Health & Management / Disease Investigation & Management / List of hyperlinked Techniques & Protocols:

Physical Examination of Birds

(See also Physical Examination of Mammals (Techniques Overview))

Crane chick restrained for examination. Click here for full-page view with caption. Normaltoes of a crane hatchling. V Normal crane foot. Click here for full-page view with caption. Chronic bumblefoot in a crane. Click here forfull-page view with caption Pododermatitis (bumblefoot). Click here for full-page view with caption. Severe pododermatitis (bumblefoot). Click here for full-page view with caption. Crane restrained for examination/treatment. Click here for full-page view with caption. Auscultation of a crane. Click here for full-page view with caption. Auscultation of a crane. Click here for full-page view with caption. Auscultation of a crane chick. Click here for full-page view with caption. Examining the ear of a crane. Click here for full-page view with caption. Nictitating membrane half way across eye of a crane.  Click here for full-page view with caption. Examining insice the mouth of a crane. Click here for full-page view with caption. Examining the uropygial gland of a crane. Click here for full-page view with caption. Weighing a crane. Click here for full-page view with caption. Examining the wing of a crane. Click here for full-page view with caption. Examining the wing of a crane. Click here for full-page view with caption.  Wattled crane being positioned for standing radiograph. Click here for full-page view with caption. Sickcrane. Click here for full-page view with caption. Crane being radiographed. Click here for full-page view with caption.

Click for Video: Bird Necropsy Protocol for West Nile Virus Surveillance Video Available: Blood Collection Techniques for Birds:
 Internet (Web) Version (Smaller files - quicker to load)
  CD-ROM Version (Larger files - higher quality images)

Introduction and General Information

If the bird is in a critical condition, give essential initial treatment first and examine thoroughly later.
  • Physical examination of a bird or birds is a useful part of the investigation of a problem and may also be a part of routine disease control, e.g. annual health checks and examination of new birds entering a collection.
  • In carrying out a physical examination it is beneficial to be aware of the normal appearance and anatomical features of the species being examined.
  • The results of a physical examination of the bird or birds should be used in conjunction with the history of the bird or birds, consideration of its immediate environment (e.g. cage or enclosure), appearance of droppings and further tests as appropriate. (See History and Documentation - General and Environmental Assessment - General)
  • Note: When examining a bird, as with any animal, it is important to be systematic. Bilateral structures should always be compared with one another for any asymmetry.

(B11.2.w16, B13.8.w20, B14, V.w5)

Waterfowl Consideration N. B. in male magpie geese (Anseranas semipalmata - Magpie goose) it is normal for tracheal loops to be palpable between the skin and the muscle of the breast.

(B8)

Crane Consideration If the crane is in a critical condition, give the initial treatment required first and examine thoroughly later.
  • Physical examination should be carried out after the general and problem-specific history has been obtained.
  • The physical examination should be thorough but should not take too long - usually it should be under 10 minutes.
  • Use of a checklist and an assistant helps to ensure nothing is missed out.
  • Note: Even when there is an obvious injury, a complete examination is necessary to avoid missing less visible problems and complications.

(B115.8.w4)

Published Guidelines linked in Wildpro

Return to top of page

Evaluation of the Bird's Immediate Surroundings

FOR BIRDS:

Much information may be gained by examining the immediate surroundings of the bird(s).

  • Where practical for caged birds (i.e. cage-size permitting) if a bird is brought to a veterinarian for examination the cage should be brought as well, complete with the paper or other cage floor covering, and the droppings produced by the bird.
  • For flock problems in particular, examination of the aviary, enclosure or local environment where the problem is occurring may be vital.
  • If the normal cage cannot be brought, or the aviary/enclosure/environment visited, details of these should form part of the history, and the owner/caretaker urged to bring a sample of typical droppings.
  • Droppings should be examined visibly noting the quantity, colour and consistency of both the faecal and urate components.
  • If blood is present, an assessment of the amount of blood should be made, allowing for the ability of a small volume of blood to cover a large area. Blood may come from an external injury (e.g. a laceration or damaged blood feather) or from the cloaca.

(B11.2.w16, B13.8.w20, B14, V.w5)

Waterfowl Consideration Waterfowl spend most of their time on water or on the ground and are therefore in intimate contact with the substrate and water making up their immediate environment.
  • Details of the substrate (e.g. concrete, mud, grass), water (pool construction, depth, water flow etc.) and other environmental features in which the bird has been kept or found may be very important in disease diagnosis.
  • Bright green droppings are characteristically seen in waterfowl with Lead Poisoning.
  • Blood-stained patches may be noted on the ground where waterfowl with Duck Plague have been sitting (B36.16.w16).

(B11.38.w6, B15, B36.16.w16, B36.43.w43, V.w5)

Crane Consideration
Associated techniques linked from Wildpro

Return to top of page

Observation

FOR BIRDS:

The first stage in the physical examination of a bird is observation of the bird, preferably without the bird knowing it is being observed.

