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I get MANY, MANY sick bird emails in the course of any given day. Because folks don't understand the anatomy of their birds, most of the emails are pretty much useless. A lot of them come with photos, but the photos very rarely give us a good shot of what we need to see in order to be able to help and in most cases are also useless.


In order to help your Veterinarian help YOU, I've created this photo journal that will explain what we, as diagnostic professionals, need to hear when you describe  your bird and what you see wrong, in order to make a preliminary judgement.  Photos of what we need for DROPPINGS will discussed be later in this article.

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We need to see FRESH droppings (preferably hot out of the bird) on CLEAN newspaper and from a SINGLE bird at a time. And from JUST the bird you think is sick. This should be easy if you've followed proper protocol and have have removed the sick bird to a heated hospital cage for quarantine.

Do NOT use paper towel, blue pads, computer paper, butcher paper or glossy newsprint when sending photos. All of these make the droppings look worse than they are when the bleach in them reacts with the urine making it change colors, not absorbing enough of the urine, or absorbing too much! Not blue pads because that's what you use. Not paper towel because that's what you use. NEWSPAPER.  Don't have newspaper? Go to the corner store and buy one. You're getting my services for free, the least you can do is put out a few pennies for a newspaper.

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Your Bird's Droppings

Photographing poop samples to help us help you figure out what's wrong with your bird is something more folks could use help with. We get some that are so dark we can't see anything - all the poop looks black, and all the urates look dry and crusty. Some are the exact opposite and over exposed. Very few are in focus. IN most cases, the photos receive show us just how poorly maintained cages are - all those piled up poops are NOT healthy for your birds. Chances are great that if your bird is sick, you dirty cage is why!

It is super important that the photos be CLEAR and IN FOCUS, well-lit but not over exposed, and on CLEAN newspaper. Sending photos of droppings that have piled up for a day or more doesn't do us any good, especially if there is more than one bird in the cage. In addition, unless all birds in a cage are sick, you should NOT be photographing droppings in a cage with multiple birds. Remove the bird you think is sick to its own cage then send only photos of that sick bird's droppings.

I must stress that just because I've shared this information, does not mean I have time or will look at photos of your sick bird or its droppings. I am not a Veterinarian and have never claimed to be. Every moment you waste asking ME is a moment too long that your bird is in distress. However, this is what your Veterinarian needs to see and the terms you should use when explaining what you believe is wrong.  When you explain in proper terms, it will help your Veterinarian help you to fix your bird!

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Why Have I Shared The Full Body Photo And Labeled The Parts?


Because if emails are any indication of what those who ask me for help know about bird anatomy, then 99% of them have no clue what they are looking at or even what I am asking to see so that I may possibly help them.


​Photos like this one are useless...

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The best photos are obtained if you get the bird WET first


Using warm water tested on your wrist as if you were testing a heated baby bottle, hold the bird under the water until the feathers are wet enough to part on the portion of the body you want to show us. Photograph the bird in a well-lit area. It should not be over-exposed - using a flash will often over-expose the photo. Test the appearance with the flash both on and off. If the photo is not well-lit, we won't be able to see what we need to see to help you!


Arrows and lines and what they point to in the photo are described by COLOR as indicated below:


  • GREEN = The CROP area is anything ABOVE the green line or "V" shaped notch at the top of the breast bone. The actual crop is not seen in this photo. The crop is composed of the clear "sacs" surrounding the esophagus and will often be filled with hulled seed or foodstuffs. It is often difficult to photograph even after wetting the bird due to the density of the feathers in that area. The notch just above the breast bone is also an area where fat will often accumulate in fat birds.


  • BLUE = The KEEL is the center bone that runs from the "V" shaped notch all the way down to the bottom ridge of the rib cage. In this photo, the keel bone is followed by the vertical blue line - the actual bone is shown directly to the left and is pale in color, often looking grey or yellowish depending on species and prominence of the bone itself.


  • BLACK = The BREAST is the burgundy colored "meat" on either side of the keel bone. The meat should be burgundy, not yellowish, not red, not pale at all. In a healthy bird of any species, it should be the color in this photo. When holding the bird, you should feel enough "meat" that you can press into it gently with your thumb. If you don't feel much meat, the bird is losing weight. A bird who loses too much muscle mass will probably not survive unless immediately action is taken to correct the disease process causing the weight loss.

NOTE: While I'm flattered that some folks feel my research & information is useful and have taken it upon themselves to copy my work, I am MORTIFIED that they claim to be experts merely because they can read. I'm also disgusted at the abuses those same folks are perpetrating upon the less informed. They collect newcomers to the hobby like flies to honey - because in many cases, new folks are desperate for information and want help when their birds get sick. I understand desperate, but listening to someone claiming to be an expert in a field where there are NO experts is crazy. There is very little research out there on finches. Most of the information you'll find has been performed using poultry and hookbills, with a very small percentage using Canaries & Zebra finches. These folks who read then spew are no experts.


In addition to other sites, we've found our information used on Facebook and other social media groups whose owners like to pretend they are experts. BEWARE of those giving out advice about sick birds. It has taken me almost 20 years to learn what I know. The folks doling out advice on those groups are not only unethical, they are FRAUDS.  They haven't done the research, they just read someone else's work and copied it. They also like to say that  because they "know" a Veterinarian or someone who "knows about animal medications" they know how or what medications need to be given. Just because they know someone doesn't mean they know what they are talking about. Just because they were told a medication should be given in THEIR situation doesn't mean it should be in YOUR situation!  In EVERY sick bird instance, there needs to be careful evaluation to meet the situation at hand. The wrong medication can kill your bird or cause pathogen resistence. You don't want that!


I have had many customers send me print screens of what goes on in some of those groups, and I've had other customers bring me birds to "fix" after they've followed that bad advice. In many cases, the damage is irreversible. I've seen healthy birds "diagnosed" and medication "recommended".  I am absolutely appalled.


In addition, those folks are making claims that just aren't true about combining some medications and/or the length of treatment, as well as telling people that certain products are unsafe for the birds.  What they won't tell you is that the only reason they say what they do is because they are parroting what someone else told them - regardless of whether it is correct or not.

"They recommend"?? They are NOT Veterinarians. They have NO business recommending ANYTHING.  Period.


If you love your birds, please do not listen to those fools.  They are out to do nothing more than sell you a product.

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  • RED = Everything below the red line in the photo is the ABDOMEN. In a good photo, ALL feathers are moved away from this area so that the internal organs may be observed through the skin. The abdomen begins BELOW the ridge of the rib cage and extends down behind the vent. The area on either side of the vent should be included in any photos sent. Air, bacterial infections, and peritonitis are often seen quickly and easily in this area. It is important we see this area when you send photos of a potentially sick bird.


  • PURPLE = The VENT - this area is usually well covered with feathers unless there is a cloacal infection or swelling. If the bird has had to strain to pass fecal matter or has enteritis, coccidia or some other disease process affecting the intestines, the feathers surrounding the vent may be discolored. If this is the case, photograph the vent BEFORE wetting the bird so we can see the color and extent of the staining. No, it's not easy to get good photos - especially when you are trying to stress the bird as little as possible. But if we can't see what's going on, we can't help you! A little stress is less damaging than allowing an undiagnosed illness to go on.

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DESCRIBING A SICK BIRD

KRISTEN REEVES, MEADOWLARK FARMS AVIAN SUPPLY, INC.

The next few photos should give you an idea of what I need  to see and what I do NOT want to see – and I do NOT want to see droppings from more than one bird at a time, even if there is more than one sick in a cage together. SEPARATE THEM. (click to enlarge)