Red mites, feather mites, scaly leg mites, scaly face mites, and air sac mites can all infest parrots. Some mites will even burrow into the parrot’s skin. When mites infest parrots, the most obvious signs are itchiness due to biting and lethargy due to blood loss.
Insecticides (Sevin dust and diatomaceous earth) can be used as a dust bath to treat parrot mites. Pyrethrins and permethrins are effective insecticidal sprays. Vets may prescribe oral medication for your parrot’s water to kill mites. You should clean and sterilize your parrot’s cage and everything inside it regularly.
Bird mites need a live host to survive, so they’ll feed on your parrot’s blood. Mites lead to self-destructive behaviors, such as plucking out feathers, so treatment is needed to kill mites. Ignoring the problem can lead to death.
What Mites Infest Parrots?
Mites affect all species of parrots. They’re not always easy to see, so understanding more about the different bird mite species lets owners know which type has infested their parrots. Mite types include:
Red mites (Dermanyssus gallinae) are nocturnal bloodsuckers. At 1mm, they’re difficult to see with the naked eye. However, they cause considerable discomfort and make parrots feel itchy and restless.
Red mites tend to congregate at the parrot’s vent and head. They don’t live on the parrot all the time but hide in the cage’s cracks, nest boxes, furniture, carpets, and woodwork. This is also where they’ll lay their eggs.
Feather mites are known as avian skin mites. As described by Science Direct, they live on the skin’s surface or in feather follicles. Their feeding can lead to itching, scaly or scabby dermatitis, and superficial skin lesions.
Feather mites commonly affect parrots living in outdoor aviaries. Like red mites, they feed on the affected parrot’s blood at night, making them appear more restless when it’s dark.
Scaly Leg Mites
Scaly leg mites most commonly affect budgies, canaries, and other small parrot species. Younger parrots are also more susceptible. The same mite also causes scaly face. Scaly leg mites in parrots result in feather loss, skin infections, and a deformed beak. Parrots may also experience intense itching.
Scaly leg and face mites spend their entire life cycle on the parrot, but they can also burrow into wooden toys and perches to hide. The mites’ infestation occurs around the beak, mouth, nostrils, eyes, legs, and toes.
Air Sac Mites
Air sac mites (Sternostoma tracheacolum) enter the parrots’ respiratory tract, residing in the trachea, voice box, lungs, and air sacs. The mites most commonly affect budgies and cockatiels. When mites enter the respiratory system, parrots become less vocal, sneeze, cough, and squeak. They will also have trouble breathing.
Are Mites Harmful To Parrots?
If left untreated, mites can infect other birds. They can also lead to death in the worst cases. Watch out for:
Bloodsucking mites, like red mites, cause anemia. Avian anemia is described by Compendium as a decreased capacity of the blood to carry oxygen. Low levels of red blood cells can lead to:
- Weight loss
- Shortness of breath
Anemia mustn’t be left to resolve itself as it can be fatal, especially if the mites aren’t dealt with swiftly. Blood levels will rapidly decrease as a result.
When scaly mites burrow into bare areas around the parrot’s beak and face, scaly patches occur.
Beak abnormalities develop when the parrot’s mite infestation is neglected. Mites burrow into the growing part of the beak and cause it to become deformed. As a result, affected parrots have difficulty eating and drinking.
Vitamin A deficiencies make parrots more vulnerable to beak deficiencies, so improving your parrot’s diet can make them less susceptible to beak problems.
Parrots with beak deformities must also be quarantined. The beak may need to be trimmed by a vet to allow it to grow back closer to normal, but it’s likely the parrot will be left with long-lasting or permanent damage.
A parrot mite bite is relatively harmless. Aside from an itching sensation, the bite doesn’t do much damage. However, if mites can penetrate the parrot’s skin, bacterial infections can occur from where bacteria are allowed to enter. Symptoms of a bacterial skin infection include:
- Inflamed skin
- Lesions with pus
- Poor feather quality
The parrot may also become lethargic, withdrawn, and refuse to eat. When bacterial infections set in, clean the area with an antiseptic solution. A vet must administer a course of antibiotics to kill the bacteria.
