Periodic health checks on your birds should be done on a regular basis. How regular you do this is really up to you, but the more often the better and ensures any signs of health issues can be dealt with promptly. One or more of your gouldian finches could be ill for some time, only to notice when it is too late to do anything about it. This section will try to educate you on how to check your birds, what to look for and what approach you should take to correct it.
It is not always easy to detect an illness in its early stage, but it's all about saving time and money. Bacterial, viral, fungal and parasites can not only infect, spread but also kill a small bird quickly, so speed and knowledge is important when keeping gouldian finches. Find it early and treat it fast is the key.
I have always told people that if they plan to keep and breed birds of any kind, to buy a microscope and learn the basics. You may feel it is a bit over the top buying a microscope just to keep birds, but when they become ill you need to know what is making them ill and to deal with the problem fast. Of course, microscopes sold for home use have their limitations, but they can save you a lot of money over time. We all know vets are not cheap, especially an avian vet (if you can find one) but you have to remember they are a business not a charity and are there to make money.
It is not uncommon for your finch to pick up and carry an infection or parasite and be infected with it for some time, even passing it throughout your flock. By the time you notice there is something wrong they will be on the verge of death or some may have already died from it, so to detect it in the early stages is of top priority. If you can find and afford a local Avian Vet, great, but not everybody can and this is where this page is meant to help.
First, it is important to write out a plan or chart, so you can keep a track of when you will be performing these regular checks. Secondly, you will need to note down what checks you performed. There are charts you can use from this site to help keep records, all you need to do is open them and print them off. If you do not have a printer, then you can print them to a document or save to your desktop and edit using an application of your choice. I recommend using Maintenance Charts Templates for simplicity. I recommend regular checks at least once every 3 months and when you suspect something is wrong with a bird.
Before you catch up your bird you may want to observe the bird's posture, notice if there is any tail bobbing, heavy breathing, open beak breathing, noises when breathing, lack of flight or flying oddly. Does the bird perch normally, does it eat normally, drink normally, sleep too often with head tucked in, appears fluffed up and sleepy, does it try to sit next to other perching birds closely for warmth? Observe the recent droppings of the bird in question and try to determine if they look normal. Quite often an unwell bird will have droppings that appear off such as watery, too small, too large, contains blood, looks black, too green, too yellow. More on poopology can be found under the poopology section of this site.
If you suspect a bird is ill, then the bird should be moved to a hospital cage as soon as possible, which is a controlled environment that gives the bird warmth and gives you time to find what is wrong or time to get it to an avian vet. If you have no hospital cages, you can build a makeshift one using simple parts, more information on building hospital cages can be found under the Illnesses section of this site. Placing your sick bird in a hospital cage usually warms the bird up whilst giving you time to look at poop samples, crop samples and provide medication if required. If you plan to take it to an avian vet it is best to warm the bird first, Never force-feed it water, ever. Sometimes it may be too late to help the bird and may not even get to see inside the hospital cage, this is why regular checks and close observation are important.
Catching your Finch
Once you have visually observed your bird and are convinced something is wrong, you will need to catch up your bird. The last thing you need to do is frighten the bird even more, so turning down or off any lights, close the curtains and use a net then gently catch your bird. You may find if the bird is really sick that you can pick it up right off the perch or floor with no resistance at all, this is when you know it has been ill for some time. Birds are experts at hiding illnesses or weaknesses until the very last moment, it is a natural defence mechanism, so they do not look like easy prey to predators. When holding your bird, whether it be healthy or not, never hold it around its breast area. The breast area should be free from restriction at all times, or it will struggle to get free, thus causing more unwanted stress.
Always use slow calm movements and be gentle with your bird, remember it could be very sick as well as frightened. It is important to keep your finch calm when catching and when examining, to keep stress levels to a minimum.
Even if your finches all look OK, the physical checks should always be carried out regardless of visual health. Firstly, if your finches are going through their annual moult there may be signs of slight balding which is perfectly normal so do not worry as the new feathers will grow back with good nutrition. Please note, this section will not cover solutions to illnesses or treatments, please refer to the FAQ section.
Now that you have your finch in your hand ready for an examination, look carefully at the eyes and the surrounding area, you are looking for any signs of damage, discharge, parasites, growths or skin disorders. On the head move the feathers out of the way and look for parasites, skin disorders, lumps, scratches, feather condition. Feel around the neck for lumps (Tumours), swelling. Blow the feathers away from the crop area and look for any holes, discharge, discolouration.
Move down to the breast area, lightly spray the feathers on the breast and abdomen area with tepid warm water and move the feathers out of the way to reveal the breast and abdomen, so you can see the skin. Feel the breastbone and make sure there is enough fleshy meat on each side of the bone. Look for scratches, lumps and skin disorders and again parasites. Move down and observe the abdomen area, check the liver (Just protruding to the bottom of the keel bone/ breastbone) and make sure it is not swollen, move your eyes to the right, so you are looking at the bird's right-hand side of its abdomen area and look for black spots. Check for air, fluids, yellow mass, swollen digestion tract, lumps, over swollen abdomen area or black mass. Carefully pinch the skin to determine if hydrated correctly, pinched skin when released should spring back to its original position quickly. Skin that slowly goes back to its original position or stays pinched means the bird is dehydrated.
