My elderly galah, Cocky Boy definitely prefers my mother to me. He loves her so much it is sickening, she can get away with anything. I’m allowed to cuddle him to but he always holds himself a lot more tensely around me. As it turns out, there’s an advantage to that.The other day, I ran my hand down Cocky Boy’s back in a patting motion. He tensed and what I thought was a little brown jumping spider, ran out from under his wing, lunged at my hand then disappeared – all in a split second. It was so fast, I wasn’t sure it had happened. Could a spider really be guarding a bird???? So I did it again. It came out and lunged at me again, this time running over my hand, then ran straight back into hiding. In my eyes, it was confirmed: there was a spider living in Cocky Boy.
Fortunately, I’m not afraid of spiders (I just have a preference for squashed ones). I took Cocky Boy out of his cage and brought him over to the bench. I flipped him upside down and started combing through his feathers. That sounds harsh – but part of the basic trick training course includes teaching your bird to be tipped upside down. I’m pretty sure Chet and Dave weren’t thinking someone would use it to look for spiders but then I hadn’t exactly planned to do that in the future either!
I couldn’t find the spider, but I knew it hadn’t come off him. So I decided to drown it. I stuck Cocky Boy in the kitchen sink and really hosed him. I towel dried him and went through his feathers again looking very closely. I couldn’t find the spider and I couldn’t believe it would survive that, but a little voice in my head was saying: “You didn’t actually see it come off, you might have washed it down the drain but what if???”When my mother got home, I told her what happened. She immediately pulled Cocky Boy out of the cage and spent the next few hours cuddling him. She also checked him closely. He milked it. It was quite the “poor me routine”. Did she know I’d nearly drowned him?!? He rolled around in her arms and had her rubbing his head and combing his feathers. Like I said – sickening.
A few hours later, he was back in his cage and I thought I’d better check him, one last time. I ran my hand down his back and once again he tensed. Once again, the creepy brown thing lunged at me. This time though, I saw wings. I knew enough about insects to recognise it as belonging to the order Diptera. It was a type of fly but not a housefly. This worried me more than a spider. Why would a fly guard a bird? A spider might just be looking for a dark spot but a fly would have a more malicious intention.
Cocky Boy found himself on the bench again. Mum on one side with a pair of tweezers, me on the other. It kept darting out at us, but it also kept disappearing. It was just too fast. This time we went with drowning it by full immersion. We filled the sink with warm water and placed Cocky Boy in, keeping his head afloat. He was unimpressed, sputtering something angrily about ‘peanuts’. The fly still didn’t come out. Back on the bench, we started to check him over again. The fly came out on top of his wing to dry and mum knocked it off. In a split second it had flown back and disappeared again. It was like an invisible thread was connecting them. The next appearance I knocked it off and it landed on my skirt. I ran out of the room to the bathroom and shook my skirt vigorously. It didn’t come off and I couldn’t see it. So I quickly stripped and left my clothes in the bathroom – closing the door behind me.
We checked Cocky Boy closely and could find no other bugs. I was concerned about one area under his wing. He’d chewed the feathers and some of the feather follicles were inflamed. I rang one of my avian vets. He knew immediately what I was talking about. It was a Hippoboscidae fly. He’d never heard of one on a pet bird before though, they’re normally found on pigeons or wild birds. He couldn’t work out where it had come from but advised me to treat Cocky Boy with a spray whose main ingredient is Permethrin. I treated the rest of my birds and all their aviaries/cages at the same time.I tracked down and killed the fly in the bathroom, to make sure it didn’t get to any of my other birds. In doing so, I’ve been able to confirm its identity. It really was a Hippoboscidae fly. They are a blood-sucking parasite that can live on a host bird for up to four months. They are vectors for disease, so I have to be concerned about what Cocky Boy may have contracted and I’m waiting for test results.
I’d say it flew in and found Cocky Boy as a host one day while he was outside. I have no idea how long it has been on him. In theory, it could have been there for a while. I only found it because it seemed to sense I was a threat when Cocky Boy tensed; it would have been so easy to miss it. Cocky Boy is okay, but he has been lucky. Any of my other birds would have been doing their best to catch it/preen it out. Cocky Boy is disabled and slow moving (well he is 60) so he made the perfect host.
These flies appear in the warmer months, so I’ll be treating my birds every 6 weeks as a preventative measure at this time of year. I thought it was worth putting this story out there because before this, I hadn’t realised the dangers of flying insects. That said – mosquitoes and I are never going to be friends! And if anyone wants to know what happened to the fly… I used my voodoo skills on it. I’ve stuck a special pin through it and I’m going to include it in an assignment for an entymology subject that I have to do next semester at vet school.
To learn more about Parrots and Flying Insects click here.
Mel Vincent works as an animal rehabilitator out of Australia.