  • Birds usually will attempt to hide their illness; this is a survival tactic, as predators may be more likely to target an obviously unfit individual.
  • A bird which appears bright and alert when being watched may become huddled and fluffed up when it thinks it is unobserved.
  • Subtle changes in appearance which may be noticed by an experienced aviculturist may not be obvious on initial observation: if the owner/caretaker identifies a bird as "not quite right", they are probably correct.
  • For flock problems, observation may give an indication of the proportion of birds which are sick, and whether the affected birds are of a particular type (e.g. species, food type, sex, age class).
  • General signs of illness include fluffed feathers, a hunched appearance, partially closed eyes, the head tucked under a wing, sitting or standing on the ground rather than a perch (ground-dwelling birds excepted), cloacal straining, shivering.
  • Fluffed feathers, huddling and/or shivering may indicate chilling/hypothermia (Chilling/Hypothermia).
  • Unilateral wing droop may be observed by comparing the two wings; this may be more difficult in a pinioned or feather-clipped bird. The wing position may indicate the affected portion of the wing - general dropping but with raised wing tip (relative to the other wing) with coracoid or shoulder injury; severe drooping with the primary feathers trailing on the ground with distal wing injuries, drooping but with the primaries off the ground with a humerus or elbow injury.
  • Foot or leg problems may cause a bird to shift its weight form one leg to the other repeatedly, weight bear on only one leg constantly, rest on the ground rather than stand, or stand on the metatarsus rather than the foot (hock-sitting). Hock-sitting is normal in some birds, particularly long-legged birds, and in juveniles of these species.
  • Note respiratory rate, and effort.
  • Increased respiratory effort may be seen as tail-bobbing, excessive chest movement, head-bobbing or mouth-breathing.
  • Respiratory noise may indicate a partial blockage of the trachea.
  • Acute dyspnoea in an otherwise healthy-appearing bird may indicate exposure to an inhaled toxin, aspiration of a foreign body or a tracheal plaque which has become dislodged and is now blocking the airway (dyspnoea due to chronic disease will usually be accompanied by other signs of ill health, such as weight loss, depression, oculo-nasal discharge).
  • N.B. apparent respiratory distress may be seen with space-occupying masses (egg binding (Egg Binding), hepatomegaly, tumour (Neoplasias)) or anaemia, as well as with respiratory system problems..
  • Overheating may be visible as constant open-mouthed breathing and throat fluttering; this may also be seen in some birds as a sign of stress.
  • A variety of nervous signs may be seen, including ataxia, paresis, paralysis, torticollis, circling, opisthotonus and fitting.

(B11.2.w16, B13.8.w20, B14, V.w5)

Waterfowl Consideration
  • Healthy waterfowl should appear bright-eyed and alert, with sleek plumage.
  • If observed within an enclosure or natural environment, sick waterfowl may be difficult to find, being hidden within vegetation, or may be found sitting motionless near the edge of the water.
  • In swans, a distinctive neck-kink may be observed in lead-poisoned birds: a portion of the neck lies flat along the back of the bird (see: Lead Poisoning). Waterfowl with Avian Botulism may be unable to keep their head up; the bill may rest on the ground if they are on land, or droop into the water.
  • Waterfowl with Avian Botulism may propel themselves along the ground or water using their wings after their legs have become paralysed, while waterfowl with Lead Poisoning are usually able to walk even though they cannot fly.
  • A prominent nictitating membrane (third eyelid) is commonly seen in waterfowl with Avian Botulism.
  • Normal respiratory rate may be e.g. 13-40 breaths per minute in geese and swans, or e.g. 30-95 breaths per minute in ducks (B11.33.w1, B13.46.w1).
  • Gaping may a sign of Gapeworm Infection, particularly in goslings.
  • Hypothermic waterfowl (Chilling/Hypothermia) (e.g. oiled birds - see: Oiling) may be fluffed up and/or shivering.
  • Nervous signs are common in the late stages of many waterfowl diseases.

(B11.35.w3, B14, B36.1.w1, B36.38.w38, B36.43.w43, V.w5).

Crane Consideration

Sickcrane. Click here for full-page view with caption.

Note: The presence of disease may be detected first by subtle changes in behaviour. Knowledge of normal crane behaviour is required to detect such changes. (B10.24.w46, P1.1980.w8, P92.1.w4)
  • Note any changes in food or water consumption. (B115.8.w4, P1.1980.w8)
  • Note any overt signs of trauma. (B115.8.w4)
  • Note any swelling of the extremities. (B115.8.w4)
Unusual behaviours include:
  • listlessness;
  • reluctance to fly;
  • reluctance to move the wings;
  • loss of balance;
  • restlessness
  • lameness/limping
  • straining
  • ruffled feathers
  • head held low
  • shivering
  • fainting
  • partially closed eyes;
  • regurgitation;
  • reluctance to rise. 

