SICK FINCHES – A Mug’s Guide of
What to Do?
By Marcus Pollard
Odd title for an article you might think as I
have met many finch keepers whose birds "never get sick" – well, I wish I
knew their secret for it is an on-going problem with my own flock and that
of all my "honest" friends!
Still we’ve looked at a number of profiles of healthy ones so why not some
self-help for the less than happy ones!
I remember discussing this very same topic with
the late John Alers from Western Australia back in 2004 and his comment has
always stayed in my mind and that was "Son, wherever you have live birds you
will also have dead birds, so get used to it"!
Never truer words were spoken but we can, with a
little common sense, hopefully reduce the losses within our flocks through
our own actions and a little common sense to boot!!!
Now the first port of call should always be our
trusty avian veterinarian but there are times through a multitude of
circumstances where an aviculturist must take certain steps in order to
"prolong/save a life"before it is too late. Also, given the finch’s high
metabolic rate and subsequent rapid shift from dopey-looking to dead then
speedy intervention is very often an imperative. So let’s have a look at
what we can do to keep the finch ticking over until we can get it to our vet
Now, many years ago I submitted an article to ABK on Basic Finch Maintenance
and this has proven to be one of the most questioned articles that I have
ever completed. From claims it is the greatest load of "fiction" since War
and Peace to a basis for many fincho’s quarantine schedules! With breeders
from other states it has been possible to streamline it for local conditions
and has, if my sources are to be believed, been responsible for many
rethinking the entire disease/quarantine question.
Not wishing to waste the readers valuable time
here suffice it for me to say that I would still prefer newly acquired
finches to undergo some quarantine period than simply introduce them
willy-nilly into the aviary system. Put somewhat brutally I’d far rather a
finch expire in my quarantine cages than in my aviary where it might have
the opportunity to pass its disease on to every single bird in my
How To Pick An Ill
The closer you are to the finch the harder it is!!
Birds are particularly good at masking the fact that they are ill for
starters. Maybe it’s that "survival of the fittest" thing whereby bluff is
better than the alternative or maybe it is that while the bird has an inner
will to survive it will do anything to maintain that illusion of health and
Trust me once you are
100% sure that the finch is sick you’d better believe it is near the end of
the road – literally!
So what better than
that ‘cheery’ note to start a discussion of what to look for!
Perhaps the how to
watch for signs might even be a more beneficial start-point!
You will pick an ill
bird far easier when it doesn’t know you are there and looking at it! Now I
know most of us cannot afford one-way glass in all our aviaries but
peep-holes and a small isolated access room can make this job easier. Spot
the finch that is fluffed up, often sitting by itself either on the perch or
(worse!!) on the ground and you are half-way there. If it happens to be
sitting on both legs then hurry!!!
Record the ring colour, grab the net and warm up your hospital cage or plug
in the red heat lamp!
So the fluffy looking
bird is one of our first warning signs as the bird is vainly trying to
increase its body temperature by fluffing up and trapping as much body
heat/warm air as possible in the feathers in order to heat itself up. Making
its own hospital cage if you wish to stretch a point!!
If the bird is fluffed up and has its head under its wing while it shivers
then maybe the net will not be needed!
indicator is the dirty vent where the area around the vent is stained
(usually a white or yellow) with faeces adhering to the vent feathers.
Usually the bird in this state will constantly pick at the vent and often
jerk its body up and down as if straining to pass the faeces – which is
often the case due to the severe matting of the vent feathers.
In order to minimize the chances of the finch ingesting further amounts of
their own faeces it is often possible to trim the vent area with very fine
scissors and gently wipe it down thus removing the sticky mass.
A smear of this material under the microscope might give us or your vet a
clue as to whether this is a fungal problem or not.
If the discolouration
is reddish-brown or blackish then you can be pretty sure there is blood in
the droppings which suggests Coccidia might be the problem. If you also live
in a warmer, wet and humid part of Australia then Coccidia would be top of
my suspects list!! Unfortunately if the droppings are this colour then it
may be too late for the individual but prompt treatment will save a goody
proportion of your flock than simply ignoring it!
Again your avian vet
will be able to identify Coccidian oocysts (eggs) and confirm your ‘bush
If there is no
staining of the vent and only mild fluffing then the next ‘port of call’ is
to check the keel bone.
The keel bone is an extension of the sternum and there are a number of
muscles that attach to it including those responsible for flight.
If ‘sharp’ and
prominent then you can be pretty certain that there is a major problem as
these muscles waste away in rapid time when the bird is ill.
Droopy wings and an
inability to fly for any distance coupled with this sharp keel bone and you
know something is seriously wrong.
So far we have some
dangers signs to watch out for but let’s diverge for a second and include in
our discussion a far more obvious sign of malady – that of the egg bound
Now she may have all
of the above symptoms or even show none of them but by simply handling her
and blowing on the vent feathers you should be immediately aware of the
trouble – having something the size of a bowling ball imbedded in your vent
is a rather tell-tale symptom!
Chances are that the
hen may not even be unwell (OK, OK apart from the large stuck object of
course!) and that her condition may well be a result of changes to
atmospheric conditions or even having being chased out of the nest during
the night. From what I can gather recently some of our Northern Queensland
brethren have had real troubles with Gecko’s doing just this recently.
