LUBARP: Causes of Death in Exhibition Budgerigars

The Liverpool University Budgerigar Ailment Research Project, sponsored by the Lancashire, Cheshire and North Wales including the Isle of Man Budgerigar Society, was started in 1984 and ran for 8 years.

In 1988-9 it was decided to find out exactly what the causes of death of exhibition budgerigars are. All the birds that died in the large studs of 3 fanciers in the year were post-mortemed. While in some ways 2 of the studs were not typical, at least two of the findings were of general interest. First in all three studs the average age of death was around 2 years whereas the average age of death of pet birds submitted for post-mortem examination is just over 6 years.

Why should this be so? It seemed possible that exhibition birds were either more stressed with showing and breeding than pets or that in breeding for exhibition features, stress susceptibility had been bred into the birds. Microscopical examination of the adrenals, the stress glands, did show marked differences between the pet and exhibition bird but that raised the question as to which was normal, or if either of them were.

After a year’s work dealing with Australian bureaucracy and getting a file 2 thick of forms and correspondence, I eventually managed to get adrenal glands from some wild budgies and it was a surprise at first to find that they were similar to those of the exhibition birds. Should this really have been a surprise? In retrospect I think not; life expectation in the wild is probably less than 1 year and the birds are probably stressed due to predators, and possible competition, in years when numbers are high, for food and nest holes. The second thing to come out of this cause-of-death survey was the importance of quarantine for new birds arriving at a stud. In two of the three studs there were serious disease outbreaks following the introduction of new birds which were mixed immediately with the others in the flight. New birds should be quarantined well away from the resident birds for at least three weeks. During this time disease may develop, the birds can be tested to see if they are carrying disease or they can be given preventative treatment.

Original text Copyright 1989, Dr John R Baker.

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