supportive care for a sick bird

It's no secret that bird's hide pain, injuries, and illnesses as a survival mechanism. That's why knowing how to read your bird's body language is so critical.  This skill allows you to notice the subtle behavioral changes that a bird displays when it is sick. That way, you can catch bird sickness earlier when it is more easily treated.

As a bird behaviorist and a bird Facebook group moderator I often hear sad stories from people about how their bird suddenly died.  Sadly, some of these cases could have been avoided if people only knew what sick bird symptoms they needed to be on the lookout for.

How do birds act when they are sick?

One of the easiest ways to tell whether you're dealing with a sick bird is to know how your  bird behaves when it is feeling well. 

Make it a point to observe your bird's activity level throughout the day when it is not sick. Take a moment to make notes of your bird's usual routines throughout the day.

  • When does it chatter? 
  • How active is it?  When is it most active?
  • What methods does it use to greet you in the morning? 
  • How do its eyes look
  • How eager is it when you're preparing it's meals?
  • Approximately how much food does it consume each day?

Now that you know how your bird generally behaves, make it a point to intentionally observe it each and every day. This will allow you to be able to identify subtle behavior changes indicating that you have a sick bird.

As a general rule, a sick bird's body language changes. Be on the lookout for important signs of a sick bird.  Sick birds have a distinctive look. Learn common sick bird symptoms:

  • Fluffed-up feathers. 
  • Not eating their favorite foods. ( be aware that your bird may pretend to eat)
  • Squinty eyes
  • Sleeping more than usual
  • An odd posture
  • Nasal  or eye discharge
  • Tail-bobbing  or other signs of breathing difficulties

It may be helpful to print out a copy of my bird pain assessment questionnaire to keep on hand so that you can quickly access it anytime that you suspect bird sickness.

bird pain

How can I help my sick bird?

Please know that by the time the bird is showing sick bird symptoms it's probably quite ill.  That's because of the bird's strong instinctual need to hide its illness until I can no longer fake it. 

One of the best ways to help your sick bird is to quickly provide supportive care. Please make it a point to create a bird hospital cage out of an ordinary bird carrier or an aquarium.  Have it ready for use at all times so that you can quickly stabilize your sick bird.

I use a Perch and Go Bird Carrier for my small and medium sized birds.  By keeping my bird hospital cage clean, I'm able to stabilize my sick bird at a moment's notice, saving precious time.

Let me explain what I mean by “stabilizing your bird.”  Actually, stabilizing your bird and offering it supportive care are the same thing. 

You don't want your bird to spend any excess energy trying to stay warm or coping with stress. Also, getting food and water intake should be as easy as possible. Otherwise, your bird just wont eat. All of its energy should be focused on getting better.

A good bird hospital cage equipped with the appropriate supplies will allow you to efficiently treat a sick bird. Proper sick bird treatment encourages the bird to rest by keeping it stress-free, warm, and well-nourished.

One reason that I like to use the Perch and Go Bird Carrier as my hospital cage is because the clear plastic allows me to monitor my bird. Also, I can attach easily accessible food and water dishes and Snuggle Up Bird Cage Warmer to the stainless steel door.  

Holes on the side of the carrier allow me to adjust the height of the perch so that my weak, sick bird can perch comfortably without fear of it falling off of the perch. Plus, it's just easy to keep clean.

But most importantly, I don't have to disturb my bird any more than necessary if I need to quickly transport it for emergency veterinary services.

What to feed a sick bird

Since birds have such a high metabolism they can quickly starve to death if they refuse to eat. It will be important to feed your bird  high energy foods that will help it fight off the illness and recover as quickly as possible. 

Ideally, you want your sick bird to eat on its own. That's one reason why you want the food and water bowls easily accessible. Fill the food bowl with familiar high protein and easily digestible foods.

