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Parrot Articles > pbfd | You are here


Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease

June 18th, 2010


Identifying whether your bird has the Beak & Feather Disease (Psittacine Beak & Feather – PBFD)

Psittacine Beak & Feather Disease or PBFD is caused by a virus which infects and kills the cells of the feather and beak. The virus also impairs the immune system. Consequently many diseased birds succumb to bacterial and other infections.

Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease is a viral disease that has first been noticed in cockatoos, but has since been diagnosed in many species of birds, specifically in African Greys, budgies, cockatoos, Eclectus parrots, lovebirds, macaws, and Rosellas.

PBFD is one of the diseases that can be passed from bird to bird and the risk of spreading this, or other diseases, is a good reason to quarantine any new bird that comes into your household. PBFD is extremely contagious and there is no known cure and vaccines are only now being developed. Birds carrying this disease may not show any symptoms until stress brings it out, but they may infect other birds before they become symptomatic

Visual symptoms include feather abnormalities, beak abnormalities and missing feathers and occurs normally in young birds but can also be found in older birds. Some birds die from the disease before showing the above symptoms. Loss of appetite, diarrhea and regurgitation may be the only signs of illness. Often death is caused by a secondary infection due to the reduced immunity caused by PBFD.

Very few birds survive PBFD although they may live a fairly long life with good care and very little stress. Supplementing with vitamins, minerals, and probiotics to boost the immune system will help, and treatment of secondary infections will be required regularly.

  • A Beak and Feather Disease Survivor- Sweetpea’s Story (a very encouraging and uplifting story about a lovebird that sufferered from this disease but recovered)

Identifying whether your bird has the Beak & Feather Disease (Psittacine Beak & Feather – PBFD)

Feather Plucker or PBFD? Young chicks are not likely to pluck; so this would not apply to chicks. However, if an adult bird develops bald spots, you might consider either possibility. You can distinguish between PBFD and normal feather plucking by looking at where the feathers are being lost. If they are missing from the head and crest – an area they cannot get to with their beak to pluck – then it is likely to be Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease.

A Bird Suffering from PBFD …

  • is likely to show the characteristic abnormal feather and beak growth
  • might have feathers that look like stubbles and are obviously deformed
  • is likely to have short ‘clubbed’ feathers
  • may develop curly feathers
  • may have feather shafts that often break, or you might see narrowing or pinching of the shafts (this condition worsens with each molt and your bird will usually become progressively balder due to inactivity of its feather follicles).
  • may have a beak that is deformed, especially the upper beak, and often overgrown; the beak usually splits or breaks.

Your Birds:

  • Young birds suffer from an acute form of PBFD that occurs during their first feather formation, after replacement of down feathers. The developing feathers often fracture, bleed or fall out.
  • Some chicks may die following a short period of anorexia (loss of appetite), depression and diarrhea, with very little feather abnormality.

Symptoms / Disease Progression

PBFD should be considered in any psittacine bird that displays progressive feather loss or abnormal feathers. Most birds which succumb to PBFD are less than 2 years of age. However, all age groups should be considered susceptible to circovirus infection.

Young birds are affected by an acute form of PBFD, which occurs during their first feather formation, after replacement of down feathers. The developing feathers often fracture, bleed or fall out. Young birds may die following a short period of anorexia (loss of appetite), depression and diarrhea, with very little feather abnormality.

Older birds are thought to develop a chronic form in which dystrophic feathers stop growing shortly after emerging from the follicles. The feathers become increasingly abnormal with each successive molt. Contour feathers are usually affected early, while primary feathers are affected later in the disease. Contour feathers often are lost over most of the body. New feathers may have retained feather sheaths, blood within the shafts, are curled and deformed, or are short and clubbed. The beak may also be involved in the disease process. It may change from a dull black to a glossy appearance. It may grow abnormally long and develop splits and cracks which break and peel. Bacteria and fungi often invade the abnormal beak, causing further destruction and necrosis (death) of the tissues. The abnormal beaks often make it difficult for the bird to eat as it may be very painful.

Spontaneous recovery from acute PBFD can occur in many species. However, the majority of chronically affected birds do not recover from the disease.


PBFD is spread by inhalation or ingestion of virus particles. Feather dust has been found to contain a large amount of virus. The virus has also been found in crop secretions and in fecal material. The virus may also be ingested as a result of preening. The incubation period of variable among species and the age at which the bird is exposed. Again, neonates and young birds are most susceptible, while adult birds over two years of age are thought to be at less risk.

It is possible for a bird to undergo a transient subclinical infection. This means that the bird’s immune system is able to eliminate the virus. This is why it is recommended that a normal appearing bird who tests positive be retested 90 days later. If the bird has eliminated the virus it will test negative. If it remains positive, it should be considered latently infected and should be expected to break out with clinical disease in the future.

This is considered a fatal disease, and there is no cure, or treatment known.

A pet bird with PBFD can live a long life, if it is in a stress-free environment. It would never have contact with other birds since it is capable of spreading the virus.

Diagnosis / Testing

Whole, anticoagulated blood should be submitted from a bird without feather abnormalities, while both blood and several abnormal feathers should be submitted from a clinically abnormal bird. A test was developed by Dr. Brandon Ritchie, and is run by Avian Research Associates Laboratory.

Interpreting the Results of the Psittacine Beak and Feather DNA probe test.

  • A. If Bird Has Dystrophic, Necrotic Feathers and you Test Blood for PBFD Virus using DNA probes:*
    • 1. If Positive: Suggests Active Infection

      Management : If bird is from a breeding aviary: Bird should be removed and all areas that could be contaminated with feather dust from the infected bird should be repeatedly cleaned. If companion bird: Bird should not be exposed to other birds outside of the household and you should be aware that the virus can be transported to other locations on your clothes or in your hair. Be courteous of other birds and do not expose them. It should be noted that, occasionally, some PBFD infected Psittaciformes of South American descent have spontaneously recovered from the disease.

    • 2. If Negative : A feather biopsy (including the feather follicle) should be submitted for histopathologic examination.
  • B. If Bird’s Feathers are Normal and you Test Blood for PBFD Virus using DNA probes:*
    • 1. If Positive : Indicates that the bird has been exposed to PBFD virus and that the virus is present in the blood. The bird must be retested in 90 days. If the bird is negative when retested, it indicates that the virus was not detected in the blood cells. If the bird is still positive, it indicates that the bird is either clinically infected or that the bird is being repeatedly exposed to the virus. It should be noted that most birds that are exposed to the PBFD virus develop a transient viremia followed by an appropriate immune response that results in the bird clearing the infection.
    • 2. If Negative : Indicates that PBFD virus was not detected in the blood.

About the Author

Written by AvianWeb.com

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