By Dr   BSc, BVSc, MRCVS, MACVSc(Avian health)

Macaws are not common birds. They are irregularly presented at our clinic but one day recently we had 6 macaws of 4 species all presented in one day. It was an interesting day. Here are their stories.

Blue and Gold Macaw, 5 months of age.
The first macaw presented was a 5 month old Blue and Gold Macaw. He had been hand reared and was still being given formula via crop tube. He was a vigorous ‘pumper’ and during the last feed of the previous evening the owner had felt an unusual ‘pop’ sensation through the crop tube .The chick had then become quiet. On presentation the following morning he was even quieter and the skin over the front of his crop had become swollen and discoloured. We thought that either the crop tube may have perforated the crop wall or, less likely, that the formula may have been given at too high a temperature, scalding the crop and underlying tissues. Barium, a substance that shows up bright white on X-ray, was mixed with formula and given via crop tube. An X-ray was then taken. The X-ray showed the barium to be sitting normally in the base of the crop. This meant that if the crop tube had perforated the crop that it had sealed, at least for now.

The bird was admitted to the clinic, placed in a heated brooder, given daily antibiotics, and continued to be hand reared with formula. Over the next few days the bird became stronger and brighter and the swelling over the front of his neck localised into a firm nodule approximately 3cm across. It was decided that it was now appropriate, with the bird being sufficiently well, to surgically explore the damaged area. Under anaesthetic a 4cm incision was made into the front of the bird’s neck. This exposed the crop and proximal oesophagus (the tube from the throat to the crop). A 1cm tear in the oesophagus was located. Oesophageal tears are regarded as serious. Food, saliva and bacteria can leak through this into the surrounding tissue establishing an infection that not uncommonly is severe enough to kill the young chick. In this bird, an infection, indeed, was developing in the sub cutaneous tissue. During surgery, the tear in the oesophagus was closed with fine dissolving stitches and the infected tissue resected from the wound. The bird recovered routinely from anaesthesia and after spending a few further days with us and receiving ongoing antibiotic treatment was discharged. In the days following surgery, he continued to be fed via crop tube, but a particularly long one that bypassed the surgery area and introduced food into the lower crop. During these feeds, he certainly ‘pumped’ very vigorously and it was easy to see how during a routine feed his crop had been perforated.

The anesthetised Blue and Gold Macaw. Feathers have been plucked over the front of the crop to reveal the damaged area.

Photo taken during surgery. Infected tissue has been removed. The tear in the oesophagus is readily visible

Looking a bit happier. 3 days after surgery the wound is healing

On presentation, the Illigers macaw was thin with a swollen fluid-filled abdomen.

Capillaria sp. worm eggs were visible on microscopic examination of the droppings.

Illigers Macaw, 15 years, male
The next macaw presented was an Illigers Macaw. The owner had noticed that the bird had become lethargic. On examination the bird was thin and had a swollen fluid filled abdomen. Blood was collected for a Chlamydophilia test and also for routine screening biochemistry (organ tests) and haematology (red and white blood cell tests). A sample was also taken of the birds droppings for microscopic examination. The bird’s Chlamydophilia test returned a negative result, however the faecal examination revealed large numbers of Capillaria (hairworm) eggs. These are serious parasites that damage the lining of the bowel, not only interfering with the absorption of nutrients and digestion but also causing blood and tissue protein to leak from the body through the bowel wall. Adult worms can also leave the bowel and migrate throughout the body causing further damage. Severe infections can be fatal. The biochemistry and haematology results showed the bird was anaemic and dehydrated, consistent with the hair worm infection. No other problems were apparent. The bird was admitted, placed in a brooder, wormed, given antibiotics and crop fed with a liquid convalescent diet. Over the next few days as the worms were eliminated and the bowel healed the bird gradually regained his strength.

Hairworms are insidious parasites, they are not species specific and so can spread into the aviary from wild bird droppings and once there can survive for many months on the aviary floor. A difficulty with the worming of parrots is that because they don’t drink consistently, medicating through the water is unreliable. This means that to achieve good control the birds need to regularly be caught and wormed by a crop tube. Fortunately, combining this treatment method with regular thorough cleaning of the aviary can provide good control.

