Story Bird: Meggie


The moon rose high in the spring evening sky and I was on my way to bed. Meggie, my ten month old Congo African Grey, had long since settled down to sleep, softly grinding her beak, her neck feathers fluffed, her foot tucked under her belly, no doubt toasty warm.  As late as it was, I could not resist the impulse to open her cage door quietly and lean down to her.  In a soft voice, Meggie whispered, "Kiss?"  Gladly, I gave her a gentle kiss on the side of her neck, feeling her warmth on my face as she showered my cheek with butterfly kisses.  "She can't die!!!" my thoughts silently screamed, as hot tears flowed once again down my cheeks and onto Meggie's feathers.  She looked up at me with eyes so full of love and trust, and I caught a sob in my throat as I closed the door to her cage.

That was April 8, 2000, just one day after I had received the call from my vet, who sadly informed me that Meggie had tested positive for PBFD (Psitticine Beak and Feather Disease).  Similar to human AIDS, the circovirus which causes PBFD attacks the cells of a bird's immune system, as well as those which produce the feathers and beak.  The virus is thought to enter a young bird's system through the cloacal bursa.  Although some birds have been known to fight off the viral onslaught, thus gaining immunity for the rest of their lives, the prognosis for most is death.  More often than not, infected birds will succumb to a secondary bacterial or viral illness, due to their compromised immune systems.

In September 1999, a four month old Meggie was found living in deplorable conditions at a pet store.  Her cage was so small that she had to sit hunched over.  She had no perch  and was sitting in her own waste.  The store employees, instead of feeding her formula by syringe, were "bowl weaning" her, meaning that she had to slurp cold formula out of a bowl on the floor of the cage all by herself.  A fellow bird-lover discovered this poor little CAG as she was shopping for bird supplies.  The baby's tentative "Hello?" from the back of the store caught her attention.  Determined to rescue the African Grey darling from her deplorable conditions, the woman paid full price for her and got her out of the store that day.

The CAG was placed for adoption and I was lucky enough to get her!  Owning an African Grey had been a dream of mine for years, and now my dream was about to come true!  Before she came to live with me, however, the angel who rescued Meggie took her for a vet check.  I knew that this was very necessary, not only to find out if I was purchasing a healthy bird, but also to protect my flock at home from disease.  Sadly for us, however, the veterinarian did not recommend that two very important DNA probe tests be done: PBFD and Polyoma.  A relatively new bird owner myself (I had just obtained a sun conure one month before), I did not know any better to question what was done.

Meggie entered our home and our hearts on November 1, 1999 at age five months.  We quarantined her in a separate room from my other two birds. Probably because of her neglect, she was a relatively inactive bird, but a big talker and a complete joy.  She was taught to perch, step up and play with toys. Meggie loved to snuggle with me on my chest.  My flock seemed complete.

At the end of January 2000, I took my sun conure, Millie, to an avian vet for a check up.  I could not help but notice that my bill for these vet services was more than double what Meggie's vet check had cost.  A little alarm went off in my head.  All of Millie's tests came back clean, but I made a mental note to get Meggie into the vet soon.  I felt it could not hurt to repeat all of her tests again, for my own peace of mind.

As fate would have it, Meggie started losing weight at the end of March.  I quickly made an appointment with the same avian vet who had completed Millie 's tests.  Meggie examined well, but was thinner than she should have been. The doctor ran all the necessary tests on her, and you know the rest. Millie, sun conure, also had to be tested for PBFD again (she was clean in January, remember), and we anxiously await her results.

I don't know what the future will hold for my Meggie, but I will update this story as we go along.  She will have to be retested for PBFD on June 28, to see if she is still positive.  If she is, she will be considered latently infected.  Many birds are put down at that time, but I may keep her and continue homeopathic remedies, hoping for a miracle.  As long as Meggie is not in any discomfort, that's the plan.
Millie, sun conure, just tested NEGATIVE for PBFD, which is fantastic news.  Our vet doubts that she will become infected, but she will still have to be retested at the end of July.  Quarantine measures are still in place to protect her.

The lesson here is clear.  If you already have other birds at home, unless you can quarantine a new bird in a separate building or a room with a separate heating/air system for 30 days, and unless you're willing to change your clothes and shower each time you handle your other birds, please have it fully tested before you bring it home by a competent avian vet for the following diseases:   Polyoma Virus, Psittacosis (Chlamydia-contagious to humans) and Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PFBD).  If you do not, you run the risk of spreading highly-contagious and/or fatal diseases to your
flock.  A reputable breeder will have already tested the babies parents and the baby, and you should receive a health certification.  A good pet store should not have any problem with you taking the baby for testing before you bring it home, and providing you with a health guarantee.

Yes, it is expensive to own and take good care of our avian friends.  Save yourself the misery I am now feeling and test your flock, if you have not done so.  And, spread the word.

Meggie's 90-day retest was negative.  Thanks to the love of Meggie's mom, and the efforts of wonderful avian vet care, she was able to fight off the PBFD.  Meggie will have to be tested again around Christmas, just to make sure that she remained negative.