Q: My cockatiel seems “off” to me. His weight and his droppings are fine and he is eating normally, but something seems different about him and I am concerned. Should I see a vet?
-Karen K., San Antonio, TX
A: Illness in a bird can present itself in many different ways. Signs of illness include a fluffed up appearance, remaining at the cage bottom, and lack of vocalization to name just a few. There are times you can run through the check lists of obvious signs and your bird might exhibit none of them, and sometimes things that can be measured, such as weight, aren’t the only way to determine that something is wrong.
If you are a good owner, and it sounds like you are, you have spent a great many hours watching your bird in its activities throughout the day. You have a strong sense of what is “normal” for this individual bird. You are also likely to recognize peculiar behaviors.
I was watching one of my cockatiels once from across the room and couldn’t get past this strange, slight wing flip that he was doing several times a minute. Otherwise he seemed fine and was acting normally and had been all day long. I just knew that something wasn’t right. Upon closer inspection, I could see that a blood feather hung awkwardly from beneath his wing and was causing him discomfort. Once the errant feather was removed, his activities returned to normal.
The point I am trying to make is that an illness doesn’t always present itself only physically. I have several times brought my birds to the vet based on non-specific, off behaviors (vets that “get it” refer to this as “ADR: ain’t doin’ right”), and there usually is something wrong. You have to learn to trust your instincts in these situations. You know your bird best.
Even though I feel very confident in my ability to identify problems in my birds, and fully trust my instincts, I still sometimes feel the need to go to an outside source for an objective opinion. Sometimes it’s hard to see the forest for the trees and I have friends and vets that I count on to help me during these times when I have felt too close to a problem emotionally. If this were my bird, I would take it to see the vet – if only for peace of mind.