's bleeding, apparently it needs to be pulled out with pliers! For other cases, you need Quik-stop or other styptic (bleeding-stopping) powder (cornstarch can work too) -- GET SOME just in case. Example of using cornstarch: One time one budgie of ours had a toenail clipped too short at a vet exam, and it started bleeding heavily at home. It's alarming to see big drops of blood falling from a tiny bird!! (Note: wounds are not always conveniently visible.) Styptic stick didn't work. We grabbed the budgie (carefully, in a small towel) and inserted the bleeding toenail into a small glass container of cornstarch, packed the cornstarch against the wound, and held it there for 20 minutes (of course making sure the bird could breathe freely while we held it). That finally got the toe to stop bleeding, but we watched carefully for some time to be sure.

If you see one or more of these, or anything else odd or weird, don't waste time getting opinions from amateurs like me. Call up your trusted avian vet ASAP!

Finally, sometimes the worst happens, despite the best care and the best vets. Birds can and do die. Sometimes it's from careless breeding, sometimes it's pure bad luck, or an accident, or maybe it's just time for the bird to pass on. The best you can do is to get as informed and educated as possible (from more than one source), get to know your bird's individual quirks ... and to remember that keeping your pet happy, well-loved, and mentally occupied is one of the best preventative medicines ever!