Egg Laying, Egg Binding, and Low Calcium

By: Debbie Russell, MD Adoption Coordinator and
Laura Ford, MD Education Coordinator

Excessive or chronic egg laying is when a hen (female parrot) is laying prolonged, excessive and larger than normal clutch sizes. There are lots of reasons for excessive egg laying. The presence of a perceived mate, be it another bird, a toy or you can be the cause of excessive egg laying. Limit the amount of physical interaction with your parrot. Touch only her head. Stroking the bird under its wings, down it back or under its tail near the vent is a no-no. You are making your parrot sexually frustrated which can also cause screaming, feather plucking and biting. An increase in daylight can bring on hormonal changes too. If your hen begins this chronic egg laying pattern, reduce the length of her day to 10-12 hours. Provide her a quiet, dark place to sleep for 12-14 hours. This may help to break her egg laying cycle. Diets rich in phytoestrogen such as soy & flax, and warm soft foods can bring on nesting behaviors. There may also be underlying physical issues that over stimulate hormone production that your vet can check for. Excessive or chronic egg laying can cause multiple health problems in parrots. They can become egg bound, develop osteoporosis, which eventually can lead to broken bones, lose weight and feathers and eventually become malnourished.

It is always wise to know the sex of your parrots. A simple DNA test can be performed by your avian vet when you take your parrot in for its annual exam and blood work. So, what is egg binding? Egg binding is the inability of a hen to pass or expel a developed or partially developed egg through the reproductive system at a normal rate. Eggs can be formed and laid without the presence of a male. If diagnosed and treated early, the outcome is usually very good. If left untreated, the parrot could die.

Kelly_egg_2010
This is an actual Quaker egg.

What causes egg binding in pet parrots? Egg binding is very common in parrots with other health problems like obesity, lack of exercise and poor diet.

If you know your parrot is a female, here are signs of egg binding; however, these will vary depending upon the severity:

  • Abdominal straining
  • Wagging or bobbing of the tail
  • Wings drooping
  • Standing with a wide stance
  • Lack of appetite
  • Leg paralysis or lameness (the egg is putting pressure on the nerves going to the legs)
  • Abdomen distended
  • Dirty vent area
  • Feathers fluffed
  • Weakness
  • Difficult breathing
  • Sitting at the bottom of the cage
  • Prolapse is possible
  • Occasionally sudden death

How is egg binding diagnosed?

Your avian veterinarian will make the diagnosis based on history, clinical signs, physical examination, radiography (x-rays) and/or ultrasound. Sometimes it is necessary to stabilize your parrot before proceeding with extensive examinations. If you think your parrot is egg bound and your vet’s office is closed, contact the local emergency clinic to see if there is an avian vet on call. If there isn’t an avian vet on call, try the following until you can get your parrot to your avian vet early the next morning:

1. Give liquid Calcium directly into the bird’s beak with an eyedropper. Liquid calcium is rapidly adsorbed and can revitalize nerves and muscles that allow the hen to push the egg out.

2. Keep you parrot warm. Place you parrot in a smaller cage or travel carrier, and sit the cage/carrier on a heating pad. DO NOT put the heating pad inside the cage/carrier. Try to get the temperature between 85 -90 degrees Fahrenheit.

3. Moisture is also very important. Humidity should be around 80%. Steam from a shower will help, but don’t give your parrot a bath. Place the small cage/carrier in a small bathroom, shut the door and turn on the shower, running very hot water to make steam.

4. Try to get your parrot to eat her favorite food and drink a little water or Gatorade. Also, water with aloe vera juice might help get the egg moving. Aloe vera juice acts as an internal lubricant.

How to treat egg binding:

Treatment will depend on lots of things such as the condition of the bird, the severity of the signs, where the egg is located, the length of time the bird has been egg bound and if the egg has passed either whole or partially. Your avian vet will know what to do for your parrot. She might need to stay at your vets in an incubator for a few days.

