Caged birds can be susceptible to external parasites and bugs collectively called Ectoparasites. Unfortunately, many bird owners are unaware birds can get these bugs. Although most of these pests are harmless to humans, they can be fatal to your bird if not eradicated quickly. Some symptoms of bug infestation in birds are itching, scratching, restlessness, skin lesions and sores around the mouth.
Bird lice, also known as mallophaga, are elongated pests that are normally species-specific, meaning what will live on one species of bird will not survive on another species. Symptoms of lice infestation can be mild to severe. However, when infestation is high, lice are visible on the underside of the feathers and cause visible plumage damage.
Although it is very rare that birds suffer from flea infestation, it can happen. The stick-tight flea appears as a small brown dot on the surface of the skin. This pest is associated with chicken coops and passed through direct contact with infested coops.
Knemidokoptes (Scaly Face Mite)
Budgies, finches and canaries are more susceptible to mites than are other types of caged birds. The Knemidokoptes pilae, or scaly face mite, infests budgies by burrowing into the skin above the beak, around the beak, the vent and legs, causing a powdery look to the skin.
Air Sac Mites
Air sac mites infect finches and canaries. These mites infest the air sacs and lungs of birds and appear as little black dots on the windpipe and trachea when exposed under a bright light. Only a veterinarian should administer treatment for air sac mites because if a large number of mites die at once, it can be fatal to your bird.
Dermanyssus (Red Mite)
The red mite (Dermanyssus) is a blood-sucking mite that can infest any breed of bird to the point of being fatal. Also known as feather mites, the red mite causes anemia, severe itching and restlessness, especially at night. Once the red mite feeds, it resides in cracks of cages and nesting materials. These pests may not always be visible on the bird during infestation.
Diagnosis and Treatment
A veterinarian can determine if your bird has parasites and prescribe a medical regimen for the type of parasite and level of infestation. Heavy infestation can also be a sign of severe underlying health problems, so it is important to speak to your veterinarian before administering any medication. Types of treatments available are external and internal insecticides in the forms of carbaryl dust, pyrethrin sprays and ivermectin (oral, topical or injection).
Keeping a clean environment for your bird with a daily and weekly cleaning regimen is the best prevention against bug infestation and disease. Using over-the-counter repellents reduces the risk of infestation. However, some repellents can be toxic to certain species, so it is best to speak first with your veterinarian about what is safe for your bird and cage size.
Feather picking or feather plucking is not a symptom of parasite infestation. However, it is a severe illness. If your bird is showing signs of feather plucking, contact your veterinarian.