You may be surprised to learn that birds can be infested with lice. We usually associate lice with animals and humans that have hair. But these little pests can also infest the feathers of a bird, including our avian housemates. Let’s take a closer look at these small and troublesome insects.
What Are Bird Lice?
According to birds-online.de, biting lice are members of the ectoparasites. This means that they live in the outside of their hosts rather than internally. They are flightless insects that feed on the bird’s feathers. Several different types of lice affect different bird species, but they all have very similar characteristics.
The lice can be as large as 3 millimeters, making them easily visible without magnification. They have six legs, are oblong-shaped, and are usually dark-colored. They do not like direct light and will burrow into the bird’s feathers to avoid exposure to it. Lice live permanently on the bird and reproduce by laying eggs on the feather barbs. Eggs hatch in two weeks and the larvae become adults in 5 weeks. Below is a video showing feather lice in action.
Since these lice live on the bird’s feathers there is no danger of them infesting you or your other pets. They can, however, bite and can cause generalized itching if they get on your body. If your bird is infected with lice, you should limit your contact with it until it has been successfully treated.
How do Birds Get Lice?
The most common way a bird will get lice is by having them jump on their body from another infected bird. They do not live for long once separated from their host, but there is a slight possibility of a bird picking one up from an area where an infected bird had recently congregated or nested. If kept in close proximity, the lice on one infected bird can quickly spread to others nearby.
For these reasons, lice are not very prevalent in pet parrots, though on rare occasions rarely come home with a new arrival that was not obtained from a reputable source. Once your bird is home and you ascertain that it is lice-free, there is very little chance that these pests will ever pose a problem for you.
Feather lice are most often found in wild birds, poultry, and birds kept in outdoor aviaries or coops. Those bird enthusiasts who keep pigeons should be especially on guard for the appearance of bird lice on their flock. As mentioned previously, an infestation can quickly spread throughout the occupancy of a pigeon coop. Your birds can be fine one day and then one picks up lice while out for a flight. Before you know it, you can have a major live infestation on your hands.
Any birds that are kept outside may be subject to picking up lice from wild birds that come near the aviary. You should periodically check your birds for lice if they are exposed to wild birds even if they may not present symptoms of infestation.
How Can I Identify Feather Lice on my Bird?
According to wagwalking.com, the symptoms that your bird will exhibit if lice have taken up residence in its feathers are:
- Constant preening
- Ruffled feathers
- Excessive scratching
- Signs of feather damage
- Restless and aggravated behavior
Depending on your bird’s coloration it may be difficult to see the lice under normal circumstances. By extending the bird’s wings and holding them up to the light you may be able to detect the insects through the feathers. Below is a video that shows how to identify lice in pigeons.
Are There Any Health Problems Associated With Bird Lice?
Most of the lice that infest birds are of the biting variety, not the type that suck the blood of their hosts. While biting lice can cause the symptoms noted above, they will usually not cause further health issues. An infestation of blood-sucking lice can result in anemia in the host bird. In any case, once you have identified the presence of lice on your bird you should take steps to treat it and eradicate the pests.
How Can I Treat Feather Lice?
Feather lice can be treated in a number of ways according to second-opinion-doc.com. You can give your bird internal medication that will kill the lice or you can opt for an external treatment. Whichever type of treatment you choose, be advised that a single dose will not kill unhatched eggs, so a second treatment is required 7 to 10 days after the initial one.
- Ivermectin – This medication can be added to your bird’s drinking water and will kill lice as well as other problematic parasites.
- Pyrethrin – This is a natural insecticide and can be mixed with water and offered for baths or sprayed on your bird and throughout the aviary.
Other mild insecticides may be used, but you should not use ointments as they interfere with your bird’s natural temperature control system. Check with your vet and be cautious of over the counter alternatives that may be harmful to your bird.
How Do I Prevent Feather Lice?
To prevent a reoccurrence of a lice infestation you need to thoroughly clean and disinfect all areas of the bird’s aviary or housing after successfully treating the animal. You may need to use the services of a professional exterminator if the infestation has spread to your house. Failure to eliminate any leftover lice will lead to another infestation of your bird.
Will My Bird Recover From Feather Lice?
Lice are a nuisance but will usually not pose a long term health risk if dealt with adequately. Letting the problem persist and allowing your bird to be constantly irritated and uncomfortable is not recommended. Once your bird is free from lice and the surroundings have been treated to prevent their return, your bird should show no long-term ill effects.