I recently saw an adorable little budgie (I suspect more English than American) that was not using her left leg well. It turns out the leg band somehow tighted over the lower leg, cut off circulation to the foot and now we were dealing with an area of dead tissue and bone. Fortunately the bird is doing great with an amputation of the site. She is able to get around on the stump and I suspect with time should be able to climb and balance well sans left foot. This situation prompted me to blog about bird bands since there are misconceptions about the reasons birds have them. Often clients think that bird bands will help them find the bird if they fly away and this will allow for identification. That is not the case. Bird bands are put on baby birds to help breeders identify their own birds as well as have proof that they were bred in the USA. Breeders are required to have a closed band on their birds prior to selling or breeding show birds. Breeders slip a ring like band (with no openings) over the baby bird’s foot and as the bird grows, the size of the foot grows and now the band cannot slip off. If a bird was brought into the country as an adult or needs to be banded (for export purposes) an open band is applied. This band looks like a C shape and is clamped over the leg.
All bands have some letters and numbers on them. Sometimes the information can at least tell you what state the bird was hatched in and perhaps the year. For example, you may see 09 FL along with other numbers and letters. This could suggest the bird hatched in 2009 from a breeder in Florida. Here is a link for further information in decoding the leg band information: http://www.birdchannel.com/bird-breeders/breeder-business/decode-leg-bands.aspx
Now some birds live their whole lives without problems with the band. But sometimes the band gets caught on a toy and tightens over the leg. Or the band migrates to an area on the leg that is thicker and circulation is cut off. Once the band starts to become too tight, it acts likea tourniquet–blood flow to the leg below the band is compromised and tissue starts to die. Initially the bird will probably not be using the leg but over time the bird may feel sick as dead tissue releases toxins into the blood stream as well as a potential area of infection. Once the tissue dies, there is no going back; the only option is amputaion of the dead tissue. Or euthanasia. Small birds can do extremely well with only one foot…larger birds–this is a case by case situation to discuss with your vet.
Options of prevention include band removal prior to any problems. This may require sedation in larger birds or may just require restraint. It needs to be performed by a vet with appropriate equipement as there are risks with this procedure. Or you can monitor the band site closely. Just be very aware of how your bird is doing with its band. It should be able to slide up and down the leg a little and easily rotate as well. If at anytime it seems to be tighter than this, go to the vet immediately. If the band is taken off quickly, the leg may be saved.