Scaley Face and Scaley Leg Mite Infestations in Aviary Birds

What Causes Scaley Face and Scaley Leg?

Scaley Face is caused by a mite known as either the Scaley Face Mite or the Scaley Leg Mite. In canaries the same mite causes a condition commonly called Tassel-Foot. The mite’s scientific name is Cnemidocoptes. Being an arachnid, it is an eight-legged beastie and is the smaller cousin of the spider, the tick and the scorpion. It burrows under the scales of the legs and into the keratin of the bird’s beak. However, it can also be found around the vent of birds and on their wing tips.

What Will I See if My Bird is Affected with Scaley Face and Scaley Leg?

When the mite infects budgerigars, the beak will look white, chalky and crusty and will have a honeycomb appearance. The crustiness can spread around the bird’s cere (the lump at the base of the beak) and eyes. The crusty, scaley appearance also appears on the legs and sometimes around the vent.


When the mite infects budgerigars, the beak will look white, chalky and crusty and will have a honeycomb appearan

If the problem is left untreated, the infection in the growing portion of the beak can cause the beak to become permanently deformed.

Canaries generally show a different appearance. Their legs develop thickened areas that look more like corns.

What Will my Vet Do to Treat the Disease?

Your veterinarian will probably confirm the infection by doing a scraping of the affected areas. This is easily done and if the mites are present, they are quite visible under a microscope. Ask your vet for a peek down the microscope as the mites are fascinating critters. They look much like a cross between ET on a bad hair day and a miniature mud crab with attitude!

Your veterinary surgeon will more than likely treat Scaley Face with a product called Ivermectin although other new and easy-to-use preparations are just becoming available.

A few preparations are also available from your pet shop. Most of these preparations are a mixture of benzyl benzoate and paraffin oil. One recommendation is to use such a product daily for three days, and repeat this three times with two weeks between each treatment.

Bird fanciers often treat the condition by rubbing petroleum jelly or paraffin oil on the beak, the cere, and the legs of the budgerigars on a daily basis. While this does not directly kill the mite, it is thought that it causes them to suffocate. Paraffin oil will also help to soften the crusts and to remove them from a bird’s face and legs. In addition, the preparations should be placed around the vent and on the wing tips of each bird as the mites sometimes hide in these areas. While this is a time-honoured technique, it is falling into disfavour because it is easy to get the oil onto a bird’s feathers.

The oil is very difficult to remove, and sometimes the only method is to wait until new feathers replace the oiled ones.

If you are putting any oily preparation onto the beak be careful that your bird does not swallow or inhale any of it. Use a cotton bud to ensure the oil is placed accurately.

Should a bird’s beak be growing abnormally from damage the mites have caused to the cere, trimming of the beak regularly may be needed. This needs to be done carefully as any incorrect trimming could be disastrous. Play it safe and let your veterinarian do this.

Controlling Scaley Face and Leg Mite

The big problem with Scaley Face is not how to treat an individual bird. The concern is how to stop the problem from affecting other ‘in contact’ birds. Scaley Face is quite contagious and if left untreated, other birds will succumb to the disease. In addition, because the infection only becomes obvious after six to twelve months, it can have quite a toe-hold on a flock of birds before the problem becomes obvious.

The mite spends its whole life cycle on the bird thus it appears to be transmitted between birds by direct contact. It is also likely that some birds are genetically more susceptible to the mite than others. It also seems able to burrow into wooden perches in the cage. Therefore, you should replace perches in an infected cage weekly, using branches from native trees.

Ivermectin can also be used to control Scaley Face in an aviary of birds. Your veterinarian will advise you further on its use and on other procedures to control the problem.

Be sure to be on the lookout for Scaley Face or your beleaguered budgie may never want to show it beak in public again!

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Dr Cam Day

Dr Cam Day

Vet Behavioralist

Dr Cam Day is a Veterinarian consulting full-time in pet behaviour in South-East Queensland, Australia.