The Great Parasite Debate or Treat ‘em or Lose ‘em!!
By Marcus Pollard
Given the amount of rain that
has fallen over the past months my email box has suggested that many of you
are getting a ‘tad twitchy’ about the prospect of worms, coccidian and other
parasites so might be a prudent time to revisit an old "chestnut"!!
Now everyone that knows me will
be aware that I am a stickler for developing a sound regular worming program
but during a brief foray into the world of forums my reasons for adopting
such a strict regime was severely questioned.
Many stated that birds should only be wormed when it can be proven that they
actually have worms and any other treatments are suspect and that my regime
However may I dare to suggest that by the time you find that they do have
worms it may be a tad too late for birds which are so adept at
‘camouflaging’ the fact that they have anything wrong with them at all!!
So think it may be
prudent to actually give the logic behind our 3 monthly worm-outs ‘whether
they need it or not’!!Under
Microscope—Microscope Use and Pathogen Identification"
– just wish I’d had it when I first started with worm analysis as it would
have made life far easier!
Back in the day when I was a struggling zoology student I had plenty of free
time and access to an unlimited number of excellent microscopes and used to
regularly take flock faecal samples and analyse them at the University
In case anyone else is interested in the methodology I simply placed a
couple of white shiny pieces of A4 photocopy paper under perches and other
areas of frequent usage to collect a few well-aimed ‘shots’.
The samples were then collected next morning and each aviaries was pooled
together to give an amount that could be used for a flotation test –
basically mixing up a super-saturated solution of one of several chemicals
(sugar or salt for example if nought better is available). The faecal sample
is then mixed with this solution and the worm eggs will float to the surface
and any sample taken near the top of the solution will give you a
representative egg count.
A well as the flotation method I also simply made some smear slides of the
faecal sample and studied these under the microscope as well.
Now here comes the ‘rub’. I never once checked a sample and found that it
was completely worm egg free in all the years that I checked them!!
At this point it would be remiss of me not to point out the great handbook
of all things microscopic that is available through ABK in Danny
Browns excellent work "
So from those results we sat down and worked out what would work best for us
and the finches that we kept and as my sampling seemed to be about every 3
months anyway we adopted that time period for our worming regime and have
stuck to that for decades. In fact the only thing that has changed has been
the wormers used!!
Why? Basically because no-one to date could or has convinced us that there
was any sound logical reason to alter a protocol that has worked extremely
Especially for finches kept on the colony system in a mixed aviary by
someone with a full-time job!!
Prior to instituting
this worming regime we had often found excessive worm counts in autopsied
birds – both local and imported finches – and post implementing this
strategy it became a rarity to even find a worm egg during autopsies. The
money outlaid during those early trial days was well spent as it enabled us
to at least control one of the biggest killers of finches that we had
Now of course, like so many other finch keepers, I work full-time and such
analysis through the microscope would be difficult to fit into an already
packed schedule. However, not a day goes past that I don’t thank the stars
that we went that one yard further ‘back in the day’ to ensure that we could
stay on top of at least one major problem.
Also had the opportunity to attend a day seminar at the Knox Bird Clinic
under the tutorage of Dr Colin Walker which was fantastic for refreshing my
knowledge and learning a heap more besides! Always be on the lookout for
these types of seminars as they are terrific in updating your knowledge on
all things finchey!
Now to those that say
"my finches don’t have worms" I say that you must be the luckiest finch
keeper on the planet or could it be that you’ve never investigated why your
finches actually die!!
Did have just such a conversation many years ago where a guy was basically
stating what a waste of time it had been listening to my talk on worming
regimes as his birds never had worms and none had ever died from the effects
of said worms. When I asked him what the autopsies had revealed to him he
looked shocked and stated that he did not have the money to waste having
autopsies done and that his ‘mistakes’ simply ended up in the rubbish bin –
twas time for me to walk away I thought!!!
Anyway, as far as
evolution goes there are a few relics from the past that have remained
unchanged throughout much of evolutionary history and I suspect very few
people would go swimming with either crocodiles or the larger sharks!!
As many of the parasitic organisms also fit into that category how you’d
expect your birds to remain free from them is beyond many of us!!
Now in order to try
and reduce the infestation there are a few simple steps that anyone can try
As avid readers of all things Russell Kingston we have always remembered his
catch phrase from many years ago of dry, dry, dry in relation to the aviary
environment. For us this is a little easier as all our aviaries down here
are covered which does make the dry part easier!!
