Seven types of neglect can seriously undermine lovebirds’ health. PAULINE JAMES explains how to avoid them
PEACH-FACED, masked and Fischer’s lovebirds are generally hardy and robust creatures, and are not prone to illness. But, if any element of their care is neglected, the health of our birds can rapidly be compromised.
Too many pairs of birds kept in a small area will cause high levels of stress and unrest in a colony flight. A victimised, highly stressed bird can suffer a rapid breakdown of its immune system because the growth of harmful bacteria accelerates, and the production of beneficial bacteria dramatically slows.
If an avian probiotic is administered orally at this stage, the correct balance can be restored and the bird will make what appears to be a miraculous recovery.
2. No inside housing
Inadequate protection from the cold can leave lovebirds vulnerable to chills, and in turn to respiratory diseases and even frost-bite. It is important that birds have frost-free indoor housing, with extended daylight hours. Without artificial lighting, lovebirds are forced to roost for an abnormally long time in winter, resulting in them eating less and being inactive for longer.
Peach-faced, masked and Fischer’s lovebirds all have particularly fleshy feet, which carry a heavier blood supply than is usual for other birds their size. Any foot injuries can be potentially life-threatening.
Birds roosting outside in freezing conditions are far more vulnerable to foot injuries. Just flying to the wire in freezing conditions can cause their warm feet to stick fast and in their bid to free themselves, they can strip the outer layer of skin from their toes – or even lose a toe. Once a bird is injured it is vulnerable to attack from others.
3. Dirty living conditions
Unhygienic conditions are a breeding ground for harmful bacteria, parasites and mites.
Natural earth floors and flights left open to the elements are a particular danger. Harmful bacteria and parasitic worms can reproduce in earth, and wild birds can spread disease through preening and their droppings. Stagnant drinking water and dirty feeding pots will attract mould and harmful bacteria, and dirty nest-boxes and aviary woodwork, can attract mite. Regular and thorough sanitisation is vital.
Sure signs that a lovebird is suffering from mite are obsessive scratching and impaired balance, due to the mites accessing the ear openings. Treat the bird, nest-boxes and aviary woodwork with a pet-safe, anti-mite spray.
4. Poor diet
Diet-related vitamin deficiencies are one of the most common forms of illness and leave birds particularly vulnerable – the most common being insufficient levels of vitamin A. Initially this causes dry, flaky, irritant skin and poor feathering, and often due to the constant irritation, birds tend to over-preen. This can lead to habitual feather-plucking.
As the condition progresses, a bird’s immune system will start to break down, because the protective layer of fine hairs and mucus, found within the bird’s respiratory tract, become less efficient. This leaves the lovebird vulnerable to contracting airborne viral and bacterial infections, which can ultimately lead to pneumonia.
In severe cases a bird will suffer a dysfunctional liver. The first signs often show a softening of the keratin composition of the beak and nails, and the surface will become flaky and even crack. Sometimes the beak will become overgrown and will need continual trimming. The liver acts as a chemical regulator for the body and once it begins to deteriorate, all the major organs begin to shut down and the stricken bird will be past saving.
Vitamin A can be found in all red, orange and yellow fruits and vegetables and fresh, dark green leafy vegetables, along with codliver oil. To resolve the problem for the short-term, an avian vet can administer vitamin A injections.
5. Calcium deficiency
A vitamin D and calcium deficiency usually occurs in birds that have been over-bred or are housed indoors. Vitamin D is manufactured naturally by the sun rays on their skin. Without vitamin D the body cannot absorb calcium and can cause bone, muscular and egg-related problems, including egg-binding. Calcium is best provided using a combined vitamin D and calcium liquid supplement all year round. I prefer this to just providing an abundant supply of cuttlefish-bone.
6. Bad breeding practices
Birds that have been in-bred for several generations will suffer health weaknesses because their genes become less diverse.
Any adverse traits or physical problems become abnormally pronounced with each generation where in-breeding continues to occur. If you begin breeding with a bird that has a slight weakness to its liver, by the third generation the liver problem will be far more severe.
A hen that is continually bred will quickly suffer because its bodily resources become severely drained. If it is not allowed to rest and recover, the bird will lose its fertility and will fall into poor health.
Poisoning from car exhaust fumes, outdoor cooking and bonfire smoke, can pose a real threat to a bird’s respiratory system. If plastics or plants that have been treated with weed killers or chemicals are burnt, the resulting smoke can be deadly.
Most of the conditions and potential problems threatening a lovebird’s health are easily avoided. Birds that are looked after will generally go on to enjoy good health and live to their full potential. Remember that lovebirds should be limited to breeding twice a year, and should be given adequate space and privacy to stop confrontation between two females. Lovebird housing should be kept frost-free, draught-free and dry in the winter, and food pots should be kept clean at all times.
It is also important to offer a regular supply of fresh willow branches, as a nesting material, for their nutritional benefits, and as a therapeutic activity. Lovebirds need to be fed a good quality, diverse and imaginative diet that is rich in vitamins and minerals.
Ensure that their nutritional intake mirrors the nutrient-rich diet that they would achieve in the wild.
The tell-tale signs
A parrot’s natural ability to mask illness is renowned, and often by the time you notice that a lovebird is ill, it can be too late to save it. Signs to look out for are a loss of appetite, fluffed-up plumage, sleepy-looking eyes, perching on two legs instead of one, and an unusually quiet bird. A wet discharge from the eyes, nostrils or ear openings is yet another tell-tale sign, and as a bird’s condition worsens, so will its breathing. To save a bird that is clearly in a bad way, rapid emergency measures must be taken. The main requirements of a sick bird are heat, water and an emergency probiotic – in that order. Food and nourishment is fourth on the list, once the bird has begun to show signs of recovery.
Pauline James has been writing for Cage & Aviary Birds since 1994. In the 1980s and 1990s she built up a huge collection of lovebirds. She has published Pauline James’ Compilation of Amazing, Hilarious and Poignant True Parrot Stories.