Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD)

Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD)

Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD)
PBFD is an extremely contagious disease often found in parrots that are caused by the Circovirus. It is, unfortunately, more often than not, fatal, even though many parrots have been known to live relatively long, pain-free lives with it.
PBFD affects the beak, feathers, and immune system of birds in the Psittacidae family, which includes but is not limited to what is known as “old world” birds (more dusty species from Africa and Australia) such as Cockatoos, African Grey parrots, Senegal or Meyer Parrots, Ringneck Parakeets, and Lovebirds. While it is still possible for New World parrots, such as Macaws and Conures, to contract PBFD, the risk is much lower.
How is PBFD transmitted?
PBFD is highly contagious. The most common transmission is from the feather dust of PBFD parrots. The feather dust is easily spread and can contaminate food, water, cages, clothing, and the environment they live in. PBFD is thought to be transmitted by inhalation or ingestion of the virus. It has been suggested that the virus may also be transmitted in utero from the mother to her eggs.
The incubation period could be as short as 21 to 25 days. However, it can take up to several years, depending on the age of the bird, the stage of feather development, and the health of the bird’s immune system, before they show any signs of illness. Birds who have the disease might often be asymptomatic until stress brings it out, but they may be able to infect other birds before they become symptomatic.
What are the signs of PBFD?
Loss of appetite
Weight loss
Abnormal feather development.
Damaged feather follicles which means an inability to replace moulted feathers
Elongated, deformed, or cracked beaks
There are both acute and chronic forms of the disease:
Acute Form:
The acute form commonly occurs in younger birds between 8 weeks and 8 months. Affected birds show signs such as depression, regurgitation, diarrhoea, loss of appetite and weight, and abnormal feather development.
Juveniles losing their developing feathers may have lesions on the feathers, including circular bands around the feathers, which constrict the feather at its base. These feathers are often loose, break easily, may bleed, and are very painful.
Chronic Form:
The chronic form of PBFD is more common in older birds. As the feather follicles are damaged, the bird is unable to replace feathers. Feather abnormalities usually do not appear until the first moult after infection, which could be a period of up to 6 months.
Abnormal growth and deformities of the beak. Brown necrotic areas found inside the upper beak, and the beak may elongate, become deformed, and fracture.
Secondary beak and oral infections often occur. Birds with the chronic form can live for months or even years before dying due to secondary infections.
Diagnosing PBFD:
Most commonly, a PCR test is done to determine if a bird has PBFD. The test detects the presence of the virus. A PCR test can also be used on swabs of environmental surfacesavailable to detect contamination.
What is the treatment?
There is no effective treatment for PBFD. PBFD is similar to HIV in humans; it weakens the immune system and makes the bird more susceptible to secondary infections. Controlling secondary infections and providing care such as good nutrition, beak trimming, and treatment of secondary infections and minimal stress is all that can be done.
Keeping Parrot species known to be carriers of PBFD separate from the more susceptible species is very important. New birds coming into your home or rescue facility should ALWAYS be quarantined and tested. “Bird owners need to understand that if they handle other people’s birds, it may be possible for them to bring the virus into their home and infect their birds. Good hygiene and sanitation should be used. There is no known disinfectant that kills this virus. 

Stories of PBFD birds:

Rhea the Naked Birdie, known as the sweater-wearing parrot, stole everyone’s hearts. Rhea passed away in 2017 due to secondary infections. 

Manky the Cockatoo’s owner, documented the progress of PBFD in Manky since he was first diagnosed in 2019. You can follow his story and those of his PBFD friends on Instagram at

Resources and further reading:

Client education—Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease-

Northern Parrots-

Petcoach Editorial- 

 ~Written by M. Meiring 

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