How Do You Look After A Bird When It Gets Old?


My elderly Galah/Rosebreasted Cockatoo is around 64 (human) years old.

This is the longest blogpost that I have ever written so I give you that warning and apologise for the length but I’m trying to be fairly comprehensive as this information isn’t easy to find if you need it. (Don’t worry – I believe in using pictures to break things up!) This post contains information for a stage of life we all hope our birds will get to. If your bird reaches old age or has a disability, there might be some helpful ideas here for you.

I have been dreading this day. This is the day when my elderly galah, Cocky Boy’s state of health has deteriorated to the next stage of age-related issues. I’ve been dreading today because I had run out of ideas of how to make his environment any more ‘disability friendly’ than it already was. I had thought that if anything else came up, apart from having his medications adjusted, there wouldn’t be much else that I could do to help maintain his quality of life. I’m pleased to say that my fears were unfounded – it turns out that there is yet another stage to adjusting a cage to suit a very old, very disabled bird.


Killing a favourite toy…

Older birds have an increased need for health intervention. They are prone to a range of things, including (but not limited to): heart, liver or kidney diseases, cancer, musculoskeletal issues (so think arthritis, weak bones, bumblefoot), feather issues (particularly feather loss), eye problems and reproductive issues (particularly in females). There is also evidence to suggest that their immune system is in decline so they’re more susceptible to contagious diseases. Don’t think that they’re immune to younger bird problems either. My Galah Cocky Boy might be around 64 years old but he’s just as hormonal (prone to human hand humping) as his younger flock mates.

Considering that I’m moving on to the next stage of care with Cocky Boy – I thought it was timely to do a summary of the different things that have helped Cocky Boy in the last 4 years because there isn’t a lot of information out there about what to do when a bird becomes a geriatric.


Pretty close to dead when he first got here, Cocky Boy could barely lie on a perch. 

Cocky Boy came to me through another wildlife rescuer’s intervention 4 years ago. The rescuer had been to a house to rescue a baby wild bird and had spotted Cocky Boy (who was clearly very ill) in a rusty old cage behind the house, without shelter from the weather. She called me in to find a resolution. The family that owned him weren’t cruel people – they just had no idea what to do with a bird. Considering that he’d put their daughter in hospital, (having bitten her finger through to the bone) they were too scared of him to have him in the house near the children or to even put their hands in his cage to put food or water in. Instead seed was tipped in from above and a hose was used to fill a very dirty water bowl.


Within a week of warmth, medication and better food, he began to look brighter.

Cocky Boy had only been with them for about 3 months. He had outlived his previous owners and had been inherited by the 13-year-old daughter. The mother told me that she didn’t know the exact age of the bird, but could trace him back 60 years. Her ex-husband’s parents had had the bird their entire married life and she could remember the 50th Wedding anniversary a few years back. Her ex-husband’s father had owned the bird prior to being married for a few years at least, so that put the bird at around the age of 60. Due to divorce, she hadn’t really had much contact with that side of the family and knew nothing of Cocky Boy’s medical history or even how he was cared for. All she knew was that he was disabled and asked for peanuts a lot. So she gave him peanuts (salted) and a seed mix heavy with sunflower seed – because that’s what the supermarket sells for parrots.


Crippled, he can’t step up onto a single finger and prefers to clamber onto your whole hand.

The family were very relieved to re-home Cocky Boy somewhere where there were other birds to give him some company. They didn’t believe he was a bird that could be tamed. They believed that he was vicious and dangerous and had only been tame for the one person and that those days had ended when that person died. After 60 years with an owner, they had a point. This was a bird that was grieving the loss of his owner, his long time home and basically everything he had ever known. Aside from that, he was malnourished, suffering from severe crippling arthritis; even the lightest touch hurt him. No wonder he was biting. 


His condition improved rapidly.  In hindsight though, his beak is open in a lot of pics – I think his heart condition was hiding there all along. 

The first stage of dealing with Cocky Boy was relatively easy. It was a matter of getting him to a vet, onto a better diet and treating the arthritis. This worked. Environment wise, I gave him a cage with horizontal bars so that it was easier for him to climb around. I wouldn’t normally recommend a cage with horizontal bars for a flighted bird (can damage feathers), but for Cocky Boy it was perfect. In terms of perches, he appreciated a good curve that sort-of gripped him on either side.


Horizontal bars and wider perches seemed to keep him more comfortable.

