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Parrot Nostril Problems Explained

Last Updated on February 13, 2024 by Carrie Stephens

A parrot’s nostrils (nares) are located on the cere (the fleshy, bulbous top of the upper beak). The nares allow the parrot to inhale and exhale without opening its beak, providing a sense of smell.

A healthy parrot should have dry nares with no discharge – wet nostrils suggest a sinus infection. The nares should maintain a consistent shape and size, not growing oversized.

The nares can become blocked if the parrot injures its beak, leading to swelling of the cere.

Clogged nose holes will also restrict breathing, which could be caused by dried mucus or the formation of nose stones called rhinoliths. 

If a parrot’s nostrils are swollen and inflamed, and it’s sneezing or releasing discharge from the nares, a respiratory infection is likely the cause.

If the parrot’s nose is bleeding, it may have attempted to clear a blockage with its sharp talons.

The Function of The Nares in Parrots

Parrots take in oxygen through the nares into a nasal cavity. This cavity is divided by three bones called the conchae. These comprise the rostral and caudal conchae, separated by the middle concha.

The nasal cavity filters inhaled air, passing it through the choanal slit (in the roof of the mouth). Then, the air passes through the trachea and bronchus.

Inhaled air is divided between the parrot’s lungs and air sacs. When a parrot exhales, the air is pushed from the lungs to anterior air sacs, back through the trachea, and out through the nares.

Nares are small but pivotal to parrots’ health and comfort. If a parrot experiences physical issues with the nostrils, it can have long-term consequences.

Parrots’ nares are also vital to their sense of smell. Olfactory nerves are located within the nostrils, and Biological Sciences claims that birds have better scent receptors than once believed.

nasal discharge in parrots

Crusty Nares

Crusting around a parrot’s nares is often a warning that it has mites.

The likeliest culprit is Knemidokoptes pilae, better known as “scaly-faced mites.” These parasites leave a progressively larger honeycomb-like crust in their wake.

Scaly-faced mites burrow into the cere, seeking warmth and moisture as they sustain themselves on beta-keratin. If a parrot has scaly-faced mites, isolate it from others.

Blocked Nares

A healthy parrot should be able to breathe through the nares. The nostrils are likely blocked if a parrot breathes with its beak open. This will be due to an obstruction:

Foreign Objects

Parrots use their beaks for eating, exploring their surroundings, climbing, plucking worn-out feathers, and more. This means a parrot may get a foreign object trapped in its nares.

If you suspect a parrot has an object trapped in its nostril, shine a torch light into the nares. You’ll see a thin white surface called conchae if the nostril is empty.

If you can’t see the conchae, something may be obscuring your view and the parrot’s breathing ability. Objects that may become trapped in a parrot’s nares include:

  • Dried mucus discharge.
  • Small stones.
  • Dirt and debris.
  • Toy parts.
  • Food morsels.
  • Feathers.

If you can remove the foreign object, do so with tweezers. If it’s firmly embedded or unable to be passed through the nasal cavity, seek veterinary assistance. 

Rhinoliths (Nose Stones)

A rhinolith is a more concerning blockage in a parrot’s nose. This accumulation of debris in the nostrils hardens over time, eventually leading to a nose stone that becomes difficult to remove.

An explanation for rhinoliths in the nostrils is hypovitaminosis A – a shortage of dietary vitamin A. This is common in budgies who are sometimes fed all-seed diets.

Rhinoliths can cause a parrot’s nostrils to become enlarged. As the nasal stone grows and solidifies, it stretches the nostril. Unless the rhinolith is removed, the nasal slit may be permanently misshapen.

If the nasal stone is small, it can be removed by a long-handled hook. Larger stones must be crushed and broken down before removal to avoid causing damage to the nostril.

Nasal Discharge

Discharge of mucus and streaming from the nares signify a respiratory infection.

A parrot’s nostrils should be dry. If the nares feel damp, check for stringy, transparent mucus discharge. This streaming may be accompanied by sneezing.

Be mindful of dry sneezing in parrots. While it may just be responding to an irritant in the nares, like dust and debris, sneezing with blocked nostrils can lead to burst blood vessels.

If a parrot has mucus streaming from the nostrils, sneezing, and similar discharge from the eyes, it likely has a respiratory infection.

If a parrot has nasal discharge from the nares, isolate the bird, noting any additional symptoms.

Sinusitis

Sinusitis in parrots is from a swelling of the sinuses – cavities in the skull that warm and humidify the air it breathes. Sinusitis arises when the sinuses become inflamed, usually due to bacterial infection. 

A parrot with sinusitis will experience streaming from the nares and likely regularly wet sneeze. Sinusitis also leads to swelling in the nares and, more prominently, around the eyes.

The most common cause of sinusitis is hypovitaminosis A. If a parrot isn’t getting enough vitamin A, the lining of the sinus cavities can become damaged. This creates thicker mucus, which can inflame the nares and lead to blockage and inflammation.

A viral infection could lead to an abscess in the parrot’s sinuses – inflamed, red tissue filled with pus and painful to the touch. This abscess may need to be drained.

How to Flush a Parrot’s Nares

Flushing a parrot’s nostrils can offer short-term relief from sinusitis symptoms. This won’t resolve the cause of the infection, but it’ll reduce pain and discomfort.

