Should the study of Parrot poop be considered an art or a science (or a waste of time?)
One authority I consulted named the study Poopology - so here are some guide lines for the Parrot owner. Parrots can become unwell and show few signs until the condition is far advanced.
Carla, one of a pair of wild-caught Orange-winged Amazons, had lived here as a rehome for 18 months, when she began to stay in her nest box. This surprised me because she was not a healthy-looking bird. I did not disturb her. Her mate fed her.
After one week, I looked in. What I had mistakenly taken for nesting behaviour was fatal illness. The shavings were thickly covered in noxious smelling droppings. Poor Carla had a bowel tumour. There was nothing a vet could do.
In the wild, a sick bird attempts to behave normally for as long as possible so that it’s not shunned from the rest of the flock or doesn’t become a hawk’s dinner. By the time signs of illness are apparent, the condition may have advanced. Is there anything Parrot carers can do to mitigate such events in the home environment?
Weekly weighing provides a good indication of health. I’ve found investing in a scale has been worth it; I’m a worrier by nature. Popping Casper on the scale and seeing his weight unchanged reassures me and avoids an unnecessary vet visit.
If the Parrot’s weight veers too much up or down, vigilance is required. My benchmark is 10%; others may go for less. The daily examination of Parrots’ poop is another indication and should become as routine as changing cage papers or refilling water bowls.
Physiological changes cannot be hidden; weight is one sign and poop is another. So, what is healthy poop? What is abnormal? And what should we do?
The healthy bird
Her feathers are shiny; she stands alert and curious. Her eyes are bright. How often will she poop? That depends on the species.
The three components, faeces, urates and urine, are expelled from the cloaca in a tidy blob. My Greys’ poop weighs 10 grams in the morning. I confess to never having weighed Benni the Blue and Gold Macaw’s, morning effort. Some wag remarked Macaws are flying cows. That’s exaggerated but they do poop a lot fortunately not so often.
Usually the faeces are coiled around the chalky white urates and the colourless urine surrounds the blob. Urine and urates and usually separate but if mixed together is not a cause for alarm. However, and how lucky for those of us who keep multiple birds,
Parrot poop - unlike that of mammals like us or and our beloved pet cats and dogs - does not smell. If it does - as it did with my unfortunate Amazon – that’s a danger signal that something is wrong.
Colour will vary depending on what type of food was ingested.
Credit: Alan Jones
Lucy rushed to her vet in emergency mode. Molly, her gentle Mollucan hen, had excreted scarlet droppings. At the vet’s consultation, Lucy’ face went scarlet red as well, when it transpired Molly had eaten half a pomegranate the previous day.
One September, the mixed Parakeets in my aviary had black streaks in their poop; the indoor birds had not. Before I began to worry, I recalled that the aviary birds had been given a bowl of blackberries. The indoor birds hadn’t had theirs yet.
Normal poop from Benni Macaw Credit: Dot Schwarz
What do healthy droppings look like?
Droppings don’t smell
Faeces are solid but soft. They are formed in the colon and consist of digested food. Faecal matter may be straight, coiled, of even broken up in to smaller yet still tube shaped pieces
The colour’s dark brown or green, depending upon the species of bird and the diet. If the staple diet is seed, faeces are dark green; when pellets form the staple diet, the colour if brown. When faeces dry, they harden and appear black
Urine should be clear
Urates should be creamy-white, almost chalky in appearance.
Tip Wiping up Parrot poop straightaway leaves no stain. If it has been left, one tip is to cover with a wet piece of newspaper and wipe it off 30 minutes later.
Cage papers. Shavings do look nice but they are not much use in keeping an eye on dropping which become buried. Brown paper or waxed paper is the best. These papers are also useful if you need to take a sample to the vet. At home, we use newspaper.
Does healthy Parrot poop involve any health hazards for carers?
The answer seems to be that with good hygiene, it should not. The dust from dried up poop can contain fungal and other spores and cause reparatory conditions.
What is abnormal?
This is where good daily observation is key. When poop shows a striking difference in colour - maybe the bird ate two slices of beetroot, the reddish colour won’t remain the same once the vegetable is digested. But should there be red or black in the poop because of blood, that will remain the same.
So, you get the odd situation that consistency in funny- coloured poop is more worrying. You need to be able to distinguish between a temporary change, for example, a bout of diarrhoea or excess urine if the bird has consumed a lot of fruit or a change due to some more serious cause. Also, watch for changes in colour, volume, consistency, and number of droppings.
Some abnormal signs include:
Faeces light in colour, mustard yellow, rusty brown, or containing blood
Unusually large faeces or faeces that are coarse-textured, watery, or mushy
Faeces that contain undigested food or have a bad smell
Urine with any colour at all
White urates showing yellow or green tinges
Much fewer or far more number of droppings
A bird suffering from heavy worm infestation may have bits of dead worm expelled with the poop
To avoid misinterpreting signs, take your bird's recent meals into account. Blueberries or beets, pomegranates, cherries, currants and similar will significantly alter the colour of faeces. A diet high in moisture, such as fruits and vegetables, will increase urine output.
If the droppings changed through diet once the food is digested (24 hours max) the colour will return to its habitual one. Urates should remain chalky white and urine clear.
Different colours in the different components of the poop indicate various conditions some are treatable and some not. Owners by themselves cannot make the diagnosis without the help of their avian vet. Luckily for most of us, on most occasions, the changes are due to diet not morbidity.
If you have noticed changes in droppings, make sure that it is not a temporary diet problem and be aware of other tell-tale signs of ill health.
· Not eating
· Sitting on the bottom of the cage
· Huddled up, with or without ruffled feathers
· Rattled, wheezy, or open-mouth breathing
I asked my vet when he thought I should bring the bird in when I’ve noticed changes in the poop. He told me to consider the bird’s general demeanour. And if there were other signs as well as the poop bring her in for an examination. He reiterated that when a bird is obviously unwell, the illness may have progressed.
Sadly, many conditions such as liver, kidney failure are not treatable but many are – so become a good poopologist. Bringing a sample of the poop is also worthwhile. Any change of colour that cannot be explained by the diet should be investigated by your veterinarian.
Below is how different droppings look...
Normal droppings - credit Alan Jones
Colour from ingested seeds chillies and peppers credit Alan Jones
Colour from ingested seeds chillies and peppers credit Alan Jones
Diarrhoea - slimly very little urine credit Alan Jones
More green urates. Possily serious liver damage. Very likely Psittacosis credit Alan Jones
Galah cockatoo. Melaena - dark with partially digested blood from upper intestine (plus roundworms) credit Alan Jones
Undigested seed passed indicative of digestive disturbance credit Alan Jones
May your birds be well.
Toilet training is also a possibility but that’s a blog for another day.