On consultation with the avian vet

A good breeding requires a good preparation

Author and pictures: K.B.O.F. (Karel Vanderheyden)
Published in the magazine "De Witte Spreeuwen" of the K.B.O.F. - Februari 2015

A good breeding requires a good preparation, therefore we went to learn a little from Dr. Peter Coutteel, who has over 25 years of experience with the guidance and help of breeders and their birds. We took some birds and had them examined by Dr. Coutteel.

“The preparation of the breeding season does not start 6 weeks before the breeding” tells Peter “a bird must be well taken care of throughout the entire year. However, the last 6 to 8 weeks before reproduction are vital to have good breeding results’”.

External examination

Dr. Coutteel: “On the outside of a bird you can already see a lot of things, and of course I listen carefully to what the fancier tells me about his birds and the past breeding season." Dr. Coutteel continues: "when a breeder makes an appointment for the breeding preparation, I ask him to bring along about four/six birds, with a maximum of 2 birds per cage. And they have to bring representative birds, that show what could possibly be going on. Also don't forget to put a smooth piece of paper at the bottom of the cage for the evaluation and examination of the faeces."

Dr. Coutteel first takes the bird in his hand and touches it. "Herewith you already learn a lot. You feel at once if the bird is too fat or too skinny and if there are external physical defects. " Then he carefully looks at the eyes of the bird. They must be clear and well dry, because wet eyes can point out ornithosis. Then, he pulls out a wing and opens it, keeps him up to the light and looks at whether there is no feather mite present.  Then, in the neck, he blows the feathers apart. This way a bald spot appears where you clearly see the artery. "If a bird has Northern Mites (black mite), you are sure to see them here" he knows. The doctor does the same thing with the belly to see if there are visible bowel loops and if the liver is not enlarged.  "You should see some fat in healthy birds during breeding preparation, if not the bird isn’t in good condition" tells Dr. Coutteel.

Uitwendige controle van de vleugels
External check of wings
Uitwendige controle op vedermijt
External check of artery

Bird feathers

And the vet continues: "the cloaca or tap reveals a lot too. This one should be dry. If the feathers around it are sticky or wet, it is a sign that there may be something going on. Take also care of not cutting off the feathers on the cloaca because these are sensitive feathers which the male uses to feel where the cloaca is located during the copulation. In case of heavily feathered birds, you can trim away the feathers on the lower abdomen.  Finally, the doctor checks the feet and nails. The legs should not have scales. Especially in older birds you'll find often scales on the legs and toes. This can easily be remedied by massaging the feet gently with an intramammary ointment. Also the toe nails should not be too long, otherwise the male can injure the female or he has no grip. Correct trimming before copulation is the message.

Controle van de nagels
Checking the nails

Checking the crop of the bird

After the external examination of the bird, Peter takes a cotton swab and inserts it in the mouth to the crop of the bird.  The moisture that is collected, is examined under the microscope. He increases the specimen 200 times to see if there are any parasites such as trichomonas present.

Checking the crop of the bird

Checking the faeces

Finally, the vet takes a specimen of the faeces. "Always put a smooth paper at the bottom, so I can easily take a faeces sample. Certainly don’t sprinkle any sand on the bottom, this absorbs the faeces” tells Peter.  The faeces always consists of 3 parts. The dark fixed part are the remains of the digested food. There is also always a white group in the faeces. These are urates (uric acid crystals). A bird has no bladder and cannot urinate. That is why the urine comes as a solid, along with the faeces. Finally, you can also see a water like fluid. When stressed, this is larger than normal but also in sick birds you can see more water than in healthy copies and this because a sick bird eats less food. Peter puts a specimen of faeces diluted with physiological water under the microscope and examines it on coccidiosis (canaries and finches), mega bacteria (stomach fungus), parasites and worms (especially in parakeets), flagelaten, cochlosomose (exotics birds).  The doctor also looks at undigested seeds and controls the color. A bright green color suggests that the bird has eaten too little, a pale color indicates often a bad digestion, shortcomings or a disease.

Checking the faeces

To the lab

When the miscroscopical research is inconclusive, he sends a sample to the lab. There they put the faeces 'on culture '. So you can see which bacteria grow further, e.g. salmonella. A final step to a proper diagnosis is an autopsy. Peter: "you can easily keep a dead bird in a cool environment (fridge) during 3 days. At room temperature, decay would start very quickly and you can no longer see what's going on."


Of course there are also external elements that influence the optimum development of the breeding season. Peter: "make sure you have enough and the right light. Best use fluorescent tubes with UV spectrum. (Philips TLD 965, true light, arcadia bird lamp) and replace the lamps annually.  Also best integrate a HF ballast for the frequency of the lamp.  During the breeding, a bird must receive at least 15 h of light to reproduce and develop well healthy youngsters.

Last but not least, Dr. Coutteel emphasizes that a lice plague, both the black and the red lice, can seriously disturb the breeding season. "But whom treats the breeding room with a long-acting product and taps its birds monthly in the neck with Frontline, he will certainly remain spared from these ectoparasites" he says finally.

Breeding schedule

Before going home you also get a breeding schedule where the main issues are summarized that apply for your birds. Sufficient explanation is given on any treatment(s) to apply and advice how to deal with the right supplements for a successful breeding.