feather issues

by Karen
(Laurel Maryland)

I have a green cheek conure (14 years old) whose wing feathers grow, then the shaft looks like it begins to atrophy and the feather breaks off at that point - on an angle. She has been like this for a few years now.

The vet I took her to said the other conure I have is over-preening her. I know this isn't true because I live with them; I watch them together all the time. He does not over-preen her, especially not her wings. Sometimes the tip of the feather looks like it curves, but then it just breaks in the weakened shaft area and hangs until I clip it off.

She doesn't like me to touch and/or try to spread her wings for a photo. She is frustrated because she is unable to fly and has taken up biting me as if it is my fault. Which may be the case.

I feed them once a day: one scoop of Zu-preem cereal and one half scoop of forti-diet seed mix. I use water dishes and clean the bio-film out when I change the water (once to twice daily). Any ideas?

Comments for feather issues

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Aug 29, 2015
Dealing with feather issues
by: The Avian Vet

This is not a preening issue, either with the other bird or herself. I realize it is difficult to take a picture, but it would help me to see at least an image. Maybe if you had someone to hold her while you take a picture. If not, then a picture of an affected feather and a picture of her so I can see all of her body contour feathers. Without a complete hands on exam, I can only give you differentials. How do the rest of her feathers look? Does this happen to tail feathers? Does it happen to body feathers?

The biting may be because she is not feeling well. Crankiness can be a symptom of feeling poorly. It is also possible that her wing feathers are painful or sensitive. Common diseases that can cause these symptoms are Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease Virus (PBFD), Polyomavirus (which can be prevented with vaccinations), Folliculitis (feather follicle infections, bacterial or fungal), not as likely but should be listed is trauma to the feathers such as flapping in the cage, and nutritional deficiencies or nutrient imbalance. You should work on correcting the diet, and test for the diseases that cause this problem. Start with the diet.

You wrote: "I feed them once a day: one scoop of Zu-preem cereal and one half scoop of forti-diet seed mix. I use water dishes and clean the bio-film out when I change the water (once to twice daily). Any ideas?"

With this information I feel sure that nutrition is at least big part of this problem, maybe causing all of it, or concurrent with another problem, such as those listed above.

For feathers to form correctly and be strong, they need specific amino acids (which make up protein). So, the problem I feel is a protein deficiency, but includes a calcium deficiency, a Vitamin D3 deficiency, and calcium / phosphorous not in the correct ratio, with possibly other deficiencies or imbalances, all of which are vital to healthy feathers.

Feeding any pellets a diet is better thank feeding no pellets. But, ZuPreem is not one that I recommend. The large amount of sugar in the Zupreem causes a decreased intake of protein. By having a seed mix (KT being one of the lower quality mixes) available most of the time, she is going to eat the seeds first, satisfy her caloric needs, and not be hungry until the next scoop of seeds. This is contributing significantly to the protein deficiency, but also is contributing to the calcium deficiency, calcium/phosphorous ratio, and has too much fat.

Vitamin D3 is essential to calcium metabolism and a deficiency will appear as a calcium deficiency. D3 can be obtained in only 2 ways – in a balanced formulated (pellet) diet, or with exposure to UV light. UV light can be natural or from a full spectrum bulb. Oil from the preen gland has precursor of vitamin D3. The preen oil is spread over the feathers when preening. The UV light converts it to vitamin D3 which is then ingested when preening.

The best food is Harrison’s, second best is Roudybush. I feed exclusively Harrison’s. Pellets need to be 80% of the diet. The other 20% can be treats; anything not a pellet is a treat: fresh foods, seeds, nuts, cooked food, etc. Leave Harrison’s in the cage at all times. Put it in 2 bowls, one near the highest perch, and one lower where the food is normally.

NEVER MIX ANYTHING WITH THE PELLETS; she will scoop to find the seeds or other preferred food, and waste the pellets. Meal feed treats 2-3 times daily and give a very limited amount, that which can be eaten in 1 setting; for example, a table spoon of seed, or an ounce or two of wet food. When she leaves the dish after eating, remove the treat.

Wet foods should not be left in for more than 3-4 hours because bacteria will grow and contaminate the food. Dry food can be left longer, and if a small amount is given, she will eat all of it and still be hungry enough to eat the pellets. This schedule will have her eat the 80:20% ratio and eliminate all nutritional problems.

The D3 deficiency can be eliminated with a full spectrum light. THE ONLY one that is effective for birds is the ZooMed Avian Sun Lamp and Bulb. IT should be 18-24" away from her, and should be on 2 hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon or early evening.

Also very important, (but probably unrelated to the feather issue, except that it is a source of infections) is the water source. Bowls should not be used. They are a prime source for bacterial infections. The biofilm you mention is a bed of bacteria, which forms in 3-4 hours. I know of no one who can change and disinfect bowls that often. The only solution is to use a water bottle.

Dr B
Greg Burkett DVM
Board Certified Avian Veterinarian
American Board of Veterinary Practitioners: 2002 – present - http://www.abvp.com

Aug 29, 2015
bird with feathers breaking off
by: Tracie

I will send this to Dr B and he will get back with you within a month. Sometimes he answers quick, sometimes it takes a while due to his busy teaching schedule and avian practice.

I can say that he has mentioned on several occasions that ZuPreem is not good for birds. It's best to feed either Harrison's high potency, or Roudybush and do not supplement with vitamins. Your conures should eat about 80% pellets and only about 20% seeds and treats.

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