What are Scaly Face Mites?

Knemidokoptes are eight-legged mites that are microscopic in size and are related to spiders and ticks. These unpleasant mites burrow into your bird for life unless treated. Budgies and canaries suffer this infestation, although it is seen in other species.  It is very contagious, so if one bird has it, then his buddies will almost certainly get them. These mites can attack the face areas but also the legs and vent. They can burrow into your bird’s keratin on its beak causing distorted growth. Arthritis and bacterial infection can result because of their presence.

Tiny microscopic mites that burrow into the unfeathered areas such as above the beak and eye areas are known as scaly face mites.

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Symptoms of Scaly Face Mites in Birds

  • Signs of an infestation are displayed around the beak, mouth and eye areas (it can also affect the legs, toes vent and wingtips) 
  • There is no itching with the infestation with budgies, although other bird species may have itching symptoms
  • Crustiness begins at the corners of the beak and looks similar to a honeycombed appearance 
  • White chalky crusts can be seen around the eyes, and affecting the beak and nostrils 
  • Your bird will look ‘sick’ in advanced stages, sitting with its feathers fluffed out 
  • Deformities of the beak can occur if not treated immediately 

Types  

There are many types of mites but three main types can cause scaly face infestations on your bird. Each type of mite targets a specific type of bird but all have similar causes.

  • Knemidocoptes pilae are common in the parrot family 
  • Knemidocoptes jamaicensis  infests finches and songbirds 
  • Knemidocoptes mutans affects domestic fowl, usually chickens

Causes of Scaly Face Mites in Birds

  • A deficiency in Vitamin A causes your bird to be vulnerable to this condition. Seeds are known to be deficient in vitamin A; this must be rectified as this vitamin helps your bird develop resistance to infection and some parasites 
  • The mites spend their whole life cycle on a bird, burrowing into the top layer of the skin (the epithelium layer) forming channels or shafts 
  • Some experts believe it can be spread to the unfeathered offspring in the nest by the parent bird passing infestation problems to weaker chicks
  • Damage from the burrowing mite can be severe if not treated and lead to your bird's demise 
  • They spread by close contact between your birds 
  • The mites can infect the cage and any new birds

Diagnosis of Scaly Face Mites in Birds

The infestation within your bird does not show up immediately, it usually takes time and only starts showing once the mites are established. It makes it tougher to treat but not impossible. The first signs you will notice will be a grey or white crustiness around the corners of your bird’s beak. Mites are not restricted to your bird’s face; they may attack your bird’s feet and toes, the vent and wing tips. The white crusts forming on the skin are a sure sign of mite infestation; be sure to check for signs on your bird’s beak of abnormal development and growth. 

Your bird’s behavior is also another way to measure its health, any change in behavior in your bird can be a direct link to its health status. Prevention is the best form of defense, but once your bird has an infestation, he will need your help to get rid of it. Take your bird to your avian veterinarian for a full examination and to get the latest treatment available on the market. New products are always being developed, so your specialist is a valuable source of information. Diagnosis is made through a physical examination, followed by samples of skin scrapings as the mites and eggs are quite visible under a microscope.

Treatment of Scaly Face Mites in Birds

To date, the treatment of choice is ivermectin which requires several applications given over a period of ten days to kill the hardy mites. Ivermectin drops on your bird’s skin (usually on the shoulders) will help, or the use of moxidectin orally are the most effective ways to eradicate the mites. If you have more than one bird, then they should all be treated even if they are not showing signs of the mite. Vitamin A supplement will help your sick bird build up their immunity and resistance to the mite. Your veterinarian may have to trim your bird’s beak if disfigurement has occurred. If your bird has developed open lesions, he may need antibiotics for secondary bacterial infections.

Discuss with your vet the option of rubbing olive oil, baby oil, or paraffin oil on your bird’s crustiness to soften it and enable it to fall off (it also suffocates the mites). Be careful not to get it in your bird’s eyes or nostrils, but do cover the feet, vent and wing tips if those areas are affected. One suggestion is to use Grapefruit seed extract (GSE) for its anti-parasitic properties. Under veterinarian supervision, one to five drops in one tablespoon of distilled water will do it, dab it onto the affected areas avoiding the eyes. Never use full strength GSE on your bird. You can use GSE with their drinking water, one drop for every four to six ounces, and it will work internally to treat your pet.

Recovery of Scaly Face Mites in Birds

Your bird will require repeated doses of treatments to affect a cure which you should be diligent about carrying out. Your bird's cage and all items in it should be cleaned and disinfected. Mites can get into the cracks in the cage or even burrow into wooden perches and hide. Thorough cleaning and sterilisation are important. If you cannot easily disinfect an item, replacing it with something new should be carried out.

These parasites are a real problem to treat and eradicate, due to the length of time before they become a noticeable threat to your bird. Treating all your birds regularly, and treating their environment will go a long way to preventing another outbreak. For your recovering bird, give plenty of loving support and care until it recovers. Quality food, Vitamin A supplementation and a clean environment will all help.