Most keepers of parakeets think of their birds as part of the family and are as concerned about their pets' health as about that of other family members. In recent times biologists and nature filmmakers have recognised parakeets as interesting birds of many talents and have devoted serious study to parakeets living wild in Australia as well as to their cousins bred in captivity. The parakeet's popularity with humans has had some serious negative effects on the breed. As in the case of many other animals that reproduce relatively easily in captivity, a subjective human standard was developed of the "ideal" parakeet. The breeder's aim here is not to produce a bird as similar as possible to the one living in the wild; instead, color of plumage, standardised notions of shape, and, last but not least, quantitative breeding results usually take precedence. In addition, too often the necessary care for healthy development is neglected, and the birds' health suffers from inadequate housing, one-sided diet, lack of exercise, and questionable methods of transportation. The result of all this is magnificent-looking parakeets that are however, predisposed to serious diseases even when young. Sometimes months or even several years pass without any sign of such a weakness in the parakeet's looks or behaviour. But suddenly the bird is sick and the owner has no idea what accounts for this change. The owner seldom finds the cause or even a plausible explanation. On the other hand I want to stress that although breeding methods and conditions may be the cause of illness, we should never use this excuse to cover up our own negligence. If you raise parakeets yourself, please never forget: The better the conditions under which the breeding birds are kept and the fewer the strain crossings that might negatively affect the bird's vitality, the healthier and hardier the offspring will be.

An Ounce of Prevention:
Many diseases can be avoided if parakeets are kept properly, and a bird in top physical condition is more likely to survive if an illness does strike. Be sure, therefore, to commit to memory the following condensed list of what is good for birds and what is bad for them.

What a parakeet needs:

  1. A varied diet in adequate amounts.
  2. Fruit and vegetables that are fresh and not chemically treated.
  3. Birdseed that is not spoiled and has not been stored too long.
  4. Drinking water, uncarbonated mineral water, or "bird drink" (from a pet store) that is served clean, fresh, and not too cold.
  5. Natural branches--frequently replaced by new ones--from unsprayed fruit trees or other non-poisonous trees growing far from roads with heavy traffic. The branches should be of different thickness for healthy foot exercise and for gnawing.
  6. Adequate daily opportunity for flying and moving around outside the cage in well-aired rooms.
  7. Strict cleanliness of all items a bird touches.
  8. Parakeets kept singly need several not too short periods a day during which their human partner gives them full attention; regular playtimes and physical closeness, including whistling, singing, and talking with the bird are essential.

What is harmful to a bird:

  1. Sudden temperature fluctuations (moving from a heated room to an unheated one); summer travel in a hot car. Any draft, even in warm weather.
  2. Food that is rotting, otherwise spoiled, or treated with chemicals.
  3. All food intended for humans, especially food that is salty, strongly spiced or sweetened, or has a high fat content; alcohol .
  4. Unsuitable or poisonous indoor plants.
  5. Exposure to direct sunshine if there is no shady retreat.
  6. Musty rooms; tobacco smoke or other smoke; toxic or caustic fumes; penetrating smells.
  7. Sitting alone in a cage for hours on end and being bored and lonely.
Always keep a vigilant eye on your healthy parakeet and be familiar with its habits, likes and dislikes, favourite treats, and general behaviour, so that you will notice any change right away. But don't be overly anxious. Despite the parakeet's pronounced liking for routine, a favourite old habit may be abandoned overnight; the fruit that he craved up to now, for instance, is suddenly rejected. Weather, changes in temperature, loneliness, or a temporary cutting back of time spent with the bird can cause short-term changes in behaviour and vital functions that do not signal an acute illness. Many parakeets react with slight diarrhoea not only to too cool a bath but also to insufficient attention, unfamiliar surroundings, or fright. The diarrhoea will disappear after a couple of hours.

Symptoms of Disease:
There is reason for serious worry if the bird acts sick for several hours or entire days. A parakeet that does not feel well looks listless, withdraws from its partner, fluffs up the feathers slightly, turns its head 180", and tucks its beak into its back feathers. Such a bird stands on both legs and isn't really asleep but looks with dull eyes at nothing in particular. A healthy parakeet sleeps in the same posture but with one leg pulled up and tucked into the belly feathers. Of course there are exceptions: Many healthy birds, too, rest on both legs when sleeping. A sick parakeet will stir around in the food dish with its bill but hardly eat any seeds. Often the bird will seem exceptionally thirsty. If two Parakeets live together you sometimes see the healthy partner preen the sick one more than usual. If the bird gets worse it weakly lies on its perch or the bottom of the cage in an almost horizontal position. The tail feathers droop down from the perch instead of sticking out straight and continuing the line of the back as they do in a healthy bird. If the bird is in pain it will now and then raise itself up with feet wide apart on the perch, make itself thin as in fear, and stick the folded wings out sideways. Often it will bite in the air several times in succession. When the respiratory system is affected, the bird's rattling or whistling breathing is sometimes audible. Other important signs for alarm are changes in the droppings and perhaps slime discharged from the crop. If the droppings remain watery or--worse--slimy or with a reddish or greenish discoloration, they should be analysed as soon as possible for bacteria and parasites. A slimy discharge from the crop suggests an inflammation of the crop that should be treated immediately. Don't be frightened, on the other hand, if you find your parakeet busily feeding its live partner, a plastic imitation, or even its mirror image with kernels it is choking up. Female parakeets satisfy their instinctive need to raise nestlings with this surrogate activity, and lonely male birds feed their mirror image as an act of love for what they think of as their mate. An occasional "sneezing" does not mean that your bird has a cold. Sneezing, or what sounds like it, cleans out the mucous nasal membranes. If birds ''yawn," which they do quite often, this is an attempt to make up for a lack of oxygen; when this happens see to it that the room gets additional fresh air.

Parakeets spend many hours a day grooming their plumage. Tail feathers are pulled through the bill. Some oil is taken from the uropygial gland at the base of the tail and spread over the plumage.

E-Mail: berniehansen@sympatico.ca



Hamilton & District Budgerigar Society Inc.