A mystery illness is affecting budgie breeders

A mystery disease has been infecting captive budgie collections, with some breeders reporting losses of up to 75%. A common denominator seems to be Avigrain’s Budgie Blue seed mix, however there have been no issues identified with the seed at this stage.

Avigrain have shared the following information on their Facebook page, ostensibly sourced from the Australian Heritage Budgerigar Association (AHBA).

This is a mystery disease that has not responded to any bird medicines. So let’s go through what we do know:

So far, we only know of two things will definitely save your birds’ lives; a small room or hospital cage with a temperature of 33-34C, and isolation from all sick birds. 100% of my breeding birds are perfectly well and healthy in 52 solid-walled breeding cabinets in the same room as the sick birds, but separated by 2m from all aviaries and wire cages. All aviaries and wire cages have over 75% of their birds dead or very ill. So close contact is needed for disease transmission. I suspect that this disease could well be transmitted via the water drinkers or faeces, so change your water at least once a day and clean out your cages with Sani-Chick (iodine) as often as possible (iodine stains surfaces). Clean all plastic or glass feeders with chlorine bleach, except for metal cage fronts, pipes etc. Chlorine acorrodes zinc-plated or galvanised steel items, but not high grade Stainless steel.

Thus it is essential that all members do not buy or sell any budgies, or even visit other breeders’ aviaries until this disease outbreak is over.

The AHBA has assembled an elite task force of leading vets and scientists (details later) to try to work out what the disease is, and how to stop it. How this disease spreads between breeders has us baffled. Many of the 15+ breeders with sick birds have had no contact with other breeders with sick birds. Nor have they they swapped birds etc. And this disease has turned up in isolated areas, eg Central Queensland and the South Coast of NSW.

So far, the only thing that links the 15+ is their Avigrain Budgie Blue seed mix, but there is no direct proof that the disease comes from this seed mix. In my endeavour to isolate all possible causes, and under veterinary advice, I have ceased feeding Avigrain Budgie Blue to my birds until we know what is going on. The weather is now the ‘Perfect Storm’ for avian diseases: incredibly humid and warm. These two conditions together are often lethal for budgies, but note that infections are occurring in places like Central Qld which is not suffering from the humidity etc. We have scientists doing research into the seed mix and we will keep you informed immediately when any results come in.

The worst thing about trying to help budgie breeders with bird diseases, is their reluctance to come forward and admit that they have any disease problems at all. Presumably, they are worried that they might lose sales of birds if they admit to having problems. The breeders of modern exhibition budgies almost never admit that they are producing numbers of feather dusters (AKA mops) or tailless wonders or French moult babies, YET these problems are very common indeed.

There is some anecdotal claims that this outbreak extends to species other than budgies, but there is not yet any evidence supporting this claim.

We’ll keep you updated as this story unfolds.

Update March 29th 2022
Testing seems to have concluded that Avigrain seed is not responsible for this illness. The culprit appears to be a particularly nasty strain of E. coli.

The suggested treatment is 14 days of an avian antibiotic in the bird’s drinking water, plus supplemental treatment with an electrolyte supplement.

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