Hyacinth Macaws
Hyacinth macaws really are magnificent birds. Just their size and the intensity of their colour is quite stunning. Their owner had presented 3 birds for examination. They were not happy. They were not humanised but rather aviary birds and they did not want to be at the vets. The owner thought they were all healthy but simply wanted them thoroughly examined and also microchipped. This is the preventative health work that veterinarians like to do. It is so much better to identify potential health issues before they actually cause problems. So often ,birds are presented in an emergency situation with a health problem that has been coming on for several months but has gone undetected. Initially each bird was removed from its transport box, restrained and examined clinically. A sample of each bird’s droppings was collected and examined microscopically. No abnormalities were detected on these examinations. Each bird was then given a light anaesthetic. While asleep, each bird was microchipped and blood was collected for testing. Biochemistry and haematology tests was done on each blood sample to evaluate the individual health of each bird and to also test specifically for some common infectious diseases – Chlamydophilia, Circo virus, Polyoma virus and Herpes virus. The biochemistry and haematology showed that each bird was well and the tests for specific diseases were all clear. The owner had three healthy birds on his hands.

Routine health testing of these valuable birds, particularly through winter when they are not moulting or breeding makes good sense. If any health problem is identified at this time this can be addressed before breeding starts and the birds can then be left to hopefully breed successfully. To gain the extra security provided by microchipping at the same time is also a good idea.

Hyacinth Macaw. Drawing blood from the right jugular vein for testing

The necessary samples and paperwork for thorough testing and microchip registration

The microchip is about to be inserted

Scanning the macaw after insertion of the microchip to ensure that it is working properly

Yellow Collared Macaw, 5 years
This 5 year old male had been noticed to have a dropped right wing for several days by the owner. On examination an instability could be felt in the right wing between the elbow and carpus (the bird’s wrist). The skin over the area was bruised and had been bleeding. An X-ray was taken which showed that the two bones (the radius and ulna) that run between the elbow and the wrist were both broken, one (the ulna) in two places. The bird may have caught its wing somewhere in the aviary or perhaps been bitten by an aviary mate. Surgery involving the insertion of pins into the bones to stabilise this type of fracture is an option but in this instance it was decided that bandaging may provide adequate stability for healing. A ‘figure 8’ bandage secured the wing in a closed position. The wing was then bound to the body with a body strap. Bones heal quickly in birds compared to mammals. Often a clinical union occurs within 3 weeks and full healing in about 8 weeks. Bandages need to be changed and passive physiotherapy applied regularly, usually every 4-5 days, otherwise tendon contraction and muscle wastage can lead to reduction of movement in the wing joints and resultant impaired ability to fly. Bandages are used that stick to themselves but not to feathers and so this can be achieved quite easily with a little bit of practice.

The fact that this bird was presented quite soon after the injury and that the wing was able to be adequately stabilised gives this bird an increased chance of a good outcome. Because, however, the bones were broken in several places and quite displaced it is likely that the bird will not be able to fly perfectly. It should, however, be able to look after itself in the aviary and be able to fly in a pain free way but perhaps with a slight “wing wobble”.

An X-ray of the Yellow Collared macaw’s right wing. The ulna is broken in two places creating a large central, free segment and the radius (the finer of the two bones between the elbow and wrist) is broken in one place.

Application of the ‘figure 8’ bandage. First step. Initially the bandage is passed from the back to the front of the wing.

Application of ‘figure 8’ bandage. Second step. After wrapping around the wing the bandage is now passed from the front to the back to complete the figure of 8

As a veterinarian it is always rewarding to treat these amazing birds. Quite apart from the satisfaction in seeing an unwell animal recover these birds have a significant genetic and conservation value Australia, I believe, has a significant role to play in the conservation of these wonderful birds. Everyone wants to see secure wild populations but having viable captive populations is a good safeguard against falling wild numbers and absolute extinction. We are a secure democracy, not particularly susceptible to corruption with patrolled borders and wildlife laws in place that are enforced. We are free of many diseases that affect parrots overseas such as parrot pox and also have experienced skilled aviculturists and trained avian veterinarians. With our borders now closed to parrot imports it is important that we look after and breed the rare parrots that are here. As an avian practice, it is rewarding to be involved with this, at least in a small way.