Does My Parrot Have Mites?
The most obvious sign of a mite infestation is seeing them move on your parrot’s skin. They’ll be more active at night around the head and vent. Other noticeable symptoms of mites in parrots include:
Parrots with mites become restless and distressed, especially at night. Similarly, parrots may scratch more often and preen at their feathers. It looks like they’re grooming, but they’re itching themselves to get relief. Parrots will rub themselves against their cage, perches, and nesting boxes in an attempt to remove the burrowing mites.
Unfortunately, mites can’t be removed by the preening process, so your parrot may become obsessive with its grooming, developing self-mutilation tendencies.
Parrots with mites sometimes have crusty patches around their eyes and beaks. As the mites continue to burrow, the white deposits become thicker and crustier. They’ll also develop plaque in the corners of their eyes. Once the mite infestation becomes worse, you’ll see deep burrows or holes in the skin.
Similarly, parrots with a mite infestation will develop scaly, irritated skin, especially around the legs and feet. This is because mites release metabolites that irritate the skin, causing red, sore rashes.
Coughing Or Wheezing
Parrots with mites in their respiratory tract will experience difficulty breathing. This is usually accompanied by coughing, wheezing, and open-mouthed breathing. Parrots might sneeze continuously and gasp for air.
Similarly, check for a change in vocalization or newly-developed clicking sounds. These indicate that mites are burrowed deep in the respiratory tract and are causing discomfort.
Feather loss or bald patches indicate that your parrot has a mite infestation. Parrots pull their feathers out with excessive preening and foot scratching to get relief. So, they pluck their feathers where the mites have burrowed.
In the morning, you’re most likely to find patches of feathers at the bottom of the cage where nocturnal mites have feasted on their blood and parrots have tried to get rid of them.
How To Identify Mites On A Parrot
Mites rarely come out in the light, and when they do, they’re so small that you need to know they’re there beforehand. That being said, you must regularly check for mites. To do so, follow these steps:
- Check your parrot’s skin at night with a flashlight. If you see small dots that are moving, they’re likely to be mites.
- Place a white sheet over the cage at night and check in the morning for red spots (blood)
- Lay sticky tape on the bottom of the bird cage and in nesting boxes to trap mites.
While the above steps won’t treat mites, they can determine whether your parrot is infected or has another underlying health issue that needs addressing.
Is It Parrot Mites or Lice?
Lice are similar to mites but are larger and stick their eggs to the base of the parrot’s feathers.
Lice also reside all over a parrot’s body. Like mites, they feed off the blood, but they also consume skin and feathers. Lice don’t tend to cause as much damage as mites, but they’re itchy, causing parrots to harm themselves to get relief.
However, lice don’t burrow as some mite species do, and they’re not known to carry dangerous diseases.
How Does A Parrot Get Mites?
Mites seemingly appear out of nowhere. When mites infect your parrot, they can infest furniture and other animals, making them difficult to get rid of altogether. To treat the mite infestation, it’s essential to know where they came from. Here are the most likely reasons why parrots get mites:
Contact with An Infected Bird
Most mites commonly come from infected animals who transmit mites. This is unlikely with lone parrots that live in indoor cages; outdoor aviaries are most at risk.
Once one parrot becomes infected, it won’t be long before the entire flock has mites. Mites can travel between cages and move to other birds through direct contact.
Mites inside the house burrow into furniture, waiting for a live host. If your home is infested, they’ll choose to live and feed on your parrot, which provides a good source of blood and warmth.
This is even more likely if you get second-hand furniture. As a result, cleaning the furniture thoroughly before bringing it into your home is the best way to prevent mite transmission.
Owners can transfer mites to their parrots if they’ve been handling other birds. Mites don’t live on humans. If one has gotten onto a human’s skin, it’ll seek an avian host. If you have multiple parrots, implement hygiene measures after handling each parrot to prevent mites from infesting your entire flock.