(B115.8.w4, P1.1980.w8)

Many signs such as lethargy, anorexia or reduced appetite, ruffled feathers etc. are non-specific and may be seen with a variety of diseases. (P1.1980.w8)

Wings, legs, balance and ambulation

Look carefully at the bird's legs and locomotion: are there any changes in gait, including flexion, movement and placement of the legs? Is a leg or foot held in an abnormal position (which may suggest a fracture (Long bone Fractures in Cranes, Foot and Toe Fractures in Cranes), luxation (Joint Luxations in Cranes) or Developmental Leg Deformities in Cranes)? Look for any swelling and note where this is - joint, bone, tendon-associated. Check for open wounds, bleeding or discharge (Lacerations & Punctures, including bite wounds)). (P4.1992.w2)

Associated techniques linked from Wildpro

Return to top of page

Handling for Physical Examination

FOR BIRDS:
  • In order to carry out a proper physical examination, the bird must be appropriately restrained. Restraint should avoid injury to the bird, the handler or the person carrying out the examination. Covering the head may assist in keeping most diurnal birds quiet during the examination.
  • N.B. small birds, particularly obviously sick birds, but on occasion even apparently healthy birds, may die suddenly from heart failure when caught or held.

(B14, V.w5).

Waterfowl Consideration
  • Waterfowl are not generally difficult to restrain. (B11.33.w1, V.w5)
Crane Consideration

Crane chick restrained for examination. Click here for full-page view with caption. Crane restrained for examination/treatment. Click here for full-page view with caption.

  • Safety glasses/goggles should be worn when catching and handling cranes. They have a long beak and they tend to aim for the eyes. (B197.9.w9, B703.10.w10)
Consider the potential stress on the crane. (P4.1992.w2)
  • Cranes can be aggressive; they have a long, pointed bill and very sharp toenails which can slice skin or clothing. (B197.9.w9, B703.10.w10)
  • Care must be taken to avoid the crane's legs, neck or wings being injured. (B115.2.w7)
    • If there is a leg injury, particular consideration is needed regarding he possibility of the injury being made worse by catching and restraint. (P4.1992.w2)
  • Avoid folding the crane's legs under its body, particularly in immature cranes as this may be associated with Patellar Ligament Rupture / Tibitarsal Crest Fractures in Cranes . Never force the legs folded.
  • Hold the legs at/just above the hocks; keep one finger between the legs so they cannot rub against each other. (B703.10.w10)
Associated techniques linked from Wildpro

Return to top of page

Weight & Body Condition

FOR BIRDS:
  • Changes in weight (usually weight loss) are common in sick birds.
  • Normal weight and body condition may be seen with peracute or acute-onset illness.
  • Determination of lost weight requires knowledge of normal weight for the bird/species.
  • Very accurate scales are required for weighing small birds.
  • Normal weight may vary greatly over the year, particularly in migratory birds.
  • Considerable weight loss may be seen e.g. in incubating birds.
  • Normal weights for individual birds are likely to be known only if the individual is weighed e.g. as part of a regular health check, or in raptors which are being flown (in which both the usual relatively low "flying weight" and the "fat weight" should be known for the individual bird).
  • Body condition may be assessed by palpation of the pectoral (breast) muscles - N.B. it is important to know the variation in "normal" muscle profile between species, and to recognise seasonal changes..

(B11.2.w16, B13.8.w20, B14).

Waterfowl Consideration
  • Waterfowl with chronic diseases such as Avian Tuberculosis, Aspergillosis or Lead Poisoning will usually be thin, with decreased body weight and a prominent keel.
  • Waterfowl with peracute or acute diseases suck as Duck Plague or Avian Cholera may be of normal body weight and condition.
  • Rapid weight loss may occur with some acute conditions, e.g. Oiling, in which the birds have greatly increased energy requirements to maintain body temperature.
  • Severe weight loss may also indicate Starvation.

(B15, B36, V.w5).

Crane Consideration

Weighing a crane. Click here for full-page view with caption.

Body condition
  • Palpate the breast muscles (pectoral muscles) and keel (sternum) to assess muscle development/atrophy.
  • Cranes can be given a Body Condition Index score of 1-5, with 1 being extremely thin and concave, 2 being concave, 3 feeling rather flat on either side of the keel, 4 being convex and well muscled, with the keel being only just prominent from the muscles, 5 well muscled and plump, the breast convex on either side of the keel and dimpling in to the keel.
  • Note: There are individual and seasonal differences in the BCI between birds. The BCI should be assessed and noted on the crane's individual records whenever the bird is handled, to allow relative comparison for that individual crane.
    • Cranes which are flying (healthy wild cranes and captive cranes given free flight) will usually have well-developed pectoral muscles, while those which cannot fly will generally have less well developed breast muscles.
    • If a wing has been amputated there will generally be associated loss of pectoral musculature.
    • A drop in BCI generally indicates weight loss.
  • In chicks before fledging, assessment of pectoral muscle mass is not useful for body condition assessment; the muscles surrounding the caudal, thoracic and lumbosacral spine should be palpated. These muscles should be palpable as a soft, flat muscle mass between the shoulder blades and one either side of the dorsal processes of the anterior part of the synsacrum. In emaciated chicks, the muscles will be reduced. (B115.5.w6)
Seasonal weight variation
  • The weight of cranes tends to vary with season, being lower in summer, higher in winter, with a notable weight gain during autumn as well as weight loss during spring. (N1.103.w2, P87.6.w2, P91.1.w5)
  • Weight gain in autumn may be associated with colder weather and increased food intake, and weight loss in spring with warmer weather and decreased food intake. (N1.103.w1, P91.1.w5)

