What are Feather Mites?
Red mites are hard to see with the naked eye, often leaving a white sheet on the cage at night (red mites are nocturnal) and in the morning, you will see tiny red or brown spots which indicates your bird has mites. They are blood sucking and are found usually around the head and vent areas where it is easier to get a hold. After feeding on your, bird the mites often hide in the cracks in the cages, perches and even in the nest boxes. They can be fatal to chicks in the nest.
Feather mites affect birds in outdoor aviaries, and if left untreated can cause your bird’s demise. It can be contagious to other birds as well.
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Symptoms of Feather Mites in Birds
- Your bird may be restless during the day and even more so at night when the red mite is active
- Constant preening or even feather destruction as your bird strives to rid the mites
- Mite eggs laid in the feathers (usually hard to detect without a microscope)
- Mites are blood sucking parasites that are a constant threat to your bird
- Fatalities can occur if not treated, especially in younger birds
- Mites cause the loss of blood causing anaemia
- Chiggers are the name of the immature mite. These chiggers cling to your bird by feeding on the body for around 14 days and then drop off
- Red mites are nocturnal and will be more active at night, moving around the feathers disturbing your bird’s sleep
- The parasitic red mite which is only present in the outdoors usually but can move indoors with your pet
Causes of Feather Mites in Birds
- Once mites get into the cage they can multiply rapidly and all birds can become infected rapidly in a large aviary environment
- The immature stage of the mites feed on the thighs, breast, undersides of the wings and vent, causing scabby sores
- The parasitic red mite can remain in the nest box to re-infect your bird or its friends
- Red mites are opportunist feeders and can spread to other pets
- Vigilance is needed to prevent reinfection
Diagnosis of Feather Mites in Birds
The behavior of your bird will be a sign that all is not right. Restfulness and constant preening, even feather destruction can become a signal that your bird friend needs help. Covering the cage at night with a white sheet then checking in the morning for tell-tale red or brown dots is a sign that mites are around. Under a microscope, these mites are clearly visible. Your veterinarian can give your bird an examination and will know where to look to discover this pest.
Usually, the thighs and undersides of the wing and around the vent are the most likely spots to find the red mites. If your bird has begun feather chewing or destruction, it is vital that you treat the bird before feather destruction becomes a habit. Once it has formed the habit it can be very hard to break and although not dangerous to the bird, it can be quite unsightly. A rapid response is necessary as soon as you detect your bird being restless or chomping on his feathers.
Treatment of Feather Mites in Birds
After consultation with the veterinarian, sprays, powders or other medication may be administered with his supervision. Safer sprays now are available such as ivermectin type medicine, insecticide treatment such as Nuvan, and water cleansers. These three items can be used to control mites. Some treatments can be administered orally or by injection. Ivermectin can be delivered to your bird via his drinking water. It is safe for breeding stock and during the moult. Nuvan can be sprayed onto the plumage then gently fluffing the feathers over a white tray or plastic sheet to catch the mites that fall off the feathers.
A natural product is available – it is called permethrin which is extracted from the daisy flower. It is a powder that is mixed in water and sprayed throughout the aviary or as a bird bath to help control the life cycle of the mites. Available also is a product called Avian Insect Liquidator- it is an all-purpose water based insecticide that is harmless to the birds but effective against insects. During and after treatment thoroughly clean the bird cages and nest boxes. Replacing them if possible is even better to prevent re-infection.
Recovery of Feather Mites in Birds
The key to management is to remain vigilant and keep your bird’s home sanitised by cleaning regularly. Providing a water dish or bath for your bird will help, most birds like to bathe daily and will do so without prompting. You may find your bird quite enjoys a light misting with water to assist them to remain clean. Treating areas such as their perches and nesting areas is vital to keep the red mites away.
Red mites have a life cycle of around seven days, so to properly treat this pest you need to treat your bird and the cage every second day for around eight days. Be aware that the treatment will have no effect on the eggs, it will only kill the adult and immature mites, so continue with the treatment to catch the hatching eggs.