Margaret A. Wissman, DVM
The external openings of the avian respiratory tract are called nares. The nares are the holes found usually at the base of the upper beak (also called the rhinotheca). The kiwi is the only bird with the nares at the tip of the beak.
Covered with feathers in some species of parrots, nares are sometimes difficult to see. The opening may be round in some species or form a slit and be surrounded by dense feathers. Some species of parrots have no cere, so the nostrils are at the margin of the beak and the edge of the facial skin.
Mites: Budgies, in particular, are prone to a type of mite infestation, Knemidokoptes, that causes the skin of the nares and cere to appear crusty, with a white, fluffy overgrowth of abnormal tissue. Often, this mite also affects the skin around the eyes, legs and vent. Diagnosis is made by taking a bit of the tissue for microscopic examination. Treatment often resolves the condition, but sometimes a bird may have problems for life and may develop a deformed beak.
All birds in a cage with an infested bird must receive treatment, even if they show no clinical signs. This type of mite may indicate that the infested bird has an underlying medical condition affecting its immune system.
Chronic disease: Birds with chronic disease affecting the nares and/or cere may eventually develop an abnormal groove in the beak, and the beak may also have a slightly different color to it along the groove. If you notice a groove in the beak that is running the length of the beak, bring this to the attention of your avian veterinarian.
Vitamin-A deficiency: A bird with hypovitaminosis A (vitamin-A deficiency) may end up with swollen nares and/or a swollen cere. This can also result in a bird with a yeast (Candida sp.) infection, which often occurs secondarily to hypovitaminosis A. If the oral cavity is examined, a bird suffering from vitamin A deficiency often also has blunted choanal papillae.
Low humidity: If a bird is kept in an environment that is too low in humidity, its nares are likely to be affected. One of my professors in veterinary school always told us, "Moist tissues are happy tissues”; this holds true for our pet parrots’ environments!
Infection: If the humidity is too low, the respiratory tissues tend to become somewhat sticky, which allows any bacteria or yeast in the environment to adhere to the tissues and grow. This can result in sinusitis. If you see any of these signs in your pet bird, contact your avian veterinarian.
Diseases and conditions: Many diseases and conditions can inflame the nares. Bacterial infections, including Chlamydophila; fungal infections, including nasal aspergillosis; nutritional deficiencies; tumors; aerosol irritants; trauma; foreign bodies; and environmental factors can all result in swollen nares.
When determining the cause of problems involving the nares, your avian veterinarian will examine both nares to determine if one or both are involved.
Rhinitis is a condition when there is a discharge from one or both nares. In severe cases, the areas around the nares may be wet from discharge, or the top of the head may also become wet or discolored.
Bloody nose: If you notice blood coming from one or both of your bird’s nares, take it to your avian vet immediately. Sometimes the bleeding comes from the deeper tissues of the sinuses, or the cere or tissue of the nare might be injured, causing the bleeding. If you see any of these signs in your pet bird, contact your avian veterinarian.
Obstruction: Occasionally a piece of a seed hull can lodge in a nare. Again, an avian vet may use sterile saline to gently dislodge the foreign body. If there is an infection inside the nare, involving the operculum, the tissue may become eroded, requiring surgery to remove the granulomatous mass. This may leave a permanent divot inside the nare.
Want to learn more about a bird's nares?
Healthy Bird Nares
Bird Nares Quiz