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Hygiene General
Pest Control
Illness Prevention and Medication


General requirements

A lot of diseases can be prevented if we pay attention to Hygiene and Good Housekeeping in our aviary. An aviary that is not correctly designed and built will sooner or later provide pockets of microbial contamination or may result in an infestation of pests. Because the space is limited, the contamination pressure in an aviary is high. If we allow increase of pathogenic microorganism or parasites because of bad hygiene, spread of diseases may have a dramatic effect on the population. A number of rules must be obeyed if we want to prevent a disaster. First of all we must make sure that we do not create areas that remain wet. Wet areas may promote growth of microorganisms or parasites on feeding residues or droppings. Therefore we must protect the aviary from rainfall. This can be achieved by bushes outside the aviary if you want to keep it natural, or by using transparent persplex shields, which are put at sides from which the wind  is normally coming. Also we must make sure that the roof is not leaking and has a good slope to discharge rainwater. The material we put on the bottom of our aviary must also dry easily. Therefore the use of wood chips is much more effective than sand or soil. For a "normal" aviary wood chip material is very suitable and has a nice natural look. If we keep and breed more sensitive birds like bull finches, it may even be necessary to completely prevent all humid areas by complete elimination of all possibilities for rain water to enter and by putting a special absorbing material on the floor. This normally will be too expensive for a large aviary and will be typically used for special smaller compartimented aviaries, which we use for breeding.

The feeding shelf must be kept extremely clean. I have spare seed containers and drinking flasks. Every day I use clean ones. The used ones are put in the dish washer. Once a week I clean the whole aviary. I remove the flooring material under the resting places by means of a vacuum cleaner and replace this by new material. All panels are cleaned by a normal detergent and disinfected by Halamid (which is a chorine based disinfectant). I have double sets of resting rods and exchange them every week After disinfection of the rods, all remaining disinfectant must be removed by plenty of water. Grit and stones I refrehs every week. If this procedure is followed, most infectious diseases can be prevented.

Avoiding waste

For my birds I have a feeding plan. My aim is to give exactly the amount they are able to eat in one day. No more no less. Of course if you feed in this way this must be done by a measuring devices and not from the free hand. This method ensures that the birds not only eat the seeds they like better, but all seed resulting in a good nutritional balance, which is good for their health and condition. It also minimizes the residuals and waste. Whether the birds are in good condition can only be judged by good observation. If a bird shows abnormal behaviour, it must be removed immediately and examined.

Pest control

Pests can transfer a lot of diseases. They also disturb the birds when they are a sleep. Also insects must be controlled. A couple of years ago I had a large problem with earworms which infested nests with young birds. To get to a controlled situation there are a number of things that are important. I have listed the major ones below.

Protection against pests and contamination

      1. Build and construct the aviary as described in the chapter aviary design
      2. Check for access point of rodents (be aware that mice can slip into very narrow openings
      3. Minimize spillage of feed
      4. Place the feeding shelf in such a way that no seed can drop or blow from the shelf to the outside of the aviary. This will attract a lot of birds and rodents
      5. Put a shield (e.g. transparent Persplex) at the outside of the aviary where the feeding shelf is. Wild birds tend to hang at the mesh outside at this place which may lead to contamination via their droppings.
      6. Install an electrical scare system to keep cats away from the aviary. This seems to be a radical measure. It is my experience that cat when the have had "the experience" do not return for a couple of months. A birdkeeper that has lost his temper after finding a bird with a broken neck is far more dangerous to a cat than a electrical scare system.


Illness Prevention and Medication

Avoiding birds to contaminate each other

Birds that show signs of illness must be removed immediately from the aviary to prevent a spread of contamination. It is important to have a special small cage available to isolate the bird and start with the diagnosis and treatment. Raising the temperature to 30 degC in the cage will increase the changes of survival. Most of us do not have the background and skills to make a correct diagnosis. Especially when more than one bird is affected, a veterinarian, specialised bird diseases should be consulted. Trial and error will be devastating for the bird and not lead to any success. In the chapter on illness prevention I have listed the main symptoms of diseases and possible causes. The table is only meant for guidance and not intended to replace the consultation of a veterinarian.
We can do a lot to prevent diseases among our birds. In the chapters aviary design Good House keeping and preventative measures are discussed. But even if we keep our birds under optimal conditions, diseases may still occur. Sometimes a severe outbreak of an infectious disease may wipe out a complete population of an aviary. Regular observation is therefore important to be able to react rapidly if a bird shows any signs of a disease. If this is the case the bird must be removed from the aviary and transferred to a quarantine cage and kept at an elevated temperature (30 degC). During the stay, the cage must be kept very clean to break the cycle of infection. I always put absorbing paper sheets on the bottom of the cage and replace them couple of times a day. Make sure that the bird continues to eat. Change the feed (by easily peelable seeds or egg feed) may be necessary. Put the quarantine cage at a quiet spot. Check the bird's condition regularly but try to avoid frequent disturbances. If there is no positive response to the treatment or improvement and the bird is in pain and suffers a lot, be brave and kill it by breaking the neck. Only start a treatment when the cause of the illness is known. Trial and error will only bring discomfort, weaken its condition and increase suffering. Especially when more birds are developing an illness, it is strongly recommended to seek advice from a veterinarian specialised in in birds.

