Symptoms of a Bird Choking and What to Do to Save It

Symptoms of a Bird Choking and What to Do to Save It

by Alex Kountry
Updated on

Can a bird choke?

Choking is basically when an object stops air from reaching the lungs. Birds have a different anatomical structure compared to humans and, therefore, they do not choke the same way we do. The only way a bird could choke is when the object it is trying to swallow is large enough to push against its windpipe to block air from accessing the lungs. In humans, the object gets into the windpipe, which is not the case with birds.

Symptoms of a Bird Choking and What to Do to Save It

Therefore, we will mostly refer to a bird choking as the bird experiencing discomfort with whatever is in its throat.

Here are a few symptoms that a bird is choking.

Bird Choking Symptoms

Bird choking

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1) Neck Extension

You can tell a bird is choking when it exhibits unusual behavior, like extending its neck as if it is trying to gasp for air (which it is trying to do). The neck extension is an effort to try and push the food or item blocking the throat either outwards or inwards.

When the bird is extending the neck with a level of discomfort, it is in distress, and action needs to be taken immediately.

2) Opening the Beak

A choking parrot will try to get the nut out of the throat. A telltale sign would be the bird opening its beak and trying to push the object from its throat. While birds choke differently, food might not be in the windpipe, and it can be pressing against the windpipe and cause discomfort to the bird.

3) Wheezing and Coughing

The other sign you should look out for is when the bird is trying to “cough” or making a noise that sounds like coughing. This sound will not be very audible and might sometimes go unnoticed.

When my parrot begins coughing, I know I have to immediately swing to action because there might be a nut hurting the bird. A bird choking is not a common occurrence, but I always have to be on the lookout for it.

4) Flapping Wings

While birds always flap their winds, a parrot choking on something will flap its wings in distress compared to a normal stretch or flyby. Since choking might lead to the air passage getting blocked and any sound being unable to come out, the bird will resort to flapping its wings as a cry for help.

5) Head Bobbing

When a bird is bobbing its head forward abnormally, it is time to find out what the problem could be. For example, if my parrot makes an abnormal head movement, it is not breathing properly. The bird is crying for help at that point.

What to Do When a Bird Is Choking?

Allow it to Help Itself.

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a) Allow it to Help Itself.

We do not see a mass death of birds in the wild due to choking. This is because the birds evolved to solve this problem on their own. For instance, most parrots feed on nuts that they break into pieces that, potentially pose a choking danger. However, the birds have evolved to take care of this problem.

Parrots’ ability to help themselves out when it is only a temporary blockage is better than you trying to help out at first.

The only exception is when the parrot has been making the same head-bobbing motion for longer than expected. Finally, there is a point where you can tell that the bird is in distress then you can jump in to help.

b) Do Not Panic

If you panic, you can scare off the bird and distract it from trying to dislodge the object. Remember, the anatomy of the bird’s neck is not similar to that of a human. So you have to be the one to remain calm in that situation where the bird needs your help.

When you panic, you might end up hurting the bird because of the bird’s fragile anatomy.

c) Take Action

What can you do to help out a choking bird? You can ensure the process is safe and successful.

First, try and turn the bird upside down gently to allow gravity to take effect, especially when the bird is choking on fluids. Remember, the bird is also trying to get rid of the object choking it, and you are only there to assist and not take over.

Please do not attempt to perform the standard Heimlich maneuver because birds do not have a diaphragm separating their abdomen and chest cavity. You might end up hurting the bird if you attempt the procedure. Instead, a short inward compression of the keel should get the job done when trying to help out the bird. This action should push the object up the parrot’s throat.

d) Veterinary Assistance

The next thing to do is get emergency veterinary services immediately. Once at the vet, an endoscopy can be done to determine the object’s location and remove it. For example, it can be removed if a liquid is lodged in the bird’s lungs.

If the bird is in a dangerous situation, the vet can have an abdominal air sac tube placed on the bird to help with breathing.

The other important reason why you should take the bird to the vet is to ensure no wound might be infected. If there is a wound, the bird should have an antibiotic administered to keep the wound from getting infected before it heals.

If, after some days, the bird is not showing signs of recovery, off to the vet, you go again!

Things that Pose a Choking Hazard to Birds

Things that Pose a Choking Hazard to Birds

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Remember, toys pose a choking hazard, and food, household items, and even water can choke a bird. Toys immediately pose a choking hazard. Therefore, it is vital to know the signs of when the bird is choking. However, accidents happen, so it is important to protect the bird by buying appropriate toys.

i) Broken Toys

Broken toys pose a choking hazard and can cause severe injury to the bird because of the sharp edges. Even when a bird can swallow the object, it might be problematic if it has a sharp edge.

Broken toys are smaller than the original ones, meaning the risk of choking increases. Even if the bird’s natural jaw manipulations can help remove objects when choking, the process becomes more painful when the object has sharp edges.

