Margaret A. Wissman, DVM
A bird's nares should be of equal size and shape, and be dry and open. Nares should not look reddened, swollen or moist.
The nares are the first area that air enters into the respiratory tract of a bird, so the little bristle feathers may entrap dust, dander and debris from the environment. It is normal for birds to sneeze from time to time to expel this dust. However, if a sneeze is moist, is staining feathers around the nares or face, is excessive or contains mucus, then take your bird to your avian veterinarian.
Some birds seem to "pick their nose” by sticking a toenail into a nare. This is usually an innocuous behavior, unless the bird gives herself a bloody nose or causes other trauma to the area. If you notice any problem involving the nares, bring it to the attention of your avian vet. Most respiratory problems involving the nares are easy to identify and treat. Don’t delay seeking veterinary help if you notice a problem involving this area.
Inside the nares of most species is a keratinized plate called the operculum. This plate is very obvious in the healthy cockatiel and African grey parrot. An inexperienced bird owner may see the operculum of a cockatiel and believe it to be an inhaled seed hull. An owner should never take a sharp object, such as a toothpick, and attempt to "remove” the operculum, which can result in soft-tissue trauma to the bird.
Sometimes, cells may slough off from tissue inside the nostril and accumulate around the operculum, and this tissue may become secondarily infected with bacteria or fungus, which results in tissue damage and discharge from that nostril.
Why are they called nares in birds and nostrils in humans? Technically, they’re not! I looked up the definition of nostrils in a human medical dictionary and nostrils are defined as "either of the external nares; either of the nares with the adjoining passage on the same side of the nasal septum; either fleshy lateral wall of the nose.”
I looked up nares in the same human medical dictionary and it says: "the pair of openings of the nose.” Obviously, birds don’t have a nose! And while sometimes someone will refer to a person’s nose (usually a rather large one) as a beak, people don’t have avian beaks, which is a keratinized structure with an upper and lower portion.
Want to learn more about a bird's nare and bird respiratory problems?
Bird Sinus Health