Weighing

  • To weigh an adult, have a person holding the crane stand on a platform scale, note the weight, then pass the crane to another handler and weigh the person again. the difference is the weight of the crane. (B115.2.w7, V.w5)
  • Some calm cranes will stand on a platform scale to allow weighing. (B115.2.w7)
  • To weigh cranes accurately in their pen or in the field, a suspension spring scale (0.1 kg accuracy, 10-15 kg capacity) can be used.
    • Place the crane into a cloth sack, tail first, so that the crane's neck and head remain outside the bag. 
    • Gather the slack material into a roll over the crane's back and pierce the hook of the scale through the sack just underneath the rolled material.
    • Suspend the sack and crane from the scale, while keeping a hand just underneath the crane to control its movements.
    • Note: this requires the crane's legs to be folded; occasional injuries have occurred. (B115.2.w7)
    • As an alternative, use a sling which allows the legs to remain unfolded. (B115.2.w7)
      • A simple sling is a one-metre square net, wrapped around the crane's body and hooked onto the scale from at least four parts of the net. (B115.2.w7)
      • A cloth sling with Velcro straps front and rear has been developed at Patuxent, allowing restraint of the wings and body without folding the legs. (B115.2.w7)
  • To weigh a chick, place it in a cardboard box, then place the box on the scales.(B115.2.w7)
    • The box must be tall enough that the chick cannot climb out of it.
    • Carpet or a mat should be placed in the bottom of the box to provide non-slip footing.
    • Keep a hand close to the top of the box at all times to make sure the chick does not tip the box over or climb out.

    (B115.2.w7)

Causes of weight change
  • Cranes which are ill or injured often are underweight. (P87.6.w2); if a crane has lost weight then a full clinical examination should be carried out. (B115.8.w4)
  • Weight loss may occur associated with chronic disease conditions such as:
  • A crane which is not feeding, e.g. due to Lead Poisoning, can lose weight rapidly. (V.w5)
  • Rapid increases of food intake and weigh can occur normally in autumn (fall) while reduced food intake and associated decrease in weight may be seen in spring. (P87.6.w2)
    • A crane which is at the low end of its normal weight range but is still not eating is more likely to be ill than one which is at the high end of its normal weight range and is not eating much (e.g. in spring). (P87.6.w2)
  • Note:
    • Preferably, normal weights for each crane should be obtained by weighing the bird while healthy at different times of year; this data could then be used to determine abnormal weight loss. (P87.6.w2)
    • Accurate weight monitoring, as well as visual monitoring of food intake, is essential when a sick crane has been force-fed and this is withdrawn because it is believed to be self-feeding. (V.w5)
    • Weight should be cross-checked with body condition as indicated by the keel plumpness.
      • Some individual cranes have relatively thin keels, particularly in summer, and this can be normal for those individuals.
Weight loss and weight gain in chicks
  • The weight gain of each chick should be reviewed by a veterinarian. (B115.5.w6)
  • Newly hatched chicks are expected to lose 10-15% of their body weight over about the first three to five days while they absorb their yolk sac, but should then start to gain weight. (B115.5.w3, J23.14.w5)

Loss of weight or failure of weight gain must be further investigated. Potential causes include inadequate diet, inadequate intake (anorexia, physical obstruction of the gastrointestinal tract, bill injury etc.), increased calorie needs due to e.g. illness. See:

Associated techniques linked from Wildpro
  •  

Return to top of page

Skin and Feathers

SKIN & PLUMAGE:

  • Feathers should be evenly coloured. Note any thin areas (fret marks) on individual feathers, indicative of illness or nutritional problems during feather growth.
  • Note any abnormally-growing feathers and missing feathers.
  • An area of matted feathers may indicate an underlying injury.
  • The presence of small numbers of external parasites may be coincidental. Large numbers of feather lice indicate a debilitated bird.
  • Check the uropygial (preen) gland for redness, swelling, abnormal secretion.

(B11.2.w16, B11.3.w10, B13.8.w20, B14, V.w5)

