Cockatiels are lively and energetic birds that usually have a lot to say for themselves so any signs of change in these behaviours can be a sign that the bird is unwell. Birds are driven by nature to hide illnesses that would make them easier prey for predators so it can be difficult to know when something is wrong. But having some basic ideas of what might affect them and knowing their personalities well enough to spot abnormal behaviour can be a good starting place.
If you are getting your bird from a young age or are breeding cockatiels, one illness to watch for is Avian Polyoma. This used to be known as Budgerigar Fledgling Disease but is now recognised to affect a range of parrots including cockatiels and even some of gallinaceous birds such as turkeys and chickens. It can affect a bird from the age of 7 week old and can kill within a few hours of symptoms showing in the worst cases. Symptoms include large bruise-like haemorrhages under the skin, swollen stomach, tremors or shaking and instability in movements.
As the illness progresses, they can show depression, anorexia, delays in emptying their crop, diarrhoea, dehydration and finally paralysis. The illness often kills within 12-48 hours of clinical symptoms showing. It is passed through the crop when parents are feeding young birds or through feather dust and droppings.
A vaccination is available that is given to young birds at 40 days old and boosted two weeks later. After this, a yearly booster is recommended and breeding birds are recommended to be vaccinated in the months before breeding season as well.
Psittacosis is also known as parrot fever and is a type of bacteria that can also affect humans and other animals. Some birds are more susceptible to it than others are and cockatiels are one of these species. Symptoms can vary depending on the strain and some of them are mild enough that symptoms never show.
Acute symptoms include respiratory problems such as laboured breathing or shortness of breath; discharge or swelling of the eyes; lethargy and ruffled up feathers and diarrhoea. Chronic cases show symptoms such as tremors or convulsions, strange movements of the head or head position and paralysis in the legs.
It is passed through the droppings and nasal discharges of infected birds and can be inhaled or passed by touch. It is treated with antibiotics and while this is being done, calcium must be removed from the bird’s enclosure as this can affect the impact of the drugs.
If you think a bird may have this condition, quarantining them away from other birds is very important and contact with humans should also be avoided. Thoroughly clean anywhere the bird has been and try to get rid of any feather dust, as this can be a source of infection.
One of the main problems around the reproductive routine of cockatiels can be chronic egg laying. This is when the bird keeps laying eggs, regardless of whether fertilised or not, and can result in serious health issues and even death. This is because the process of creating an egg takes a lot from the bird’s body and laying too many without replenishing this causes the condition.
One of these problems is hypocalcaemia, when the calcium levels in the body become too low. The side effect of this is that the bird cannot use the uterine muscles properly to push out the egg they have created and become egg bound, another potentially fatal condition. It can also cause seizures and brittle bones.
It is impossible to stop a bird laying eggs, as this is something they are hard-wired to do. However there are steps you can take to persuade them not to lay too many. Firstly, do not remove the eggs, even if they are infertile. The bird will lay her correct number of eggs and proceed to sit and incubate them for a number of weeks. This period of rest allows her body to recover from the egg laying process and lets her follow through on a natural cycle. Another idea is to restrict the conditions that trigger breeding – don’t have nest boxes available or nesting material and even shorten the day by reducing the light levels. These things can convince the bird that breeding isn’t the right option at this time and stop the egg laying process beginning.
If your bird is laying eggs, it is important to make sure her diet is containing enough calcium to avoid hypocalcaemia. Food sources that are good for this include dark green leafy vegetables, broccoli, dandelion and also plain yoghurt. Also make sure supplemental sources are available such as oyster shell, cuttlefish bone and mineral blocks so the bird can take in what she needs.
As well as the calcium deficiency mentioned above, cockatiels can also suffer from a vitamin A deficiency that is common in birds that eat a lot of seed. Seed is high in fats but not so much in other vitamins and minerals that are important for all round health. Therefore it is important to balance out this fatty food with healthy foods. These include green leafy vegetables, vegetables and fruits particularly ones that are orange and red, which contain beta-carotene.
Sprouted seed is another great option for the simple reason that the process of sprouting uses the seeds fat reserves and what is left is the healthy part of the seed. So the bird gets the seed they crave but has less fat content.
Despite your best efforts, sometimes there is nothing you can do to stop your bird falling ill and because they are such masters at hiding symptoms, you may not get the chance to help them. But observation is the key to having that chance and at the first sign of changes in behaviour or body, seek out a vet and get to know what is wrong so you stand the best chance of helping your feathered friend.