Budgerigars sometimes fall victim internal or external parasites. Some of these, such as ticks, are easy to spot when you handle the bird. Others, like mites, are only obvious once their presence has begun to affect the host bird (by the loss of feathers, for example). Others may be living in the bird’s gut, and you can only identify their presence by watching for accompanying symptoms.
Budgie Red Mites
An infestation of red mites (Dermanyssus gallinae) will cause your budgie great discomfort. The blood-sucking creatures – difficult to spot with the naked eye, reaching just 1mm max – are nocturnal, and therefore only attack the birds at night. In severe outbreaks, the budgie may start to suffer from too much blood loss, weakening his immune system and inviting in all manner of infections.
Red mites, being nocturnal and tiny, are hard to spot. One way of verifying their presence is to put double-sided sticky tape in the nooks, crannies and corners of the aviary. The mites will get stuck on its surface. Once you know they’re there, you need to clean everything in the cage thoroughly with hot water and a scrubbing brush, and keep checking and cleaning over the next few days until they’ve gone.
Budgie Scaly Face Mites
Scaly face is caused by the tiny skin-burrowing mite Knemidokoptes pilae. It mainly affects the bird’s cere and beak, but can also cause problems in the legs and the vent area. The first sign of the problem will be persistent scratching – the budgie will rub itself on whatever object it can find. A crusty growth will then start to appear on the cere, and the beak will become misshapen as the mites burrow inside. Some facial feathers may be lost. If untreated, the affected body parts will actually drop off, leading to severe handicap.
You need to intervene long before the problem reaches this extreme stage. A visit to the vet is necessary, where the bird will be prescribed a suitable swab for treating the infestation.
Budgie Scaly Legs Mites
This is caused by Knemidokoptes mutans, a cousin of the scaly face mite. The budgie's legs swell and flake, and he will be in a lot of pain. A medical paraffin is the usual treatment, but you should speak with a vet first before administering it.
These feather-eating pests (Mallophaga) are rare on budgies, but aviary birds may catch them from wild birds. The lice are easier to spot than mites, growing up to 3mm long; but they can still conceal themselves easily in the budgie’s feathers. You will probably be first alerted to their presence by the bird's symptoms – violent scratching, frequent shaking of the feathers, and, eventually, a moth-eaten appearance, as the lice nibble away at their host’s coat.
A vet will be able to treat the lice with a contact chemical. Unfortunately, if one of your birds has them, the whole flock is probably infected.
An infested bird will soon recover after treatment
Budgies can become infected with Ascaris roundworm. These creatures live and breed in animals’ guts, and their eggs are passed on via droppings. The adult worms can grow 3.5cm long, which in a bird as small s a budgie is a major problem. Several of these in a budgie’s gut can leach all the nutrients from the birds’ food, causing severe malnutrition. In extreme cases there can be paralysis, but more often the symptoms will be weight loss and listlessness.
A vet will prescribe a medicine that flushes the worms from the budgie’s system. If successful, you will spot the adult creatures in the bird’s droppings. The treatment will need repeating a few weeks later to catch the worms that survived as larvae in the budgie’s gut.
Ringworm is a particular problem in outdoor aviaries, where droppings fall to the earth – a perfect habitat for the worm eggs.
Budgie Air Sac Mites
Budgies, along with many other birds, have an internal organ called an air sac, part of their respiratory system. This is sometimes invaded by a tiny creature called the air sac mite. It also colonises the bird’s trachea (the breathing pipe between the throat and the lungs). An infestation will affect the budgie’s voice. He will stop chirruping, his whistles will sound hoarse, and he will start to make a clicking, wheezing sound when he breathes. If left untreated the bird will eventually suffocate.
A vet will be able to treat the ill bird, along with the rest of your flock – the air sac mite can spread very quickly, and you have to assume that all the birds are infected. This may not be obvious, as it can take several weeks before the wheezing kicks in.