Of course everyone is
now saying that the solution to this dilemma is fairly simple in that heat
is required and that it possibly bear little resemblance to the truly "sick"
Oh contraire I say as
your prime concern in all cases should be exactly the same – check the
OK, OK……..I hear you
say that can understand why you’d do it for an obviously ill bird that is
unable to make it to the feed station but why on earth would you do that for
an egg-bound bird?
Basically because if you have no idea how long that bird has been egg-bound
then it may have been so for a considerable time and been unable to feed –
let’s face it most egg-bound birds are found fluffed up on the floor!! Ask
around and find out who has had birds die in the hospital cage AFTER passing
their egg. Chances are you’ll find that there are quite a few and, again
like me learning the hard way, you will also notice that their crop is
With such a high metabolic rate and no stomach then the finch needs plenty
of sustenance to simply survive let alone to pass said bowling ball and
Mind you check your species as some finches like the Chaffinch do not have a
crop which can present an obvious problem! Do remember my first attempt at
hand rearing deserted Chaffies when I diligently pushed the crop needle in
and squeezed until it literally came out the other end the same colour as it
was going in!! Didn’t actually mange to kill them but let’s just say they
didn’t require feeding for quite a while and lesson learned!!!
Know your species!!
How To Start
Again I reiterate that your avian vet is your preferred port of call but in
order to get the patient to the vet hopefully I can give you a few tips.
Now in this day of ‘special this’ and
new-improved that’ for every imaginable aviary malady and problem it may
seem ‘old-fashioned’ of me to present to you something dealing with the use
of the ancient gavage needle – or to those in the know the humble crop
Sure there are drugs for this and applications
for that but there will come a time when every aviculturist will benefit
from the ability to ‘manipulate’ this" good old crop needle"!
Now most parrot keepers are past masters of the needle as it is an integral
tool in the hand-rearing arsenal and with extremely good reason.
Whether for rearing chicks or accurately worming an individual parrot most
serious parrot breeders need to be familiar with such precision tools.
I must admit I learned my trade by sneaking up
to my parent’s place on Sunday afternoons while they were out driving and
practising on some of their aging Cockatiels!! Will freely admit that I had
a few nervous days after my first attempts but no birds were harmed in any
way and they were possibly this state’s most worm free colony of parrots!!|
From that day on I have become like "have crop needle, will travel" and have
wormed parrot colonies far and wide!!
However, there appears a real reticence among
many finch keepers to try this particular form of "witchcraft and sorcery"
for whatever reason!
So then, first and most importantly is to invest
in a decent finch-sized crop needle which can be obtained from all decent
aviary supply outlets or you can even make one yourself – whether it is for
egg-binding or any other form of sickness you will not go wrong!
I have a number of commercial needles and still prefer one that I made
myself from an old type spinal needle (stainless steel) with a small piece
of silastic stretched over its length to avoid any sharp projections.
With your crop needle I would recommend a good
quality leur-lock syringe (the one with a screw thread on the end as
distinct from the syringe where you simple push the needle on) and you are
just about ready for any finch-type emergency or trip to the vet.
We mix a glucose/sugar solution (eg Passwells
First Aid) with a parrot hand-rearing mix like Roudy Bush - basically
because it can be mixed to a creamy consistency suitable for a finch sized
crop needle – and warm it to around blood temperature and place a quantity
directly into the crop and leave the bird in the hospital cage and cross
Remember that the air-sacs in a bird are massive and that only a tiny amount
of the mixture is required to fill a finch-sized crop – crop needle over the
back of the tongue and you should be OK as the airway is located under the
tongue if I remember my basic avian anatomy.
There are many complications that are commonly
associated with egg binding and many of these are fatal but ensuring that
your finch has a full crop is one way of giving her the energy to complete
the job. However, on a more positive note, since adopting this strategy we
have not lost a hen to ‘normal’ egg binding of this sort so just remember to
check that crop!
Also these ‘directions’ can also be used following the trip to the vets if
any sort of medication must be given to the patient. For example if
antibiotics are to be administered then mix up your glucose/hand-rearer and
add to it the required amount of medication and it is delivered directly to
where you need it to go.
A friend from England once told me that he had ‘tasted’ some antibiotics and
that they burned when swallowed (hey, who am I to argue with such a
dedicated gent!!) so the crop needle is possibly the kindest route of entry!
Skill with the crop needle is also an easy way of worming new birds, or
those that you suspect might have a problem, with your wormer of choice.
Often with a sick
finch - whether just a case of the chills through to far worse conditions -
once they stop feeding death is very rapid. With the use of a crop needle
you can often get them past this period until they are ‘back on their feet’
and feeding themselves. For some unknown reason I have found that 3 days
appears to be a time period for a finch to decide if life is worth living or
not and have seen this in several finch species.
Hopefully there is
something in this for the avid finchohalic and if nothing else it gives you
a few tips for you to get your finches to the vet for a more detailed
analysis. A good hospital cage and a quality temperature control system and
your finches will truly thank you in the long run!