Overgrown Beak & Claws
Every time a caged bird is caught for any purpose, his feet and beak should be inspected – for his claws and bill grow at a rate that was fixed by nature during the millions of years he lived in the wild state, a rate sufficient to take care of the wear of a rather strenuous life. Cage life does not provide that wear; so, naturally, the beak and claws become overgrown and must be trimmed at frequent intervals.
To do this, take the bird in your hand; hold him on the level with the edge of the table, with one of his feet resting on the table; and then, with a sharp knife, snip off the overgrown claws. The cut should be made a point just beyond the end of the blood.
The beak can be trimmed in the same manner. It is the sides and the point of the upper mandible which become overgrown. The point of the bill is snipped off in the same manner as the claws, though it is best to cut on an angle and from both sides, so as not to leave the bill blunt. The sides are cut by resting the point of the bill on the table, slipping a thin, sharp knife inside of the mouth and cutting the point of the bill downwards.
To cut back towards the corner of the mouth would be to invite a serious accident. And this is not such a safe operation in any case. The edges of the bird’s bill are very hard, but only the edges. Just below them, the tissue is very soft. If the knife is not held under firm control at all times, the force necessary to cut through the edge of the bill may cause it to slip and cut half of the bird’s bill off instead of just the overgrown edge.
The scales of the feet, too are replaced at a uniform rate of growth compatible with existence in the wild state and are apt to become overgrown in captivity. The wild bird is out in all kinds of weather. His feet are in water dozens of time a day. During damp weather, they are moist from the time he leaves his roost in the morning until his return to it at night. As the new scales grow, he has no trouble shedding the old ones.
In captivity, however, many birds have trouble shedding the old scales, and as the new scales grow, under the old ones, the accumulation becomes thick and unsightly. The feet become enlarged, misshapen and sometimes crippled. This may be avoided by scraping it off with your fingernail any accumulation of scales you find on your bird’s feet. In most cases, the scales will come off easily. If they do not, rub the bird’s feet with a little olive oil. This will loosen the scales so that they can be taken off next time the bird is caught. If your bird is infested with scaly leg mite Knemidocoptes mutans, clean his perches by washing them in hot soapy water and anoint his feet with olive oil.
Birds kept in dirty cages cannot avoid having dirty feet. There are some cases of poor digestion in which the droppings are very soft and gummy, and such a bird confined in a small cage will always have his feet “gummed-up” with droppings. Birds kept on a diet too rich in proteins, particularly in a diet containing milk or too much egg food, develop a condition closely related to gout in man.
The feet become swollen, tender, and give off a viscous discharge which keeps them constantly moist and makes any dirt they come in contact with stuck to them. Such birds should be put on a correct diet and given plenty of flying exercise. The feet may be washed in a little boric acid or sodium perborate solution.
Swollen feet may indicate gout, mosquito bites, diphtheric lesions, chronic bacterial infection, or they may be the result of injuries.
Diphtheric lesions on the feet are usually confined to a single toe or a single joint. The swelling is not pronounced, but judging from the fuss the birds make over it, the sore is extremely painful. They throw about 9 fits every time the foot touches anything. The discharge, if any, will be clear and viscous.
The sore caused by a mosquito bite is always extremely painful, but less so than a diphtheric sore on the feet. The swelling is much greater than that associated with the diphtheric lesion, and it is often surmounted with a blood clot. Sometimes the bite causes the whole foot to swell and the condition to be mistaken for gout. Frequently a claw or one or more joints of the toe is lost.
The swelling resulting from chronic bacterial infection of the joints frequently rupture and give off the pus-filled discharge. They are usually an aftermath of avian diphtheria or fowl cholera.
Bumblefoot (Sore hocks)
This is an abscessed condition of the ball of the foot affecting some birds. It is thought to result from bruises received in jumping from high perches. It is necessary to open the swelling and clean it out. This should be done only by a veterinarian.
A bird that is forced to stand all day on a uniform diameter perch is likely to develop foot or hock sores from the constant and unchanging pressure points. You will need to provide a variety of perch textures and diameters to help your birds exercise their feet.
Natural branches are wonderful perches and can be found in pet stores. If you use branches from your own backyard, you must disinfect them thoroughly. Wash them in hot soapy water, rinse them and dry them in the oven at 200°F for about an hour. That will kill most pathogens. Rope perches are easy on tender feet. Replace it when it gets dirty or worn.1
- Gouldian Finches: Everything about Purchase, Housing, Nutrition, Health Care, and Breeding. Gayle Soucek