What to do When a Bird Dies

Losing a bird is terrible, especially if it was a companion bird. But we need to put our grief aside for just a moment and think about the situation. How did the bird die? Sometimes it's easy to know- accidents do happen and there are plenty of things around the house that can potentially kill birds. But what if you don't know? What if the bird was looking sick, then died? In a case like this it's very helpful to get a necropsy done. A necropsy is like an autopsy- it can determine the cause of death. Now many people would rather not have their babies cut up after death but here are some good reasons why you should:

  1. The bird could have died because of human error. Maybe you didn't know that toy you bought contained lead or zinc. Maybe you weren't feeding your bird right and it died from malnutrition. Maybe you were cooking with teflon-coated pots. If you know what killed the bird you can find out how to fix the problem.
  2. What if the bird had a disease? A necropsy is NECESSARY when you own more than one bird. This is not just for breeders. Other pet birds might be affected. The disease needs to be dealt with appropriately.
  3. YOU might get infected. Not many diseases can pass from bird to human but some can. One of these is psittacosis, and it can be deadly if not treated.
  4. Peace of mind. Maybe you did the best you could. It's always nice to know. Whatever the results, at least you'll learn something.

Necropsies are relatively cheap. In many cases the gross necropsy (just the dissection, no labwork) is free. Sometimes a vet can tell what happened just from the gross, other times he/she needs to perform more tests. Now this next part is important. You must prepare the body for a necropsy. The more deteriorated it becomes the less they can find, especially from labwork and cultures. Much can still be learned but the body still should be preserved.

    As soon as you discover the body:
  1. This may seem kinda silly, but make sure it IS dead. There are a lot of naive people out there who bury hibernating hampters and such.
  2. LIGHTLY coat the body with rubbing alcohol. I use a q-tip but a cotton ball would probably work better.
  3. Place the bird in a ziplock bag and put it in the REFRIGERATOR, NOT the freezer. Never freeze the body, it ruins the tissue. You may also want to put the ziplock inside a marked brown bag so the family won't get grossed out while reaching for the milk.
  4. Now you should do some clean up: Use one tablespoon of bleach for one gallon of water and scrub down the cage with it. Then rinse with regular water. Remember, bleach is a surface cleaner (it doesn't penetrate through chunks) so you may want to srub first with regular water, then with the bleach-water and finally rinse. This will help keep any disease from spreading.

Now that you know what to do if your bird dies do your best to prevent it! Happy birding.

Feisty Feathers

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