The next stage came about when Cocky Boy started to show signs of having balance problems. I noticed the issue when reviewing my surveillance camera footage. If he thought no one was watching him, when he was sitting on a perch, he’d lean forward and steady himself by grabbing a cage bar, approximately every 30 seconds. He also didn’t move around as much. He didn’t display this behaviour when he could see you, so without the camera I might have missed it. This led to the most drastic environment change that I’ve had to make with him.

I introduced him to wooden platforms with perches resting on them. If he wanted to sit on a flat surface he could, if he wanted to use a perch – he could. The idea was to prevent foot problems (e.g. bumblefoot) that can be caused by uniform perches. It also worked to prevent him falling and hurting himself. The other advantage was that it seemed to give him confidence to move around again. The key idea was to give him a choice of surface while minimising the risk of injury.


Note the bottom righthand corner of this picture there is a grille instead of a wooden board – this was his chosen ‘toilet’.

I connected the platforms with a series of ramps. I also used wire grills instead of wood in certain choice places that I knew he tended to use as a toilet, allowing droppings to fall through to paper below. The other thing that I found necessary was a change in food/water bowls. Shallow ceramic dishes became essential, as he just couldn’t get into anything deep.


Shallow dishes made meal times much easier.

This worked for a while. However, I wasn’t convinced that his arthritis was being managed properly. He went back to the vet and medications were again prescribed for erratic use on a “as needed but not long term” basis. It didn’t make a lot of sense to me as his condition was a permanent one and you don’t get much more long term than that? Repeated vet visits with ongoing issues and I began to get very frustrated that I wasn’t being heard. Three days of prescribed treatment seemed beyond ridiculous for a permanent condition. It occurred to me that even a very qualified vet could be wrong and that I had a responsibility to question his treatment. In fairness, a bird in his sixties isn’t something a vet sees everyday. So I got a second opinion and changed to a different avian vet. I was so happy with the new vet, that despite the previous vet having my flock’s histories, I brought all of my birds across to the new vet.


Even Cocky Boy’s travel cage required a disabled set-up.

Consistent medication made a drastic difference to Cocky Boy’s quality of life. He began to get around more easily. His legs were still seriously deformed and he still couldn’t fly. Which brings me to the next stage – what happens when a galah is active? Mess is what happens. Lots of mess. Suddenly the wooden platforms weren’t so wonderful. They were VERY hard to clean and very disruptive to replace. So I removed them. I replaced them with wire grills/ferret platforms and placed ceramic tiles on top. The tiles were a matte finish, so they weren’t slippery and weren’t cold to touch. Cleaning became easy again, as they simply lifted out without removing the whole platform. I kept the ‘toilet’ gaps by cutting some smaller tiles.


Ceramic tiles made it easier to keep his cage clean. He used to love to line that string of wooden beads up, so that it rubbed his back.

This worked for a while, but things didn’t stay great. His health deteriorated again and this time something was really wrong. The vet discovered a heart condition. For a while, I figured this really was going to kill him, but I was wrong about that. Medication worked again. Except this time the medications needed to be specially compounded because they’re not off-the-shelf drugs for birds. Apparently the world has a shortage of 64-year-old galahs demanding heart medications? We had a minor setback when he had an allergic reaction to a medium the pharmacist used to mix the medications up, but fortunately we could easily identify it was the medium and not the drug (as I’d been compounding the drug by hand with water while we worked on the dosage and he’d been fine then). 


How do you tell if a bird is having an allergic reaction to something? This is Cocky Boy’s normal face – compare it to the pic below…

Allergic reaction

In the grip of an allergic reaction. His eyes are red and swollen, he has discharge coming out around his nose and his pink feathers were darker (due to an oil used as a medium in his medication – the oil absorbed his usual feather dust making him appear darker).

The heart condition led to yet another environment change for Cocky Boy. This time the change was an addition of a heat lamp. I started with a red globe, but he had a really bad reaction to that – screaming at night. It was his: “I’m in pain” scream, not his: “Give me a nut” scream. I did some research and found some studies that linked red globes to eye problems in chickens, others said they didn’t cause eye problems. It was incredibly frustrating to find such contradictory results. I think in 5 years time, we might have an answer to what the best heat globe is – which doesn’t help me now. So in the meantime I purchased a ceramic heat globe that emits no light and isn’t Teflon coated – problem solved in more ways than one.


Enjoying some time under the sprinkler. This is the best way to bathe him because he frequently touches the ground with his beak as he walks. He’ll choke in a bath/shower base.

