Most species of fleas are agile and, although many have been found on birds, they are not primarily avian parasites. Fleas are versatile in their choice of host and are less "host specific" than most ectoparasites, even though related species of birds are likely to harbor similar species of flea. Fleas are adaptable to an unfavorable host if the more usual one is unavailable, and may even transfer between birds and mammals. They are most common in warm climates. Fleas may be red, brown or black and are flattened laterally, that is sideways, enabling them to run and leap rapidly in hairs and feathers. They vary from 1.5-5 mm. in length. The adults are blood-suckers, whilst the larvae feed on the faeces of adults, which are rich in blood products from the host. One species, the tropical or stick-tight flea, may embed its head so firmly in the skin that removal is difficult. Numerous stick-tight fleas may be found on the head and neck region, Incomplete removal may lead to infected wounds, irritation, and self-mutilation. Other species are more mobile and excessive preening by the bird may provoke the flea to change hosts between meals to one which is more amenable.

Fleas normally lay their eggs off the host, usually in a place well supplied with animal organic matter. Eggs may hatch in four days to three weeks, but these times can vary considerably up to 18 months or even more and depend upon the environmental temperature and humidity as well as the species of flea. The larva, a maggot-like creature, eats debris in its vicinity and grows, usually moulting twice before spinning a cocoon to become a pupa. This process can take from two weeks to as much as six months. The parasites can remain in this pupal stage for even longer and are capable of breaking out, it is thought, in response to the warmth or vibration produced by a potential host. They then jump onto the bird, gorge themselves, and can mate and breed a few days later. Whilst still on the host, the females may lay eggs which eventually fall to the ground; probably more often these are laid directly into cracks or crevices nearby. A few per day may be laid up to a maximum of about 100.

Treatment & Control:
It is important to realize that eggs and pupae are not susceptible to most insecticides and so it is the adult and larval forms which must be attacked. This involves not only dis-infesting the birds but also their quarters. Fleas leave their host when its body temperature falls and so a dead or dying bird and indeed one which is anaesthetized often becomes surrounded by departing fleas. This is one of the many reasons therefore why sick birds should be isolated from healthy ones at the first signs of illness and necropsied and incinerated elsewhere. Treatment includes spraying the birds themselves, their perches, nesting boxes and quarters, with a suitable insecticide after removing and burning any loose material such as feathers, droppings, spilled seed, and old nesting material.

Spraying should be repeated every 10 to 14 days until the parasites have been eradicated. Most insecticides are poisonous, especially to small birds, often indeed to mammals and man, and should be used with extreme caution. One of the safest, although shorter-acting insecticides which can be sprayed on birds is pyrethrum. Other chemicals may kill, if sprayed or painted on the bird itself. Highly toxic substances can, however, be sprayed on perches, nest boxes and floors, providing that the birds are removed from the infested cage beforehand and not returned until the parasites have been exterminated and the insecticides completely removed by washing. The choice of parasiticide will depend on cost, ease of application, desired duration of effectiveness, and toxicity. Special attention should be paid to the destruction of all old nests in the vicinity, whether they are actually in the aviary or are those of poultry or wild birds. It is important to remember that re-infestation can also occur from domestic pets and other mammals, wild birds and poultry. Please check with your local vet or pet shop to see what is the newest treatment for any of the above.


E-Mail: berniehansen@sympatico.ca



- TOP -

Hamilton & District Budgerigar Society Inc.