Bird Mites and their Control

Workshop given by Jean Tarr

There are many varieties of mites and lice that attack birds. Most of them are less than 1 millimeter in length. Their life can span as little as 7 - 14 days, however in this small span of time, one pregnant female can increase her number to more than a million mites within one month.

There are 5 types of Mites that we should particularly concern ourselves with.

Northern Red Mite: This mite lays its eggs between surfaces or in cracks in wood cages or perches. The mites feast on the blood of your birds at night and retire to a dark place in the day light. Signs and Symptoms: The birds will be very restless at night, constantly biting and preening themselves. Babies in the nest unable to defend themselves will be literally eaten alive by the mites, become anemic and die. Even the parent birds will not sit on a nest that is riddled with mites but abandon their young. During the day, the exhausted birds will fluff up and sleep, but may also preen excessively. What to do: Spray your birds first, use Ambush or Vetafarm AIL. Shake the bottle well and mix 50 mls of the concentrate in a spray bottle with 1 litre of water. Spray the birds until they are soaked down. AIL is safe to spray on the chicks and the eggs (one spray is enough) with no negative consequences. The birds will need to be resprayed according to the directions on your chosen insecticide. Then spray all surfaces in the cage. Remove nest boxes and spray them and the surface behind them. Spray into all cracks and crannies in the cage, spray under the litter tray in the bottom. Change all perches, feed cups and drinkers and soak in hot water and bleach. When everything is dry, shake a layer of Sevin (5% Carbaryl) onto the floor of the nest box, then cover with fresh nesting material. Also apply Sevin under the litter tray and any dark places where mites hide, i.e. where any two surfaces come together. Buy a Vapona Strip, remove it from the packaging and hang it outside for 24 hours to get rid of the most toxic fumes. After 24 hours, hang the Vapona strip in your bird room. It is good for 3 months at which time it should be replaced. Occasionally some birds are sensitive to the fumes of the strip, hang it on a day when you are at home to observe their behaviour. If the birds act dopey or sit on the floor of the cage a lot, remove the strip immediately, or the birds! Another method is to introduce the strip for 6 hours per day for the first few days. Put the strip into a sealed Ziploc bag to retain its effectiveness in the meantime. Also remove any live food that is in the same room, i.e. meal worms or white worms, as the Vapona fumes will kill these as well!

Feather Mites and Lice: These creatures live out their entire life cycle on your bird including the egg laying between the barbs of the feathers. Signs and Symptoms: Flare the wing of your birds and hold it up to a light and you will quickly see if you have a problem with feather mites! Holes or lacey appearance in the feather indicates feather mites. What to do: Spray the birds with Ambush or AIL as for Red Mite. You do not have to spray the cage and surroundings as these mites do not live long off the bird. It is a good idea to put Sevin dust in to the bottom of the nests under the nest pad. Vapona is also deadly to Feather mites and lice.

Fodder Mites: Nuisance mites which may hatch out of that new bag of seed that you have just opened. They are quite large and visible to the eye. They just keep coming and tumbling out of the bag! Fortunately these mites don't seem to have any interest in chewing on our birds! What to do: When you realize the source of the problem, take the bag of seed outside and feed it to the wild birds who don't seem to mind a little meat with their dinner. The mites can be killed with a Vapona strip or by spraying with AIL or Ambush. You can also put your used Vapona strip (i.e. after 3 months of use) on the side of your seed bin, close the lid, and the remaining fumes will be enough in this small space to kill any critters within, which will also include those pesky seed moths!

Air Sac Mites: The life cycle, including egg laying, is spent in the birds air way and lungs. These mites are the most problematic with canaries and gouldian finch. If left unchecked they will kill your bird. They produce an inflammation in the lung and airways which causes excessive mucous to develop, the bird will eventually choke to death on the mucous. Signs and Symptoms: The bird wipes it's beak a lot on the perch. The bird may breath with an open mouth and cough. When you are catching your goulds or canaries, always put them up to your ear and listen. You will hear an audible clicking sound if your bird is infested with ASM. All birds in the same cage should be treated as shared perchs, drinkers and feed cups will quickly pass the ASM to every bird in the cage. The mites are passed between a pair as well as to the chicks when feeding. What to do: Scatt is the current treatment of choice. It is a specific dosage for small birds using Moxidectin. One drop directly from the bottle to the skin over the Jugular vein, or under the wing pit. If you have experience with Ivermectin, a cattle drug, you can use a tiny drop of this instead. Great care must be exercised not to overdose and kill your bird with Ivermectin. A veterinarian can also mix you a diluted version of Ivermectin to treat your birds. Change your perchs often and sterilize your utensils.

Scaley face and leg mite: Scaley face attacks budgies more often while Scaley leg is usually a problem for canaries. Signs and symptoms: With a small magnifying glass you can easily see holes bored into the cere and bone of the budgies bill. Following this the bird will develop horns on the bill as the tissue breaks down and erodes from the burrowing mites. On the feet of the canary, a condition known as tassle foot will develop for the same reasons. The mite is burrowing and there is build up of scales and tissue from the inflammatory condition that develops. What to do: This is extremely contagious so isolate the bird. Beak and legs can be treated with a neutral oil such as mineral oil or olive oil but be careful not to get so much on that it oils the feathers or you may lose your bird. Better to use Scatt or Ivermectin to treat this condition as for ASM.

It will be obvious that mites are easier to prevent than they are to control or eliminate. How can we prevent an infestation?

  • Always quarantine and spray all newly purchased birds or birds that return from the show, before putting them back in the bird room.
    And do not store uncleaned show cages or cargo boxes in your bird room.
  • Check your birds over every time you handle them…look for the tell tale signs of mites!
  • Clean your cages frequently. Change the perches and utensils in your cages regularly.
  • Provide bath water to your birds on a regular basis
  • Adopt a strong preventive maintenance program in your aviary and stick to it!
    Spray the birds and their quarters every 6 weeks to keep your birds bug free.
    Mark the spray dates on your calendar so you remember!
Happy birding!