Parrot-Link Newsletter

November 2009
Welcome to our November Newsletter
Welcome to another in the series of the parrot-link monthly newsletter which brings you parrot-related news and reviews.
November Summary
The topics of interest in this months edition are:


Psittacine Beak & Feather Disease (PBFD)

" an article by our very own moderator Pottys Mum


Caring for PBFD birds

" Our Forum members krisjvv and koky have experience of caring for PBFD birds.

Psittacine Beak & Feather Disease (PBFD)
This month we decided to focus on a particularly nasty disease that affects many parrots. This is a personal account of my limited experence with Charley, who came to live with us in the summer of 2006. She was a foundling and, after a long but unsuccessful search to find her owner, she made her home with us.

She was a happy, healthy bird and fitted right into the family.

It was in August that year, that I noticed she had developed a number of red feathers where they shouldn't have been any - between her shoulders and down her back. But, having consulted members of this forum, I took comfort in the fact that King or Pied greys showed this colouration and are not uncommon.

But, by March 2007 she had developed so many pink feathers, that I decided a trip to the vet was called for. My vet said he "had never seen such a pink bird". Blood samples were taken and it was an anxious few days' wait for the result. It was positive for PBFD and, as another member put it:

"A positive result really feels like a lonely place to be."

I was concerned not only for Charley but also for all my other feathered kids - Merlin, Mabel and Skinny the greys, and Phoebe and Piper the budgies. It cost a small fortune to have them all tested but, thankfully, the results were negative. Then came the question:

"Should I keep Charley or, for the sake of the others, find her another home?"

Encouraged by my vet's advice that, if the others were going to get it, they would have it already, there was only ever one answer to that - Charley was staying right where she was.

"So, what is PBFD?"

Well, it is a particularly nasty virus that affects a number of parrot species. There appear to be two forms, acute and chronic. The acute form usually affects young birds and is likely to prove fatal in a matter of weeks. The chronic form appears to affect older birds, which can live for many years following diagnosis, some with few side affects but usually with pretty devastating results.

The virus causes abnormal growth in feather and beak, hence the name. Developing feathers are shed and replaced by abnormal ones. A bird will eventually become completely bald. Beaks become deformed, sometimes leaving a bird incapable of eating without assistance. Claws can also become deformed. Charley chews hers, so the are always very sharp.

The immune system is often depressed, leaving a PBFD bird open to infection by other diseases.

The bird can come depressed and plucking often results. Charley is now almost bald - partly because her feather don't grow properly and partly because she simply will not allow them to do so.

"What species are affected?"

PBFD is found in the wild in Australia, so cockatoos are particularly at risk, as are lorikeets, ringnecks, eclectus, budgerigars and lovebirds. The disease has spread globally and now also occurs in African greys and macaws.

"How is it spread?"

It usually spreads between birds directly by breathing contaminated air, eating contaminated food or crop feeding, beathing in or eating infected feather dust and/or faeces.

To keep contamination of other people's birds by me down to a minimum (even when shopping for bird food at the pet shop), I wear "parrot clothes" around the house and usually bathe and put on clean clothes just before I leave the house.

"What are the signs of infection?"

Well, for me, the first obvious sign was rogue red feathers. But the list is quite a long one:

Loss of down feathers, and therefore dust, so a shiny black beak can be a sign.

Abnormal feathers, ones which aren't the right shape or colour, or are "pinched", i.e. the shaft doesn't develop normally:

A deformed beak can be a give away and, these days, Charley's beak is very obviously not normal. Even her face is turning pink:

Preening what's left of her wings:

Preening her little body:

"What treatment is there?"

Sadly, there is no cure and no vaccine. Palliative care is all that it is possible. Some birds benefit from "jumpers" to replace their lost feathers. Charley will not tolerate anything on her skin, not even being touched, other than on her head and neck for "scritches".

You might think a bird would be cold but she seems to keep herself warm enough.

