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Ringo's Losing Feathers


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#1 Siobhan

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Posted 14 January 2014 - 03:23 PM

I have asked for help twice on the starling discussion board with this issue and the first time, got one reply to the effect of "I dunno" and this time, no replies at all. 

 

Ringo's tummy feathers hang down vertically instead of lying against her body. Now she's losing feathers to the point she has bald patches. She isn't plucking. They fall out. She lost all the feathers on her back when I had Benjy in her room, but those grew back. Now she's got a couple of those growing in odd directions, but no bald patches, at least. 

 

Her energy level, poops, appetite and everything is perfectly normal for her. She's very bright-eyed and curious about everything. She talks and sings and plays as usual. She takes several baths a day and always has. Her preening is no different than usual. Her diet is what is generally recommended for captive starlings, a mixture of cat food, egg protein pellets, softbill pellets (just a little of that) and I give her blood worms and meal worms (freeze dried) as treats. Like the parrots, she's picky about fruits and veggies and usually won't eat any of those. I occasionally give her vitamin drops because it's winter and she isn't getting to catch any live bugs as she can in summer when moths and things get into her room. I don't use cleaning products on her cage, just water. As far as I can tell, there's nothing in her room -- and she doesn't leave her room, because I don't trust our dog Jack -- that could be an irritant. The bare skin I can see is the right color and is not inflamed or rashy. 

 

Starlings having their first adult molt can take forever about doing it, as long as three months, and she was due for her first adult molt in about September. However, starlings molt the way any bird does. They lose feathers and get new ones without having bald patches. When she had her baby molt, that's the way it was. If she had pin feathers or signs of incoming growth on the bald places, I'd think she was just having an ugly first molt, which can happen. But I don't see signs of incoming growth. 

 

Starlings are considered an invasive species and a pest in the U.S. and therefore not illegal to keep as pets. However, they're also unpopular in general and the vet I use for my parrots isn't a specialist in avian medicine. If I needed one of those, I'd have to drive an hour to the only exotic bird vet in Illinois, IF I could get an appointment, and he specializes in parrots, not starlings. I'm not sure he'd even agree to see a starling.

 

I'm tempted to take the other foods away -- the egg and the softbill pellets -- because when I only fed her cat food, she didn't have this problem. It may not be related, but it may be. I can't pinpoint exactly when I noticed this change in her feathers, but change in feather condition is often related to nutrition. The starling forum people insist that this mixture of foods is necessary for starling health in captivity, but she was weaned onto cat food and ate nothing else but cat food for several months until I came upon that forum. 



#2 LindeeV

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Posted 14 January 2014 - 04:54 PM

Have you spoken with any wildlife rehabbers? Sometimes they have helpful tips on nutrition or rebuilding health in injured/traumatized animals.

 

My first thought was just a wierd molt, but if she isn't growing new feathers, that doesn't sound right.

 

My inclination would be to wait another week or two and see if new feathers start sprouting. If not, cut her back to cat food only for a while and see if that helps.

 

Otherwise, I got nuttin. I don't know much about starlings, but I don't recall ever seeing a nekkid one in the wild, so they must grow new feathers some way! wacko.png



#3 Jan Cullen

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Posted 14 January 2014 - 05:19 PM

And yet I would say to look closely at the cat food to see what ingredients are in it as well as the usual fat, carbs, salt, etc.  My first instinct is to think it is the cat food as they put so much rubbish in it.  Otherwise, I am not sure what else it could be.  I think Lindee's suggestions are good ones.  Keep us posted on Ringo's progress.



#4 Siobhan

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Posted 14 January 2014 - 05:43 PM

I bought her a new brand of cat food that doesn't have any of the fillers and stuff. It was expensive and had good, wholesome ingredients and she wouldn't touch it. Her preferred brand is Purina Cat Chow indoor formula. She will eat the egg protein pellets, which gave her messy poops for a while until her system adjusted -- not MORE poops, just messier ones. She eats only a tiny bit of the softbill pellets (finch formula). My wildlife rehab friends specialize in raptors and only deal with songbirds if they land in their laps (metaphorically speaking), so they don't know, either. I'm going to try taking the other foods away for a couple of weeks. She won't starve, because she lived on Purina Cat Chow almost exclusively for the first six months she lived with me. I gave her mealworms for treats during that six months and she caught some moths but that's about all her diet consisted of. And her feather condition was fine then. The egg protein pellets are actually for parrots who need extra calcium, like a female who's laying eggs, but since Ringo won't eat real egg, and the starling forum folks insist she must, I gave her this. I gave some to Greta when she was laying so many eggs, too, and Greta wouldn't eat it. LOL 



#5 Allee

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Posted 14 January 2014 - 08:35 PM

http://www.starlingtalk.com/diet.htm

Siobhan, you've probably read all this before but I thought you might find something useful. I'm sorry Ringo is having feather problems.