To flush a parrot’s nares, follow these steps:

  1. Warm some sterile saline water. This is important, as unsterilized water could worsen an infection.
  2. Place this water into a syringe.
  3. Secure the parrot, ensuring the bird’s head is lower than the body.
  4. Inject the saline water directly into one nostril, flushing it out.
  5. Clean the syringe and repeat the process in the second nostril.

If the parrot has its nostrils flushed for the first time, a vet should undertake the task.

Aspergillosis

A fungus called Aspergillus in a parrot’s environment can cause Aspergillosis. The main risk to captive parrots is uneaten, rotting food, which can dry and release Aspergillus spores.

Not all parrots exposed to Aspergillus will show symptoms of respiratory infection. Some healthy birds can carry the condition and remain asymptomatic. Symptoms include:

  • Coughing.
  • Lethargy and depression.
  • Fluffing the feathers.
  • Anorexia.
  • Bobbing the tail.

As explained by the Asia Pacific Allergy, streaming from the nares suggests the parrot has allergic aspergillus sinusitis, which leads to a bulky fungal discharge.

A will be prescribed steroids, although surgery may be required in severe cases.

Psittacosis

Also known as ornithosis, avian chlamydiosis, or the more colloquial parrot fever, psittacosis is a contagious bacterial infection.

The bacterium Chlamydia psittaci attaches to the lungs, leading to symptoms such as sneezing and blood streaming from the nares and eyes.

Additional symptoms of psittacosis in parrots include:

  • Diarrhea and polyuria.
  • Fluffing of the feathers.
  • Unwillingness to exercise and sleeping more than usual.

Prescription antibiotics are the most common remedy for psittacosis. The parrot must be isolated and rested while it completes the course of medication.

Psittacosis is zoonotic, meaning it can be passed to humans. If you handle a parrot with streaming nares and it’s later confirmed to have parrot fever, you may experience flu-like symptoms.

Avian Influenza

Avian influenza is a form of flu that causes severe respiratory distress. Avian influenza is contagious and frequently spreads among flocks of wild birds.

Like all forms of influenza, “bird flu” frequently mutates. The most recent strain is the subtype H5N8, which shows symptoms outside of sneezing and discharge from the nostrils. These include:

No vaccine has been identified as the disease mutates so frequently.

Newcastle Disease

Newcastle disease is a concerning cause of streaming nares because it’s contagious and invariably fatal. Outside of wet sneezing and streaming from the nostrils, the symptoms include:

  • Labored breathing.
  • Diarrhea, usually bright yellow or green.
  • Constant bobbing of the head.
  • Dilated pupils.
  • Muscular tremors and tics.
  • Twisting of the head and neck.
  • Lack of appetite. leading to sudden-onset anorexia
  • Leg paralysis.
  • Lethargy and depression.

Newcastle disease is rare in the United States. Because the condition arises from proximity to an infected bird, it’s also unlikely that a parrot will contract it.

Nosebleeds

Mucus is the most common discharge from the nares, but birds can also experience epistaxis (nosebleeds.) There are many explanations for avian nosebleeds:

Impact Trauma

A parrot’s beak is sensitive and filled with blood vessels that can burst if subjected to trauma, meaning a parrot may experience nosebleeds in the aftermath of an impact.

Examples include flying into a window or door while exercising or falling from a height in the cage.

The parrot’s nostrils may bleed immediately, minutes, or even hours after the incident. The latter is more concerning, as this suggests the bird’s beak was subject to internal bleeding.

Bleeding from the nares can be stopped by applying an ice pack to the cere, which will cause the blood vessels within to contract and cease blood flow.

parrot has crusty nare

Allergies And Irritation

Parrots are prone to allergies, which irritate the skin in and around the nostrils. This is likely if the bird inhales an allergen or toxin. Allergies can also dry out the skin in the nares.

If a parrot is experiencing discomfort caused by an allergen or irritation, it’ll scratch the area. If the parrot’s claws are sharp, this can result in cuts to the interior of the nares, causing bleeding.

Lack of Humidity

Many wild parrots hail from tropical climates and flourish in humid conditions. The optimum humidity level for parrots is usually 40-60%, so measure it with a hygrometer.

If the air around a parrot is too dry, the skin around and inside the nares will become brittle and crusty. A parrot may inadvertently cause bleeding when scratching the interior of the nostrils.

Be mindful of artificial heat sources during the winter because they can remove humidity from the parrot’s room. Mist the parrot regularly during the coldest months of the year.

Seizures

All parrot species can experience sudden-onset seizures, although cockatiels, lovebirds, budgies, Amazons, and African grays are most at risk.

An avian seizure is caused by an unexpected electrical discharge from the nervous system to the brain.

The Journal of Epilepsy and Clinical Neurophysiology explains that epistaxis isn’t a common seizure symptom. However, if the nosebleed preceded the seizure, check for signs of chronic sinusitis.

Caring for a Parrot’s Nares

To minimize the risk of problems with the nares, follow these steps:

  1. Provide a clean living environment.
  2. Ensure the parrot has sufficient humidity and doesn’t overheat.
  3. Feed a balanced, nutritious diet.
  4. Monitor the parrot while it exercises, ensuring it doesn’t injure itself.
  5. Periodically check for mites.

Monitor the parrot’s cere and nostrils. A parrot should be able to breathe freely through the nostrils without opening its mouth, and the nares should be dry and free from discharge.