However, as many of these aviaries are fully planted we simply cover the
floor with coarse pebbles, cracked rock and even shell grit to ensure that
when the plants are watered the water itself runs away and is not sitting
around creating wet trouble spots throughout the cages. The compost heaps
and other bare floor areas have long given way to dry floors – just means we
have to work that little bit harder to supply live food to our birds.
Thus, even if you do have open aviaries it is a relatively simple matter to
ensure that the floor area is properly drained reducing wet damp areas much
loved by parasites of all types by using gravel coarse sand and small
Insects are another source of annoyance as many act as intermediate hosts
for a number of parasitic worms types – some have a direct life cycles too
so simply removing insects won’t fully solve the potential dilemma but it
Open aviary rooves are another source of potential problems as free-flying
birds can often introduce worm bundles back into your aviary system and its
not by accident that many aviaries are fully rooved these days in Australia
– regardless of locale.
When worming your
flock you might care to ensure that you adhere to a few logical points that
we’ll outline here for you.
● Try and avoid worming your birds during periods of excessive heat as this
may drastically effect their water consumption.
● If the wormer is particularly bitter – say as in Cydectin Plus – then use
a sweetener before presenting it to your finches. Some NSW breeders use a
product called Sweetaddin from Penfolds to achieve this while I stick to
good old brown sugar. How do you know if it’s too bitter? Well by tasting it
of course – go on, you know you really want to!!
● When worming remove other water sources such as cucumber and even green
leafy vegetables as finches will try anything rather than drink most
wormers. Think I exaggerate? Then wait until you see them trying to drink
the moisture off the wire in the morning!! Mind you it’s not all bad as many
finches will try anything to get their moisture and if you’re having trouble
getting finches to consume your vegetable mixes or such then worming time is
when it will ‘magically’ disappear!!
● Avoid worming birds in any metal containers other than stainless steel.
● If your vet says the recommended dose is "X" then please do not be tempted
to serve it up at "-X" strengths as this reduces the killing power of the
wormer and may lead to many strains of worms developing a resistance to that
wormer. Mixing at "+X" strengths may very well prove fatal!!
● Again if your vet tells you the recommended dose rate is "X days" then
please adhere to it as there is no doubt a very sound reason for setting
that time range. Presenting it for "-X days" may also contribute to
I am aware that many say the first drink is possibly enough to get rid of a
worm burden but refer back to the evolutionary history bit previous and
you’ll perhaps understand why we are not ever going to be blasé about
anything related to worms and worming!! If it says for five days then do it
for 5 days!! Especially if treating for hard to get at worms such as gizzard
worm you would be well advised to adhere to the full treatment period.
So there we go a
little bit of assistance with setting up for worming.
I am unable to present you with
dose rates for the wormers I use but would be happy to answer your queries
through my email at
Possibly here is the correct place for also suggesting to the
‘worm-a-phobics’ that might still remain out there that it is the correct
way to go.
Now it has been recorded that birds utilise a huge range of natural food
products out there in the bush. Quite possibly among those items are those
that have a purgative effect which may serve to expel many of their wormy
burdens. For example wild Green rosellas consume copious amounts of the
fruit from the Blackberry bush when in season. The astringent and diuretic
effect of these berries turns their dropping bright purple and extremely
runny and it is espoused that this is ‘nature’s way’ of worming this
Now as my birds don’t get out as much as afore mentioned Green rosellas I
haven’t a clue what they might like to treat themselves with so it’s up to
me to provide the correct treatments to rid them of the worms they are
carrying before these can adversely affect the bird. OK, Ok, whether they
like it/ want it or not!!
This topic always causes heated debate yet no-one questions the advantages
of us supplying seed mixes researched from various sources based on wild
bird observation – may I dare suggest that regular worming is far, far more
important than all of that!!
Let me reiterate here that I am but a humble zoologist and not a vet so
all that follows are based upon my own research and experimentation. It is
based on some excellent correspondence with a number of vets and private
breeders but when all is said and done I am not qualified to comment further
on the products herein – it is just what I do, no more, no less!! So users
Also due to ABK editorial policy
As an example of what I mean and the critical need to investigate any and
all wormers that you intend to use I shall meander with you through my
experiences with the wormer Valbazen.