Thick plastic toys tend to behave with sharp edges when broken. So I monitor toys every time I change them to other toys.

ii) Food

Baby parrots feed on soft food, which parrots do not typically feed on. Parrot eats soft food when young because nuts might be too much for them. However, while a young parrot might need soft foods, it is still a parrot.

While we try to get our pet birds used to home life, we must remember that they are still birds with natural instincts. For example, a parrot chews most of the time, and soft foods might be confusing, especially for young parrots.

While my parrots enjoy pulling apart shellfish nuts, the healthy and fun enrichment can become a disaster when a shell-piece flies into the wrong places.

iii) Bones

The one mistake we often make is to let the bird fly around with leftover bones from our last meal sitting around. Unfortunately, this can pose a choking hazard to the birds. Some birds swallow food whole, while others have to chew on it first.

Parrots are go-getters, and bones can easily be one of the things parrots choke on.

iv) Household Items

The house has a lot of small things lying around. From keys to beer caps, pen lids, coins, and more, these items can pose a choking risk to the bird. I ensure no items are lying around the house whenever the birds are outside the cages. Sharp or clunky objects are the things I watch out for whenever I am cleaning around.

It is important to remember that parrot choking can happen by the parrot eating sharp objects made by itself. When a parrot splits wooden toys, a risk is already created. However, it is vital to remember that the birds can handle themselves most of the time.

v) Earrings

Earrings tend to disappear and reappear from nowhere. Pray the bird does not find it first because earrings have hooks that hang them on the ear. These hooks are not safe for the birds. A stray earring should be hunted down by all means possible.

vi) water

Water can cause severe damage when it finds itself inside the lungs. Once you have established that a bird is choking on water, it is better to seek emergency veterinary assistance. When a parrot aspirates water, the results might be uncomfortable for the bird.

vii) Seeds

Seeds are bird-friendly because they are mostly within bite-sized chunks of what a bird can handle. For example, pumpkin seeds, nuts, or sunflower seeds are things a parrot can handle. However, accidents do happen, especially to parrots that are still learning how to eat seeds.

How to Prevent Choking

How to Prevent Choking

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1) Appropriate Food

When a bird is confused about what it will do with the food you have given it, this is a bad place to be. A bird being confused about food means it does not know how to ingest it. It is not fair to give large food portions to a small bird. The best thing to avoid choking is to give the birds the correct food portions and sizes.

2) Right Toy Size

While small birds can play with adult bird toys, getting small bird toys for larger birds is a disaster in waiting. The one thing most people forget is to keep away old toys from when the birds were young.

3) Keeping Small Household Objects

The house has a lot of items that the bird can potentially choke on. To ensure the bird does not choke, I ensure I am watching the bird each time it is out of the cage. Therefore, the house will always have items that pose potential choking hazards.

Apart from keeping an eye on the bird, I am now used to keeping small household items out of the way whenever I encounter one that is potentially harmful. This is because it takes a few seconds for a bird to ingest a small object.

Things Often Confused with Choking

Things Often Confused with Choking

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a) Crop Adjustment

At first, I used to think my bird was choking whenever it was adjusting its crop. However, the crop is a part that a parrot uses for food storage. This part of the body moves around, and the parrot might need to adjust it.

This is why one of the things to do when you suspect a parrot is choking is to give it time to do its thing before you jump in to save it.

b) Coughing

A parrot may cough for many reasons, including clearing its throat or mimicking you when you cough. Other reasons may include a slight cough when adjusting the crop. Before panicking, it is better to wait and see how long a parrot coughs. Do not worry, as it will be obvious if a parrot is choking.

If the coughs persist for longer than necessary, seek veterinary assistance immediately.

c) Regurgitating Liquid

There are reasons why a parrot may regurgitate fluids. One of the reasons is to feed its young ones. As a survival tactic, the parrot keeps its young ones from choking by kickstarting the digestion process for the young parrots.

The other reason is to impress its mates, which is an awful way of mating.

d) Vomiting

Vomiting can sometimes be confused with regurgitation. Vomiting is involuntary, while regurgitation is not. Vomiting signifies the bird is unwell and might need medical attention.

e) Respiratory Infection

If the bird has an infection, there is a chance that it will be in distress or coughing a lot. There are symptoms of a sick bird that you should check out to be sure you are not misdiagnosing the bird.

Final Thoughts

Final Thoughts

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There are a lot of potential items that a bird can choke on. However, you should never panic as the chances are close to none for a bird to choke. Birds have very analytical brains that keep them out of harm’s way most of the time.

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About the author

Alex Kountry

Alex Kountry is the founder of HayFarmGuy and has been a backyard farmer for over 10 years. Since then he has decided to write helpful articles that will help you become a better backyard farmer and know what to do. He also loves to play tennis and read books


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