Most birds have no trouble flying, climbing around their cages or perching on their favorite swings. But every now and then a bird is born with splayed legs. The bird may be unable to stand up straight, walk, perch or move around easily. You may find that the legs lean more to the sides than underneath the body, and this is referred to as splayed legs (sometimes called spraddle legs).
There are several causes of splayed legs in birds. The mother could have sat on the baby too heavily or too long, and the force and pressure caused the legs to bend and grow outward instead of underneath the body. Birds need sunlight to produce vitamins, and baby birds kept in nestboxes in dark corners may suffer from a vitamin deficiency that affects their growth.
There are bird foods that supplement this vitamin need, but not all provide enough nutrition. A lack of nutrition or supplements is another reason attributed to splayed legs. In addition to diet, not enough or incorrect bedding in the nestbox can add a risk of the legs being splayed. In fact, veterinarian Ron Hines, DMV, PhD, argues that this is far more likely to be the cause than a vitamin deficiency.
Genetics can also be a factor. This is most commonly seen with inbreeding; unless corrected, it can continue with future offspring. Other times a parent bird might notice the baby is different and refuse to care for it or place more emphasis on the other babies.
If you do not have a bird with splayed legs, you can start working on prevention in young birds now. The feed should have a good amount of calcium and protein; check the feed you normally buy to make sure it is sufficient for the growth of the birds.
If you provide vitamin D3 as a supplement, check the amount and frequency you provide it so make it is enough for healthy growth. You can also ground up Tums and sprinkle it over their food if other forms are not available.
For more about calcium and vitamin D3 deficiencies in birds, we recommend the article “Why Birds Need Calcium,” by Jim Pearson.
Babies and younger birds respond best to treatment since they are still growing. Older or fully developed birds may not be able to be treated, but you can consult with your avian veterinarian to determine what course of action (if any) can still be taken.
If you can determine that the weight of the parents on the baby is causing the legs to be pushed outward, add more bedding to address this problem. Is the nesting container too slippery to be grasped by the young bird? Fix this. Are the birds getting enough sunlight? Consider relocating the cage or providing a lamp that produces sunlight properties. Diet is also very important for growth; double-check that your feed and supplements are sufficient if you can’t find any other reason for the condition.
There are several creative ways to treat splayed legs:
- Pipe cleaners can be bent in a figure-8 shape around the bird’s legs to bring them closer together.
- Placing the bird’s legs in a small cup so they are straight underneath him can help straighten the legs.
- Use vet tape (tape or bandages that stick to themselves) to wrap around the legs and bring them closer together.
- Sticks or straight objects attached to the legs to straighten them can also be used, but be careful that the materials do not scratch the baby’s legs.
- Sponges can be used with holes cut out for the legs at the desired angle. This solution can provide a soft and safe alternative to correcting the bird’s legs. Unused makeup sponges can be cut to fit for this purpose.
Try one of the methods below in consultation with your vet. Note that older birds whose bones are fully developed and may not respond to these types of treatments can have surgery to cut and wire the bones. Discuss this option with your avian vet to decide if it’s necessary.
Birds with splayed legs that can still move around, eat and be active can live normal and healthy lives. They may need additional or special perches, their nails clipped more regularly and extra care given to the pressure points caused on their body in different areas. These pets can still lead a happy life, so check with your veterinarian before you start any treatment. The younger the bird the better, so don’t delay treatment.