#6 Jan Cullen

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Posted 14 January 2014 - 09:47 PM

Try liquid calcium in the water.  This is what I use for Rebel when she is laying eggs as occasionally she lays a soft shelled egg.  I get the calcium from the vet. 



#7 Siobhan

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Posted 15 January 2014 - 12:06 AM

Starling Talk is the forum where I got the information to feed her the egg protein and softbill pellets. Chicken mash is preferred but she won't eat that. Someone has finally replied to me there, but the attitude is sort of a sneering "oh, she 'won't' eat what she's supposed to eat?" and "you give her CAT CHOW?" It's not like I could force-feed her. She will literally go without eating rather than eat what she doesn't like. I tried it. I followed their instructions to the letter and she refused to eat one bite for three days. I could actually see that she lost weight in that time because she's VERY active, and a busy bird who isn't eating loses weight in a hurry. So I gave in and gave her what she would eat, and she gorged, so she was really, really hungry by then. I've tried everything I can think of to get her to eat high quality cat food and she won't. I've tried different brands, I've tried breaking it up and leaving it whole. I tried dog food. I tried canned food. When i found this pellet egg stuff, and she actually ate it, I thought I was a genius. Finally, I could get some egg into her. Now they're sneering at me for giving her that and suggesting I'm a bad mommy. I'm completely at a loss at this point.



#8 Jan Cullen

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Posted 15 January 2014 - 05:08 AM

Don't let them make you feel that way.  You are doing the best you can for a bird that is very selective about what she eats.  It is obvious she would prefer to starve than to eat things she doesn't like.  Keep persevering with her.  I don't suppose you can ring the exotic bird vet and talk to him on the phone.  Have you "googled" the problem?  Unfortunately, starlings are considered a pest here and I don't know anyone who has one in this country.



#9 Siobhan

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Posted 15 January 2014 - 09:38 AM

I did send a message to my wildlife rehab friend and I'll be seeing him on Friday when I go to the raptor center to cover a story, so I can ask him in person and show him and Jane (the other rehabber) a picture. Starlings are considered pests here, too, and not much of anybody cares what they like to or should eat or anything about them. Even a birding magazine I get suggested to a reader who wrote in asking how to discourage starlings from hogging her bird feeder that she could discourage them "by any means you see fit" (shoot them, I suppose). Starlings don't eat seeds unless they're desperate because they can't digest them and get no nutrition from them. Seeds might make them feel full briefly but they would starve if they tried to live on wild bird seeds. If you want them to stay out of your bird feeder, simply pour cat food on the ground beneath, or put some in a bowl, and they'll eat that and actually get the nutrition they need from it. I did that while we had a big snow and they didn't leave it there long enough for other animals to be drawn by it.



#10 Allee

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Posted 15 January 2014 - 11:16 AM

I thought you had probably tried every forum possible. You're a wonderful Mom to all your babies. Don't let the negative attitudes discourage you. If I had listened to all the so-called experienced cockatoo owners, I would never have brought Popeye home.

There must be a solution. Do you think it's a lack of protein and fat content in the cat food causing her feathers to fall out? Does she eat her cat food straight out of the bag or do you crush it for her? If she would eat it crushed you might be able to add the food she doesn't like to her favorite food.

Hopefully your friend at the rehab center will have some answers for you. Do they have a vet that sees the wild birds at the center?

#11 Siobhan

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Posted 15 January 2014 - 11:47 AM

I've tried crushing Ringo's food and she won't eat it like that. Starlings swallow their food whole and maybe she doesn't recognize crushed pieces as food, I don't know. The egg pellets are supposed to provide the extra protein that might be lacking in the cat food, and she's been eating those quite enthusiastically, sometimes even in preference to the cat food. I did check the ingredients of those pellets carefully, and they're almost entirely made of eggs. Very little filler or by-product. This is what I give her: http://www.petsoluti...gn=shopping.com It's the only thing I've tried to provide egg protein that she'll eat and I've tried a LOT of different things. I spent more effort and time on her diet than on all the other critters combined. 



