Using Your Bird’s Feet as a Diagnostic Tool - Kristen Reeves

Using Your Bird’s Feet as a Diagnostic Tool

Kristen Reeves, Meadowlark Farms Avian Supply, Inc.

My own personal experience has taught me what to look for when I think my birds are sick.  In many cases, their feet are the first place I start.

I'm going to go out on a limb here (no pun intended). The reason I say this is because I have never read about what I am going to discuss here. All of this comes from my own personal experience and gut instincts. I know there are a few others out there now saying this, but if you've heard it elsewhere, chances are folks read it on my own site or I told them myself.  In all my years of research and in the vast wealth of bird books I have here, I’ve never seen it written and had never seen it on the web before I started saying it many years ago. I have no basis on which to make these assumptions other than what I've witnessed in my own birds, my experience with bird diseases, and what I have seen over the years in my own bird room - now approaching two decades.  Again, this is merely my opinion and not backed by any official scientific studies. I cannot reiterate enough - I am NOT and Avian Veterinarian. If you think your bird is sick, take it to an Avian Veterinarian for treatment immediately!

Most Finches and Canaries have “some” color to their feet. They may have dark pigment, pigmented splotches, or intensely orange-red legs and feet natural to their species. However, Gouldians from the green line should have pinkish orange feet. Gouldians from the blue line should have pink feet. Gouldians from the yellow line should have orangish-yellow feet. You need to know what is normal for your bird so you will notice changes when they happen. I highly recommend taking good, clear photos of your birds when you first obtain them and you know them to be healthy.

In my experience, a bird's feet are a very good indicator of overall health. Take a close look at their feet. A healthy bird with a strong immune system will have smooth scales that are not raised or overly rough. If the color is off or the scales are raised and/or rough, your bird has something going on and it probably isn't good! And while ”old” Canaries are often seen with raised scales (due to calcium buildup), if fed proper nutrition, this should not happen. My oldest Canary was 16yrs old when he eventually passed. He had nothing but perfectly smooth leg and feet scales.

White or very pale feet:

Finches should not have white or pale feet that look as if all the color has gone out of them. If this is the case, your bird may have internal bleeding (perhaps it hit a wall when it escaped, or was injured during entanglement or a bad fight - something may be broken). Take the bird in hand and closely inspect it from head to toe. Carefully and gently pull out each wing and leg. Blow the feathers away from the breast and abdomen, and make a note of what you see. Hematomas may look like “bruises” and will show up in wings and legs, and even on the breast muscle if the bird has injured itself and the bleeding is nearly external. They may also be raised or very large, depending on the severity. In most cases, hematomas are very obvious.

A bird with white or pale feet may also be suffering from a very intense case of blood mites. Blood mites suck your bird’s blood, first making them anemic, then so weak they can no longer replace their red blood cells at all. If your bird is infected with mites and has gotten to the point where its feet are pale or white, they must be treated immediately or your bird will die.

It has been my experience that white or pale feet is an indicator that the bird is near death. If they've gotten to this point, it is often too late to save them.

All types of mites are “host insects” that carry “other” diseases (protozoa, bacterial, worms, etc.). Many parasites suck the blood of the bird (either internally or externally) or prevent it from assimilating its food, effectively starving it to death.  When a bird is starving, it will begin to pass blood in its droppings. The blood may be bright if the bird is close to death, but it may merely make the droppings very dark to black if the issue isn’t too far along.

In any case, white or pale feet means your bird needs IMMEDIATE Veterinary attention.

Yellow feet:

It has been my experience that a bird whose feet are yellow has a liver or kidney problem. I have found that in most cases, it has been from over medicating the bird. But yellow feet also occur during an uncontrolled bout with protozoa or fatty liver disease – caused by poor nutrition. Both issues cause “jaundice”.

If your bird’s feet have turned yellow, it is extremely important that you have the bird tested for liver and kidney function. Leaving it to chance may be a mistake that could lead to the bird’s demise. When fatty liver disease is ruled out, screening for protozoal infections is recommended. If it is a protozoal infection, in addition to yellow feet, your bird’s droppings may be “off”. The bird will consume more water than normal and the droppings will most likely be wet and extremely soft or watery. A bird whose kidneys or liver aren't functioning properly will usually have larger (or longer) droppings that are just not right. The color may be very pale or yellowish, or very dark with a tinge of red. Sometimes they can be tacky - like tar – and will often smell bad.

Again, liver and kidney damage isn't something to mess with. If you want your bird to survive, it is imperative you get your yellow-footed bird to an Avian Vet for a full screening and to determine a course of action to repair the damage.

Red feet:

Some species, such as some African Waxbills and Shafttail Finches, have orangish-red feet naturally, so it is important to know what is normal for your bird. But if you have a bird with naturally paler legs and feet such as a Gouldian, red feet  usually means there is some type of internal thing going on - perhaps a bacterial infection, or your bird is gearing up to protect itself from some kind of parasite.

When their feet are red, it usually means they have a fever – one over and above their already very high normal temperature - which means they are trying to produce more white cells to protect their system. It also usually means their body is trying to fend off something that is attacking from within. However, it can also be a sign that they have some type of irritation such as mites and are picking at the irritation.

If your bird’s feet turn red, be sure to have them checked from head to toe for signs of disease processes and/or mites. It’s at this point that you still have a chance to correct what is wrong, so it is imperative you figure out the problem right away BEFORE your bird’s feet turn yellow…or white.


The information contained here is for reference purposes only. As always, if you suspect your bird is sick, take it to an Avian Veterinarian!



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