During the last spreecast, Chet mentioned that scales were now available in the BirdTricks store. While he was talking, I wondered if everyone watching had a good understanding of why it is SO important that we regularly weigh our birds. If there are any questions, this post will answer them.
To begin, I need to explain that birds, with great skill, hide their illnesses. This is necessary for the survival of wild birds and for the survival of their flock. Predators will target the young and weak, first and foremost, when in search of a meal. A bird that is clearly incapacitated will not only call a predator’s attention to itself but to the entire flock. A sick bird, for this reason, is ostracized from the flock and without a flock to keep it safe, any bird’s chances of survival in the big, bad world are grim.
A smart bird, therefore, will suffer in secrecy. Without treatment, though, many illnesses will progress until the symptoms can no longer be hidden. So by the time a bird appears ill, it is very ill. This practice is carried into our homes with our companion birds.
We humans, those of us without medical equipment and laboratories, have exactly two ways to get a feel for our bird’s general health. One is by examining its droppings for irregularities, and the other is with frequent weighing.
A bird’s weight changes throughout the day. They are very light creatures, and it’s weight can jump dramatically before and after feedings. Weight can even lower considerably following the first dropping of the morning.
Because of these variables, you will want to get a base weight on your bird – a weight that should remain somewhat consistent if you are feeding your bird properly. A good time to find that base weight is following the first dropping of the day (you would be surprised how enormous those droppings sometimes are) and before the first feeding. This is known as your bird’s “empty” weight.
A vet can help you determine what the appropriate weight for your bird should be. You may not be aware that your bird is overweight and different birds of the same species can vary in size and, therefore, weight.
Once you establish this weight, you will use it as the constant that will help you continue to gauge your bird’s health. In the larger birds, there will be some minor fluctuation. In the smaller species, there is often none at all.
Your bird must always be weighed in grams, so your bathroom scale is not going to work. The reason for this is that birds are so light that pounds can’t accurately measure their weight. One pound equals 453.6 grams. The average macaw weight is about 2 pounds. Your pound scale wouldn’t even be able to register a weight loss short of 1 pound – or half of its body weight. You can imagine the bird would be feeling under the weather at this point.
You should be weighing your bird at least a couple of times a week and recording your findings in a journal. Sometimes weight change is gradual and is easily overlooked when it isn’t written down. A slow downward (or upward) trend should catch your attention. If your bird has lost in the vicinity of 10% of its body weight inside the period one month, something is wrong and your bird needs a vet. That slow downward trend you noticed in your journal will have alerted you in advance.
Vet bills can be outrageous once an illness has progressed. Early detection might only result in the need for an antibiotic. A sick bird’s health can decline surprisingly rapidly and the unthinkable could happen. You can save both you and your bird a lot of suffering by using your gram scale regularly.
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.