Sick Bird Symptoms: Circling, Head Twisting, Unnatural Head Positioning

Related Web Resources:  Index of Bird DiseasesSymptoms and Potential Causes

Bird Species and Their Respective Syndromes (Lists diseases specific bird species are most susceptible to)

Other Symptoms

Causes for Circling, Head Twisting, Unnatural Head Positioning in Birds

Heavy Metal Poisoning

PDD – Affects most parrot species, including macaws, African Greys, cockatoos, cockatiels, conures, Eclectus parrots, Amazons and budgies. Common / possible symptoms: Constant or intermittent regurgitation, chronic bacterial or fungal crop infections, pendulous crops, weight loss, passage of whole intact seeds in droppings, incoordination, depression or sudden death. Concomitant central nervous system signs may include ataxia, abnormal head movements, seizures, and proprioceptive or motor deficits.

Star Gazing

Newcastle Disease: Respiratory distress, and rasping followed in 1 or 2 days by a paralysis of legs and wings and bad down between legs or straight back over shoulders, twisting of neck (stargazing). In adult birds, loss of production along with some respiratory distress and paralysis after 4 to 6 days.

Polyoma / Avian Polyoma: Causes high levels of mortality in young psittacine birds. Prevalent in macaws, conures, Eclectus parrots, lovebirds, cockatiels, budgies, finches and gallinaceous birds, including chickens and turkeys. Larger psittacines / parrots may die suddenly without signs of illness, or die after showing depression, anorexia, weight loss, delayed crop emptying, regurgitating, diarrhea, dehydration, subcutaneous hemorrhages, ataxia and paralysis.

Psittacosis: Common symptoms: Tremors and / or convulsive movements. Unusual head positions; Opisthotonos (neurologic disease in which the top of the head is bent over and approaches the back. Partial or complete paralysis of the legs

Parrot finch with twisted neck


Stargazing (Twirling) appears most frequently in finches, it has also been reported in other birds – from the smallest up to the largest macaws.  Our lovebird  Gazer was born with this disease.  Birds that were afflicted with “Bird Flu” also displayed these symptoms …

One of our visitors stated that his African Grey showed similar symptoms, but stopped stargazing completely after an ear infection was successfully treated with antibiotics.


“Stargazers” constantly throw their head back, sleep with their heads between their legs; go around in a circle; look at the ceiling, turn their heads around in a circle and look up.

Stargazing can strike at random and without warning or past history of problems.

Finches are particularly susceptible – although other species have been diagnosed with it.


  • In some birds, the condition may correct itself over time or may be corrected given certain condition …:
    • … if it was caused by poor positioning inside the egg / poor egg condition (may only be a consideration if a bird was born with this condition)
    • … condition may be reversed is if the root cause is malnutrition and it is corrected
    • …resolution might be achieved through successfully treatment protocol (antibiotic treatments, etc.).

If this condition is left uncorrected, the following progression) can be expected:

  • Inability to fly.Loss of balance/equilibrium. Falls off the perch.
  • Difficulty moving around in cage
  • Can’t find food or water – resulting in starvation
  • The end result of stargazing (if untreated or not self-corrected) is almost always death.

What Cause Stargazing / Twirling?

A definite cause has not been identified as of yet; however, the following are suspected:

  • Egg positioning (?)
  • Viral / bacterial – such as the bird flu.  For example, turkeys have shown symptoms of going off their water and their feed, becoming lethargic and/or showing signs of this condition. Farmers report a drop in egg production.
  •  Yeast infection
  • Chemical imbalance
  • Vitamin and/or mineral (nutritional) deficiency; Vitamin D deficiency (lack of natural sunlight exposure). Too much calcium can result in a ‘drunken bird’ look
  • Genetic predisposition
  • Inner-ear problem

Treatment for Stargazing

The following treatments have been reported as being fairly effective:

  1. Nystatin
  2. Trimethoprim Sulfa
  3. Vitamin B 12 to strengthen the nervous system
  4. Enhanced nutrition to correct any nutritional deficiencies

Prevention of Stargazing

The following steps will be an important step in not only preventing this disease, but others too.

  1. Prevent birds which carry the genetic predisposition for this disease from breeding so that they cannot pass this condition on to their offspring
  2. Provide the best nutrition possible.
  3. Provide uncontaminated water and clean air
  4. Keep your bird’s environment clean

Find Your Local Avian Veterinarian

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