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  Psittacine Beak & Feather Disease

Psittacine beak and feather disease is not a new disease appertaining only to captive bred parrots as some may think, it was actually first reported in 1907 seen in a wild flock of birds in Australia.

PBFD is caused by a circovirus affecting the immune system, it does occur in other avian species but mainly and most severely in psittacines (parrots). It can affect all species most notably African Grey parrots and cockatoos but it has been tested positive in other species including rainbow lorikeets, orange bellied parrots, rosellas, ringneck parakeets, king parrots, swift parrots, red rumped parakeets, budgerigars, cockatiels ( which are a cockatoo) and many other species both wild and captive.

The virus can survive for years and can be transmitted simply through the air, by feather dust and faeces and can be carried on clothing, cages, feeding bowls, nesting boxes and any other area where an infected parrot might have been. It can also be transmitted via the egg to hatchlings and so onto future generations.

All birds are susceptible, from newly hatched chicks to older adult birds. Young birds however are the most susceptible as they haven't had the time to develop an immune system, as older birds have.  

The incubation period for this disease can be as little as 14 days and can be many months in older birds.

























Photo used by Cockatoo Sanctuary & Rescue with permission

sulphur crested cockatoo showing signs pf PBFD


Symptoms are typically overgrown and/or brittle beaks and long and/or brittle claws, loss of feather down (the powdery stuff) the birds look unkempt, their beaks become shiny due to the loss of feather down, (cockatoo species with black beaks look like grey beaks purely due to the feather down or dander, when a cockatoo is unwell it does not preen and loses the appearance of a grey beak therefore the black beak becomes shiny). 


Further symptoms are brittle and bloody feathers with eventual loss of those feathers, (usually initially head, wing and tail feathers but the bird will, if it survives for any length of time with the disease, lose all its feathers and become totally bald), possible diaorrhoea, discoloured feathers, depression and lethargy, eventually death. Although this can be some time down the line. 

Do not confuse a feather plucked bird with a PBFD infected bird. With PBFD often the head feathers go first, they break off do not grow in correctly and/or bleed. 

Cockatoos which are feather plucked do not ever have loss of head feathers (unless another bird is doing the picking). Feather plucked cockatoos can have all their feathers missing but not the head feathers.


Birds with PBFD can survive for many months, even a few years but as yet there is no cure.

Quite often the birds die from secondary infections and not the PBFD virus itself. Because it affects their immune system, their resistance to other infections is low, as with the AIDS virus in human beings it is the secondary infections resulting from poor immune system which often kill.

Galerita cockatoo showing signs of PBFD

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