Whether in the wild or in an aviary, birds are not immune from certain pests and diseases just like any other animal. But, can birds get fleas?
Absolutely. Both wild and pet birds can carry fleas, ticks and other kinds of parasites. Birds in the wild will try and control a flea infestation through lots of preening. However, young birds can suffer serious health problems if they’re infested with fleas.
Let’s learn more about bird fleas.
- 1 What Are Bird Fleas?
- 2 The Lifecycle of Bird Fleas
- 3 How Do Wild Birds Deal With Fleas?
- 4 Fleas in Pet Birds
- 5 How to Treat Your Bird for Fleas
- 6 Frequently Asked Questions
- 7 Final Thoughts
What Are Bird Fleas?
Bird fleas are very similar to the types of fleas that like to live on our dogs and cats. They’re small and brown in color. Once they’ve attached themselves to a bird, they’ll bite and feed on the bird’s blood. Spring is normally prime flea season.
The bird flea larvae survives and feeds on nesting material. Once the larvae transforms into an adult flea, it will attach itself to the young birds in the nest and start feeding.
The birds can then spread the fleas across a large area as they start to leave the nest and fly. Fleas are also very adept at jumping and traveling long distances on their own.
Smaller birds like starlings and robins will actually eat fleas. In fact, they will search for fleas in the grass as well as pick off and eat the ones that have become attached to their bodies.
Additionally, some birds even pick fleas off other animals to consume. This process is called heterospecific cleaning. This has benefits for the larger mammals and the birds. Mammals that allow birds to preen them include buffalo, cows, wild boars, rhinos, camels, wallabies and deer.
The Lifecycle of Bird Fleas
Adult fleas lay their eggs while they’re feeding on their hosts. These eggs then drop to the ground and will hatch into larvae. During the warmer months, the larvae live on the ground and feed on organic matter. Flea larvae can also be present in bird nests and feed there.
Then, just before the cold weather arrives, these larvae will spin their cocoons that they’ll live in over winter. Once spring arrives again, the adult fleas emerge from the cocoons to find suitable bird hosts to attach themselves to and feed on.
Young birds that experience an infestation of fleas can suffer quite dramatically if the problem is not rectified. You see, the fleas feed on the blood of the bird and this can eventually lead to the bird suffering from anemia. In extreme cases, this may even cause the death of the bird.
How Do Wild Birds Deal With Fleas?
Here are some common ways that birds in the wild deal with a flea infestation.
Preening Themselves and Each Other
The most common way that birds rid themselves of fleas is by preening. Birds preen themselves but bonded pairs can also preen each other. Interestingly, while the birds are preening, they will secrete an oil that contains certain bacteria which are toxic to different parasites such as fleas.
Using Their Sharp Claws to Scratch Themselves
Some birds will also rid themselves of fleas by scratching with their feet. This is especially useful for birds that have hooked beaks and aren’t able to effectively pick off the fleas and eat them.
Taking a Dust Bath
Many birds will also partake in a dust bath. The aim of this is to dry out the fleas as a way to get rid of them. Interestingly, clay dirt is far more effective at getting rid of fleas and ticks than sand.
Basking in the Sun
No doubt, you’ve seen birds basking themselves in the sun. This actually has a purpose. The heat of the sun can easily cause the fleas to overheat and dry out. Plus, it exposes the fleas to ultraviolet radiation.
Anointing Themselves with Natural Pesticides
Some birds will anoint their feather with crushed caterpillars, ants, beetles and even certain plants. These all act as natural pesticides for the birds.
Sanitising Their Nests
Certain birds such as blue tits will spend quite some time cleaning their nests. They’ll eat both the flea larvae and the adult fleas.
Other birds, such as house wrens, will empty the nest boxes of all the old nesting materials before they start building their new nest. Additionally, when there is a choice of nesting sites, most birds would select the site that is free from fleas and other parasites.
Even more interesting is the fact that some bird species will use aromatic green herbs or vegetation to adorn their nest with. These herbs aid in repelling pests such as fleas.
Fleas in Pet Birds
Just like wild birds, your pet birds can also be attacked by fleas. A flea infestation can be very uncomfortable for your birds and can quickly spread from one bird to another.
Pet birds like parrots and other hook-bill birds can easily pick up fleas that may be present in the home if they’re allowed to walk around on the floor.
In other instances, the birds can pick up fleas if you take them outside and there are fleas breeding in your yard. Therefore, be vigilant when taking your birds outside, especially if you’ve noticed the presence of fleas in your yard.
Here are some signs to look out for if you suspect that your bird may have fleas.
As the fleas bite your bird, this can be very irritating to them This may, in turn, disturb your bird’s rest and sleep. You might hear your bird stirring and moving about constantly even when you’ve covered it up for the night.
Noticeable Skin Irritation
Flea bites can cause redness and irritation on your bird’s skin. This could just appear as pinker than normal skin or even patches of inflammation.
When being annoyed by biting fleas, your bird will be constantly preening to try and get rid of the pests. So, watch out for excessive preening as a sign that your bird may have fleas.
If you suspect that your bird may have fleas, a thorough inspection under a bright light might make these pests visible. Most fleas are large enough to be visible to the naked eye.
If your bird has a severe infestation of fleas, the feathers may start to appear a little damaged and ragged or less shiny than normal.
How to Treat Your Bird for Fleas
Most bird species are extremely sensitive to different chemicals used in flea treatments. Therefore, if your pet bird has fleas, it’s best to take it to the vet so that he or she can recommend the best treatment and course of action. There are only a small number of treatments that are safe for pet birds such as parrots.
It will also be necessary to treat your bird’s cage and toys to ensure that you get rid of all the fleas and the eggs. Remember that common flea treatments will not kill the flea eggs so it’s important to interrupt the entire cycle to rid yourself of the flea problem.
If your yard is a breeding ground for fleas, you might have to call in a professional to take care of the problem for you. If this is the case, it’s a good idea to take your bird elsewhere for a few days as many treatments can be quite harmful to birds.
If your bird lives in a large aviary, you can sprinkle the bottom of the cage with diatomaceous earth. This will not be harmful to your bird, however, it will effectively kill the adult fleas. You see, because fleas have an exoskeleton, the diatomaceous earth dries this out and hence, the flea will die.
Frequently Asked Questions
What do bird fleas look like?
Bird fleas are small and brown in color. They look much like other types of fleas.
Can bird fleas live on humans?
Bird fleas can jump from birds onto humans and bite but they generally don’t live on humans.
Can fleas live in beds?
Yes, fleas will generally live in any soft material until they find a suitable host to jump onto.
You now understand that birds can get fleas. Primarily, this is more common for wild birds but pet birds can also be affected. In severe cases, the fleas can cause anemia in the birds or even death.
Wild birds have adapted to this problem and have many different methods that they use to rid themselves of these pests. These include preening, sun baking, dust bathing and scratching. Birds even preen each other as a way of bonding and getting rid of pests.
There are even some birds who enjoy preening other animals such as cows, buffaloes and other large mammals. This helps the large mammals to rid themselves of fleas and the birds get a few tasty treats.
Because pet birds are also susceptible to fleas, you have to be vigilant and watch out for any signs of excessive preening or scratching. Even if you don’t have any other pets in the home, fleas can live outside in the ground for a very long time. And, you could bring them in inadvertently on your shoes or your clothing.
If you do find that you have a flea problem in your yard, it’s best to call in a professional to take care of the problem for you. They will know exactly what products to use and what areas they need to treat.