Things to prevent your parrot from becoming egg bound:

1. Feed a high quality diet of fresh fruits and veggies including lots of dark greens, like turnip greens, arugula, kale, collards, mustard greens, dandelions, chicory, cabbage, pak choi/bok choy, sprouted grains, legumes, and sprouted seed. Peppermint, spearmint and basil have surprisingly high amounts of calcium. Celery seed, dill seed, fennel seed, unhulled sesame seed, cumin and coriander seeds are an excellent source of calcium too. Stay away from spinach, Swiss chard and beet greens as they prevent the absorption of calcium. Cuttle bone and crushed oyster shell are NOT good sources of calcium, as they are indigestible by birds.

2. Ask your vet to recommend a calcium supplement. A good one is Calciboost. This is a liquid that provides the needed calcium, magnesium and D3 in an easily absorbed form. You add it to water or place on soft food. http://www.allbirdproducts.com/newproductpages/calciboost.html

3. Cut out all soy and flax from her diet, as they are phytoestrogen items and will stimulate excessive egg laying.

4. Begin an exercise routine for your “couch potato” hen, to strengthen her muscles.

If your parrot is laying eggs and you don’t have a male parrot, the eggs are not fertile. Let your parrot keep the eggs until she has no interest in them. If they break, try substituting plastic eggs, golf balls or small wooden balls. Another good idea is to place a beach towel on the crate of the cage and over with newspaper, so the next egg doesn’t break and you can also make sure the whole egg was expelled. Parrots usually lay eggs every other day until they have a small clutch of about 3-4 eggs. If you have a male, the eggs should be considered fertile. Poke a small hole in them with a needle or place in the freezer, or hard boil them.

Trixie_and_wooden_eggs_small
Trixie, Blue and Gold macaw sitting on her wooden eggs.

Also, your vet might suggest Lupron injections. They are expensive and don’t always work, but it’s worth trying.

Even when your bird lays eggs with seemingly no difficulties, their health can still be at risk. During the process of forming an egg, calcium is robbed from other areas of the body, such as the bones, muscles and nervous system, and can result in a condition known as hypocalcaemia. Some of the symptoms of hypocalcaemia are muscle weakness, difficulty climbing, gripping a perch, and loss of balance. The symptoms can progress into neurological issues such as twitching, spasms, toe tapping (often seen in Eclectus parrots), or the more serious seizures of an epileptic nature. These birds are also at a much higher risk of bone breakage or bent bones, known as rickets. Low calcium may even be at the root of many behavioral problems such as excessive fearfulness, aggressiveness, feather plucking or self mutilation. (It should be noted that parrots of both sexes who have a poor diet history can be susceptible to hypocalcaemia.)

As with anything related to a healthy diet, there is a synergy or balance of multiple items to be considered. Such is the case with calcium. You can feed your parrot the most calcium rich diet possible, but if there is a lack of vitamin D, calcium cannot be absorbed and metabolized. The best and safest source of vitamin D is natural sunlight. Full spectrum lighting can be used at times when the weather will not allow you to get your parrot out into the sunshine. Vitamin D supplements can be used in cases of extreme deficiency, but use caution as too much can cause renal failure.

Isn’t it ironic that we bring these wonderful parrots into our homes, give them tons of love, security, environmental enrichment, and great diets thinking we are doing “all the right things.” Then suddenly we’re faced with nesting and egg laying behaviors which can sometimes be life threatening. It’s especially ironic when for many years some of these parrots were thought to be male!

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25 thoughts on “Egg Laying, Egg Binding, and Low Calcium

  1. Timely mention of this information in the Phoenix Landing news letter. Last week, at the age of about 30, Chiquita decided to lay her first egg. As she is alone, it was not fertile. Good thing, as she laid it from a perch 4′ above the next surface. The event scared us both, but she is fine now. The Avian vet gave much the same advice, but not as much information, as this blog. I will be following the advice of Russell and Ford. Thank you!!

