Bird Welfare

Aviary Maintenance: Parasite Control

Like all animals, parrots can acquire parasites and unfortunately these can be difficult to spot in the early stages of infestation. Aviary birds are particularly prone to parasite infestation due to the large amount of time spend outdoors. However, all pet birds should be protected from parasites as they can become life threatening if left unnoticed or untreated. Prevention is the best treatment.


Bird lice (Mallophaga) or more commonly known as chewing lice are generally uncommon in parrots. However, aviary birds are more prone to contracting them from wild birds as aviary mesh provides a transferal point.

Once on a host the lice quickly duplicate and lay eggs along the shafts of feathers. The eggs hatch and mature into lice with chewing mouthparts, which feed off the birds feathers, skin and sometimes blood. Although the majority are not overly harmful, when contracted in large numbers the lice can become extremely irritating to the bird. However, there are some species of bird lice which suck blood, Lice infestations can be extremely harmful to juvenile birds or birds in poor health, as some species of bird lice suck blood, potentially causing severe anaemia in the host and in some instances death,

Symptoms to look out for include:

  • Excessive itching/preening.
  • Feather ruffling,
  • Feather damage and discoloration.
  • Restless/aggravated behaviours.
  • In some instances of infestation the lice may be seen crawling on your bird.

If an infestation is suspected, consult an avian vet immediately. The vet will assess the presenting symptoms and perform a physical examination to ascertain the presence of lice or eggs.

Treatment is relatively straight forward but home or shop bought remedies should never be attempted. Most over the counter remedies are ineffective and can be harmful to the parrot. The vet will prescribe an effective delousing treatment, and in some instances additional supportive care. Unfortunately if one bird has lice it is most likely the whole flock have lice too and the remaining flock will need to be treated. In addition, your home and aviary will also need to be thoroughly disinfected. Consult a veterinarian as to the most appropriate form of disinfectant.


Currently there are three types of mites parrot owners should be vigilant against: scaly mites, skin & feather mites, and air sac mites.

Scaly Mites

Scaly mites are categorised into two species:

  • Scaly face mites (Knemidokoptes pilae)
  • scaly leg mites (Knemidocoptes mutans).

Scaly face mites (commonly known as budgie mites, due to their tendency to affect budgerigars) are mites that target the face. The eight legged mites burrow into the un-feathered areas such as above the beak and eye area and remain there for life unless treated.

Symptoms of infestation include:

  • In budgies no itching occurs however in other species itching may present itself.
  • A honeycombed crust appear at the corners of the birds beak
  • A white chalky crusts affecting the eye area, nares and beak.
  • Long term infestation can cause your bird to physically feel unwell and deformities of the beak can occur.

Unfortunately, once physical symptoms present themselves the mite infestation will already be quite advanced, making it difficult to treat. Therefore look out for any changes in your birds behaviour that may indicate a change in health status.

Although treatment can be difficult it is not impossible to cure. At the moment ivermectin or Avimec drops appear to be the most common treatment amongst vets as well as oral medications such as moxidectin. Certain oils such as baby oil or olive oil may also be recommended by the vet to help soften the crust allowing it to fall off, nebulising has also proven helpful, but this can not be carried out easily in an aviary setting..

As mites are usually contracted due to the bird being deficient in vitamin A, a supplement will also be given to the bird to help build up the birds immunity and resistance to mites. Additionally your bird may also need its beak trimming and potentially a course of antibiotics due to secondary bacterial infections incurred from the mites.

If your bird is infected with scaly face it may also be suffering from scaly leg mites.

In the instance of scaly leg you may see:

  • Scaly grey or white crusty lesions on your birds legs and feet.
  • Misshapen toes or feet.
  • Itching.
  • Feather loss and/or feather plucking.

Scaly leg mites cause a skin infection and therefore early detection is paramount. Diagnosis and treatment is alike to scaly face mites however any deformities incurred will most likely not be treatable.

Skin and Feather Mites

Skin and feather mites or red mites are more commonly seen in chickens, however they can affect birds in outdoor aviaries. Red mites are almost invisible to the naked eye and are able to live off the host in cracks and crevices making them easily transmissible via the environment.

Symptoms of infestation include:

  • Restlessness (especially during the night when the mites are active).
  • Mite eggs seen in the feathers.
  • Scratching and feather plucking.
  • Anaemia including symptoms associated such as fatigue and weakness.
  • Changes in behaviour may also indicate an infestation.

If left untreated red mites can be fatal to your bird. The bird must be taken to an avian vet immediately where they will perform a physical examination to identify the mites. Once diagnosed treatment is straight forward and can be given in a variety of forms such as sprays, powders or drops in your birds water. If your bird has been suffering from red mites for a period of time they may need additional supportive treatment.

Air Sac Mites

Air sac mites are internal parasites that situate themselves in the trachea, lungs, voice box and air sacs of the bird -dependent on the life stage of the mite. Aviary birds can contract the mites from infected wild birds through coughing or sneezing or through contaminated drinking water.

As the mites aren’t visible through a visible examination symptoms are what usually indicate an infestation.

