Healthy Parrot articles appear in each edition of In Your Flock magazine.
One of the most important indicators of the health of your bird is its droppings. Changes in the droppings are usually one of the early signs of illness in pet birds. You don’t have to make the diagnosis yourself. Understanding that the droppings have changed in some manner should prompt you to seek veterinary assistance and identify a disease condition in an early state, which leads to a much better prognosis.
Ideally you should examine the droppings daily so you can properly evaluate the character and number of the droppings. For example, a parakeet should have 30+ droppings daily, a cockatiel 20+ (yes, I know it seems like they have an endless supply). A reduction in this number could indicate a decrease in eating or an interference with the passage of fecal matter.
Paper on the bottom of the cage is ideal to allow for ease of viewing/evaluating the droppings. If you use corncob bedding or wood shavings on the bottom of the cage, you should have the means to check the droppings, as with these materials it is difficult to visualize the dropping as it becomes mixed in the substrate.
A normal dropping consists of three basic parts: a formed fecal portion, an off white urate (crystal) portion, and a liquid urine portion. The fecal portion is usually green in seed eating birds because seed imparts no color to the droppings allowing the green bile color to predominate. However, if the bird eats foods other than seed the color of the fecal portion will change. For example, a bird eating pellets will have brownish droppings. A bird fed strawberries would have reddish droppings.
The consistency of the droppings will vary with the variety of bird and its diet. A bird that eats fruit, vegetables and other succulent foods will have more watery droppings. Pelleted diets, in addition to causing brownish droppings, may also lead to increased water intake and hence more watery droppings with a less formed fecal portion and increased urine.
Droppings that have suddenly changed consistency and color could indicate disease. The amount of fecal portion should be checked. If the bird is not eating, there may be a scant fecal element or a dropping that is mainly urine with a small amount of bile.
One of the important determinations to be made is whether or not the bird is eating. Even though a bird may appear to be in the food bowl it may not be eating. Is seed being hulled or scooped out of the cup onto the floor? Check for seed hulls in the food cup. Sometimes a bird may hull the seed but not ingest it. Hulled, uneaten seeds may be found on the cage floor. This is common in newly weaned parrots that have been taken off formula because the owner thought that the bird was ingesting the seed, but actually only playing with it.
It is normal for a bird to “urinate,” which is when it will pass only liquid urine and urate crystals with no fecal matter. However, this is only an occasional occurrence. If it happens predominantly, a problem exists. Remember that although a reduction in the number of droppings or amount of fecal portion indicates reduced food intake, it may also indicate interference with normal passage of fecal matter, such as with vomiting.
If there is hulled seed on the bottom of the cage, you must determine whether the bird is regurgitating or vomiting. Regurgitation is a normal part of courtship behavior. During courtship, regurgitated seeds may be seen on or near a mirror or toys. However, vomited seeds can be seen in sticky clusters throughout the cage—often adhering to the bars. Further evidence of vomiting is that the head feathers of the vomiting bird are pasted with vomitus, sometimes mixed with seed.