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Does my bird have external parasites (e.g. lice, mites, ticks, fleas)?

Birds can carry a large number of external parasites (ectoparasites) – fleas, ticks, mites, and lice. This isn’t as common as people sometimes appear to believe and is greatly overrated (over-treated) as a cause of feather damaging behaviour and feather loss. See these articles for more information on feather damaging behaviour and feather loss:

The most common external parasites are:

  • Lice – small biting insects that live on the feathers. Some of them are thought to be harmless, others can cause irritation and feather loss.
  • Mites – small, eight-legged arthropods that can live on the skin (e.g., the Red mite) or in the skin (e.g., Scaly Face mite). Some (the quill mites) live in the feather shaft and weaken it, causing it to break.
  • The poultry Stick-Fast flea is occasionally seen on the combs and wattles of backyard poultry and can transfer to other bird species if housed together.
  • Paralysis ticks are occasionally found not only on wild birds, but also ducks and geese. They can cause paralysis in birds, similar to that seen in other companion animals.

Diagnosing the presence of mites is usually straightforward – simple visual inspection is usually enough. Red mites can be difficult to find, as they usually disappear off the bird during the day, re-emerging at night to feed on their blood. Scaly Face mite causes characteristic ‘honeycomb’ crusts on the face, vent, feet, and wings.

Treatment with a pyrethrin spray is usually enough to treat ticks, fleas, and lice. It is best to speak to your avian vet about what product to use.

Mites may require different treatment regimes, and your avian vet is the best person to discuss this with. Several treatments, 2 weeks apart, may be required to completely eradicate these pests.

Routine, year-round treatment is rarely indicated for companion birds housed indoors. Aviary birds and poultry may benefit from spraying with a pyrethrin every 3-6 months (as advised by your avian vet).

Paralysis tick attached next to the eye of an owl.
Characteristic ‘honeycomb’ crusts on the face caused by Scaly Face mite.
This article was authored by:
Bob Doneley BVSc FANZCVS (Avian Medicine)
Professor, Avian and Exotic Pet Service
Registered Specialist in Bird Medicine


Doneley B (2018) Avian Medicine and Surgery in Practice: Companion and Aviary Birds, 2nd ed. CRC Press

Also Read

Updated on July 17, 2023

RSPCA Australia believes that captive-bred wild animals should not be kept in a home environment or for companion purposes unless the species has been clearly identified as being suitable for this purpose. It is important that animals living in a home environment can live a good life. This means providing for their physical health and ensuring opportunities to fully express their individual interests and experience good welfare. Inadequate care and husbandry are reported to contribute to common and serious welfare compromises in many captive wild animals living in home environments. For more information see our policy.

The reality is, however, that captive-bred wild animals are kept in home environments despite sometimes not meeting these criteria (e.g., some reptile and bird species). Because of this, the RSPCA has produced these articles on the care and welfare of a variety of commonly kept captive-bred wild animals. The aim is to help people better understand their animals as individuals and provide them with care that keeps them healthy and provides opportunities for positive mental experiences as much as possible in captivity.

Wild animals must not be taken from the wild to be kept as companion animals (pets).

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