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Behavior Changes
Birds have a remarkable ability to hide illness until the disease becomes so severe that they can no longer "fake" appearing healthy. This is considered to be a mechanism of wild birds to avoid being preyed upon by predators. The pet bird care provider plays a key role in the health surveillance of the bird by detecting the often subtle signs of illness in the bird's behavior. The earlier illness can be detected, the better the chances of successful treatment. The following is a list of common behavioral changes observed in pet birds that should prompt the pet bird care provider to seek veterinary advice.


Loss of Appetite (Anorexia): Anorexia or decreased food intake is a serious health concern because birds have a high metabolic rate and cannot afford to miss too many meals. Weighing the bird routinely using a gram scale is a good method of monitoring the health status of a bird. A bird that has lost greater than 10% of its body weight regardless of whether it is still eating, should be examined by a veterinarian.

Generalized Weakness: Weakness, lethargy, and excessive sleeping are behaviors suggestive of severe illness. Sick birds are inactive and often stay fluffed with their wings drooped.

Changes in Breathing Pattern: A bird that exhibits an apparent change in its breathing, especially if it has difficulty in breathing or obvious respiratory sounds, most likely has a serious respiratory disease. Periodic coughing or sneezing is normal; however, if this behavior occurs frequently, it can be a sign of illness.

Decreased Vocalizations: Birds that become unusually quiet quit talking, or are less playful and interactive may be ill. Sick birds, especially those with severe digestive tract disorders, may revert to their baby bird behavior of begging for food.

Regurgitation of Food: Regurgitation of food may be part of the normal courtship behavior of some birds that have chosen their care provider or image in a mirror as a mate. Regurgitation that is excessive and associated with weight loss is abnormal.

Excessive Egg Laying: Repetitive egg laying is a common medical disorder of some birds, such as cockatiels.

Neurotic Behavior: Increased preening, screaming, and aggression are abnormal behavioral changes in pet birds. Excessive grooming can lead to feather picking. These conditions often are seen in birds that are frustrated or stressed.

Falling Off the Perch: Birds may fall off their perch for a variety of reasons. They may r be unable to balance themselves because of a neurologic disorder or they may suffer from generalized weakness. Falling off the perch and thrashing about in the cage during the night ("night frights") is a common occurrence in some birds, such as cockatiels, if they are not provided with a night light.

Picked on by Other Birds: Birds that are picked on by other birds in the flock my be too ill to defend themselves.