Veterinary Viewpoints

Amy B. Worell


Question 1: I raise budgies and have the problem where one of the hens plucks the feathers on the babies while they are in the nestbox. Other than handfeeding the babies, is there any way to prevent the hen from plucking the babies?

S. Thompson, Colorado

Answer: Although I am not an experienced budgie aviculturist, I can relay some of the problems my clients have encountered in the past with their own budgie flocks.

There can be many reasons for a hen plucking her offspring; most commonly, it is a non-experienced hen with her first clutch. The reason behind this untoward hostility is not well understood and the behavior is difficult if not impossible to modify.

 Another common problem in budgie aviaries is overcrowding. Competition for nestboxes may result in domestic squabbling. Also the curiosity of other hens who are not involved in chick rearing of their own may cause the anxious mother to transfer aggression and frustration to her own chicks while fending off the nosey intruders. This problem can be remedied by adding an adequate number of nestboxes and reducing the number of birds within the flight. Many budgie breeders suggest that excess hens in the communal aviary tend to generate more problems.

Unnecessary disturbances from outside sources, such as children or housepets (dogs or cats, for example), may induce the neurotic behavior. Also, overly inquisitive owners "checking" on the progress of the clutch may result in the plucking activity. Reducing outside distractions will assist in reducing stress on the hen which provides a more "secure" environement for rearing her offspring.

Nutritional deficits such as a protein deficiency may contribute to such behavior. However, ensuring that the hen is provided with an adequate supply of nutritionally balanced ration will eliminate this possibility.

Finally, some hens perform this ritual habitually and some may even savage their chicks by biting or killing them. If this problem becomes chronic, and none of the above mentioned solutions seems to help, then the aviculturist may have to hand rear the chicks or better yet, farm out the eggs to a foster mother to avoid the problem.

Dr. Darrel K. Styles Miami, Florida

Answer: I would suggest that you consider trying a new mate, modify the environment so that there are less environmental distractions, or consider not breeding that particular hen anymore.

Dr.James M. Harris

Oakland, California

Answer: I have commonly encountered the problem of birds (both the hen and the cock) plucking the feathers of their offspring while they are still in the nestbox. I have noted that this situation occurs in a number of species, in particular, in both budgies and cockatiels.

The reasons for this behavior are potentially numerous, and may vary with the particular pair of birds in question. I have often related this behavior to parents that have a strong desire to go back to nest and lay another clutch of eggs. Potentially, the parent birds are attempting to encourage their young offspring to prematurely fledge the nest in an effort to empty the nest for the next round.

Other than handfeeding the abused youngsters, fostering the chicks under a receptive hen may be a viable and workable option for your particular problem.

Additionally, re-evaluating the nesting environment for potential distractions and stressful factors may prevent this problem in some pairs. Good luck!

Dr. Amy Worell Woodland Hills, California

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Question 2: Are there any human viruses that can be transferred to birds? My Amazon was treated for the bacteria Streptococcus and I'm concerned about health.

M. Sterling, Florida

Answer: No there are not.

"Human" viruses are not infectious for avian species. Some avian viruses are capable of infecting humans. Normally Streptococcus species is not a disease producer in birds.

Dr. James H. Harris

Oakland, California

Answer: In a general sense, and without being overly scientific, animal viruses are obligate intracellular parasites, meaning that viruses require the commandeering of the cells of animals, including the cellular genetic machinery since the virus lacks some of the necessary replicative material in order to reproduce independently. Most bacteria, however, will reproduce in any nutritive medium under the proper growth conditions, which may be independent of a host such as in a laboratory culture dish. Bacteria carry a full genetic reproductive complement and do not require the cellular machinery to reproduce. (However there are some bacteria which do require animal cells, such as the organism which causes psittacosis). In summary, one may think of a vims using the cell as a ''virus producing factory'' and the bacteria uses the cell for food. 

Since viruses require animal cells in order to reproduce, viruses have developed a higher '' hostspecificity" as compared to bacteria which are more opportunistic. Therefore a virus which is lethal for birds may be harmless to people, since that virus carries the specific tools for infecting avian cells but lacks the necessary modifications for infecting human cells. However, not all viruses are quite as discriminating; and there are certainly several viruses that are capable of infecting birds and people.

There are documented cases of St.

Louis Encephalitis Virus, of which wild birds are reservoirs, infecting people by means of mosquito bites. Also, Newcastle Disease is known to cause illness in man and has been shown to be transmitted from infected fowl to humans. These are instances of zoonotic infection, or avian viruses infecting humans. But to my knowledge, there are no recorded cases of a ''human" virus infecting a bird under "natural" conditions.

Bacteria are less host-specific, and many species of bacteria will tend to thrive when provided with a fertile environement and proper conditions. There are documented cases where owners have infected their birds with bacteria such as tuberculosis. And there are numerous cases in which the bird has infected the owner with bacteria such as the Psittacosis organism and Salmonella.

Therefore, the pet owner should not worry unduly about '' infecting" their bird with human pathogens, but should recognize that the possibility exists.

Dr. Darrel K. Styles Miami, Florida


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