Symptoms include:

  • Coughing.
  • Sneezing.
  • Wheezing.
  • Squeaking or high pitched noises.
  • Nare discharge.
  • Excessive saliva.
  • Laboured open beaked breathing.
  • Tail bobbing.
  • Weakness.
  • Weight loss.
  • Clicking sound when breathing.

If left untreated air sac mites can be fatal to the bird, as once the mites begin to multiply the birds air ways will become blocked and the bird will suffocate. Treatment CAN NOT be done at home as the bird will be severely stressed and unwell from the symptoms. You will need to work in close relation with your avian vet to treat the infestation.

The avian vet will administer invermectin/Ivomec at an appropriate dose. Too little will to treat the infestation but too much will kill all the mites at once causing a blockage in the airways. Furthermore as the medication prescribed is a toxin the dose has to be calculated specifically, as too much can lead to additional problems or even death of the bird. Administration of this drug SHOULD NOT be attempted at home under ANY circumstances.

During treatment, the bird should be kept in a stress free environment at a temperature of 32˚C. The bird should not be flying and should be prevented from expending too much energy therefore keep perches low and close together and environment enriched, but not allowing for extreme play.


  • It is advisable to not treat mites at home without a consult from your avian veterinarian as a physical examination and in some instances internal examination will need to take place to address the severity of the infestation.
  • Owners should avoid using over the counter treatments and not attempt to treat the bird with controlled drugs as an incorrect dose will have negative effects on the bird.
  • With all parasites the environment should be treated for infestation and be thoroughly disinfected. All food and water sources should be cleaned regularly and replaced, and perches inspected routinely as mites are able to burrow into wooden perches or into crevices of the cage.


Roundworms are relatively common in birds, with those kept in flocks being more susceptible due to the roundworm eggs being easily transmissible. Adult roundworms lay their eggs inside an infected bird and the eggs are passed through the faeces where they can incubate in the soil. Birds are then able to become infected by either standing on the faeces and ingesting them when eating, taken from the ground or through ingesting a host (insect).

Common roundworms found in companion birds include:

  • Ascarids- infects budgerigars, cockatiels and psittacine.
  • Capillaria- infects macaws, canaries, budgerigars.
  • Spiruroidea- infects cockatoos, parakeets, parrots and macaws.
  • Filariidea- cockatoos and psittacine.

Common symptoms of infestation include:

  • Weakness.
  • Diarrhoea or dark tar like faeces containing blood.
  • Loss of appetite leading to weight loss.
  • Coughing.
  • Open mouthed breathing and/or difficulty breathing.
  • Vomiting or increased regurgitation.
  • Poor feather quality.
  • Increased vocalization.
  • Depression.
  • Head shaking.

If symptoms are left unnoticed roundworms can lead to serious illnesses including:

  • Growth abnormalities.
  • Loss of body movement control.
  • Masses on legs and feet.
  • Death.

If any symptoms present, it is crucial you take your bird to an avian vet for a full examination. If diagnosed with a roundworm infection your vet will prescribe a dewomer that is appropriate for the type of roundworm infecting your bird. Usually the dewormer is taken orally, unless  your bird is infected with a roundworm that infects the eye. In this case a solution is applied to the eye.

When caught early, treatment is relatively straightforward. However, if left unchecked roundworm can cause permanent damage to your birds internal tissue. Your bird may also need supportive treatment alongside deworming.

If the bird lives in a flock all birds should be tested and treated as worms will transmit rapidly. All food and water sources should be cleaned thoroughly, and a complete disinfection of the enclosure is necessary using an appropriate disinfectant.

Avian Trichomoniasis

Trichomoniasis is a disease caused by the protozoan parasite Trichomonas gallinae. The parasites primary host is the domestic pigeon but infects many species of bird worldwide. The source of transmission is through drinking water being shared by an infected pigeon. Transmission does not occur faecal droppings.

Symptoms of infection include*:

  • Loss off or decreased appetite, Anorexia.
  • Tongue ulcers, erosions, vesicles, papules or sores.
  • Ataxia.
  • Lack of growth or weight gain in young.
  • Neck swelling.
  • Tongue swelling, mass in mouth.
  • Depression or lethargy.

*Please see further reading for a comprehensive list of symptoms.

As the majority of symptoms are life threatening treatment must be administered immediately. Your avian vet will administer orally or via the birds food or water an Antiprotozoal medication for at least 3 days to supress the infection.

To prevent infection, ensure companion birds do not have access to drinking water that can be accessed by pigeons or other wild birds. All water should come from a secure source.

Other common parasites

Unfortunately, there are numerous other parasites that may infect your bird including:

  • Aspergillosis.
  • Giardia- zoonotic disease.
  • Sarcocystis.

Typically good hygiene and other preventative methods can keep your bird safe. It is best practice however to keep your aviary bird safe from the more common infestations such as worms and lice with routine topical treatment. Furthermore regular handwashing after handling your bird will aid in preventing the transmission of zoonotic diseases.



Caged birds are susceptible to these parasites too – it is only that aviary birds and birds who travel outside are more likely to become infected.

Further Reading