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.
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
- 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.
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!