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Cockatiel Care Tips
By Dr. David J. Kersting, DVM

Remember when feeding fruits, vegetables or greens to always rinse them thoroughly! Rinsing removes harmful pesticides and residues. Always remove any leftovers before your bird goes to bed at night. During the hot days of summer remove any leftovers during mid afternoon.


QUESTION: My cockatiel hen will not stop laying soft shelled eggs. She has access to cuttlebone and I feed a diet of pellets, seed, cornbread, veggies and oyster shell (mixed into the veggies). I separated her from the male when she was finished laying her eggs, about two weeks ago, and now she has started laying soft shelled eggs again. What should I do?


ANSWER: There are several areas that need to be discussed. Laying soft-shelled eggs means the female bird is either deficient in calcium and cannot lay a hard shell, or the egg is moving too quickly through the uterus as seen with uterine infection and sometimes internal infections.


A calcium deficient diet will lead to low blood calcium, but also calcium levels in the diet can be normal but will not be absorbed into the blood if there is too much phosphorous, deficient levels of vitamin D or conditions of malabsorption due to intestinal disease. A seed diet has too much phosphorous, not enough calcium or vitamin D. Cuttlebone has too much phosphorous and is not a good source of usable calcium when a bird is deficient in calcium. Cuttlebone, something you have always used, should be replaced with a 2:1 (calcium:Phosphorous) powdered supplement during deficiencies.


Remember, the egg is a container filled with energy (vitamins, minerals, fat and carbohydrates) for the developing embryo. But, the female bird has to use her energy storage to fill the egg. If she does this too often (15 eggs per year), then she becomes deficient in energy and she gets sick or starts having egg problems or both. We must feed good balanced diets to make sure she doesn’t become deficient. Vegetables, fruits, healthy table foods and pellets will help. For breeding birds, I recommend that the diet not consist of more than 50% of the diet as seed. You must have more than just fruits and vegetables supplementing the remaining 50% or you will experience deficiencies.


Excessive egg layers can be controlled by removing the mate, removing the nest box, eliminating the nesting area, removing the object or person the bird is attached of displaying to. One can also move the cage and change the perches and place different objects in and around the cage. You can decrease the number of light hours down to 8 or 10. If environmental and behavior manipulation are not successful, then hormone therapy can be used by a veterinarian. Hysterectomy can be performed as a last resort. 


QUESTION: What are the early warning signs of sour crop and how do you prevent this from happening?


ANSWER: Sour Crop means different things to different people. To some it means a yeast or candida infection of the crop. To others it means a bacterial infection of the crop. For some, sour crop is given to those birds with a hard impacted crop and for others it applies to a soft, doughy crop with foul smelling crop contents. Usually this term applies to baby birds. To me, sour crop means the crop size or the crop contents are abnormal and the emptying time for the crop is abnormally slow. There may or may not be vomiting and the chick may or may not act sick. The droppings may or may not be normal. The crop can be soft or hard.


The first point to make is that the above problem occurs because:

  • There are problems in the crop itself.

  • There are problems somewhere else in the body affecting the hydration of the baby.

It is easy to understand the first statement. If there is a bacterial or yeast infection in the crop, it can cause abnormal changes in the crop. If there is a piece of corn cob in the crop, the same thing will happen. The second cause is a little harder to explain.


First, remember the digestive system is a 12 inch pipe. There is a beginning and an end. Mouth at 1 inch , crop at 3 inch, stomach at 5 inch, intestine at 6 to 11 inches, and rectum at 12 inches. If you have an infection and a blockage in the intestine, then the food and water won’t move through properly and eventually you have a "plugged-up-sink" in the crop. The crop is affected without the crop having the infection and thus a test on the crop may be normal despite an infection in the intestine. Let’s complicate this system further. The liver can have an infection which causes dehydration, but the 12 inch pipe (digestive system) needs fluid or water to move the food. If the baby is dehydrated, then the food can’t move down the pipe so things back up into the crop. Again, you get sour crop without a crop infection. The infection is elsewhere in the liver, but it affects the crop. Any illness which can cause dehydration will cause sour crop ,Pneumonia, kidney infection, air sacculitis).


To complicate the baby’s illness, crops swollen with food in sour crop will draw water out of the blood stream and lead to further dehydration, which further slows down the movement of food down the pipe, which backs up more food into the crop which leads to further dehydration. If we do not break this vicious cycle, then the baby will die.


Treatment involves emptying the crop with a tube so that the food will not sit in the crop and draw water out of the blood stream. Put antibiotics and antiyeast medicine into the crop. Give fluids under the skin to correct the dehydration and give small amounts of fluids into the crop. Injectable medicines are necessary when the infection is severe and when the medicine only sits in the crop (because it can’t move), but the infection is elsewhere (not in the crop). The purpose of treatment is treat the cause, correct the dehydration, empty the crop and then hopefully fluid then will flow down the pipe.


To diagnose the cause, smears are made from the crop and droppings for gram stains and parasite checks. Feeling the crop checks for corn cob and other foreign objects. Blood work checks for infections in other parts of the body. X-ray looks for foreign objects below the crop and other sites of infections (Pneumonia). Cultures are done to find out exactly what infection is present.


The sooner you notice a problem and start treatment, the better. If all movement of food out of the crop has stopped then it is harder to get it going again. If the crop is emptying half as fast as normal, then you have more time to get things moving before it stops all together. Remember we are working with babies and the more stress the weaker their chance for recovery.


Early signs to look for include vomiting, dryer droppings (dehydration), red skin instead of pink skin. Notice if the crop is taking longer to empty. If you feed a bedtime but in the morning half the food is still in the crop, then this baby is already dehydrated and has an infection. A change in appetite, activity or weight gain are all important.


If you notice one change, then you have caught it early. If you wait until you have identified four changes, then you have waited too long and the baby will die.


Prevention is strong, healthy parents which will not pass on infection; a clean nest box and good hygiene for the person feeding and caring for the baby.

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