Check the vent area for staining, clogging or baldness, redness and feather condition. Extend each wing one at a time and closely observe using a x10 magnifying glass, check top and bottom for mites that live on the underside of the wing which crawl up n down the stems of the feathers. Check the tail feathers in the same manner. Check the bird's back by moving the feathers out of the way, then look for lumps, parasites and skin condition.
Smell the bird and try to determine if there are any strong smells. Lastly, put the bird to your best listening ear, listen for unusual sounds when the bird breathes. Listen for breathing difficulties, clicking, wheezing, coughing, sneezing, gurgling. There should be no unusual noises apart from the sound of air going in and out normally. I did forget to mention checking around the beak and observe for discharge, beak deformities, over grown beak, cross beak or scissor beak. Sometimes I look inside the beak and look for yellow puss or lumps (canker or candida).
Moving on to the legs, feet and toes. The legs should look clean with no lumps, no scabbing or unusual bumps. The feet top and bottom should also look clean with no lumps, no soreness, no scabbing. Pay particular attention to the under side of the feet, this is where they put all their weight and will determine if their perches are suitable for them. Rough or sore feet may indicate they have incorrect type of perches or perches that are not suitable for small birds such as finches. The toes, again, should look clean with no scabbing, no lumps although as they get older some may develop a calcium build up on their toes and give a false illusion of scaly mites but if in doubt then treat for mites.
Toenails must be kept in trim, never too long and never too short. Trimming is easy and quick and is usually done with simple human nail clippers or avian nail clippers. Never trim their nails shorter than 4 mm, 5 mm or slightly more is plenty. Inside their nails are tiny blood vessels which are about 3 - 4 mm long, and you should avoid cutting into these, this is why you need to trim them slightly longer. If you do trim slightly into these and get a bleed out, then cover the toe in flour and carefully pinch between your fingers for a few minutes until the bleeding stops. It is important to make sure you have the toe you are about to trim firmly help prior to trimming as they will move their toes, risking an over cut. If in doubt, have someone hold the bird for you while you make the cut.
Any trimming which needs to be done on the beak can usually be done with human nail clippers too in most cases, but sometimes avian nail clippers are an essential tool for most awkward cases. If there is an over grow on the side of the beak, it is best to use avian nail clippers. From my own experience if the top beak is longer than the bottom I will usually trim the top to the same length as the bottom and if the bottom is longer than the top I will trim the bottom to match that of the top.
Dirty perches or cages or surfaces that are not suitable for small birds can cause bumble foot also known as Tassle-Foot. This can lead to your bird eventually losing its whole foot if left unchecked. It starts with tiny cracks in the palm of their feet, then becomes infected. In the centre of their feet, a type of cyst will form with a black spot in the centre. This can become painful for the bird, making it hard to put weight on, and will often sit on one leg to avoid the pain. Over time, it may develop on both feet and a constant standing on one foot only to swap with the other foot. There are several ways to treat this, but should be treated right away to avoid any further food damage.
During your health checks, make sure your birds are getting the correct diet, nutritional needs and minerals. The nutrition your birds are getting will have a huge impact on their health and wellbeing. Make sure everything is well-balanced, meaning they are getting a bit of everything at the correct intervals. Check to make sure all lights are working well and make sure to replace any ageing lights, especially the UVB bulbs if you use any. Most UVB light bulbs have only a lifespan of about 6 months - 1 year. Fluorescents are usually efficient for 6 months in general. Replace any perches which need replacing, check food dishes, drinkers and baths and make sure they have been sterilized. Replace any damaged fake foliage, so the birds can not get caught in the fragmented pieces. Check the cage wires/mesh for signs of rust or sharp edges.
You really should perform not only a health checkup but a full check of the environment where you keep your gouldian finches to make sure they are safe, clean and well looked after. It is also handy to keep double the amount of drinkers, feeders so that when you are using one set you can put the other set in a sterilizing solution. It may seem a lot of work, but I don't know about you, I'd refuse to drink from a dirty cup or eat from a dirty plate. The health of your birds are vital to their survival.
The final checks I always like to do every 3 months is checking dates! Gather all your packets, bottles, tubs and medicines and check the dates on all of them, discard any that are out of date. Some medicines can be kept long past their sell by date if stored correctly. Some medicines although past their date may work but the longer it is past its sell by date the less effective it will become. After checking all the dates, you will know what to re-stock up on, so you have fresh supplies at all times. Any food or supplements should be thrown out once past it's 'use by' date. If you want to be more professional, keep a log of your checks and note everything down.
After you have fully checked your birds and everything you can sit back in comfort knowing everything is as good as new, birds are all checked over and any suspected illnesses are being dealt with at an early stage. This is my secret for keeping my birds in the best health possible and losing next to none from illnesses. To this date the only birds I ever lose are to old age and natural causes, I hope this will be the case for you too.