Care needed in handling sick parrots

SICK: An animal rescue has issued a warning to be careful handling sick birds as they might contain diseases that are transferable to humans.

SICK: An animal rescue has issued a warning to be careful handling sick birds as they might contain diseases that are transferable to humans.

A Myrtleford wildlife rescue has warned residents sick-looking King Parrots are not ‘drunk on acorns’ but could be harbouring a disease which in severe cases can be fatal to humans.

Ovens Valley Wildlife Shelter’s Erin Whitford said every year rescues were inundated with King Parrots infected with spironucleosis.

She said the birds contract the disease in spring, as they often eat and defecate in the same area.

“It’s endemic in King Parrots, we see it this time every year when they are at the end stage of the disease,” she said.

“Some birds survive and go on to be carriers but an awful lot don’t.

“When it gets to the intestines the parasites eat out the stomach lining so the King Parrot can’t absorb food and gets thinner and thinner.

“It’s freezing cold and they’ve lost two thirds of their body weight.”

Ms Whitford said spironucleosis did not affect humans but many King Parrots also carried a disease called psittacosis which could be passed to people.

It’s highly infectious and there has been deaths in the region from it though it’s reasonably rare and treatable.

Erin Whitford

She said psittacosis was a treatable disease but she did know of cases where humans had died after contracting it. 

“There’s an urban myth they are drunk on acorns as they’re seen feeding under acorn trees, but really they’re at the end stage of their life,” Ms Whitford said.

“People may think they are a baby or sick and pick them up, sometimes children handle them – the problem isn’t the disease the birds die of, it’s another disease.”

Ms Whitford encouraged people to still take King Parrots to a veterinarian so they could be treated or euthanised, but not to handle the birds with bare hands. 

“It’s best to assume they’ve got the other disease as well,” she said.

“It’s highly infectious and there has been deaths in the region from it though it’s reasonably rare and treatable with antibiotics.

“I recommend throwing a towel over the bird, putting it in a box, taking it to the vet and washing your hands thoroughly after.”

Ms Whitford said people should get rid of backyard bird feeders which encourage King Parrots to eat and defecate in the one spot. 

She said while sad, spironucleosis was natural.