A division of Kindred Spirit Kindred Care, LLC

Shannon Fujimoto Nakaya, DVM


A website about birds and bird-related services on the island of Hawaii.

Bird Emergencies and What To Do

Written by Shannon Fujimoto Nakaya, DVM


Disclaimer: The information provided on this page is not intended as a substitute for veterinary care.
Sudden Collapse

You don't know why, but the bird is suddenly very weak and can't get itself off the bottom of the cage.

  • Provide heat. Goal is 80 to 85 degrees F. At higher altitudes or air conditioned units, this might require a heating pad under the cage or some other form of supplemental heat.
  • Avoid drafts. Place towels over the top of the cage.
  • Avoid stress. Keep the cage covered on three sides and quiet.
  • Encourage water intake.
  • Encourage food intake.
  • Seek veterinary care early in the course of any illness or problem. The key to successfully diagnosing and treating birds is early detection and intervention.   Avoid stress - Keep bird cage covered on three sides and quiet
  • For different reasons, people sometimes opt to treat birds themselves, often with good intent but bad ideas and no experience. Some of these birds end up suffering more than they need to. If you do decide to treat your bird yourself, consider at least consulting with a veterinarian first.  Although there are limitations to the advice that can be offered over the phone without seeing a patient, you may at least be prevented from making some serious mistakes.
Hemorrhage or bleeding

Your bird's chances for survival will increase if you can get the bleeding under control as quickly as possible.

  • Secure your bird in a towel or blanket.
  • Apply direct pressure with a dry cotton ball until bleeding has stopped completely (usually within 5-10 minutes by the clock).
  • If direct pressure is not successful, then use pressure with flour, cornstarch, or styptic powder .
  • If the tip of a beak or nail has broken off or got cut too short, then rubbing the bleeding tip against a bar of soap will plug the tip up.
  • If a broken blood feather shaft is the source of the hemorrhage, then the shaft must be removed to prevent further bleeding. Identify which feather is bleeding. Using tweezers or needle nose pliers, grasp the feather at its base and pull steadily until the feather comes out. Then apply pressure to the skin where you removed the feather. If you do not remove the entire feather, the bleeding is likely to restart later.
  • DO NOT USE hydrogen peroxide to clean bloody wounds as it breaks down blood clots.
  • Bleeding can also be caused by liver disease, certain infections, or heavy metal toxicity.  If there is any indication of internal bleeding (blood nose, bloody droppings, bloody urine), keep the bird as calm as possible and arrange to have it seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible.

Once the bleeding has stopped, allow your bird to rest undisturbed in a warm, covered cage. The volume of blood lost and severity of the injury will determine whether immediate veterinary care is necessary.  Iron supplements will help your bird to replace the lost blood cells.  Blood transfusions may be necessary and are possible in severe cases.

Broken Bones

If your bird breaks a leg or a wing, keep it as quiet and still as possible. Ideally your bird should be kept in a small carrier to minimize the risk of further injury. However, if this is not possible, move all perches and food and water dishes to the bottom of the cage and put a blanket over the top of the cage to encourage the bird to stay calm. Have the bird examined as soon as possible.

Broken bones are usually the result of traumatic injury. Open fractures (those with a wound as well as a broken bone) can rapidly become infected and are more serious than closed fractures.

Malnutrition, particularly calcium and Vitamin D deficiencies, can result in broken bones with even minimal stresses such as jumping from perch to perch.  African Grey parrots appear to have higher calcium requirements than other birds.  Egg laying females are particularly susceptible to calcium deficiencies, osteoporosis, and broken bones.

The type and location of a fracture as well as the size and species of the bird determine the method of fixation or repair.  Radiographs can be helpful in determining the severity of the fracture and deciding the most appropriate repair technique.  Some fractures can be splinted.  More serious fractures require surgical repair in order to get proper alignment, healing, and function.

Egg Binding
  • Egg binding can occur in any egg laying bird. The presence of a male bird is not necessary for the female to lay an egg. The symptoms are a swollen abdomen, broad-based stance, straining, fluffing, and sometimes sitting on the bottom of the cage. The causes are usually low calcium and low vitamin D and/or an abnormally large egg.
  • Add a calcium supplement, either in the form a cuttlebone, mineral block, crushed egg shells, or crushed calcium tablet.
  • Placing the bird on a warm towel (no warmer than your hand can tolerate) will sometimes help to relax sphincter muscles so there is less resistance for the bird to push against.
  • Increase temperature to 90 degrees. If you can see the egg, then using a q-tip to gently apply water-based KY jelly may facilitate passage. NEVER USE OIL-BASED OINTMENTS or salves on a bird.
  • If the egg does not pass, then veterinary attention should be sought before the bird becomes weak . Gentle manipulation by an experienced person is sometimes all that is necessary in small birds. In serious cases, the bird will have to be hospitalized and treated. General anesthesia may be necessary to remove the egg and in some instances surgery is required.
Respiratory Distress
  • Vocal changes can be indicative of a serious airway obstruction.
  • Keep the bird calm.
  • Seek veterinary care.

Seizures usually indicate a serious problem and often require urgent attention.  The bird usually falls off its perch and thrashes uncontrollably around the bottom of the cage, sometimes vocalizing, sometimes vomiting. Most times, seizures end within a minute on their own. However, determining the cause of the seizure is very important to prevent them from recurring and/or getting worse.

Causes of seizures include: head trauma, infectious diseases affecting the brain, hypocalcemia or low blood calcium, hypoglycemia or low blood sugar, toxins such as heavy metals, liver diseases causing an encephalopathy, strokes, tumors, and epilepsy.

What to do when a bird is having a seizures:

  • First, do not get bit.  The bird is not in control of its body and if you put your finger near its beak, it may clamp on causing serious injury to you.
  • Second, check the time.  Ten seconds can seem like a minute when your brain is in a panic.
  • Third, protect the bird from injury by removing perches, toys, and dishes from the cage. You may consider placing the bird in a smooth-sided box.
  • Seek veterinary care.
Self Mutilation

Self mutilation is a rare, but it does occasionally happen. Usually the bird has altered sensations to a part of its body because of infection or decreased circulation or nerve damage, and have chosen a very dramatic way to tell us about it.  Some birds will completely chew off an entire toe or removed significant pieces of skin.

  • Gently wrap the bird in a towel. The goals are to prevent further self-damaging behavior and to stop an bleeding.
  • DO NOT USE hydrogen peroxide to clean bloody wounds as it breaks down blood clots.
  • If it is an area that can be bandaged easily, apply a water based wound creme and a dressing.  NEVER APPLY OIL-BASED SALVES to birds.
  • Seek veterinary care.  The cause of such destructive behavior needs to be determined and treated appropriately.
 Sudden Death

An unfortunate event that sometimes happens. Autopsy will not bring back the deceased, however, it may help to determine the cause of death.  In households where there are other birds, this may perhaps lead to life-saving information for the others.  Or it may facilitate closure for the bereaved.  Autopsies are best performed on bodies which have not begun to decompose, which happens within hours in tropical climates.  If the autopsy can be performed within 24 hours of death, the body should be refrigerated. If it will be longer than 24 hours, the body should be frozen.

Reproduction or distribution of any content on the www.konabirdvet.com website without permission of the author is a violation of copyright law.