Waterfowl Consideration
  • Areas of down loss on the backs and/or heads of downies may indicate Feather Picking, usually in bored birds given insufficient space and e.g. greenfood to peck at.
  • Area of feather loss on the back of the head and neck may be seen in female birds related to excessive mating activity (see: Scalping).
  • Overall bedraggled plumage may indicate lack of preening (e.g. in ill/debilitated bird) or Wet Feather. Check for presence of Holomenopon leucoxanthum - Shaft louse (Feather Lice Infection) (use a hand-held magnifying lens), Cladosporium herbarum - Sooty mould (Wet Feather), and any contaminants (oil, mud etc.), also for uropygial gland dysfunction.
  • Oil may be very visible, or may not be obvious (with light, transparent oil). Placing a feather from a suspicious area of plumage in a bowl of water will result in a "sheen" of oil over the surface if oil is present (B36.42.w42).
  • Feathers should be parted to check for bruising, lacerations and puncture wounds (see: Impact Injury, Lacerations / Punctures), which may not be easily visible. N.B. an area of matted feathers may indicate an underlying injury.
  • In individual wild waterfowl casualties, check carefully for fishing line (see: Hook and Line Injuries).
    • Singed feathers may be seen in waterfowl which have hit power-lines (Electrocution) or associated with Burns.
  • Blood may be seen around the cloaca with Duck Plague.
  • Soiling of the feathers around the vent may be seen with diarrhoea (e.g. Salmonellosis, Colibacillosis, other bacterial enteritis, Intestinal coccidiosis, gastro-intestinal parasites) or with Cloacitis (Vent Gleet).
  • Keel sores may develop over the sternum, e.g. in diving ducks being maintained out of water, or in heavy birds (particularly geese and swans) which are unable to walk.

(B11.34.w2, B11.35.w3, B11.37.w5, B11.39.w7, B13.46.w1, B14, V.w5)

Crane Consideration

Examining the uropygial gland of a crane. Click here for full-page view with caption.

Associated techniques linked from Wildpro --

Return to top of page

Head and Neck

General:

  • Note any flesh wounds - punctures, lacerations, scalping.
  • Note any masses which may be neoplastic.
  • General pallor of skin and mucous membranes may be seen with blood loss and anaemia.
  • Cyanosis may be seen with
  • Flaky white thickened skin and feather loss may indicate ringworm infection (Favus).

Bill and mouth:

  • Bill should be shiny and meet evenly. May be in poor condition with underlying management problem, nutritional problem parasitic or other disease.
  • Note any external crusty lesions around the bill or cere - e.g. white and flaky with Cnemidocoptes mite infection, brown and crusty with avian pox infection (Avian Pox).
  • Nostrils should be clean and open; check for discharge, occlusion, rhinolith.
  • Mouth should be opened and checked for plaques, discoloration, necrotic area (gently scrape any lesion and prepare smear for examination under the microscope). N.B. check all areas, including under the tongue, the choana, the glottis.

Eye & Periorbital Area:

  • Eye should be round and shiny.
  • May appear sunken in dehydrated birds.
  • Matting around eyes may indicate epiphora.
  • Check for inflammation of eyelids and conjunctiva, presence of foreign body
  • Check for swelling (unilateral or bilateral) just above/below the eye - sinusitis, seen with e.g. various respiratory infections.
  • May be examined for surface lesions using fluorescein dye.
  • Note any difference in size between the pupils.
  • Parasites (leeches, eye fluke, eye worm) may be present.
  • Complete ophthalmic examination may be carried out.

Ear:

  • Rarely any problems, but should be checked for polyps, neoplastic lesions, infection.

Neck:

  • Palpate carefully for any generalized or localized swelling of the oesophagus.
  • Palpate crop (not present as a structure distinguishable from the oesophagus in all species)..
  • (Further examination of the oesophagus and crop by endoscopy may be needed - this may require general anaesthesia).
  • Localized or generalized emphysematous swelling may be seen with damage to the cervical air sac.

(B11.2.w16, B11.3.w10, B13.8.w20, B14)

Waterfowl Consideration

HEAD & NECK:

General:

Bill & Mouth:

Eye & Periorbital Area:

Ear:

  • Rarely any problems, but should be checked for polyps, neoplastic lesions, infection.

Neck:

(B11.34.w2, B11.35.w3, B11.37.w5, B11.39.w7, B13.46.w1, B14, V.w5)

Crane Consideration

Examining the ear of a crane. Click here for full-page view with caption. Nictitating membrane half way across eye of a crane.  Click here for full-page view with caption. Examining insice the mouth of a crane. Click here for full-page view with caption.

Eyes:

Auditory canals (ears): 

Bill / Beak:

  • Check the bill for evenness of bite, overgrowth and evenness of wear of the sides. (B115.8.w4)
    • In cranes, the bill grows several centimetres per year. (B115.8.w4)
    • If the bill is deformed (Bill Deformities in Cranes), it may need to be trimmed several time a year (every 2-4 months). (B115.8.w4)
    • In areas where the ground freezes hard for several months each year, preventing cranes from probing the ground, trimming of normal bills may be required. (B115.8.w4)
  • If trauma is suspected, palpate the bill for fractures/other damage (Bill Fractures in Cranes). (B115.8.w4)
    • If the bill has just been fractured, there may be visible displacement of the bill at the site of damage (mandibular bill, maxillary bill or both), and there may be obvious blood from the fracture site. (V.w5)
    • See: Bill Fractures in Cranes
  • Check the nares for the presence of discharge or pus. (B115.8.w4)

Mouth:

  • It may be possible to examine the mouth when the crane vocalises during the physical examination. (B115.8.w4)
  • If necessary, open the mouth by placing the index finger on one side of the commisure (corner of the mouth), the thumb on the other side, and applying gentle pressure. (B115.8.w4)
  • The mucous membranes should be bright pink. (B115.8.w4)
    • In some cranes the mucous membranes are pigmented grey or black. (B115.8.w4)
    • The mucous membranes should be moist; assessment of moistness can be used in estimating hydration status. (B115.8.w4)
    • Tacky or dry mucous membranes indicates dehydration.
    • White patches may be visible with Candidiasis .
  • The tongue should be long and thin. (B115.8.w4)
  • In Grus americana - Whooping crane and Grus canadensis - Sandhill crane, there is a small bright red structure at the tracheal opening. (B115.8.w4)
  • Oral granulomas may be visible with Disseminated Visceral Coccidiosis (Parasitic Disease).

