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The Eclectus Parrot:
Medicine and Aviculture

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Feather Picking

Feather picking is a frequently encountered problem in Eclectus and it is seen both in pet birds as well as in avicultural settings. Commonly forwarded causes of feather picking in Eclectus include stress, reproductively linked causes and malnutrition (particularly vitamin A deficiency). Excessive wing trims, overcrowding or inappropriate caging are believed to be contributory factors in young Eclectus parrots' initial onset of feather picking. Less commonly touted etiologies that have been seen include internal disease, bacterial pyoderma or follicullitis, viral infections such as Polyomavirus or Beak and Feather disease, oversupplementation, and obesity. A survey done by the Eclectus society suggested that the most common causes of feather picking that Eclectus owners believe they see include malnutrition and psychogenic etiologies.

Feather picking is also encountered in the avicultural setting. The male may become a psychogenic feather picker when paired with an overbearing or dominant and agressive hen. Some birds will feather pick only during the breeding season, others pick only during the times when the nest box has been pulled from the flight. These observations suggest sexual frustration as well as reproductive activity linked etiologies strongly. Habitual feather pickers tend to pick year-round in both the avicultural as well as breeding circumstance.

Treatment for feather picking is well outlined in the past literature. Treatment and diagnostic approaches should be carefully tempered with a differential diagnosis based on those causes most common in the species. Drug therapy alone, without attention to the overall multifactorial aspects of this general sign should be discouraged.

Overgrown Beaks

Overgrown beaks may be frequently seen in Eclectus parrots. The most frequently made observation is an overgrowth of the upper mandible or rhinotheca. In most cases, malocclusion or chronic liver disease not identified as predisposing factors, as is seen in some other species such as the budgerigar and amazon genus. General observations suggest that overgrown beaks are seen more frequently in birds that are being fed a diet that lacks the large amount of fresh foods commonly recommended for this genus, and in those birds that do not have soft wood perches for normal chewing behaviors.

It has been commented amongst aviculturalists that the beaks become long only towards the end of winter, and usually become more short once the breeding season has begun. Proposed reasons for this observation stem from the frequent winter time drop in the availability of the usual assortment of fresh fruits and vegegetable material that is fed during the remainder of the year. It would be logical to assume that during the winter months, the plane of nutrition may easily drop. Chewing behavior usually increases in the breeding pairs just prior to the breeding season, and this may easily account for increased wear of some of these overgrown beaks and their return to normal appearance during breeding season.

Injectable vitamin A and multivitamin supplementation may be used as a part of treatment. In most cases, however, corrective grinding, an improved dietary plane, and providing more wood for chewing is all that is indicated.

Polyomavirus

Polyomavirus infections have been commonly observed in Eclectus parrots. Eclectus, similar to many other psittacine bird species, may easily become infected with polyomavirus, but may manifest a higher survivability than other species such as the macaws(4). This observation is used frequently to explain an apparently high carrier status of adult Eclectus. Classically reported signs of disease include abdominal distention, subcutaneous hemorrhage, retarded growth, colic, transient gastrointestinal stasis, melena and abdominal pain and, in some cases, abnormal plumage. Chronic ill thrift, immunosuppression and more subtle signs have also been reported.

Gross lesions at necropsy may include hepatosplenomegaly, pale swollen kidneys, pale cardiac and skeletal musculature, feather dystrophy, ascites and petechial or ecchymotic hemorrhages of the subcutaneous tissues and other serosal surfaces. Histopathology reveals basophillic intranuclear inclusion bodies, most frequently noted in the liver and spleen tissues.

Diagnosis is established by a combination of clinical signs, gross lesions. histopathology and PCR probe for viral DNA. As there is no specific treatment for this viral disease, control and preventative measures through the execution of Closed Aviary concepts must be maintained.

Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease

In one report, Eclectus parrots had an overall positive rate at 10.2% of DNA probe tests performed.(6) This relatively high positive testing rate is not believed to represent true disease incidence for this genus, however. Rather, high rates of positives may represent the diagnostic use of the DNA probe test in the face of clinical outbreaks as compared to the use of the probe as a screening tool alone. Unlike the classic form of this disease, when seen in Eclectus, beak involvement is rarely noted. Eclectus, like lovebirds, tend to manifest PBFD at an older age than is commonly encounered in hand fed cockatoo and african grey chicks.

Female Aggression

Female Eclectus may demonstrate excessive aggression over their intended mates. This is a dramatic difference from the usual male agression behaviors seen in many other psittacine birds. Unlike what is seen in some of the large cockatoo species, the female Eclectus will rarely kill her mate. Most aviculturalists argue that female aggression is a significant concern when pairing up new birds.

It is generally not recommended that two adult female Eclectus be housed together, as some believe that the incidence of feather picking will be higher in those birds. When buying domestically raised breeding stock, a younger female is usually paired with an older male, or two similar aged birds are paired while young, and allowed to mature as a pair. When shipping a pair of Eclectus, males and females should be separated to minimize risk of fighting. At the time a new pair is set up, careful observation is indicated to assure that aggressive behavior does not inhibit pair bond development. Introduction is recommended while caged side by side prior to placing in the breeding cage together. Another observation suggests that aggressive behavior is more frequent if the subspecies are not correctly paired, based on the impression that bonding and other behaviors are not identical, resulting in mixed messages and more frequent altercations.

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