You will be able to spot feather-related ailments far more easily than bacterial or fungal ones. Any permanent untidiness in the budgie’s coat, or feather-loss that results in bald patches, is a very visible sign of trouble.
Budgie Feather Cyst
Cysts occur when a feather fails to break through the skin. It will continue to grow beneath the surface, producing a lump on the budgie’s skin. The primary wing feathers are the most commonly affected ones. Cysts won't disappear without surgical intervention.
Budgie Feathers Falling Out
Feather loss could be due to one of five things: moulting, parasites, self-plucking, French moult virus, or Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease. These are all dealt with elsewhere in this guide.
Budgie Feather Plucking
If a budgie starts plucking his own feathers, there’s an underlying health problem. Unfortunately, it’s not obvious which of the many possible ailments is to blame. It could be parasites, an allergy, low air humidity, lack of fresh air, stress, boredom, mating hormones, liver disease, cancer, bacterial or fungal infection, malnutrition, heavy metal poisoning, or simply a bad habit.
A trip to the vet’s is necessary to see if the underlying problem can be diagnosed, and if it turns out to be an environmental problem rather than disease, there are a few things you can do to get to the bottom of the plucking mystery:
- Watch your budgie closely, and see if you can spot a pattern or trigger. Is he plucking when angry, bored or stressed? Is another bird or object involved in the incident that leads up to a bout of plucking? Does it happen after he’s eaten? Is he fine when you’re around – i.e. does he only pluck when he’s lonely?
- Assess the light, air and humidity situation. Is the budgie getting a 50/50 balance of light and dark through the 24 hour day? Can you do something about his centrally-heated, moisture-free environment to dampen things down a bit? Does moving the cage to a different location help?
- Swap the budgie’s toys around, if you don’t do so already. Make another stick perch to give him something novel to perch and nibble on.
- Is the bird in need of a bath? A simple case of itchy, dry, grubby skin could be the issue. Like a reluctant male teenager, if he’s not in the habit of bathing, he may not realise that he needs one. A wide-nozzled spray (not a fine mist one) will get him wet and washing. The shower should induce the budgie’s natural preening instincts, rather than his plucking ones. Don’t overdo it, though, if the dousing is making the budgie panic.
- Check your food offerings against the list of good foods given in this guide. Try some new ones, to see if you can plug a difficult-to-pinpoint nutritional gap.
- Do you often stroke the budgie on the back or belly? This can stimulate mating hormones in the birds, which sometimes inspire feather-plucking.
Sadly, diagnosis is not the same as cure. Many budgies keep on plucking when the original stimulation has been identified and removed.
If all angles have been covered and the budgie still plucks himself, you’ll have to resign yourself to a semi-bald bird. Some contrary individuals simply get into the habit, and nothing you can do will persuade them to desist.
Budgies Plucking Each Other
This is a variation on the plucking problem. A budgie who is plucked by his cage mates will become very stressed, and can even die as a result. Isolating the perpetrator is the best short-term solution; but you will also have to assess the problem and see if you can resolve it in the long term. The guilty bird may have been frustrated – these issues are often sex-related. Providing a nest-box or a choice of potential mates may divert the bird’s frustrations away from plucking. Making sure there is more than one feeding station might help, too.
Budgie Feather Bleeding
When a budgie is growing new feathers during the moulting season, or when young birds are producing their adult plumage, feather bleeding can occur. A new ‘pin’ feather contains blood vessels, without which the full feather would not be able to grow. If these are damaged during the early days, they will bleed like any other wound.
A patch of blood on an adult bird’s coat is most likely to be one of these pin feathers. In extreme situations, the damage can result in the loss of so much blood that the budgie can actually die. The larger pin feathers – those associated with primary wing and tail feathers – bleed the most if damaged.
Once spotted, the bleeding must be addressed at once. The budgie must be caught, and the broken end of the feather must be held tightly for ten minutes. (Note: the pressure should be exerted on the feather itself, not the bird’s body – squeezing the budgie can cause suffocation.) Once the bleeding has stopped, arrange a trip to the vet to have the broken pin feather removed.
Pin feathers above the cere and nostrils can easily break, but the bleeding involved here is minimal and soon stops. Budgies often damage these pins in a violent ‘kissing’ bout. A lone budgie will often bash himself against his ‘friend’ in the cage mirror and damage the new feathers. Once the blood has dried, it will leave a small stain above the cere which may remain until the next moult.
Dried blood from broken pin feathers has left small stains on this budgie's feathers
Budgie Feather Duster
Feather Duster Syndrome is a genetic condition, often a sign of inbreeding. The unfortunate afflicted birds – sometimes called Mops – have feathers that grow in random directions, and keep on growing. This gives them a ‘feather duster’ or mop-like appearance. Sometimes the beak and toenails grow abnormally long too. The budgies cannot fly or walk, and there are no plus sides to this genetic defect – the unhappy bird is unable to fend for itself, and has a weak immune system, with so much of the bodys energy going towards endless feather growth. Such a bird will need a fortified diet. Even so, most of them do not make it beyond one year, and euthanasia is the humane option.
Budgie feathers French Moult
French moult is a virus that affects some juvenile birds, a mild form of the fatal Budgerigar Fledgling Disease. It causes secondary wing feathers and tail feathers to fall out, rendering the budgie incapable of flight. In severe cases feathers fall out across much of the bird’s body. There is no surefire cure, but a trip to the vet for formal diagnosis and advice is recommended.
Budgie Beak and Feather Disease
Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD), or Psittacine Circovirus Disease (PCD), is a virus that causes feathers to fall out and beaks and toenails to become misshapen. There is no single pattern to the symptoms, which can range from a bedraggled-looking bird to a completely naked one. Skin sores and blemishes may appear too. The virus is passed on through drippings, and there is no cure. This makes it vital that you isolate the affected birds, and get a proper diagnosis from a vet.