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  2. Our 18 year old white capped pionus just laid an egg. We had thought it was a male all this time. I am going to follow the advice on this site, for now I think its a behavior problem. The egg broke and I took it out of the cage. I will try to replace it with a small ball to prevent her from laying any more eggs.

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  3. My daughter and I have a great mini-mccaw that is 17 years old that started laying eggs but they would break because she would lay them from her perch. One day I noticied she had only layed a partial egg and her behavior was off. Right away I took action to call Phoenix landing for emergency vet’s #’s and called my normal vet. The very next morning I took her in to the Vet as soon as they opened with a very good friend of mine. They diagnosed her right away. This was the scariest time for me. They had her in an incubator for 3 days and started her on antibiotics. She eventionally reabsorbed the egg and is in great heath. Please read the information that Debbie and Laura have posted. When my mini-mccaw was going through the egg binding I was doing my research night and day.

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  4. I have an eclectus who laid an egg Tuesday and I believe she has more to go as she looks puffy and still has loose poop . I hope that she isn’t egg bound,is there any advice you can give me? I love her so very much and I am so confused with everything that I have been reading…..Thank you for any help you can give me.I’m especially concernd about the calcium,I’m going to go stock up on some high percentage of calcium fruits and veggies for her and look for the liquid if I can find it. Unfortunately we don’t have a very big selection of bird products where I live, again thank you for your time and any help you can give me and my Rosie girl!!Sincerely,Margie

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  5. Our 23 yr old Ruby hadn’t laid an egg in over 12 yrs…within the span of 3 short months, we lost(natural causes) our sister bloodhounds(10 1/2 yrs old!), then gave our 20 yr old Blue and Gold to a dear friend, so she would receive the affection she deserves….subsequently, our Ruby, has become the ‘Primary’ pet…bonded…rather tightly w/me…got buckets of attention and then it started laying eggs…2 @ home..the third @ the vet…we thought she was egg-bound…the nerves in her left leg were being pinched off with little circulation…while on the phone with her vet…a 45 minute call..discussing all possibilities of removing the rather large egg which was still up high near the ovarian duct….she produced the egg….sorry for the language, but even her vet called it a “wtf” moment…as if she knew what was to come…she doesn’t do needles ..lol..long and short of it is….ALWAYS keep a keen eye on any behavioral changes with ur hen….feather plucking, grabbing her backside as if to pull, super lovey, seemingly standing on only one leg, favoring the other…..remember that for these creatures, laying an egg is akin to a human, ahem ‘producing’ a watermelon, or a 10+ lb baby whose head doesn’t mold during childbirth!…ladies, I think u get my drift! Hopemy post was both entertaining and informative.
    Cath

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  6. My parrot has laid eggs but has no interest in building a nest. What do I do? There was blood in the egg and was told the egg was most likely fertilized.

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  7. My Sun Conure (Keytu) is laying eggs. I am having a horrible time getting calcium in her as her diet has always beens mostly seeds. She has layed 2 eggs so far since 1/14/13. Today she is acting strange such as biting me, not letting me touch her, etc. I found from your article that Basil is a good source of calcium so I sprinkled that on seeds and pellets which I am trying desperately for her to eat (no luck so far) I have given her scrambled eggs, carrots, basil and the new pellet diet the vet recommended. I need help…..please!!!!

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  8. I have a Indian Ringneck that layed one egg on the 5th of Jan. She is still sitting on it and I know that she should only sit for 23 or 24 days. Should I take it out of her box?

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  9. I have a hahns macaw that is now 10 years old. The day before Thanksgiving 2012, she was egg bound so I took her to the vet. The vet put her to sleep and removed the egg. A few days later, she laid an egg. This went on till right before Christmas. She laid 9 eggs between the day before Thanksgiving and January 14. She finally stopped after I left the eggs in her sleeping tent. I took them out one at a time every week till they were gone.

    I thought she was going to stop laying eggs then in February, she was egg bound again. Six times the vet has had to put her to sleep and remove the eggs. She has had 16 eggs today since the day before Christmas. She doesn’t have a mate, and I’ve put her to bed at night extra early to try to give her more dark time so she would stop producing eggs.

