ISSUE 1







These Guidelines comprise three key sections:


§         Fact Sheet

§         Testing Procedure

§         Code of Ethics








These Guidelines have been prepared after wide consultation with aviculturists and veterinarians within New Zealand who have had experience with the disease covered by this document. It is, however, not to be taken as the definitive answer to all aspects of the disease but is intended to assist the aviculturist and pet bird owner alike, to more accurately assess a particular situation as to whether or not the disease in question could be the cause of the problem being experienced.


Under no circumstances should this document be used in preference to professional veterinary advice.


Where the reader has knowledge or information that he or she considers should be contained within these guidelines or if some of the information should be changed, please write to Gwenda Hewson, Avian Disease Management Council, Ruakere Rd, RD 37, Warea, Taranaki or fax 06) 752 8089.



For additional information or if you want to speak to someone about this disease, feel free to contact:

Murray Powell phone 07) 849 6510 or fax 07) 849 6519.











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                                      FACT SHEET


§         HISTORY

PBFD has been present in parrot species for at least 25 years although French Moult (a similar but different virus) has been present in budgies for over 50 years. PBFD as we know it today, was first formally identified in wild Australian parrots.


§         TYPE of DISEASE

PBFD is caused by a virus (Psittacine circovirus) that attacks the cells of the immune system and those that produce the feathers and beak. The virus may cause a transient disease from which some birds can fully recover- others don’t. The virus is effectively the equivalent of the human HIV/ AIDS virus.



PBFD infected particles can become airborne making them extremely dangerous. They are usually transmitted from dry faeces or feather dust of affected birds and can adhere to clothing, nesting material, feeding utensils, nets, carry cages, toys etc etc- nothing is safe.


An infected adult can also pass the virus on to it’s young whilst feeding them.


PBFD only affects parrot species although a similar disease has been found affecting some species of dove. Many if not all species of Psittacine (parrot) can be affected by PBFD. Those species diagnosed to have had the disease in New Zealand include at least the following:



Symptoms vary from bird to bird but any one of the following can be typical of birds with chronic PBFD:



Also, seemingly healthy looking birds can be carriers of PBFD.


Stress, in its many forms, seems to be a trigger in either exacerbating the symptoms or even lowering the bird’s natural immunity to the virus. Some birds have been known to be tested as negative then shipped to another location and then to be tested as positive.



Photos of several examples of birds with PBFD are attached.



PBFD can affect parrots of any age but it seems more common in young birds from 0- 3 years of age.



PBFD is a highly contagious disease and if not dealt with, it can wipe out your entire collection of birds. Infected birds can deteriorate to the point of losing many or all of their feathers and often die as a result of a secondary infection or failure of internal organs.








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                             TESTING PROCEDURE




The most important thing with suspected PBFD is not to over- react. DO NOT THINK THAT EUTHANASIA IS THE ONLY ANSWER.


§         WHAT DO I DO WITH:-

·        Suspect Birds

Remove the bird(s) and isolate it/ them from others on the property. Remove any aviary floor substrate such as sand, bark, gravel etc then spray the ground and flight thoroughly with Virkon disinfectant (or similar) and destroy all perches and nest boxes.


·        Birds in the Same Flight

If the remaining birds in the flight are symptom free, you can leave them in the flight but it is advisable to have them tested for PBFD as well. As above, remove any aviary floor substrate such as sand, bark, gravel etc then spray the ground and flight thoroughly with Virkon disinfectant (or similar) and destroy all perches and nest boxes. (Remove the remaining birds before spraying commences and do not release them back until the disinfected surfaces are thoroughly dry).


·        Birds in Adjacent Flights

Unless you suspect they could carry PBFD, simply remove the birds temporarily then remove any aviary floor substrate such as sand, bark, gravel etc then spray the ground and flight thoroughly with Virkon disinfectant (or similar) and destroy all perches and nest boxes.


·        Birds elsewhere on the Property

Unless you suspect they could carry PBFD, do nothing until you have the test results from the suspect birds on your property- then re- evaluate the situation.



All birds within the same flight/ nest should be tested if any one bird is suspected of having PBFD. However, the testing is expensive and for cheap birds, the simple answer maybe to test just one or two birds after isolating them all and if the tests prove positive, simply keep them all in isolation until they regain their health or you have to euthanase them.


For suspect birds, you first need to collect a blood and feather sample. For hygiene reasons, we recommend that your avian vet collect the blood sample from the bird(s). The following procedure should be followed:


1.      Preliminary work

Bird owners planning to test birds should firstly contact the testing laboratory  (details below) to obtain a set of instructions for collection of samples and also the required absorbent filter paper strips for collection of blood samples.


2.      General instructions

It is extremely important that individual samples do not become contaminated with the virus from other infected birds. The PBFD virus can be present in or on feathers and is readily transmitted to the feathers of other birds if strict hygienic procedures are not followed during the sampling process. Simple precautions such as washing hands thoroughly (preferably using an anti-viral solution such as virkon, followed by rinsing in clean water) between birds, collecting samples from apparently normal birds first and sampling infected or suspected birds last, will minimise the risk of cross contamination.


3.      Collection of feathers for testing

Pluck 3-4 chest or back feathers, and 2-3 small secondary feathers from under the tail (provided the vent is clean) – make sure the operator does not touch the shaft of the feathers with his/her fingers (DO NOT collect feathers by cutting with scissors). Place the collected feathers into a new/ clean zip-lock plastic bag and label accurately with bird identification, owner name and date of collection. Avoid feathers that have an obvious large blood quill as plucking these may result in excessive bleeding.


