Keeping a Visual Health Bird Diary

Male eclectus parrot - right wing.

There have been a few questions on the BirdTricks Facebook wall lately, asking about health record keeping. The question is basically what information is useful? In terms of written records, the answer is: it helps to keep a notebook where you record the date, your bird’s weight (in grams) and note any obvious behavioural changes.

I thought I’d share a couple of extracts of another type of record that I keep for my birds – which has helped me identify problems, or explain them more easily to a vet. I keep a photographic diary for each of my birds. (So for those of you who want an excuse to go out and buy an iPad…)

Cocky Boy a few days after rescue.

Cocky Boy eight months later.

I try to get at least one decent overall picture of each bird, at least once a month. I find a month is a good time interval for this, because it really highlights any change in posture, shape, overall feather condition, or anything that might generally indicate a problem.

I also take photos of different body parts, so that I can see how a moult has come in, any stress marks that have developed, or any indications that a bird has started plucking or injured itself.

Merlin, 6 months after he came to me.

The wings are particularly useful, as they’ll give a very good indication if there has been any nutritional problems or issues during a bird’s moult.

My Galah Merlin was bleeding with his wings cut back to the bone when he first came to me. It took over 2 years for them to fully normalise. A vet looking at him at any particular point during this period would have been concerned about his health, if I hadn’t been able to physically show that they were improving overtime.

Merlin 18 months after joining my flock.

Merlin quite recently.

The wings aren’t the only body parts that show nutritional problems. When I first took in my Rainbow Lorikeet Lori, my vet told me she was a hybrid of some sort that my vet had never seen before. Lori had these amazing blue zebra stripes, across her back. To this day, I regret not getting better photos of this because as it turned out the vet was completely wrong. Lori’s colour has gradually normalised over the last 2 years. She is not a hybrid; the blue was actually pointing to a nutritional deficiency.

Lori with her blue "zebra stripes".

Lori after recovering from her nutritional deficiency.

I know it’s disgusting, but I also keep a photographic poo diary. Poo changes can be very difficult to describe to a vet. Particularly considering when at the vet, the bird is most likely to do a ‘stress poo’, which will look completely different to what you’re seeing at home. It can really help if you have a photo of what the bird’s normal poo looks like.

An example of Fid my Macaw's poo during his first week with me. (A lot of issues are obvious here.)

A more recent example of Fid's poo that tells me that treatment is working.

As a side note: If you do this, don’t set your computer’s screensaver as a photo slideshow of your entire photo collection.

Apparently your computer running through a cycle of bird poo photos is offensive enough to get you thrown out of a university library. Oops.

A screenshot of an old entry in Pepi's health diary.

Finally, any specific health issues are worth recording. Once Pepi my Eclectus,  had a snotty nose and was vomiting. The little rotter had cleaned up his snotty nose on the way to the vet, so the vet would have thought he was fine. The vet proceeded with tests when I produced the photos.

Fid,. Note the blood stained spot above his left leg.

Similarly, my Blue and Gold Macaw Fid had to go in for an injection recently and had to see a fill-in vet while his usual vet was overseas. Fid had a really bad reaction to the injection and I had some serious issues with where the injection site was (it was supposed to be the chest). It took me over 3 hours to stop the bleeding. I had no doubt that the equipment I had at home, had likely saved his life. It should never have come down to that though. On my vet’s return, I was sure that my vet had been briefed on my complaint in a very biased way by his fill-in. I also had no doubt that my photographic records told him everything he needed to know without my having to get into a “my word against the fill-in vet’s word” argument. He knew exactly what area to look at, when dealing with the consequences of the dodgy injection. 

I guess what it comes down to is that birds are programmed to hide illness. They’ll let their guard down a little around someone they trust and not at all with someone they don’t. You’re going to see a lot more, than your vet ever will. Sometimes what you see is so subtle, you won’t notice the change unless you’re comparing two photos. Photos can save your bird’s life.

Mel Vincent works as an animal rehabilitator out of Australia.

1 comment

Eric & Molly Bird

Wow this is a great article. I am always watching my birds’ poop and I swear, poop decoding is such an exacting science. I’ve had my birds for 2 years now and I’m still learning their individual poop nuances. The article this was linked from, about the bird emergency kit and the heat globes was also incredibly useful. Thanks for sharing!

Eric & Molly Bird

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