    The vet removed the 16th egg 2 weeks ago and gave her a hormone shot. She was on antibiotics, pain meds and now calcium liquid. The vet also gave her a hormone shot and we are hoping that she will stop laying eggs. The vet is very concerned about her loss of calcium as the eggs were getting to soft for her to pass.

    She is off the antibiotic and pain med now but continuing the calcium liquid for another 3 weeks. She hasn’t had anymore eggs but looks like she might be getting ready to. She was contactly shredding the papers in the bottom of her cage so I tied the grate so she couldn’t reach the papers to shred them.

    She is the sweetest bird and doesn’t give me any problems trying to give her the medications but sometimes she is a little protective of her cage. I am very nervous that I am going to lose her and she is VERY picky and won’t eat hardly anything I give her to eat. She picks at the seeds and eats some of the pellets but doesn’t eat a lot. I hope her egg laying will stop for a while. The vet doesn’t want her to have anymore eggs for at least 6 months. I’m not sure what I can do to prevent it but I’m researching everything I can on egg laying and egg binding so thank you for putting this article on Facebook for me to read and save. If you have any advise, I would appreciate anything you can tell me to do for her. She is the sweetest and most tame bird our of my 4 parrots that I have.

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  10. I have a bronze winged Pionus parrot named Joey who we thought was a boy until he laid an egg. She was making wierd noises when left alone on her cage but when she came out she stopped. We took her to the vet to make sure she didn’t have a respiratory problem. However three days later we found out she’s a girl. She laid her first egg Thursday, and is still making the wierd noises, I think she is trying to lay another but I am concerned. Is there anything else I can do to help? We are limiting her daylight and giving her liquid calcium. I don’t know how long I should let her continue with this process before I take her back to the vet.

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  11. I only wish that I had come across this sight earlier. My Quaker Parrot named Lucky died on August 7th 2013 (2 days ago) due to egg binding. Lucky laid a small egg last month but we thought it was the only one so we haven’t paid much attention to it. The greatest mistake I’ve ever made.

    My whole family adored Lucky and this has truly devistated everyone. I feel absolutely terrible for letting this happen and not doing my research.

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  12. Bien, my 4 year old blue and gold is laying eggs. She was in sorry shape when I claimed her 2 months ago in regards to her feathers, fearfulness and lack of mobility in her feet and legs. She is a super picky eater and has made great progress in the short time I have had her. This egg laying began last week and she shows no signs of slowing down. I have done quite alot of research and have now seen the error of my ways in regards to her diet, and am changing them. However, I would like to know HOW much calcium can I give her and HOW long in the sun does she need to be for an appropriate amount of vitamin D? She is my 2nd bird and my first is my little nutty Military Macaw of 10 months now. (hence, I am not the brightest in regards to parrots…) of that, I am quite sorry now. Your information is greatly appreciated as I havent found answers to my questions yet. Thank you, Jessi

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  13. My 9 year old Sun Conure has been laying many eggs recently has become very weak, not eating and I’ve managed to get honey water into her. What soft food can I feed her as she’s a muesli seed eater and isn’t interested. Please help.

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  14. I have a Quaker parrot who I have had for 4 months. I was told by the previous owner that he is 2 years old and she has had him since he was a baby. He turned out to be a she this morning upon having her first egg. I am quite sure it was a unfertilized egg since this is the only bird that I own. As far as I know the previous owner had another bird but did not have them in the cage together and it was another type of bird. My question is how should I handle the one and egg and will she be expected to have more? any and all suggestions would be appreciated since this is my first Quaker. Thank you.

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  15. We just lost our Quaker Parrot to being egg bound. She was 5 years old and had never laid an egg so we have been waiting for it to happen. She was acting totally normal for several days before her death and gave us no indication there was any problems. She was her talking, or should I say sassy self and was just out and playing with the family the night before we found her dead in the cage the next morning. It was very unexpected!