The heat globe is on 24-7 unless it is a really warm day. He sleeps next to it. The globe is on the outside of the cage, because any direct contact will result in a burn (that rule applies to human fingers too). Talking to others with elderly birds – they’ve also found added heat essential, whether their bird has a heart condition or not. Healthy birds don’t need an added heat source, but a frail old bird does. I can’t stress that enough. He wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the heat lamp. If he doesn’t need it, he’ll move away to another part of the cage.  How much time he spends huddled near it gives me a pretty good idea when he isn’t doing well and needs his medications adjusted.


The only problem I have with a ceramic globe is that it isn’t obvious when it has blown. Fortunately they usually last for at least 6 months of constant use. This lamp actually has a glow-in-the-dark ceramic shade which traps/directs a lot of heat and provides a gentle glow at night.

The vet changed up Cocky Boy’s arthritis meds again and suddenly I had to readjust platform heights in Cocky Boy’s cage because his posture changed. He was now able to sit up more, which made him taller. I have the platforms at different levels of the cage so that he can choose what height he is at (choice is a big thing around here). Suddenly Cocky Boy needed his platforms lowered to prevent him hitting his head on the cage roof. Cocky Boy also recovered the ability to fly. You can imagine my shock in having a crippled bird suddenly fly again. His cage is intentionally small because flight puts a strain on his heart. This way I can control the amount of flying he does; limiting it to out of cage supervised play.


All wicker balls must die. It doesn’t matter if they’re twice you’re size – they still have to die a splintery death.

You can see why I thought I had reached my limit with arranging a disabled cage? Ramps, platforms, special perches (cactus perches turned out to be great because the holes helped him get a decent grip), heat, allocated toilet area, shallow food dishes, a diet that had been adjusted to his needs, toys that weren’t hanging but that could be played with on the ground, patches of grass and foliage, specially made medications… what does that leave to do?


Hanging out with the flock…

This brings me to his current stage. A side effect of the heart medication is that he is on the lighter side when it comes to body condition. His feathers and posture disguise just how thin he is.  His keel bone is prominent. He can’t afford to lose weight and consequently has a slightly different diet from my other birds, to help him keep the weight he has. He also has a very minor bald patch on his lower abdomen, where (due to his deformed feet) he rubs it as he walks or rests on a perch/surface. (Feather loss is something older birds deal with.)


You know something is wrong when he’s sitting fluffed, trying to sleep in a food bowl, even dragging foraging toys over to the bowl, emptying them into the bowl and sleeping on the seed rather than eating it…

Cocky Boy recently developed a pressure sore at the base of his keel bone. It was bad enough to trigger an emergency vet run.  Rather than add more medications to the mix (5 meds twice daily is a lot), the vet prescribed a topical treatment. This helped to stop the wound from getting infected but it didn’t stop the problem of him resting on this one spot. I needed to make another environment change.


Sitting on a perch padded with felt and covered with Vet Wrap.

Padding his perches was an obvious solution. A layer of felt, covered by vet wrap did the trick. Vet wrap is a self-adhesive veterinary bandage that doesn’t actually contain adhesive (which could be toxic); instead its texture allows it to stick to itself. You can usually purchase it through your vet. In this case it covered and waterproofed the felt. Wrapping the last layer of Vet wrap loosely, gave the perch a wrinkled texture, making it easier for Cocky Boy to grip the perch. I didn’t do every perch in the cage, just a few main ones. Again, giving him the choice of what he wants to sit on is important to me.

This didn’t entirely solve my problem. He was still choosing to sleep on a flat surface like a hen rather than a perch, which meant the sore was still resting/rubbing on the tile. In fact, to relieve this he’d often go to sleep in his food bowl. You can imagine how hard it was to keep his wound clean.


Making a bird ‘pressure mattress’ with rice, a sandwich bag and a pillowcase.

Ironically Cocky Boy himself had given me the answer. He particularly liked to sleep in a dish that contained seed, pellets or sprouts. This reminded me of something hospitals do here to prevent pressure sores in human bed-ridden patients – they use a “pressure mattress”. A pressure mattress contains some sort of grain, so it moves under the person and prevents the development of sores. Consequently, I found myself getting a re-sealable plastic sandwich bag, filling it with brown rice while being careful to seal the bag without trapping air in it. I placed the bag in a pillowcase to prevent the bird being able to access the plastic, and to make it less slippery. Suddenly I had a pressure mattress for a bird that I could place on the tile near his heat lamp. He loves it. A week later and the pressure sore is gone.


Loves the pressure mattress idea! I have to keep changing the pillowcase to keep it clean because he drags everything over to it. 

