Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease

by Dr Garry Cross

Psittacine beak and feather disease (PBFD) is a viral disease that can affect all psittacine birds (Parrots, Cockatoos and Lorikeets) and possibly, Doves. The virus attacks the cells of the immune system and those which produce feather and beak. Affected birds gradually lose their feathers and develop beak abnormalities. Because the virus attacks the immune system, affected birds succumb to infection by other diseases. The disease occurs in captive and wild birds and probably originated from Australia, for it is now found in psittacine birds in Europe and America.

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo - Cacatua galerita. Photograph by & courtesy of Garry Walsh, Westbrook Qld, Australia

Parrot Society member, Mr Garry Walsh recalls an incident when a sick Sulphur-crested Cockatoo infected by PBFD came to his property.

"This Sulphur-crested was seen feeding in the 'chook yard' of our property. It was being harassed by several species of birds, including Magpies and Mickey (Noisy Miner) birds. The bird was in extremely poor condition, probably due to being unable to feed properly."

Researchers at the University of Sydney’s Department of Animal Health at Camden started their PBFD project in 1991. The aims were to develop tests to detect the virus and anti-bodies to the virus; determine the presence of the disease in wild psittacine birds; and develop a vaccine. Drs Shane Raidal and Garry Cross have developed testing procedures which can determine whether or not a bird is immune to, or susceptible to infection by PBFD virus. All that is needed is a small sample of blood, a feather and some droppings. They have shown that birds with PBFD excrete the virus in large amounts in their feathers and droppings. Such birds are a source of infection to other birds.

They have demonstrated that the disease is present in wild psittacine birds in New South Wales and is widespread in wild populations. A vaccine has been developed which protects psittacine birds from infection by the virus. Two injections, four to six weeks apart, must be given. Birds vaccinated in 1991 are still resistant to challenge by the virus.

There is close liaison with Dr Peter Brown of the Department of Parks, Wildlife and Heritage of Tasmania in the Orange-bellied Parrot (Neophema chrysogaster) captive breeding programme. This programme is now producing birds for release into the wild. We have diagnosed the disease in one of these birds, and determined that it is present in the population. The vaccine is be in assessed in two of the birds. The Department of Animal Health is greatly interested in the survival of these birds.

Another 10 - 12 months work are required to complete tests on the vaccine (mainly on small psittacine birds) before it can be used on captive and wild psittacine birds. It has shown that the vaccine is very effective in Cockatoo nestlings and adults.

Make a Donation towards PBFD Research

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo - Cacatua galerita with PBFD showing feather loss

If you would like to make a donation towards Psittacine Circovirus Disease (Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease Research) please forward payment via the Parrot Society of Australia Inc, P.O. Box 75 Salisbury Qld 4107, Australia. International donations should be forwarded as international money orders drafted in Australian or U.S. dollars.

Recent Donations towards Psittacine Circovirus Disease Research (P.C.D.) as at 1/10/98 from members and the Parrot Society now total $2445.05  - many thanks to all those who have contributed towards this worthy cause - fund raising will continue.

Want more information on PBFD?

"PBFD has been confirmed in wild Galahs, Sulphur-crested Cockatoos, Corellas, Rainbow Lorikeets, Orange-bellied parrots, Rosellas, Ringneck parrots, Major Mitchell's Cockatoos, Gang-gang Cockatoos, King parrots, Swift parrots and many other species. There is evidence that PBFD occurs in wild Budgerigars, Red-rumped parrots, Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos and Narethra Blue bonnets." If you would like to read more information on this dreaded disease click on the PBFD link here.

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