So many people over the past several months have commented that their bird smells bad that I have been wanting to do a post on the subject. I held out only because I’ve been unable to get any particulars from the people complaining – where is the odor emanating from: Body? Breath? Poop? I’m still not sure what they were talking about.
But, the simple fact of the matter is, there should be no “odor” coming from your parrot. The different parrots have smells that are unique to their species, but none of the smell could be appropriately referred to as an “odor”.
For instance, birds with powder down feathers smell noticeably different that those without. My cockatoos and cockatiels smell completely different from my quaker (whose smell reminds me of the owl I had when I was growing up). Amazons have a musky odor to them. These are all normal and to be considered a natural scent.
Beyond what is normal, there are really only a few reasons that your bird might have an odor:
Birds that are not bathed frequently enough will begin to smell dirty after a while. If the cage and general environment is unclean, a smell will begin to intensify. A bird’s feathers can also pick up cooking odors, and if the owner smokes cigarettes, the residue from the smoke will settle onto feathers and it will sometimes take many bathes to eliminate the smell.
Your bird should be bathed no less than twice a week to keep feathering in great condition and to eliminate dander or debris that could collect and cause odor over time.
There is no illness that causes a bird’s body to smell bad, and a healthy bird’s dropping will have no odor to them either. However, odor from the droppings of an ill bird might carry a detectable odor.
If even healthy droppings are allowed to accumulate and cage liner is left uncleaned, it can make the area surrounding the cage smell bad, which might be misinterpreted as odor coming from the bird.
Bad breathe in birds is pretty uncommon. But it could be caused by infection somewhere between the crop and the lower digestive system, by rancid food eaten (which I have never heard of actually happening, but it could), or in rare cases, by candida. But, again, bad breath is quite unusual.
Hormones will sometimes elevates a bird’s normal scent. Such is the case with the male amazon. Cockatoo owners might notice a distinct smell to their breathe when they get excited (I notice it year round in my umbrella cockatoo). These are normal scents.
If you notice an odor coming from your bird that can’t be explained, you need to seek the assistance of an AVIAN VET. A standard vet, unfamiliar with parrot physiology and disease, may not properly diagnose your bird’s condition.
Exceptions to the NOT-smelly rule:
The musk lorikeet is appropriately named and has a sweet musky scent (which becomes more potent during breeding season) that is not for everyone and keeps it from being a commonly kept parrot in aviculture.
The nearly extinct kakapo has a heavy, musty odor that can’t be missed. Its smell may be part of the reason that this ground dwelling species had a near complete loss of population following the introduction of non-native ground predators by settlers.