Once received a number of finches for a couple of breeders down here which
were terrific finches and the guy we purchased them from stated to us they
had been wormed using Valbazen. Despite being young birds none ever managed
to produce a fertile egg for any of the people that received them. We
outcrossed them to our own birds with the same result – nary a fertile egg.
I spoke to a friend at the University who told me that this product caused
birth defects in rats and mice. Further conversations with a well-known
Queensland vet also revealed that it caused the very same birth defects in
cats and dogs. Based on this cause and effect we avoided using this product
Why mention this here? Basically because most of the wormers we use
are NOT designed for use specifically in birds and the desire to prod all
finch keepers into researching the drugs they opt to use for worming
Just because I use it doesn’t mean that so should you – note the cunning,
stealthy way I further reduce any liability on my part for worming finches!!
is one of our ‘newer’ staple wormers of choice and one that has assisted in
making air-sac mite a thing of the dark past- at least at the time of
writing. Now something that never fails to annoy someone – the active
ingredient of this product is Moxidectin and the plus bit refers to the
addition of praziquantal which treats for tape worm. Sheep strength
concentration is the only one used with our finches.
Ivomec has the active ingredient of Ivomectin and is one we use for
stubborn cases of air-sac mite. It is mixed with alcohol and added directly
onto the back of the neck and the alcohol speeds its passage into the blood
stream. Very easy to overdose with so extreme care needs to be taken when
applying unless you wish very inebriated finches!!
It works well to remove nasty cases of air-sac mite and, once removed,
Cydectin Plus will weave its magic!!
We did try and use it in water but found that it was immiscible in water
which resulted in an oil slick on top of the water which means most clever
finches will drink around the oil slick and the dumber ones from the oil
slick – with potentially terminal results!!
Panacur 100 is another old favourite but I must admit I’d never dared
use this strength before Dr James Harris recommended its use to me. At this
strength it does have the advantage that you only need a quarter of the
Panacur 25 dose rate. That is excellent as Panacur tends to settle out and
using a quarter of the volume has distinct benefits in that area! Oxfen and
several other fenbendazole wormers in this line can be substituted for
Panacur but if Dr Harris recommends Panacur 100 that’s good enough for us!
Even then this wormer will still tend to settle out a little so care needs
to be taken to ensure that the mix is stirred up during the day and never
tip a fresh mix on top of the old before thoroughly washing out the residue
from the water bowl. This brand provides us with a non-praziquantal based
Equimax Liquid Allwormer is a horse wormer that is a good back up
wormer containing abamectin (one of the avermectin family of round wormers)
and praziquantal yet again!! This one was recommended by a breeder in
Queensland and appears to be well received by many in the finch game.
Avitrol Plus contains levamisole hydrochloride and praziquantal and
is the red coloured wormer oft commented upon.
We only use this drop wise through a crop needle on new finches that arrive
and it is never presented in the water bowls based on several well
documented deaths among finches treated in this manner. Some use it at well
below the recommended dose rate but as this has resistance implications it
is to be avoided.
I have never experienced any problems with it given straight from the bottle
drop-wise. It is the only specific bird wormer that is in our cupboards.
Hopefully from that
group of products there are a couple to add to your anti-parasite arsenal
that will help you keep your flocks worm free!!
If you’re not a fan of water based wormers you could investigate Droncit in
the seed but most fincho’s these days prefer the water
based ones as it’s not really an option to crop needles huge numbers of
finches every 3 months!!!
So there you have it a Mug’s Guide to worming finches so off you go and
thoroughly research these products and devise your own defences to the
parasite problem and never, ever underestimate those little evolutionary
survivors or it’ll be your flock that will suffer!!
Oh, and before I
depart don’t forget to do a follow-up worming session around 14 days after
your initial worming.
Why you ask? In order for you to smash those parasite eggs that may have
hatched after your initial treatment and when deciding upon the correct
combination for this follow up dose we recommend you try and offset the
drugs for your target species. If you are hunting tapeworms then the first
dose might be with a praziquantal based wormer then a follow up with one of
the fenbendazole drugs – just to maximise your killing effect on the tape
worms by using different drugs.
To those that say their aviary or cage system is parasite free or that
wormers are a load of bunk I say that if an ant can gain access to your
cages then so can a host of parasites!!!
Be afraid, be very afraid!!