Feather and quill mites
Feather mites take up residence in the feathers and remain there, living between the feather barbs and eating the skin dander, fungal spores, and feather bits. Usually, a certain mite will tend to choose a certain feather, e.g. primaries or tailfeathers. Thus it is easy for one bird to carry several species of feather mites. Feather mites are not terribly common in pet birds, but they are found occasionally. A heavy infestation can lead to skin irritation and feather picking.
Quill mites are found inside the feather quill and remain there for the duration of their lives. They are very hard to eradicate, yet we have seen fewer cases of them in recent years. Some experts believe the improvement in the birds’ living conditions have led to fewer quill mites; others believe there are infestations, but they are low levels that go undetected.
Lice are similar to mites in that they remain on the bird’s body, only leaving when another bird is close enough for the louse to jump onto it. If removed from the host body, lice can only live a couple of days. Lice carry tons of diseases, so it is important to separate out any bird that shows signs of lice, and to get him treated right away. Fortunately, lice cannot live on people.
Scaly leg and scaly face mites (Knemidocoptes Mutans)
These mites burrow into the skin, causing discomfort and eventually causing the skin to roughen into hyperkeratotic lesions. By the time you notice the rough skin, they’ve had these mites a long time. In budgies, the cere may look strange. Even the beak can become deformed because of the mites.
Unfortunately, there are a few treatments being recommended online that are not safe for finches. One is to cover the scaly legs with oil to rid them of mites by “suffocating” them. First this isn’t healthy for your bird and secondly it could cause him to have a serious skin infection. Another is to pull the scales off. Those scales are part of the bird’s skin – if you remove it he will bleed.
Instead, treat them with ivermectin. (below) Be sure to also treat the cage, bedding, and surrounding area with a spray, like Avian Insect Liquidator or Premo.
Red mites (Dermanyssus Gallinae)
These are a difficult mite to spot because they tend to hide during the day, so you can only see them at night. When checking a bird, you might part its feathers and see if there are tiny reddish dots there underneath the feathers.
The other way to look for red mites is the time-honored method of draping a white sheet over the cage during the night. Early in the morning, look at it; if there are mites present they’ll be all over the white sheet.
Skin and feather mite (Harpyrynchus Sp.) and Skin mites (Backericheyla spp) cause discomfort and the bird will try to scratch himself against the cage or perches. There may be tumors around the base of feathers, or lesions from the scratching. The bird could also be anemic. That’s why a veterinarian is so important.
Air sac mites (Sternostoma tracheacolum) – are such a common problem that we need a separate article for those. Visit here for information.
- M. Dorrestein , Hetwig H. A. Van der Horst , H. J. W. M. Cremers & Marein Van der Hage (1997) Quill mite (Dermoglyphuspasserinus) infestation of canaries (Serinuscanaria): Diagnosis and treatment, Avian Pathology, 26:1, 195-199, DOI: 10.1080/03079459708419205.