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  16. My conure is 27 (I’ve had her since she was 3 mo)- she laid her first 3 eggs when she was 16, then 10 years later laid a couple more. No males involved. I took her to the vet who gave her a shot (hormone) to stop her producing. He said sometimes that works, sometimes not. It’s been 4 months and she is laying eggs again. The first was broken, then took her to the vet for checkup and shot. She produced a 2nd which I was advised to let her keep til she’s bored. She wasn’t eating or sleeping , so I take her out of her cage (she’s tame so lets me) to feed her. After eating, I put her back in her cage and she ate a bit more. I gave her the egg back but will need to remove her from the cage to make sure she eats. I’m calling my vet now about calcium drops! She used to eat pellets but stopped (around her egg laying time) so started feeding her seed just so she would eat (she’s only 110 grams). Vet advised me to crush pellets over seed so she is at least getting some of the nutrition from the seed.

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  17. My 15 year old Blue and Gold just laid her 1st egg. Her behavior had changed quite a bit here in the last 30 days and I thought it was because of our move to a much more tranquil environment. Now I am concerned she will continue to lay eggs or go into depression because I have removed her egg. She is truly a joy for me and I want to make sure she is ok. Her diet has been good with pellets and fresh fruit and veggies, I will add a few of the ones suggested in the blog to assure her having enough calcium. I feel bad that I may have caused her to lay the eggs as we play and hug. I will definitely keep my petting to her head area as to not stimulate her. I have had her since she was 3 months old and I bottle fed her for 3+ months so we are bonded for sure. What should I watch for in the next few days to make sure she is not depressed or sick? Lois

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  18. I have a rainbow lorikeet parrot who is a 20 year old rescue bird. Started laying eggs. I am very worried because I lost a sun connure a few months ago, same problem. I will try all of your suggestions.

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  19. Hi, I have a 12 year old sun conure. She started laying eggs at the age of 8. Lately she has been Laing eggs and hasn’t stopped. She laid 9 as of 2 days ago. Her diet is mainly pellets with veggies and fruit once in a while. I’m getting worried about her it’s winter and she usually lays 2-4 eggs. Her Avian Vet is gone for the holidays. She’s not weak and she is still acting normal for her. She makes a clicking sound when she’s laying. I was told to remove her eggs and I have. Then I read to leave them. She lays them on the bottom grate in her cage. My heart goes out to her. Please help. Thank you in advance

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  20. I’ve found to prevent egg binding that I put a drop of skin and plummage oil in her food every morning. The oil makes the egg slid out easily.

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  21. I have a sun conure. She had difficulty laying her third egg. Took her 4 days of suffering. I gave her 5ml of aloe vera juice with acsyringe and a few minutes later she finally layed the egg. Thankyou very much for the advice.

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  22. I wish we could get the word out, find out if your parrot is male or female ASAP! Alberto is an 18 year old Yellow Nape Amazon, we’ve had “her” for 14 years. We assumed she was male, as that’s what the original owners told us. We’ve never had any health problems with her (unlike my mini macaw), so only vet trips have been for air travel certificates. This week has been stressful to us all. Alberto was acting very hormonal, and has been for months. The actions looked female to me so I decided to finally have “him” DNA’d. We went to the vet and the he discovered a lump in the abdomen. After x-way it was confirmed to be an egg. Vet said she should lay in within 2 days. No DNA needed LOL. No egg, on day 5 I saw her straining so day 6 Mon. morning we went to the vet. He tried for a day & half to “help” the egg out without success. So surgery. It was ectopic! We are lucky. Other than the straining Alberto showed no signs of being in distress. The egg broke during surgery, causing more complications. I’m fortunate I took her to the vet when I did. She’s now home resting and on meds.

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  23. My 3 year old does today from egg binding. The vet said it was stuck quite high up. I keep asking if it was stuck or just not time to come out. I am totally devastated. I didn’t think I needed to know her sex as I was not going to breed, how wrong was I. I am totally shocked at what has happened.

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