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Hyperkeratosis in Starlings

Hyperkeratosis is one of the most common problems found in pet starlings. I think it is directly linked to diet, especially a low iron softbill pellet diet.

Here is an example of a bird with this condition: Jake could no longer fly, had terrible feather condition, and raised overgrown scales on his feet and legs. He also had a red corn like sore on the bottom of one foot and overgrown beak and nails. This is the classic presentation of Hyperkeratosis.

Below are some photos comparing a starling with symptoms of Hyperkeratosis to a healthy starling.

Beak thickened & overgrown due to Hyperkeratosis
Beak thickened & overgrown due to Hyperkeratosis.

A healthy starling with a normal beak.
Ringo, a healthy starling with a normal beak.
Starling foot with thickened scales & thick, overgrown nails due to Hyperkeratosis
The photo at left shows the foot of a starling who is suffering from hyperkeratosis. Notice the drastically thickened scales and thick, overgrown nails. Poor feather condition also accompanied the condition in this bird.
The feet and legs of a healthy starling
Healthy starling feet and legs
The above photos show the legs and feet of a healthy starling. Unlike the bird with hyperkeratosis, this bird has thin nails and smooth legs with tight scales.

The word hyperkeratosis comes from hyper...abnormal excess, and keratin... the outer layer of epidermal structures, such as hair, nails, horns and hoofs (from the American Heritage Dictionary). In birds the leg and foot scales, nails, feathers and beak are composed of keratin. Hyperkeratosis is believed to be caused by a lack of Vitamin A which affects any cellular structures such as skin, feathers, mucus membranes in the mouth and eyes, and internal organs. Anyone who has read Arnie the Darling Starling will be aware of the symptoms of Hyperkeratosis and Vitamin A deficiencies.

The needed amino acids in the right amount:
All the softbill pellet diets are an excellent source of Vitamin A, so you wouldn’t expect a bird to have a deficiency of something they are getting in ample supply from their diet. Yet most European Starlings on low iron softbill diets usually have either Hyperkeratosis, seizures or both.

European Starlings are omnivores with a strong leaning towards being insectivores. The softbill pellets have reduced iron, and is made for fruit eating birds such as Hill Mynahs and Toucans. It has a protein content of around 18 percent, European Starlings require a diet of between 30 and 32 percent protein. Without the needed amino acids, in the right amount, from a complete protein (animal protein) the body cannot utilize the fat-soluble Vitamins A, D, E, and K, so even though these vitamins are in the diet the bird will be deficient in them. Some good animal protein foods, besides the dog food mix would be: cottage cheese, hard boiled egg, seafood, tuna and chicken (if canned packed in water) crickets and other insects.

Additional Photos:

15 Month Old Starling with Leg Scale Problems
Notice the raised scales, even on the toes, and the thick toenails.

The Same Starling as above at 18 Months Old
See how the leg and foot scales are thicker and are raised up even more

Another View of the 18 Month Old Starling's Legs
The scales on the right leg are loosening at this point
, and the toenails are thicker.

18 1/2 Month Old Starling with Thickened Beak

Same 18 1/2 Month Old Starling with Beak now Chipped in Thickened Area

Ringo photo courtesy of Barb.

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