Beak and Feather Disease

PBFD (psittascene beak and feather diseease)

I have read with great interest the posts on PBFD. I am considering givinga home to a young Scaly Breasted Lorikeet (an extremely people-oriented bird) with PBFD (the bird hasn’t been tested but we are assuming PBFD due to his loss of tail and wing feathers).

I see many lorikeets such as you describe each breeding season. Our shop is often where people who find such birds bring them to find out what to do. These lorikeets without flight or tail feathers we call “runners”, since that is all they can do. Most are babies that have just left the nest on their maiden flight, and have landed very quickly on the ground. The public usually thinks they are birds that have fallen out of the nest but of course wild parrot babies very rarely would leave a nest prematurely, and they are inevitably PBFD sufferers.

The disease in Lories seems to follow a somewhat different direction to that in cockatoos. A cockatoos that gets PBFD and shows visible signs of it in our experience will inevitably die. However many of these lorikeet runners survive. Our experience is that about 25% die within 6 months, usually from liver failure, 25% never grow flight feathers, but often keep a full body feather cover (although some do gradually lose all body feathers as well over maybe 2 years and eventually die), while the remaining 50% appear to make a full recovery, and grow functioning flight feathers.

I say “appear” with good reason, since some at least of these birds that apparently recover, continue to be actively shedding the virus and can infect other birds. I know of cases where wildlife rescue people have kept such birds, which have subsequently bred (sometimes years later) and have passed the disease on to their babies. Since it is impossible to know which birds are still shedding the virus and which have developed a full immunity, and since the necessary blood test to show this information is too expensive to routinely do for wild birds, it is now the policy of the government wildlife authorities to euthanise all runner lorikeets.

In the past those birds which appeared to recover were often released, and it is thought that the increase in numbers of lorikeets in recent years that have PBFD is directly due to such release practices – some of those released were still carriers and infected their chicks.

Of course without human intervention those chicks that left the nest as runners would not have survived, since a ground dwelling lorikeet has no future. Human intervention has removed nature’s way of culling these affected birds. Our policy when runners are brought into us is to euthanise them immediately. A difficult task but a necessary one.

Sometimes the person that has bought in the bird will want to keep it and give it a good home. If they do then we are happy for them to do so, but we give them all the information we can, both about the disease, and the risks if they have other birds, as well as the diet and care information. We also stress the “not to be released” rule.

Which brings me to Carole’s dilemma. I think (and I stress “think” rather than “know”) that the lorikeets PBFD is somehow different from that which affects other parrots, and I suspect that it is not readily passed on to other birds. I am sure that it is very rare for an adult bird, with a healthy immune system to catch PBFD, unless it is severely compromised by very close contact with an infected bird, and is somehow stressed.

So, while I think the risks of keeping a lorikeets with PBFD near to other species of parrots are very low, I cannot say they are zero, and so my advice to all our customers is that if they have pets birds then do not take the risk, and pass the bird on to others to care for or to euthanise as appropriate.

I am afraid Carole, that my advice is not to take the Scaly – there is that small chance that you would be placing your present birds at risk.


Mike Owen Queensland