There is no how-to guide for an elderly or disabled bird. If you’ve got one, 90% of what you do is going to come down to your own creativity and if you’re lucky, your vet’s ideas will help. Caring for one isn’t an easy thing. It’s expensive. Vet checkups can be necessary every couple of months.

I’ve got a cat vet that thinks I’m a mental case because I laughed when she told me that having a newly diagnosed diabetic cat would mean a “confronting lifestyle change” for me. Apparently I need to get used to the idea of keeping spreadsheets of information, being with my animal at certain specific times like clockwork in order to administer injections, watching for subtle changes and not being able to easily leave the animal in someone else’s care? She didn’t see the humour in that because she had no idea that a few extra statistics noted on my clipboard and a 12 hourly injection sounded like heaven to me compared to what I face with Cocky Boy. There’s not a lot of difference between looking at the colour a strip changes to when stuck in cat urine, to looking at the colour and texture of a bird’s poo when you really come down to it. So much for a lifestyle change!


He’s sound asleep on the pressure mattress. I regularly spy on him through my study window in order to know what behaviours he is hiding…

Ethically speaking, euthanizing is something that you wonder if you should be considering? Personally, I do weigh up his quality of life. He sleeps more than a younger bird but I’m confident he’s pain-free; he still plays with toys; destroys stuff and interacts with my flock. He might require a supported environment to achieve those activities, but as long as he’s enjoying it – I’ll put in the work to keep him happy. It’s a fine line I walk.

If you have a disabled or elderly bird, please share your ideas in the comments below. I know I’m not alone in constantly looking for more ways to make a bird’s life comfortable. I’m back to dreading the next stage because I can’t imagine what it’s going to be and for now – I’ve run out of ideas again…


“You’ll never be able to tame such a vicious, dangerous bird!” said his previous owner. There are days when we all feel like that, but if you work hard enough… well the picture sums it up.

Mel Vincent works as an animal rehabilitator out of Australia.



Great article Mel, I have a Quaker then she that is about 33-35 yrs old and is blind in one eye. She still wants to fly some and I try not to let her fly on her own as she will miss where she wants to land and crash. So if she wants to fly I will get her to step up and I hold her feet and raise my hand and lower it just fast enough so she will flap her wings to keep them in some condition. Exercise is good for all birds in what ever way they can get it with out injury.


What a heartwarming story, thank you for being very explicit with your modifications. Cocky Boy was a very lucky fellow to have found you and you him. You are definitely a sweetie as is that adorable bird

Brenda Piper

Thank you Mel for caring. I have an elderly parakeet as well as a bronze winged pionus. I cover my birds at night but have wondered what I could be doing for better warmth. I have thought about a heat lamp but since I cover them didn’t know if that would help. how about a heated perch? are they worthwhile? Or should I use the heat lamp during the day and have it off at night. your feedback would help immensely.

Brenda Piper

God bless you for taking such good care of Cocky Boy. This information was so helpful. Did you just lay ceramic tiles on the bottom of the cage, then pull them out to wash off?


Thank you so much for sharing a journey of love, patience, and compassion. You insightful observations are important reminders for all of us with either feathered or fury friends to never forget to observe, respond and when necessary, modify a plan of action that will improve their quality of life. Each of your solutions came from a place of understanding Cocky Boy’s preferences and temperament, but more importantly, empathy and for his stage of life.

Sherry Harrington

Cocky Boy is SOOO blessed to have you for his “parront”!!! You’re so patient, kind and loving to him and for him. Thank you for sharing your heart-warming story. You are the epitome of a humane pet owner. Thank you, thank you! I know from what you posted it can’t be easy for you and my heart goes out to you. GREAT JOB! May your loving-kindness come back to you a hundredfold.

Sherry Harrington

Wow, I was really moved by your love, devotion, ingenuity, and determination to make Cocky Boy comfortable. You never never NEVER gave up! You are an inspiration to us all. :)

Jo Anne Miller

I have a 30 year old Quaker, and yes I have had her for the full 30 years, and she was an adult when I rescued her! I have found that giving her a 1/4 teaspoon of organic Aloe Vera juice daily in some water really helps her – once I started this she began to perch again – I use square dowel rods instead of round ones, wide enough to act like a perch! She also has a heat source and a large cage with a lot of flat surfaces! I plan to try the hospital mattress tonight!

