A calcium deficiency in parrots is a common nutritional problem. Wild parrots gain the calcium they need from a diverse diet and get the vitamin D3 needed to absorb calcium from the sun’s UV rays.
The behavioral signs of a calcium deficiency in parrots include feather-picking, stereotypies, and lethargy.
As calcium is responsible for developing and maintaining a parrot’s skeleton, hypocalcemia can lead to brittle bones, osteoporosis, fractures, and deformation of the spine and wings.
Parrots that lack calcium may struggle with muscle weakness, making it difficult to hold onto a perch, or experience tremors that eventually lead to seizures, loss of consciousness, and heart problems.
Female parrots lacking calcium will struggle to reproduce, as this vital mineral is essential for strong and healthy eggs. If a parrot with hypocalcemia lays eggs, the chicks will be weak and vulnerable.
Many gravid females become egg-bound, meaning they’re physically unable to lay eggs.
A vet can check calcium levels with a blood test. If a parrot has hypocalcemia, a vet will recommend dietary and lifestyle modifications, including medication and supplementation.
Why Do Parrots Need Calcium?
According to Veterinary Clinics of North America: Exotic Animal Practice, calcium builds and maintains a bird’s skeleton. Calcium is also responsible for kidney, digestive, and thyroid health.
Calcium is essential if you have a breeding-age female parrot. Insufficient calcium leads to weak and misshapen eggs, which can manifest as egg-binding and high chick mortality rates.
Is My Parrot Calcium Deficient?
If a parrot lacks calcium in its diet, the unmistakable symptoms of hypocalcemia will follow. Seek advice from a veterinarian if you observe one or more of the following symptoms:
1/ Feather Plucking
Feather plucking is a common warning sign of a calcium deficiency in birds. Plucking, also known as feather-destructive feather behavior (FDB) or pterotillomania, is unique to captive parrots.
Applied Animal Behavior Science found that 10% of captive parrots engage in feather plucking, but this doesn’t mean it’s something you can turn a blind eye to. Feather plucking is an act of self-mutilation.
Before assuming that hypocalcemia is to blame, ensure the bird isn’t stressed by environmental factors, bored, or lacking exercise. If this isn’t the case, dietary issues are likely responsible.
2/ Lethargy and Depression
Happy and healthy parrots should be active and curious. Parrots must spend 2-3 hours outside their cage daily. When in the confines of their cage, the bird should be alert and communicative.
If a parrot is withdrawn, showing little interest in communicating or playing with toys, this is a cause for concern. If the parrot doesn’t eat or drink regularly, it’s growing depressed.
Calcium plays a vital role in keeping the blood flowing around the body, so a calcium deficiency is likely to leave a parrot feeling increasingly lethargic and unwilling to move.
3/ Muscular Weakness
Parrots with hypocalcemia lack muscle strength and coordination. This will present itself when climbing the cage bars or holding onto a perch. A parrot will appear clumsier than usual.
If a parrot spends more time sitting at the bottom of the cage, where it’s not reliant on leg strength to hold itself upright, call it over to you. Will it land on your hand or shoulder?
This will allow you to assess if it has the strength and coordination to carry out basic tasks.
4/ Fragile and Brittle Bones
Parrots fly with zeal and enthusiasm when they spend time outside the cage. As a consequence, accidents sometimes happen, like bumping into inanimate objects.
This is rarely a concern if the parrot is healthy – the skeleton will be sturdy enough to withstand such blows. If a parrot has hypocalcemia, its skeleton will be weak, brittle, and vulnerable to fractures.
Parrots can heal broken bones faster than humans or mammals when fed a healthy diet.
5/ Skeletal Deformation
Left untreated, hypocalcemia can lead to osteoporosis in parrots. The bones become increasingly weak, regularly breaking and resetting.
If unresolved, the skeleton will restructure itself incorrectly. The parrot may get misaligned wings, a hunched back, or unsteady legs and feet, making perching near impossible.
6/ Tremors and Seizures
Some of the symptoms of hypocalcemia in parrots are comparable to epilepsy. A parrot will experience muscular tremors, gradually evolving into convulsions and seizures.
A seizure will begin with the bird behaving erratically. It’ll grow uncoordinated, likely falling from a perch before the body stiffens and jerks for up to 20 seconds.
The parrot may also empty its bowels and verbalize at this stage.
Following a seizure, the parrot will awaken but remain confused and disoriented. It’ll likely be aggressive and restless, pacing or flying around its cage.
It can take several hours for a parrot to recover. If it lacks calcium in the blood, the cycle will recommence.
7/ Egg-Laying Problems
A lack of dietary calcium can render female parrots infertile. If this isn’t the case, it’ll certainly impact their ability to lay eggs. Calcium is essential for creating healthy eggs with strong eggshells.
Parrots with hypocalcemia may experience egg binding, where eggs become trapped in the oviduct.
How Is Low Calcium Diagnosed in Parrots?
Questions will be asked about the parrot’s diet, recent health, and behavior.
A vet will perform a blood test to assess the parrot’s ionized calcium level. If the readings point to hypocalcemia, a vet will discuss ways to increase the bird’s calcium intake, usually through diet.
A suitable calcium level is species-specific but will likely fall within the ranges below:
|African Grays||2.10 – 2.59mmol/L|
|Amazon parrots||1.87 – 2.42mmol/L,|
|Budgerigars||1.60 – 2.54 mmol/L|
|Macaws||1.70 – 2.47 mmol/L|
How Do I Give My Parrot Calcium?
Dietary changes are an effective way to give a pet bird more calcium. The Netherlands Journal of Veterinary Science explains how almost half of commercial parrot feed lacks calcium.
Good sources of calcium for parrots include the following:
- Dark leafy greens, like broccoli, spinach, and kale.
- Brazil nuts, walnuts, and almonds.
- Dried figs.
- Lactose-free cheese. Avoid traditional cheese, as parrots are lactose intolerant (no lactase).
In addition to calcium, consider the correlation between vitamin D and calcium. According to Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology, Vitamin D3 aids calcium absorption into the bloodstream.
Exposure to direct sunlight for about an hour a few times a week will enable a parrot’s body to absorb enough vitamin D3. This must be outdoors, as parrots can’t absorb vitamin D through glazed windows.
Add UV lighting to the bird’s cage or aviary if it’s the wrong season or the local climate is unsuitable.
Calcium Supplements And Cuttlebone
You may offer calcium and vitamin D supplements if the parrot is a fussy eater.
Supplements must be given following a veterinary consultation, especially if you also change the parrot’s diet. As harmful as hypocalcemia is to parrots, too much calcium (hypercalcemia) is equally damaging.
Consider hanging a cuttlebone in the parrot’s cage. The cuttlefish’s shell is made of calcium carbonate, so nibbling on it will provide access to this essential mineral while wearing down the beak.
Never ignore the warning signs of low calcium in parrots. Left unresolved, hypocalcemia will negatively affect the parrot’s skeleton, feather quality, energy levels, and egg health.