"What is the outlook for a PBFD bird?"

Well, for those affected by the actue form, sadly, the outcome is almost always quick and fatal.

For those with the chronic form, as Charley shows, it is possible to have a fulfilling life, even if that no longer involves being able to fly.

You can read more about Charley's day to life here:

Charley's adventures

"Where can I get more information?"

There are lots of useful places to go for information.

We have a part of this site dedicated to PBFD:

Psittacine Beak & Feather Disease (PBFD)

Our forum members experience of caring for PBFD birds follows our sponsors advert.

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Caring for PBFD birds
Forum members krisjvv and koky have experience of caring for PBFD birds.

"Here is Kris's story:"

I have been associated with PBFD for more than 20 years and so would rather not try and be too specific. I adore each and every infected bird that is present in my life and those that have passed through.

Physical symptoms such as in feather colouration, beak deviation and loss of plumage are well documented and so usually send the carer into a tailspin on the possible outcome. These usually present a negative result and a huge number of other causes can be responsible. This does not in any way negate the need for the testing and quarantine of any new bird joining your flock, however well you may have vetted its previous home.

For all the research, web sites and avian advice, there is little or no mention of the carrier bird. This is healthy, robust bird whose only sin is that, at some point in its life, it came into contact with the virus. Its immune system overcame the disease and it will continue to flourish. It does however shed a highly potent form of PBFD, thus infecting all it comes into contact with.

No species, as far as my research has found, is immune. Each country seems to have a dominant species as known carriers. With global barriers removed with legal and illegal importation, it has spread worldwide. I find it quite inconceivable that when importing to the United Kingdom birds were tested for Newcastle's Disease and later Avian Flu and yet PBFD is not a notifiable disease.

There is at present no specific treatment. Most Avian's will assist you with advice on a good healthy diet. Cleanliness and careful attention to beak and claws is essential. Keep a close eye on basic changes to faeces and skin condition.

Apart from the obvious feather loss and beak deviation PBFD can have an adverse reaction on the vital organs. Don't be too quick to clutch at medication when your bird has an off day. Natural remedies can work wonders and Jebirds is our fund of information on all things herbal. Some Avian's are twined with the USA (as is mine) and can administer a vaccine. As yet there are no solid results.

Once you have reached total feather loss, there are a couple of things to take note of. Firstly it is doubtful your bird will feel the cold. The shivers you see are quite natural and something all our birds do, we just don't see it. Secondly the appetite will be very healthy. The food intake increases to allow additional energy for temperature control. I personally do not advocate jumpers. Ever if only one feather continues to grow, they can irritate and even cause pain.

PBFD in the home is a daunting option especially when you have other birds. I have had at least 1 PBFD bird in my home for the 20 years and can safely say with a few simple steps we have never had cross infection.
If your birds are 3 years or more (I prefer to say 5) they will have their own immunity and so be very unlike to pick up the virus. Never allow one bird near another's cage. Never place your PBFD above any others. Also remember that fewer feathers present less risk.

Is PBFD a death sentence? Absolutely NOT! There are many documented cases of infected birds living to ripe old ages, my very first rehome is 20+ and still going strong.

On a more serious note. Should you find you have an infected bird that, having searched your heart for what ever the reason, you must re-home, please be sure of the route you are taking. Many rescues will agree to take your bird on, as it is good for their profile. The sad reality is that some rescues have no clue how to cope with a PBFD bird and will instantly farm them off to people, like myself. If you re-home, make it a forever.

And you can read more of Kris's stories here:

Krisjvv's stories

koky runs a PBFD rescue in Australia:

PBFD - a website dedicated to helping afflicted birds

The internet is also a good source of information and you can find many links via our dedicated section.

Popular Parrot Link Forum Topics:
General Care of Parrots & Parrotlike
Feeding Parrots
Parrot Care and Rehabilitation
Living with Parrots
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