A few days ago, I noticed a strong odor coming from the bathroom. No human had recently been in there, so I felt the need to investigate the source. I found a fresh, poorly formed dropping that I could immediately identify as belonging to Theo , my goffins cockatoo, who is potty trained and will go to her cage or into the bathroom to relieve herself.
Theo’s appearance, weight and behavior were all normal, but knowing that there should never be any trace of odor from a bird dropping, I immediately scheduled an appointment with my avian vet. Odor in droppings generally means there is a bacterial infection and I offered two possibilities to the vet as the source of the infection:
1) I had caught Theo eating seed off the carpeting (courteously tossed by my cockatiels) in the extended stay hotel we are staying in while I am searching for an apartment that can accommodate 5 parrots. Pretty much anything might reside in the carpeting in a hotel. Naturally, I stopped her as soon as I noticed, but any damage was already done.
2) More notably, just prior to our move, Theo had laid her very first egg. She is 27 years old. It was well formed, but on the large side.
I was sent home with two medications, one for either possibility, although we both felt that the egg was the probable cause; her nether regions were likely attacked by bacteria following the stressors of egg-laying.
The vet, who understands that I am knowledgeable about parrots, asked me the same question he would ask any client: “What has changed in your bird’s environment to cause her to lay an egg after 27 years?” I had no answer because at the time of the laying, nothing had changed. The only explanation I could offer was the unseasonably warm winter we are having in Florida this year.
Fortunately, the presence of another egg that might complete a clutch for her species was not detected inside her and as long as I can keep her from further laying, we expect her to recover with no complications. I know that cockatoos can have problems resulting from egg-laying and her age further complicates things. I do not want Theo to lay any more eggs.
Problems with excessive egg-laying in parrots
Egg laying takes a toll on the parrot’s body in many ways. Egg production requires calcium, and lots of it. The shell alone is made up of 90-95% calcium. When a parrot is producing an egg, the body will take from its calcium stores, such as the bones, to get the job done. With the over-production of eggs, the body can be left with a deficiency of calcium and weak and brittle bones.
Low calcium levels can cause egg binding, in which the egg fails to pass at the normal rate, or stops in the reproductive tract altogether. Not only can a bird that is hypocalcemic create poorly formed or soft eggs, but low calcium levels can weaken the muscles used in expelling eggs (which is further exacerbated by lack of exercise).
Another major contributor is poor diet – cockatiels, budgies and lovebirds are often victims of egg binding and it’s no coincidence that many are on an all seed diet. As species that can also be chronic egg layers, a poor diet can be especially dangerous.
Egg binding is not just uncomfortable for the bird. Eggs that fail to be passed, for whatever reason, present a serious danger as they linger in the body. Should the egg rupture while inside, often surgery is necessary to remove the egg matter. If the yolk introduces bacteria into the bird, causing septic peritonitis, the result is often death.
An egg bound bird needs to see a vet immediately, who will either palpate the egg out (DO NOT try this yourself – you could rupture the egg), or use an instrument that suctions out the egg matter and collapses the shells for easy passing.
Some signs of egg binding are:
- Widened leg stance
- Lack of appetite
- Reduced droppings
- Discomfort in perching
- Tail wagging
- Drooping wings
- Difficulty breathing
Chronic egg laying
Birds are driven by a singular goal – to reproduce to carry on not only their own bloodlines, but to ensure the population of their species as a whole. It is a weight that hangs heavily on them. During some periods of the year, such as the winter months, a wild bird will feel naturally less inclined to reproduce because they understand that the climatic conditions are not conducive to their success in raising their young.
But our birds, the ones we keep in our warm home, with free flowing food, might not feel as inclined to follow nature’s rules. Some parrots species, such as the cockatoo, some macaws (especially the blue and gold) and the eclectus, might lay up to four clutches a year given the right circumstances. These species are known to have an increased likelihood of varied problems associated with egg laying, such as prolapses (when the uterus extends through the cloaca needing surgical correction), a common occurrence in laying cockatoos.
Any female parrot has the potential to over lay, but cockatiels, budgies, and lovebirds (as well as canaries and finches) are frequent chronic egg layers. These birds might lay clutch after clutch for several months out of the year. It only takes a rainstorm, at any time of the year, to put some budgies in the mood.
For our companion parrots, there are any number of conditions in our homes that will trigger the hormones that begin egg production. Parrots can be affected by things we cannot control, such as the weather, but there are many more hormonal triggers that we CAN control. As an owner, your intention must be to create an environment that does not stimulate those hormones. Every time your parrot lays an egg it increases the risk of the health problems, and more than two clutches per year can be dangerous.
Learn how to create an environment in your home that does not encourage egg laying by clicking HERE.
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.