4.      Collection of blood samples

a) Toe nail clipping. Whilst this has been suggested as a suitable method in the past, it is now regarded by many in the veterinary profession as painful and possibly inappropriate on welfare/ humane grounds. The method involves clipping a toe nail approximately 2/3 of the distance away from where the nail protrudes from the toe– effectively removing the end third of the toe nail. The first few drops of blood should be discarded, the bleeding toe nail stump wiped with a clean cotton bud, then enough blood drops allowed to fall onto a suitable absorbent clean filter paper (these will be provided upon request, by the laboratory – see above) to provide a circle of blood approximately 10-15mm diameter. The cut end of the toe- nail then should be treated with a silver nitrate cauterising stick (or other agent such as lotagen), in order to arrest the bleeding. This procedure can be painful and will cause permanent but minor damage to the toe nail, and in some cases, excessive bleeding may occur.


      b) Blood collection by venipuncture. This is the preferred method but in most cases it will require utilising the services of a veterinarian. Most parrots have a large and easily accessed right jugular vein, which is found mid- way down the neck in an area naturally devoid of feathers. Wiping the area with surgical spirit and applying light digital pressure at the base of the neck will raise the vein and a 27- 29 gauge needle attached to a 0.5 or 1.0ml tuberculin syringe is ideal for the collection of the small amount of blood needed. Birds must not have a full crop as this can sometimes make the vein difficult to locate (especially in lorikeets). It is relatively easy for someone to acquire the handling skills to restrain a bird for this procedure once this is demonstrated. This is a simple, quick and clean way of collecting blood, causing minimal pain and stress to the bird, requiring one handler and a veterinarian to perform the collection. Subsequent bleeding from the jugular vein is rare, though haematomas may be seen after collection from wing veins– which can be managed by applying light digital pressure over the collection site for about 1 minute to allow clotting to occur. Collected blood can then be transferred to a clean absorbent filter paper as described above.


Allow blood spots on the filter papers to dry by placing the papers in an upright position in a clean dry atmosphere for about 30 minutes. After drying, place the filter papers in a clean/ new zip-lock plastic bag (one bird sample per bag). Make sure each sample is clearly labelled and feather and blood samples from each bird are placed in separate plastic bags.


Together with the blood sample, send the feathers (courier or Fastpost) to the New Zealand testing facility as follows:


Dr Ian Anderson

Equine Blood Typing & Research Centre

Massey University

Private Bag 11222

Palmerston North


Phone 06) 350 5799 Extension 7261

Fax 06) 350 5621

Email: ebtu@massey.ac.nz


The cost for the testing is $35/ bird (including GST).


The expected turnaround time is between 7- 10 days. A certificate covering the findings of the test will be supplied.





At the time of producing this document, no vaccine is commercially available although significant research work has been undertaken overseas and trials under way at present.



A negative test result does not prove that a bird is free of the virus as it’s incubation period can be up to 4 weeks. As a precaution, birds tested initially as negative should be tested again after 30 days of possible exposure, and if negative again, retested after 60 days. If the bird does not show visible signs of PBFD, re- testing after 90 days is recommended.









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                                      CODE of ETHICS



This section of the Guidelines is a set of recommended behaviours that responsible aviculturists/ pet owners should exhibit when birds in their possession are suspected of having PBFD.


If you suspect any of your birds as having PBFD, do NOT over- react and euthanase them immediately. Follow this procedure, and you may be able to save any infected birds.


Ensure that all suspect birds are kept isolated from all other birds. As the PBFD is an airborne virus, ensure that all surfaces within the aviary/ cage containing the suspect birds are kept scrupulously clean and disinfected at all times.


Ensure that when you are cleaning out the aviaries/ cages containing the suspect birds or simply feeding them, that you walk through a disinfectant “bath” before entering and upon leaving them.


Also, do not wear the same clothing near birds not suspected of the disease.


Do not sell any birds from your property until your birds are tested negative of PBFD.


Do not allow any visitors anywhere near suspect birds. It is even better still, not to allow anyone near any of your birds until the all clear is received.




Pet shop owners need to be very vigilant about PBFD. Any birds that look suspicious should be turned away as the introduction of an infected bird, can lead to possible contamination of the shop’s entire stock.


Although very much a personal thing, it is advisable to communicate with the avian world within New Zealand as to your suspicions about one or more of your birds. There are several reasons for this:


Feel free to contact, in total confidence, the Helpline listed on page 1.


A positive test result from a bird showing beak or feather abnormalities, is very likely to have an active infection of the virus and could prove fatal to the bird. Do not euthanase straight away- speak to our Helpline before acting- your bird may be able to be saved.


A positive test result from a bird NOT showing beak or feather abnormalities, is likely to be either a carrier of the virus or recently exposed to it. In these cases, re- testing after 90 days is recommended. Those that still test positive after 90 days should be considered carriers and are likely to show signs of the disease and become infectious.


Euthanasia is NOT the immediate answer. Isolate the affected birds and see if time will rectify the situation. As stated in the introduction, the virus is a transient disease and if the bird has not entered the chronic phase, it could well fully recover- but test it again and again until it tests negative before putting it back into contact with other birds.





A negative test result from a bird showing beak or feather abnormalities should be tested for other diseases (histology testing etc).


A negative test result from a bird NOT showing beak or feather abnormalities, simply says that at the timing of taking the sample, it did not contain any traces of the PBFD virus in the blood or feather.




The following photos show various birds mostly with chronic PBFD- please note, the disease can be visually different between species and between individuals within a species.



A chronic case of PBFD in a Major Mitchell

Two young Rainbow lorikeets with acute PBFD (NZ)

Yellow-bib with acute PBFD (NZ). Note the yellow feathers in the green and red ones through the black on the head.

Link to further PBFD articles

Last modified by D.Dix on 18 December 2001.