The major cause of head trauma in birds is collision in full flight.  Usually, the object causing the damage is clear, such as a window or a sliding glass door, but a frightened bird, or an inexperienced flyer, can crash into anything—a wall, a mirror, an overhead light or fan—and these collisions can be deadly.

If your bird flies full force into any object, you should quickly capture the bird, place it gently in a towel lined box, close the box to keep the interior dark, and take the bird straight away to an avian vet.

 Do not provide supplemental heat if your bird has suffered a head trauma, as this can accelerate the rate of swelling.  It’s important to keep the bird as quiet and still as possible  The immediate threat with this sort of injury is swelling of the brain and central nervous system.  The vet can administer the proper dose of a steroid, usually prednisone or dexamethasone—and this can save your birds life.  Birds with a fatal swelling may or may not exhibit neurological symptoms, such as inability to perch, unsteadiness, or disorientation.  Do not assume your bird is fine, after a hard collision, just because it is conscious, and not bleeding.  Without a steroid injection, your bird may, during the next 24 to 48 hours, suffer cranial swelling and die a very painful death.

Serious head trauma can also result in facial damage, and injury to the beak—which can be permanent if the damage affects the growth rings.  Always examine your bird for cracks in the beak structure, after a head trauma, and also, check the pupils of each eye with a pen light to see if they correctly expand and contract.  Remember, even if your bird appears not to have sustained an injury, fatal damage may have occurred.

Sometimes, weeks after a collision, a bird will demonstrate head tilt, or a decreased ability to fly due to neck and spinal injury incurred by the accident.  An x-ray may be able to pinpoint the troubled area.  These birds can often be kept comfortable with anti inflammatory medication, as needed—your vet can best advise you.

With proper treatment, a bird can completely recover from a potentially fatal head trauma within  15 to 48 hours.  If a bird suffers a potentially fatal head trauma and does not receive treatment, it will usually not survive beyond 48 hours.

After a bird is treated for head trauma, it should be kept in a dimly lit, quiet place—again, without supplemental heat—for the next 48 hours, to help it recover.  Do not handle or stimulate the bird, encourage activity, or in any way cause it stress during this vital recovery time.

Head injury can be avoided if you bird proof the room for a birds first flight in your home:  close the curtains, cover mirrors with towels, drape paper towels over the blades of overhead fans (and certainly, do not allow the fan to operate)—in general, try to flag the bird to hard surfaces so that it may avoid them.  Never allow the bird to go swooping through the whole house, but initially confine it to one crash proofed room until it gains control of its flight, and begins to understand the idea of collision.  In addition, you can easily introduce your bird to the fact that clear surfaces, such as the glass of windows, are solid, by carrying the bird to the window and using your finger to tap the glass.  Then, holding the bird, place its beak right up against the glass, and tap again.  Repeat this procedure at each window.  From this one exercise alone, birds will often understand that glass is a solid object.

Many birds have died unnecessarily from head trauma because they did not present with symptoms of injury.  Getting your bird to the vet quickly will go a long way toward ensuring that your feathered friend will survive the accident, and recover quickly.

written by: Linda Brink

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