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Avian Ectoparasites and Endoparasites

The following is a list of the most common Ectoparasites and Endoparasites. Parasites in general are uncommon in birds that are kept as pets and much more common in wild birds and pet birds kept outdoors.


Flies – There are many different varieties of flies which can harm our avian patients. The blow fly are often attracted to birds with diarrhea or wounds. The maggots of these flies can eat their way into the bird causing devastating results.

Gnats – Gnats can cause intense irritation to the area but can also transmit blood borne parasites such as Leucocytozoan spp.

Lice – Lice cause damage by chewing feathers as they squeeze between the barbs of the feathers. They are typically elongated in shape. Lice are more commonly seen in out-door housed birds and the main route for infestation is from wild birds. Caged birds are less likely to have lice. However, a caged bird that is ill or not preening can have visible heather damage from a small infestation of lice.

Mites – Cnemidocoptes is the most common of mites seen most often in canaries and budgies. These mites eat cell debris and cause the condition known as “scaly beak” and “tassle foot”. These birds are often presented with crusting and enlargement of the cere at the base of the beak. In pigeons, this mite will cause disintegration of the feather quill, which will break off close to the skin. You may notice bald spots over the body.
Sarcoptes mites are uncommon but have been reported to be seen in macaws. They will present with feather loss and self-trauma due to scratching and feather picking due to the intense pruritus.
Dermanyssus, the red feather mite, has been reported in pigeons, raptors and some parrots, particularly those in outside cages. These mites do not live on the birds at all times, they like to hide in cracks and small spaces of the cage and seem to bite the birds at night when they are sleeping. Anemia and weakness in heavily infected birds can be seen due to the fact they are blood sucking parasites.
Sternostoma tracheacolum also known as the tracheal/air sac mite and is mainly found in canaries and finches. Clinical signs consist of respiratory distress and an audible clicking sound when breathing.
Knemidokoptes spp commonly called scaly face and/or scaly leg mites. The most common bird to have knemidokoptes would be the budgie followed by the eclectus parrot and the canary. Clinically there would be an irritation of the surface epithelium that causes hyperkeratosis of the affected skin and beak.

Mosquitoes – Mosquitoes can cause an irritation and act as a possible vector for the transmission of malaria in penguins in England. They can also spread other blood parasites and viruses such as West Nile fever in the US and Africa.

Ticks – Ticks can be rapidly fatal in birds due to the presence of toxins in the salvia of ticks. They are uncommon, but have been seen in raptors and aviary kept birds housed outdoors. They may transmit bacteria as well as blood-borne parasites and viruses.


Giardia – Birds with Giardia will present with chronic to intermittent watery diarrhea and with loose malodorous mucoid stools. Some birds will pluck the feathers over its flanks and ventrum. Giardia is associated with the intestinal tract and can be treated with Metronidazole.

Trichomonas gallinae – Doves, pigeons and raptors are more susceptible to Trichomonas gallinae. This parasite will be found as white plaques or necrotic masses in the mouth and esophagus.

Coccidia – Atoxoplasma – This organism is diagnosed in canaries, finches, and mynah birds. Sadly to say the diagnosis often comes during a pathology examination of a dead juvenile bird that died shortly after appearing depressed and fluffed. Atoxoplasma are shed in the feces of adult birds that show no sign of infection.
Sarcocystis falcatula – Sarcocystis is another coccidian parasite that affects birds housed in outdoor breeding flight cages. As with Atoxoplasma, Sarcocystis is usually diagnosed during a pathology examination. This parasite has an extensive life cycle which makes environmental management extremely important to prevent exposure.

Nematodes – Nematods most commonly affect birds that live outdoors. Ascarids have a direct life cycle in which simply ingesting eggs can infect a bird. Capillaria and Syngamus trachea need earthworms as an intermediate host. Ascarids and Capillaria live in the intestinal tract and Syngamus trachea are found in the oral cavity and esophagus. Birds with nematodes will be depressed and emaciated. In most cases the eggs are shed in the feces and can be seen in a fecal flotation test.



Veterinary Nursing of Exotic Pets – Girling
Exotic Animal Care – Tully and Mitchell