If you have a cat, mites can enter your home through the dead rodents and birds it brings home. Similarly, cats that roam outside come into contact with wild birds’ nests and other dead animals, making them potential mite carriers.
Dogs are another carrier. Some rub into dead carcasses or sniff through woodland where mites live. As a result, they bring mites into the home, which go on to infest your parrot.
How To Treat Mites On Parrots
Once diagnosed, you’ll need to treat the parrot straight away to eradicate the problem. Not doing so leaves your parrot vulnerable to sickness or even death. The following parrot mite treatments are highly effective:
Sevin dust is a mild pesticide that can be applied directly to parrots. Some owners prefer not to use pesticides, but Sevin dust is suitable for avian use. When used alongside a dusting bath, 5% Sevin dust kills mites.
Dust your parrot under the wings and tail, ensuring that you reach all areas covered by the mites. However, ensure that you don’t allow your parrot to inhale too much dust as it can affect its respiratory system.
A good way to protect your parrot’s respiratory system is to put your parrot’s body in a bag with the dusting solution, keeping its head sticking out of the top. Shake the powder solution to cover your parrot’s body and dust it off.
Diatomaceous earth is a natural powder that kills mites by scratching the surface area of their chitinous exoskeleton. As a result, the powder draws out their essential oils and liquids, eventually killing them.
As it’s a natural powder, diatomaceous earth won’t harm your parrot. You can also use it in hard-to-reach areas of the cage to kill any remaining mites that may be hiding.
Pyrethrins are pesticides that are naturally found in various chrysanthemum flowers. Pyrethrins are toxic to insects, including mites, but are milder and more natural than other insecticides.
While pyrethrins are effective, they only work for a short period, so they need to be reapplied.
Permethrin is another natural insecticide that’s extracted from the oil glands on the seeds of the Tanacetum cineariaefolium plant. It provides long-lasting protection against mites and kills eggs and nymphs as well as adults.
Both work by paralyzing the mites until they die. You can find them in powder and liquid forms. You can use the powder in the same way as Sevin dust.
If you prefer, you can apply the spray to your parrot’s body with a small hand towel, paying particular attention under the wings and around the vent.
Oral medications, such as dewormers, are an effective treatment against mites. In particular, Ivermectin has been proven to work against parrot mites. Most vets recommend placing it in your parrot’s drinking water.
How To Prevent Parrot Mites
Once you’ve dealt with the mite problem on your parrot, you’ll need to clean your home to prevent mites from re-infesting your parrot. This is also an effective way to avoid future outbreaks. To prevent mites, follow these steps:
Clean Parrot Cage
The first logical step is to deep clean and sanitize your parrot’s cage. Mites hide in the smallest gaps, so you’ll need to be thorough to kill all of them.
You can sprinkle diatomaceous earth over the cage to destroy any remaining mites. Brush it out after an hour or two and use a parrot-safe sanitizing solution to disinfect the cage. Remove traces of dried parrot blood.
Clean the inside of any nesting boxes inside the cage. To be on the safe side, you may want to destroy and replace all wooden perches and accessories so that you can be certain that all mites are gone.
Vacuum your entire home, getting into all gaps and cracks where mites may reside. Again, diatomaceous earth can be sprinkled on the floor beforehand, which will dehydrate any remaining mites. Vacuum your house daily for around 14 days to remove eggs and newly hatched nymphs.
As mentioned, mites sometimes hide in furniture, whether upholstered or wooden. As a result, you’ll need to clean all furniture that mites are likely to hide in. Using a parrot-safe insecticide, spray it on couches, chairs, and other furniture where mites may be present, remembering to focus on the cracks and gaps.
Despite their size, mites can significantly reduce your parrot’s quality of life and even result in premature death. To prevent severe health problems from occurring, take your parrot to the vet as soon as you suspect mites, and quarantine it from all other animals to reduce the risk of transmission.