Neck

  • Palpate carefully, to assess the neck, trachea and oesophagus, checking for any solid, liquid or gas (air) present.
  • Normally the oesophagus should be empty. If it is grossly distended this indicates blockage or Impaction. (B115.8.w4)
  • Deformities of vertebrae are rare but do occur (Congenital Abnormalities in Waterfowl and Cranes). Occasionally chicks have scoliosis or wryneck; the neck cannot be extended straight, or is unable to assume a normal curvature. (B115.8.w4)
Associated techniques linked from Wildpro --

Return to top of page

Wings, Legs and Feet

  • Palpate and manipulate wings and legs carefully for fractures or dislocations. Check the whole length of each long bone, and palpate and manipulate each joint.
  • Wings should be examined one at a time, while the other wing is kept restrained with the body.
  • Legs should be palpated and manipulated one at a time, while the other leg is kept restrained, particularly in long-legged birds.
  • Legs should also be held out together and compared for symmetry.
  • Inspect featherless areas for damage e.g. to scales. Check any leg rings are correctly fitting and there is no associated trauma.
  • Note any discoloured areas (pale and cold, reddened and swollen or dry and necrotic) which may indicate e.g. frostbite (Frostbite).
  • Carefully inspect plantar surface of feet for bumblefoot lesions (Bumblefoot).
  • Check for joint swellings indicative of articular gout (Gout), arthritis etc.

(B11.2.w16, B11.3.w10, B13.8.w20, B14, V.w5)

Waterfowl Consideration
  • Palpate and manipulate wings and legs carefully for fractures or dislocations (see: Impact Injury).
  • Frostbite lesions may be seen on the webs or affecting the feet and legs - cold and pale, swollen and inflamed, later necrosis, dry gangrene).
  • Lesions on the underside of the feet may be noted, e.g. with Vitamin A Deficiency, Bumblefoot.
  • Swollen joints may indicate mechanical damage (e.g. Perosis), infection, or articular gout (Gout).

(B11.34.w2, B11.35.w3, B11.37.w5, B11.39.w7, B13.46.w1, B14, V.w5)

Crane Consideration

Examining the wing of a crane. Click here for full-page view with caption. Examining the wing of a crane. Click here for full-page view with caption.

Normaltoes of a crane hatchling. V Normal crane foot. Click here for full-page view with caption. Chronic bumblefoot in a crane. Click here forfull-page view with caption Pododermatitis (bumblefoot). Click here for full-page view with caption. Severe pododermatitis (bumblefoot). Click here for full-page view with caption.

Wings

Legs and feet

  • Visually examine and palpate for fractures, luxations, swellings, heat, asymmetry, joint distension, open wounds. Compare the two legs to detect subtle asymmetry. (P4.1992.w2)
  • Palpate each leg bone and joint, and assess muscle tone. (P4.1992.w2)
  • Flex and extend each joints; note any joint laxity or resistance (which may indicate pain). (P4.1992.w2)
  • Check for neurological deficits and vascular perfusion deficits. (P4.1992.w2)
  • Check the toes for normal extension.
  • Look for broken nails.
  • Check for swollen areas on the toes or the plantar side of the foot. Consider:
  • Note: If a crane has injured one leg and is forced to stand on the other leg, the supporting foot comes under excessive pressure; pressure necrosis of the foot can develop to open wounds and bumblefoot. (B115.8.w4)

Ancillary testing

  • If bony damage is suspected, take radiographs. Radiography can also provide information about calcified tendons and about soft tissue swelling. (P4.1992.w2)
  • If there is joint swelling, take a joint fluid sample (arthrocentesis) and submit for cytology and bacteriology. (P4.1992.w2)
  • Ultrasonography can be useful. (P4.1992.w2)
  • Haematology and serum biochemistry can assist with diagnosis e.g. indicating infection, and elevations of serum AST and CK with Capture Myopathy (but also with trauma and handling). (P4.1992.w2)
  • Electromyography and nerve conduction velocity tests may be useful, if available, for the evaluation of muscle and nerve function. (P4.1992.w2)
  • Consider use of local nerve blocks to aid in diagnosis. (P4.1992.w2)

Consider:

