What is Regurgitation?

When your bird regurgitates, it expels the contents from the crop and not the stomach. Usually, this substance is mushy in consistency and includes a small amount of liquid. Regurgitation from your healthy bird will see them bob their heads up and down then bring up the softened undigested food in their mouth which they then place where they want it. Vomiting is an uncontrolled ejection of food both from the crop and stomach. It is expelled out of your bird's mouth around the cage, often landing on the head and neck areas. This habit is an indication of disease.

True regurgitation in your bird is a behavioral display and is not to be confused with vomiting, which is a medical symptom that needs attention.

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Symptoms of Regurgitation in Birds

There are important differences between regurgitation and vomiting. Before regurgitating, your bird will bob its head and stretch its neck to regurgitate. During this process, your bird will be calm and there are no signs of distress. Vomiting is more of an uncontrolled event and a violent spitting action. Birds who are vomiting may display distress and headshaking in a sideways movement.  

Regurgitation is a normal behavioral reaction within your bird to show affection to mates, partners and young ones (and the owner). However, chronic regurgitation may result in symptoms including:

  • Electrolyte disturbances 
  • Dehydration
  • Weight loss 
  • Aspiration pneumonia

Causes of Regurgitation in Birds

  • Normal regurgitation is often a sign of courtship or showing interest in another; it is natural to regurgitate on other birds, their favorite people or toys
  • Nesting situations where the hen is on the nest and the male bird provides food to her (via regurgitation) 
  • In young birds, it is a normal weaning behavior as the parent feeds their young through regurgitating food 
  • Excitement or stress can induce regurgitation to occur 
  • Overstimulation (beware of touching their four sexual zones which are under the tail, on top of the tail where the flight feathers join, and the undersides of the wings – doing this confuses them and causes frustration and regurgitation)
  • However, if it is unnatural regurgitation or vomiting, it can be caused by infections, diseases of other organs, nutritional, toxic poisoning, drug reactions and more

Diagnosis of Regurgitation in Birds

Once it has come to your attention and you are concerned with the activity, it is advisable to take your bird to your avian veterinarian to examine him and try to determine the cause. Even if it is just natural regurgitation, over excited birds can get into a pattern of doing it too often, and this then becomes a health and behavioral problem. If your cage is of the smaller variety, take it along to the specialist as well as your bird; he may be able to find some clues to why your bird is behaving in this manner. Regurgitating is a natural expression of affection and a wonderful way of feeding baby birds. 

If your bird is regurgitating on you, it means that they are fully bonded to you. Your bird is trying to tell you he loves you which is all very nice, but your actions may be causing this habit to form. Your specialist will want to know about your interaction with your bird, and if you can tell him when and what was going on at the time, it will be a help. Your specialist can do a routine crop wash to check for bacteria, infections or inflammation. A fecal smear on your bird’s droppings as well as blood samples are the methods used to check your bird’s health. An X-ray can determine if there is disease growth inside the body causing the problem.

Treatment of Regurgitation in Birds

Depending on the results of the tests, the treatment can vary considerably. With normal regurgitation it becomes a behavioral issue, and your way of handling your bird may have to alter. Rather than make an issue out of this behavior and confuse your bird, quiet training to adjust his habits will be needed. Talk to your avian specialist to find ways to still interact without your bird getting fixated on certain toys, movements or games that result in the regurgitation of food. 

Your specialist may suggest a change to the diet, and some environment changes to interrupt the pattern of the behavior. If the tests reveal infection, inflammation or disease, then treatment will be discussed and initiated. Bacterial and viral infection can cause gastrointestinal issues, while toxic and obstructive causes (such as a cancerous growth) can bring on liver or kidney problems. There are many minor and major diseases that have regurgitation and vomiting as a symptom. But if your bird has the all clear, although it is annoying, it is great to know your bird loves you and just a tweaking in the behavioral department can get you both through this confusing issue.

Recovery of Regurgitation in Birds

If your bird’s regurgitation behavior has been confirmed not to be from a disease origin, then it is time to begin training and learning how to keep your bird calm. Once a habit forms within a bird, it can be hard to retrain your pet from doing it. Caring for your bird in a calm manner and creating an environment that is both supportive and relaxing will help. Keep noise at an appropriate level, sometimes having the television at a loud level or music playing at high volume can cause over stimulation for your bird, leading to behavioral problems. Providing your bird with a varied diet to ensure that he receives nourishment will also help with the regurgitation process.