Most people do not have the proper background or skills to do a proper diagnosis of an illness Therefore the table below is meant for guidance only and should not replace professional medical advice. The information below has been obtained from literature . In most cases I do not have practical experience with the treatments described

Escherichia coli infection This frequently happens with very young birds 1-8 days old. The nest feels humid and the feathers of the parent bird look sweaty. The nest may also have a bad odour. In most cases the young birds will die. Older birds can be treated with antibiotics like broad spectrum tetracycline.
Atoxoplasmosis (see also below) Atoxoplasmosis is a killer among birds in captivity. Infected birds die rapidly. Examination show an enlarged liver with an unnatural blue/purple colour. Treatment is not possible, but the disease can be prevented by proactive medication
Coccidiosis (see also below) Mainly young birds are the victims. They stop eating sufficiently. Droppings are liquid and when we blow the feathers the intestine is red and swollen. Coccidiosis is less lethal and can be treated. Finicoc, Baycocx or Esb3 can be used.
Avian pox Avian pox can occur in two forms: cutaneous pox and "wet" pox. In cutaneous pox (the most common form), wartlike growths occur around the eyes, beak or any unfeathered skin. In wet pox, the growths are in the mouth, throat, trachea and lungs resulting in difficulties with breathing or swallowing. The virus enters through the skin. Insects, especially mosquitoes, may act as mechanical vectors. There is no treatment and the mortality is high. Vaccination in June/Juli is the only solution to the problem.
Trichomoniasis Trichomonas is a infection of the respiration system. The bird has difficulties to breath and there may be a mucous secretion around the beak. While shaking the head, small droplets may spread around. Treatment with Tricho plus (Oropharma)
Campylobacter infection Campylobacter is a bacterium which is responsible for a large number of food poisoning incidents in men. The bacterial infection may also occur in birds. The droppings show presence of undigested seeds. The colour may be yellowish. Treatment with erythromycin (5%). Dosed via the water. Because of the taste of the medicine, care must be taken that the birds do not stop drinking.
Dermatomycose Dermatomycose is an in infection caused by a pathogenic mould (Trichophyton). The symptoms are presence of a white dust on the feathers, lateron followed by loss of feathers. Local treatment of infected areas by Nizoral or Dactarin. Nizoral can be used for a long time without any side effects. Contamination can be transferred to men!
Aspergillosis Aspergillus is a mould and clearly an opportunistic pathogen. When birds are kept in a humid environment, with insufficient ventilation the spores of the mould are inhaled and can germinate inside the respiratory system. The main symptoms is difficult breathing. Examination shows presence of white spots on the membrane. Treatment with Itraconazol or Nizoral
Feather mite These parasites feed on keratine and cause feather loss and a lose and unneat feather pack. Treatment with Finion or Bird spray (avoid contact with nose entrance and eyes).
Ectoparasite (blood sucking mite) These parasites ( Dermanyssus avium) hide in dark places during day time and attack the birds during the night. These attacks can be massive. Young birds in the nest may be killed because of anaemia. To prevent infestation we should avoid slits and pockets during the construction of the aviary. Also other places where the parasite can hide must be eliminated. Sealing of joints and use of white paint for cages or night shelters will already help preventing a problem. Birds which are attacked are restless during the night with continuously picking and scratching. Places where parasites are suspected must be treated with an appropriate insecticides (e.g. dichlorovos). Finion powder is a "natural" insecticide and can be sprinkled under the sisal basket in the nest place.
Ataoxoplasmosis is the most common disease among canaries and finches. Atoxoplasmosis is caused by a parasite, which is extremely difficult to eradicate. Contamination already takes place in the nest and most victims are birds between 2-6 months old. General symptoms are inactive birds which do no longer eat. If we blow the feathers, the liver is enlarge and coloured blue/purple. Within a couple of days the bird will die. Atoxoplasmosis is very infective and when part of the population is contaminated the others will soon follow. Once the parasite has infected our flock, complete elimination will be very difficult. Older birds may be carriers without obvious signs of illness. An increasing number of bird breeders give preventative medication throughout the whole breeding season. I generally do not support this because we make our flock completely dependent of medication and I fear that a resistance of the parasite against the medicine will be acquired on longer term usage. I have lost a lot of bull finches because of atoxoplasmosis. Therefore I treat all birds in early spring with EsB3 and continue with the medication at half the normal dose throughout the breeding season. Since I started to do this loses have been reduced significantly.
Coccidiosis is like Atoxoplasmosis caused by a parasite. Symptoms are more or less similar. Droppings are very liquid and in severe cases, traces of blood can be found. An acute infection results in a rapid death. With a chronic infection it may take a couple of weeks. In both cases if not handled quickly and adequate we will finally lose the bird. Parents also contaminate the youngsters and among young birds the mortality rate is dramatic.

For both Atoxoplasmosis and coccidiosis similar medication can be used. Generally the effective dose to cure coccidiosis is higher than for Atoxoplasmosis. A number of medicines are available, some can only be ordered via the veterinarian. I use EsB3. The active component is Sulfaclozine Na-Monohydrate.

The alternative medication is Baycox. ESB3 is given for 5 days at a concentration of 1 gram per litre. After that two days of a multivitamin product. Baycox is given 2 days 2 ml per litre of water also followed by a multivitamin product