Jo Anne Miller

I just cried while reading this because I wish I had gotten it in my email a week ago. We have….we had a blue crown conure who just passed on at 22 years old (at least!). We thought she would live to be 30 or even older. If I had read this a week ago I may have made the connection that she was getting older and not as comfortable in her cage. She slept a lot more and was a little wobbly on her perch sometimes. But she would still immediately come over to us to play when we were around so I thought she was just adjusting to the cooler fall temperatures or something. It never even occurred to me that her age could have been part of it and that we could do stuff like the things listed in this entry to make her feel better. I’m so sorry, Bambi. I hope you’re doing well now up in the skies and know how much we love and miss you. So much.

Angela Kemp

Mel this was fantastic. Thanks for sharing this amazing story. I especially loved the last comment and photo.

Angela Kemp
linda bowen

theres some great ideas I will use for my younger birds too. I have a featherless lorri and Ill be doing some of this for him too. thanks for the great info.

linda bowen
Donna Hamilton

Sniff, sniff…what a wonderful story! Something I can relate to entirely as I care for a 19yo blind Magpie She has had various episodes in her life which have made me make drastic changes to how I care for her. You really have to look outside the square, and what you are doing with Cocky Boy is the true example, dedication and empathy of this.

Donna Hamilton

I have a 32 yr old African grey. He had an infection then the vet found he had arthritis and now he alsogas a heart condition. He has 3 meds in the am and 2 in the pm. He kmoves to cuddle with daddy after he takes his meds so we use that as a reward. He seems to b doing better but your story scares me about what we r facing. We r seniors ourselves and hope we can keep our baby healthy and happyfor many more years. Thanks ffor the story and your baby is very lucky.

Maureen Harrington

A truely inspirational blog, thank you. My african gray Jasper is twenty years old and will probably outlive me. I hope that Jasper is as lucky, and finds someone as dedicated to his wellbeing as you are to Cocky Boy.

Maureen Harrington
sally phillips

Great article! Lucky bird to have found you! I use a 25 watt blue or green bulb to warm my bird’s cage in the winter.

sally phillips

If anyone is interested-there is a company called that makes these cool stone looking platforms that i have used in my cages—easy to clean and great for a flat area. Yours is a story of great love and respect and I applaud you. It makes me insane when we are out with our birds and people approach us saying..I used to have a ..I feel an overwhelming sadness for the poor bird that was given up because the owner could not understand what the bird was really telling them,,


All animal care-givers are a blessing. Sometimes I walk into my local rescue and just break down, not knowing how the care-givers can maintain on a daily basis. I realize it’s the “successes” that are the gift. Your successes with Cocky Boy are many. Thanks for sharing. My U2 Magoo is only 16 this year and so far, happy and healthy. I will do everything in my power to keep him happy and comfortable as he ages. He will outlive me, I’m sure. Great story and think of everything you’ve learned throughout the process. CB is a lucky man!


this helps allot! I have a 35yr old yellow Knapp with screwed up feet that will bennifate thanks again…

Katrina 25/10/13 8.10am (Alice River, Australia)

Wow what a great story. It bought tears to my eyes it was so beautiful. You are a legend for what you have done with this bird. We have quite a few cockatoos one of which is 50 odd years. He is also a special needs bird though not as drastic as your little fellow. We also have 2 beak & feather wild birds who we care for due to falling out of trees due to losing their flight feathers. They are almost bald now and We keep them in a big cage under cover and feed them well. They are such good birds and are no bother never screeching ever and are so gratefull for the food they are given as in the wild they have to fight for every little bit of food. I feed one of them a special soft food for cockatoos(expensive) because his beak is rotting and he cant crack seeds and eat the veges. He is very happy in spite of this and eats all the time. Their life is limited but I intend making it easier for them. I love all my birds and will do whatever I have to do to keep them healthy.

Katrina 25/10/13 8.10am (Alice River, Australia)
debbie Thrift

Amazing story of love and devotion to one of God’s creatures. Cocky Boy is one lucky gentleman. Bless you for putting in the time, effort and dedication.

debbie Thrift

Several years ago I had a cockatiel who developed bumble foot among other medical issues. I replaced most of her perches with platform perches of various sizes and I sewed covers for all the perches. The perch covers were made of a soft flannel that slipped over them. This method worked well because I was able to remove them and wash them as needed, The widest one had a quilted flannel cover for sleeping at night. This made her more comfortable. As far as heat goes, all my bird cages have heat panels hanging behind the cages. The heat panels have thermostats attached and I adjust the temperature setting based on whether the bird is ill and needs more warmth or whether the bird just needs a warmer cage during winter evenings. These heat panels are made for bird cages.


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