In detail

Bird featherlings: what to do about the parasites?


Featherlings are rare in a bird that is kept as a pet. These are parasites that nest in the birds' plumage and feed on the feather material. Here you can find out how to recognize springlings and what you can do in case of an infestation. Bird featherlings are transmitted through close physical contact, but luckily they are quite rare - Shutterstock / Pablo Rodriguez Merkel

There are many different types of featherlings that often specialize in a particular species of bird. These parasites are not transferable to humans. Usually featherlings pass from one bird to the other through close physical contact - sometimes they get into the plumage through intermediate hosts such as louse flies or mosquitoes.

What are bird featherlings?

Springlings are also known as Mallophagida, Philopteridae or Läuslinge, and are wingless insects. They belong to the lice and are so-called ectoparasites. This is what they call parasites that only appear externally on the body, such as fleas, ticks, mites and lice. The pests are related to the hair lice, which can affect the fur of cats or dogs.

They feel particularly comfortable in warm, dark parts of the body, which is why they prefer to nest on the underside of the feathers. There they eat the feather material (keratin) and dander, only rarely do they suck blood or tissue fluid. Detached springlings only survive for a few days.

The featherlings are usually fixed to a certain bird species. For example, there are special featherlings for the following birds:

● parakeets
● Canaries
● pigeons
● chickens

As a rule, they remain loyal to their traditional host animals. In direct physical contact they change their hosts and lay their eggs (nits) under the feathers. Once the springling larvae hatch, it takes about three to five weeks before they are fully grown.

Causes and risk factors for a parasite infestation

The cause of featherlings is usually direct body contact with a bird infected by the parasites. They seldom get from host to host via mosquitoes and louse flies. There are also a number of risk factors that allow transmission and make it easier for the feathers to reproduce. This includes:

● Contact with wild birds in an outdoor aviary
● Missing health check of new arrivals in the bird group
● Lack of space, cages too tight
● Lack of hygiene in the aviary
● Deformation or injury to the beak
● stress
● Mauser
● exhaustion
● diseases

Healthy birds with an intact immune system are able to repel featherlings well, so that the parasites do not spread even after close contact with infected species. If their defenses are weakened, for example by stress, lack of space, lack of cleanliness or illnesses, the parasites have an easy job.

It is also unfavorable if the birds are unable to clean their plumage adequately. This is the case, for example, if you do not have a clean bird bath or if your beak is damaged.

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Symptoms of featherlings in your birds

If the feather infestation has progressed further, the first symptoms appear. Signs of the parasites are for example:

● Eating marks and other damage to the springs
● Increased urge to clean
● redness of the skin
● spring loss
Anemia (very rare)

The featherlings often impair the water-repellent effect of the plumage. Affected birds can also no longer optimally regulate their body temperature.

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Diagnosis at the veterinarian: exclude other parasites and diseases

If you suspect featherlings in your birds, be sure to go to the vet with them. The symptoms mentioned can also occur with skin fungi or other parasites, for example mites. Furthermore, the featherlings can be a symptom of another disease or a damaged beak - the sooner this is recognized by the veterinarian and treated appropriately, the better for your bird.

For the diagnosis, the veterinarian looks at the undersides of the feathers against the light. Often you can already see the feeding marks, nits or the springlings themselves. A magnifying glass is not always necessary, but it is still helpful. In addition, the veterinarian will examine your bird from head to toe to determine other causes of the symptoms or to rule them out.

This is how featherlings can be treated in birds

The veterinarian treats your bird with an insecticide, an insecticide, in powder form. He dusted the undersides of the feathers with the powder so that the parasites die there. For safety reasons, the treatment must be repeated two weeks later.

Caution! The insecticide is often not entirely safe for the bird. Therefore, discuss with your veterinarian which remedy is the most harmless and whether there are any alternatives. Products with lactic acid, for example, often prove to be effective against featherlings, but are completely harmless to birds.


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