#12 Allee

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Posted 15 January 2014 - 03:23 PM

It is a difficult problem. I don't know enough about starlings to be much help. I sent an e-mail to a veterinarian I worked for years ago. He had a regular practice but he had a special interest in avians and exotics and he volunteered at a couple of wildlife rehabs. I never saw him turn away any living being, wild or not. If he doesn't have any advice he'll tell me that too. It may lead to nothing, but we'll see. How old is Ringo?
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#13 Siobhan

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Posted 15 January 2014 - 04:27 PM

She's 1 1/2, approximately. Her birthday's in early May. Since we don't know exactly, I just chose a date in the ballpark, which is May 9. Based on the starlings who nest at my house and a series of photos someone posted of their rescued starling, taken daily during the first weeks of life, she was between 2 and 3 weeks old when she got me. Her adult feathers started appearing when she was, by that reckoning, 9 to 10 weeks old, which is about right. The adult feathers can start emerging anywhere from 8 weeks old on, and it takes a couple of months for the entire process to full adult coloring. When most of them have appeared, you can then make an educated guess on the bird's sex, which is when I decided she's a girl. Last spring, she should have gone into season and her beak should have turned yellow, at which point you can make a final determination of sex. Females' beaks are pinkish next to their faces during yellow beak season, and males' are bluish. Only ... Ringo didn't go into season. That isn't unusual for captive, indoor starlings the first year.The other signs are pretty obvious, though. Females' pupils are easily distinguished from the iris, and with few exceptions, males' eyes appear to be solidly dark with no discernible pupil. 



#14 Jan Cullen

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Posted 15 January 2014 - 08:16 PM

I did an MSN search on "diet for starlings" and a lot of sites popped up.  One of them suggested dog food.



#15 Siobhan

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Posted 15 January 2014 - 11:51 PM

Dog food pieces are mostly too large without crushing them for her, and since she won't eat crushed food, I buy cat food, which is also acceptable. The purpose is to give them meat protein since starlings eat bugs in the wild.



#16 Jan Cullen

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Posted 16 January 2014 - 03:03 AM

I can just imagine you outside with your bug net biggrin.png



#17 Siobhan

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Posted 16 January 2014 - 09:03 AM

I do take her the occasional moth or something, but in summer we have open windows and the front door open and plenty of stuff gets inside for her to catch on her own.



#18 Bene_Gesserit

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Posted 16 January 2014 - 01:21 PM

This is one of two things: a diet issue, or a disease.  Since she's not in contact with any birds who are showing these syptoms (in fact, if I remember correctly, she's in a room on her own,) a disease doesn't fit.  Therefore it must be a nutrition issue.

 

My best idea? Contact the Cornell Ornithology lab. They're great folks.  Here's a page where you can either email them...or, to the right, is an 800 number.  Good luck!

http://www.allaboutb...e.aspx?pid=1101



#19 Siobhan

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Posted 16 January 2014 - 02:04 PM

Thanks. I sent an email explaining the situation and now we'll see what they say. If Ringo's demeanor was even slightly different from her norm, I might suspect illness, but she is entirely normal. It must be nutritional. I have cut back on the Kaytee and taken away the finch pellets entirely. I haven't let her have any of the snail's algae pellets for days now -- she loves them for some reason -- and have returned her diet to what it was before the problem showed up. Purina Cat Chow and dried meal worms only. Typically if there's an allergy or something afoot, a doctor would have a person cut out suspicious items and then slowly reintroduce them one at a time to see which one is the culprit. 


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#20 Bene_Gesserit

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Posted 16 January 2014 - 02:34 PM

I think you're doing the right thing, going back to the previous diet. While I don't think any of the new things were bad for her, they must have displaced the nutrient she's now lacking. I just don't have enough knowledge to know what nutrient deficiency would cause this. :-(


Also: I've never used or researched them, but a high quality vitamin/mineral water additive might solve the problem faster (the sort that are added to the drinking water?) but many of those are colored and I'm not sure Ringo would react well to colored water.


I just checked around about those drops...apparently they cause a boost in the growth of bacteria in water.  Apparently powdered alternatives (dusted on the foods) are recommended instead.