Associated techniques linked from Wildpro

Return to top of page

Body

  • Palpate the body gently for any surface masses.
  • Check pectoral muscles are symmetrical.
  • Examine abdomen for signs of generalized distension (e.g. ascites, obesity) or localized masses (e.g. retained egg, neoplasm, abscess).
  • Kidneys and gizzard (proventriculus) may be palpable in a normal bird.
  • Enlarged liver (hepatomegaly) may be palpable.
  • Palpation of the abdomen via the cloaca may be possible depending on the size of the bird
  • Auscultation may be unrewarding. Very rapid heart rate in most birds - detection of abnormalities may require electrocardiogram at 100cm/minute paper speed.
  • Short, faint inspiratory noise may be normal.
  • Excessive respiratory noise may be associated with a problem affecting the upper respiratory tract (e.g. gapeworm (Gapeworm Infection), tracheal aspergillus granuloma (Aspergillosis)) or severe air sac disease (e.g. Aspergillosis, Chlamydiosis / Psittacosis, bacterial respiratory infection).
  • Expect higher respiratory rate in a restrained bird than in the same individual prior to restraint.

BODY TEMPERATURE

  • Normal expected approximately 40-42C (B14); approximately 39.1-41.6C in waterfowl (B13.46.w1).
  • N.B. diurnal variation in individuals, and wide intraspecific variation.

(B11.2.w16, B11.3.w10, B13.8.w20, B14, V.w5)

Waterfowl Consideration
  • Normal heart rate may be 80-150bpm (geese, swans) or e.g. 180-230bpm in ducks (B11.33.w1).
  • Excess respiratory noise may indicate e.g. Aspergillosis
  • Distension of the abdomen may be generalized, e.g. in an obese individual or with ascites (see: Egg Peritonitis, Avian Tuberculosis), or localized e.g. with a retained egg (note if the bird is female, and this is the breeding season), neoplasm, abscess (see: Egg Binding, Neoplasias).
  • Cloaca should be examined for signs of prolapse Cloacal Prolapse.
  • N. B. in male Anseranas semipalmata - Magpie goose it is normal for tracheal loops to be palpable between the skin and the muscle of the breast.

(B11.34.w2, B11.35.w3, B11.37.w5, B11.39.w7, B13.46.w1, B14, V.w5)

BODY TEMPERATURE

  • Normal body temperature approximately 40.5-41.0C (B11.33.w1); 39.1-41.6C (101.4-106.9F) (B13.46.w1)
Crane Consideration

Auscultation of a crane. Click here for full-page view with caption. Auscultation of a crane. Click here for full-page view with caption. Auscultation of a crane chick. Click here for full-page view with caption.

Abdomen

  • Palpate gently for he presence of any masses in the abdomen, fluid (ascites) or (in females in the breeding season) ovulated eggs.
  • It should be possible to easily palpate the gizzard and intestines and detect any gas (crepitus), excess fluid, thickening or masses in the intestines. (B115.8.w4)
  • Check the vent for lesions, growths or protrusions, and for the presence of urates or faeces on the feathers.
  • In young chicks, a soiled vent is common with Diarrhoea and Enteritis in Cranes (commonly Escherichia coli - see Colibacillosis).
  • Palpate the uropygial gland (preen gland) above the tail base for enlargement indicating impaction, infection or neoplasia. (B115.8.w4)

Thorax

  • Auscultate the chest using a stethoscope. 
    • Determine heart rate, rhythm and location of sound, and any cardiac murmurs.
    • Murmurs may be audible in chicks as young as three days of age; they may resolve within a few days, or be associated with developmental abnormalities such as atrial or ventral septal defects (Congenital Abnormalities in Waterfowl and Crane). (B115.8.w4)
    • Murmurs may be audible in cranes with:
    • Arrhythmia and cardiac tamponade, if present, can be detected by ausculation.
  • Distinct sounds of air movement can be heard, normally louder on inspiration than on expiration. (B115.8.w4)
  • Respiratory problems may be indicated by clicks, wheezes, fluid sounds or total absence of sounds of air movement in one or more areas. (B115.8.w4)
  • Transitory respiratory sounds, heard at one examination but not present the next time the crane is examined appear not to be associated with major disease problems. (B115.8.w4)
  • Unilaterally dull sounds may indicate consolidation of the lungs and air sacs on one side, or blockage of major bronchi. This is most common with advanced aspergillosis (Aspergillosis in Birds (with special reference to Waterfowl and Cranes). (B115.8.w4)

BODY TEMPERATURE

In cranes, body temperature is relatively constant:

(B115.8.w4)

  • Body temperature may be increased with bacterial infection, exertion and stress. (B115.8.w4)
  • Note: Measurement of body temperature is not a normal part of a general physical examination. (B115.8.w4)
Associated techniques linked from Wildpro   --

Return to top of page

Blood Sampling

FOR BIRDS:

Click for Video: Bird Necropsy Protocol for West Nile Virus Surveillance Video Available: Blood Collection Techniques for Birds:
 Internet (Web) Version (Smaller files - quicker to load)
  CD-ROM Version (Larger files - higher quality images)