Ideal food choices include the following:

  • Protein-rich millet
  • Mashed ripe bananas
  • Applesauce for protein-rich organic baby food
  • Soft vegetables
  • Ground-up pellets mixed with fruit juice

But, a lot of sick birds refuse to eat. If you can't get your bird to eat within a few hours of noticing that it's sick, consider offering it a hand-feeding formula.  

However, if you've never hand-fed a bird, now is not the time to learn. Contact your avian vet and arrange for an emergency appointment.

Staying hydrated is very important too. Offer your bird clean, fresh water.  You may want to offer your sick bird an electrolyte solution. Electrolytes are simply minerals that carry an electric charge which effects how the body functions. They affect the amount of water in the body, the acidity of the blood, and muscle function. Common electrolyte minerals include calcium, sodium, potassium, and magnesium. You should always have avian electrolytes in your first aid kit.

We love Zoo Med Brand because it's not just electrolytes, but a host of nutrients and probiotics that support immunity and gut health.


Here is a quick recipe that may help your sick bird.



2 C. fresh water

1 teaspoon of honey or Karo syrup

1/2 teaspoon aluminum-free baking soda (Bob's Red Mill Baking Soda)

1/2 teaspoon table salt. 


Mix well. Use a dropper, a curved teaspoon, or a creamer pitcher to get your bird to drink.

What are safe natural antibiotics for birds?

What if I told you that there were effective, safe, and inexpensive medicinal herbs sitting right in your pantry. Some of the most common herbs offer excellent remedies for common ailments and a handful of them have antibiotic properties.

Please know that the use of medicinal herbs does not take the place of treatment from an avian vet.  Always consult with your avian vet before offering your bird a supplement. Always use the actual herb leaf and never use essential oil products on your bird. 

Also, medicinal herbs work best early in the illness before it has a chance to “settle in.”  Finally, be aware that a little goes a long way. These remedies are best served in a weak tea.

Sage offers astringent and antiseptic properties and a relaxing action to mucous membranes. It is a classic remedy for inflammation. 

Thyme has disinfectant properties and can be used both internally and  externally to fight off an infection.  It makes a fine tea to support minor respiratory complaints and offers some anti-fungal properties as well.

Echinacea has been shown to improve the body's natural resistance to infection by stimulating and aiding the immune function. Also has antifungal and antibacterial properties, making it an effective medicine against certain types of fungal and bacterial infections.

What do you give a bird when its sick?

It is critical that you know how to treat a sick bird. Your bird is much less apt to get sick if you carefully follow parrot wellness standards. But, the majority of pet bird owners report that they have a hard time getting their bird to eat a nutritious diet  and that their birds don't get adequate exercise for sleep.

These common  bird care errors often result in a bird that is susceptible to sickness.  Even with the best bird care possible, it is likely that your bird will get sick at some point and it is best to be prepared. 

In this post I've discussed four major points. 

  1.  Get into the habit of performing daily wellness observations so that you can detect bird sickness in its early phases when it's easier to treat.

  2.  Purchase a bird carrier that you can convert into a hospital cage that will allow your sick bird to recuperate in a stress-free environment.

  3.  Keep your sick bird warm with a thermostatically controlled bird cage warmer or heated perch.

  4. Make frequent observations of your bird throughout the day to ensure that it is eating and staying hydrated.  If you notice that your bird is getting sicker, get it to the vet as soon as possible.

Related Posts:

How to tell if your bird is in pain

Stabilizing your sick bird and when to see a vet

8 ways to tell if your bird is sick


Adapted from Dr. Greg Burkett, ABVP, Board Certified Avian Veterinarian

Gladstar, R. Rosemary Gladstar's Medicinal Herbs. A beginner's guide..Storey Publishing, North Adams, MA. 2012.

Hawcroft, T. First aid for birds. The essential quick-reference guide. Howell Book House. New York, NY. 1994.

Rach, J. with Gallerstein, G A. An owners guide to a happy, healthy pet.  First aid for birds. Howell Book House. New York, NY. 1999.