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Parrots/Sun conure malnourished and sick?


QUESTION: I went on vacation recently and had a friend take care of my 2 year old conure. She forgot to feed him for 2-1 days. (he bad water though) he had a big bowl of food so she couldn't figure out when he ran out of food, but when I came home at max 2 days since she had last fed and fed him myself. He ate and ate and ate till his crop was huge, I thought that he might over-eat but I figured that he should keep eating. He eventually stopped eating and was fine for the rest of the night. When I woke up this morning, he had thrown up a little and was all fluffy and had his eyes closed slightly. He hasn't vomited since and he is still eating and drinking but he is also still fluffy and rocks his head back and forth a little. He also twitches his wings very often like a tick. What really happened to him? I assume that this is from not eating and I don't know if it is worth taking him to the vet since is is eating and drinking now. Should I just let him continue to eat or should I take him to the vet? But what would the vet actually do if I took him?

ANSWER: -- Well, we now know who NOT to let bird sit anymore, right?  I take it that you're feeding a seed blend diet.  It's easy to not know there aren't seeds left when a bunch of hulls are left behind in the bowl.  

This leads me to believe that what you're seeing isn't so much from the lack of food, but from the kind of food.  Fortunately he's very young and the damage might not be permanent or terribly serious at this point.

By going without food it's possible his liver had begun to shut down and then gorging on food may have sent it into overdrive at it's weakest functionality.  Obviously this is a very simple way of putting it, but the vomiting is of concern, along with the other symptoms.

Are we sure it's vomiting though?  Regurgitation is not vomiting.  Vomiting is a head flicking event where a thick, very sticky substance is thrown all over the place and inevitably lands right on the bird's head.   Often, owners will see or feel this Karo/corn syrup type substance and not know what it is.  

Regurgitation is the head bobbing motion with delivery of partially digested food in a pile right in front of the bird.

Vomiting is always more serious.  If it happens once we can watch carefully, but if it happens again, there's no other choice than bringing the bird in within 12-24 hours.  I'm serious.   

Let's first dispel any nonsense about bird vets being 'too expensive'.  Where I am, a well bird visit is $40.  If owners bring their bird in even twice a year for a check up, we're still talking less than .25 cents a day.  If an owner doesn't think their intelligent, beautiful and loving companion is worth that, I would have to urge them to please adopt their bird out to someone who does.
Now, as for feeding:  Especially after going through any length of time without food we want to be kind to his liver.  If, as I suspect, he's been eating a seed blend diet, we want to be even kinder.  And importantly, we want him off seeds.  

If you wouldn't stick a child in a closet and feed them nothing but cookies and fast food hamburgers, then you shouldn't feed that equivalent to a cherished bird.  

Seeds are NOT part of a natural diet.  At least not by themselves.  Wild birds are in flight nearly ALL day and their metabolisms burn off the fatty seeds they might find.  Mostly though, they'll eat greens, vegetation, fruits and nuts.   Oh and no peanuts.  Not a single bird on earth digs under ground to harvest peanuts.  And since peanuts have a fungus in them that is potentially deadly to a bird, it's like playing Russian roulette every time we give them one.  Yes, even the top grade, roasted, human kind -- the fungus, usually harmless to humans, is still there inside the shells.
Sunflower seeds are cheap and easy filler for seed companies - and like feeding your bird pure lard.  Virtually no nutritional value whatsoever, but it fills them up.

Seeds and peanuts are the leading cause of heart disease, thyroid disease and liver failure, among other diseases and terminal conditions (tumors, infections) in birds.

So please stop.   

I've been able to convert 30 year seed eaters to healthy foods in no more than a week and you can too:


  With all this said, the bottom line is yes, take your bird in if for nothing else than to establish him with a vet.  You absolutely need someone in place for an emergency and if he's already a patient there are no exorbitant fees for an emergency visit like there is if the vet is seeing him for the first time as an emergency patient.   AND if you have regular check ups, the vet is far more likely to even open his office for an emergency that involves an established and regular patient.  

Planning for emergencies is part of responsible ownership.  Just like it's part of being a parent.   This bird has the intelligence and sentience of a human toddler.

NO other pet is sentient like this.  Psittacines are ranked up with apes, dolphins and elephants (and humans).   Just because he can't use our language as much as we do doesn't make him any less intelligent.  After all, we can't exactly speak his either.

--- You're clearly a good owner or you wouldn't have asked this.  Now let's make you the BEST owner you can be.   


---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: He has aleays been on a zupreem natural pellet diet for conures. The only seeds he ever gets is an occasional treat of millet. She forgot to feed him because her dad was in a terrible car crash and she was in the hospital with him (and still is). I'm not sure if it was vomiting though, I didn't see it happen, all I saw was what appeared to be like vomit (brown from his pellets, texture of baby food). He only did it one time though and he had a little bit of it on his beak. This morning he has stopped flicking his wings and bobbing his head. He is just fluffy and a little slow but is moving about some. He's not just sitting in a corner like before. Is he on the up?

--  Let's do this (and I'm only recommending it because you ARE feeding him responsibly and that means you're likely doing everything else right too):   Watch for another 24 hours.  This means monitoring his droppings for consistency, color and construction (normal fecal centers, urates and urine) and while increasing his fresh foods to include dark, dark colors like kale, sweet potatoes, carrots, broccoli, squash -- look for 100% improvement to find absolutely no fluffing, no looking 'off' at all, ok?

I'm say "100%" and "no" looking 'off' because birds have an innate and spectacularly developed ability to mask.   Many times it results in what owners call "all of sudden" deaths.  Virtually no bird ever dies "all of a sudden".  Unless hit by a car, eaten by a cat or slammed in a door and the like, birds just don't up and get found deceased.

They have a causation and they've been masking it like the experts they are, right up until they can't hide it anymore.

--- Unfortunately, the owners who know all about this are those who can't go back in time and take their bird to the vet

 Just keep this in mind as you become convinced by your bird that he's getting better.  Is he?  Or is he doing what nature has ingrained in his species for BILLIONS of years before we humans arrived ?   Which is the reason these dinosaurs evolved into birds (yes, EVERY bird you see is the evolution of a very adaptable species of dinosaur), from Hummingbirds to Macaws, chickens to pigeons

If he acts 'off' even a little bit -- make that vet visit.   You really have to do this anyway and now is as good a time as any

---  Keep up your good work by the way.  I'm glad to hear you're a responsible owner  


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Rev. Dr. S.August Abbott


Certified Avian Specialist; Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council member; Own animal rescue org; National Wildlife habitat #66378; bird care, nutrition & behavior consultant; International Assoc. of Animal Behavior Consultants Associate; National Wildlife Federation Leaders Club member; published bird care, info and behavior articles and guides. Ongoing education in exotic bird behavior and nutrition I can answer behavioral, nutritional, environmental, characteristic/personality questions as well as general health and health care. No animal emergency can ever be addressed on the internet. We cannot see your animal, perform an examination, provide necessary care or medication. Please value your companion for the priceless, living creature they are; not for what you might have paid for them.


Certified Avian Specialist. For more than 30 years I've worked with veterinarians, protective facilities, nature centers, preserves and on my own in providing care and education with regard to multiple animal species, including raptors (hawks, kestrals, owls, etc) and marsupials. In recent years I've focused on parrots, usually rescued from abusive or less than ideal situations and helping educate owners as to proper care. Expert in behavior studies and modification of problem behavior.

4AnimalCare is the organization I run as an animal ministry; World Wildlife Association, Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, National Wildlife Federation Leaders Club and more

Bird Talk Magazine articles about rescued and problem macaws.

Doctorate, Ordained Minister

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