  • Blood is usually taken from the (right) jugular vein (neck), medial metatarsal (caudal tibial) vein (leg) or the brachial vein (wing) (see: Intravenous Injection of Birds).
  • In very small birds (e.g. weighing less than 10g) blood may be taken by clipping a claw and drawing the blood into a capillary (microhaematocrit) tube or allowing the blood to drip into the collection tube; after the sample has been collected, bleeding should be stopped e.g. by applying ferric sulphate or a silver nitrate pencil.
  • Cardiac (heart) puncture and the occipital venous sinus are used mainly in research.
  • N.B. The minimum amount of blood required should be taken.
  • As a (conservative) rule, no more than one percent of the body weight of a bird should be taken at one time (B36.6.w6). N.B. in small birds this may be only a few drops of blood. Example volumes: 0.5ml maximum in a 40g budgerigar, 2ml in a 250-400g African Grey or Amazon parrot) (B14).
  • The needle size and sample site chosen should be appropriate for the species and the amount of blood being taken. A 23-25 gauge, five-eighths inch hypodermic needle, slightly bent, may be used for small birds.
  • Too great a pressure on the syringe plunger when taking blood may cause the vein to collapse, stopping the blood flow and may damage blood cells (particularly when using a small gauge needle).
  • Proper restraint during blood sampling is essential.
  • N.B. care should be taken following blood sampling to ensure that the vein has stopped bleeding; pressure should be applied over the vein until this has occurred (see: Intravenous Injection of Birds).
  • Blood should be evaluated (e.g. haematology, biochemistry) by a laboratory that is familiar with avian blood characteristics.
  • If possible, the laboratory to which the blood is to be sent should be consulted regarding the amount required, anticoagulant to be used etc. prior to any sample being collected.
  • N.B. EDTA is commonly used as an anticoagulant for avian blood, but is known to cause haemolysis of the erythrocytes (red blood cells) in some species (e.g. corvids, currasows, crowned cranes (Balearica spp.), hornbills, eagle owl).

(B14, B36.6.w6, V.w6)

Waterfowl Consideration
  • Blood is commonly taken from the medial metatarsal vein in waterfowl.

(B14, V.w6)

Crane Consideration

Taking blood from the jugular vein. Click here for full-page view with caption. Venipuncture leg, crane. Click here for full-page view with caption.

  • It is best to collect blood from the right jugular or the medial metatarsal vein. (B336.20.w20) See: Venipuncture in Cranes
    • Collection from the basilic vein is not generally used in cranes; it is difficult to get the crane in the correct position for samples to be taken from this vein unless the crane is very weak or chemically restrained. (B336.20.w20)
  • For small samples a 25-gauge needle can be used; for larger samples, a 23 - 20-gauge needle or a catheter is preferred. A 1 mL, 2.5, 3 mL or 10 mL syringe can be used for blood collection. (B115.8.w4)
    • If blood is being collected for transfusion, a 60 mL syringe can be used. (B115.8.w4)
  • The maximum volume which can be taken is 1% of the bird's body weight, i.e. 1 mL per 100g. (B115.8.w4)
  • Check with the laboratory which is the preferred anticoagulant; some laboratories want blood collected into heparinised capillary tubes while others want blood collected into tubes with heparin or EDTA. (B115.8.w4)
    • Note: for Balearica spp., blood may "sludge" or clot in EDTA, therefore heparin tubes should be used. (B115.8.w4)
Associated techniques linked from Wildpro

Click for Video: Bird Necropsy Protocol for West Nile Virus Surveillance Video Available: Blood Collection Techniques for Birds:
 Internet (Web) Version (Smaller files - quicker to load)
  CD-ROM Version (Larger files - higher quality images)

Return to top of page

Human Health Considerations

  • Potential hazards to human health of ANY physical examination must be considered before undertaking examinations.
  • Personnel undertaking or attending physical examinations must be made aware of the potential hazards to human health.

FOR BIRDS:

  • N.B. consider the potential for transmission of zoonoses, particularly from birds with respiratory or gastro-intestinal disease, also diseases transmitted by arthropod vectors which may be present on the bird.
  • Important zoonotic diseases to consider in dealing with birds include Aspergillosis, Avian Tuberculosis, Chlamydiosis / Psittacosis, Erysipelothrix Infection, Salmonellosis and Yersiniosis.
  • Some people are allergic to birds.
  • External parasites may be transferred from the bird to the holder and/or person examining the bird.
  • Care to avoid injury from e.g. bill (particularly in psittacines and long-billed birds) and talons (particularly in raptors and owls), large birds (See: Bird Handling and Movement - General).

(B11.2.w16, B36.6.w6, V.w6)

Waterfowl Consideration
  • All the zoonoses mentioned above occur in waterfowl.
  • Care is recommended in handling and examining birds contaminated with e.g. Oil.

(B36.42.w42, V.w5)

Crane Consideration Physical hazard
  • Cranes are large to very large birds with sharp nails and long bills. They are capable of injuring humans and if the head is unrestrained may stab, particularly towards the eyes. Appropriate protective clothing should be worn when handling cranes, including safety glasses or goggles.

Zoonoses

Associated techniques linked from Wildpro

Return to top of page

Authors & Referees

Authors Debra Bourne MA VetMB PhD MRCVS (V.w5)
Referee  

Return to top of page