What Does an Avian Veterinarian Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills & More

Image by Derek Abella © The Balance 2019 

Avian veterinarians are small-animal practitioners that specialize in the veterinary care of birds. They're licensed animal health professionals who are qualified to diagnose and treat illnesses or injuries found in many species of birds.

Most avian veterinarians focus on either companion bird practice (i.e., parrots and songbirds) or poultry production practice (i.e., chickens, turkeys). It is also possible to focus on the care and treatment of birds of prey or other native species as an avian wildlife veterinarian. Other vets operate a mixed practice that offers services for pet birds while also offering care for small or exotic animals.

Whether it's the family parrot that's sick or a chicken that won't reproduce, avian vets are the go-to resource for the bird population.

Avian Veterinarian Duties & Responsibilities

This job generally requires the ability to perform the following duties:

  • Performing basic physical exams and diagnosing illnesses
  • Drawing blood, making dietary recommendations, and prescribing medications
  • Setting fractures, performing surgeries, and completing follow-up exams
  • Advise animal owners about care and treatments
  • Euthanize animals when necessary

Avian vets working in poultry production may be involved with flock health management procedures, vaccination programs, inspections, meat or egg evaluation, and other related duties carried out on livestock farms or in government processing facilities.

Avian vets might also be called if there's a disease outbreak or epidemic in the local bird population since they understand the unique health of a bird's immune system, digestive system, and dietary needs.

Avian Veterinarian Salary

An avian vet's salary can vary depending on a variety of factors. The Association of Avian Veterinarians (AAV), one of the largest professional organizations focusing on avian medicine, offers a salary estimator for current students.

The pay for veterinarians, in general, is as follows:

  • Median Annual Salary: $90,420
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: $159,320
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: $53,980

Veterinarians who are board certified in a particular specialty area such as ophthalmology, oncology, and surgery, can command significantly higher salaries due to their level of experience and education. 

Education Requirements & Qualifications

Education: All avian veterinarians must graduate with a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree, which is achieved after a comprehensive course of study on both small and large animal species. There are many colleges of veterinary medicine in the United States that offer a DVM degree.

Licensing: After graduation, new vets must successfully complete the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam (NAVLE) to be eligible to practice medicine in the United States.

Professional associations can serve as valuable networking connections for avian professionals and may also offer publications or conference events to members. The Association of Avian Veterinarians (AAV) is one of the largest professional organizations focusing on avian medicine and publishes the well-known Journal of Avian Medicine and Surgery. The AAV hosts a well-attended national conference each year for its member veterinarians. There are also a number of avian veterinary societies that operate with a state or regional focus.

Avian Veterinarian Skills & Competencies

Compassion: All types of veterinarians must treat animals and their caretakers with kindness and respect.

Communication skills: Avian vets must be able to discuss treatment and care options to bird caretakers and instruct their staff.

Analytical skills: Avian vets must be able to analyze symptoms and figure out what is ailing birds.

Manual dexterity: Vets must control their hand movements around birds and be precise when treating injuries and performing surgery.

Job Outlook

According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the veterinary profession as a whole will show growth at a significantly greater rate than the average for all professions, at 19 percent from 2016–2026 compared to 7 percent for the same period.

With the popularity of pet birds showing significant increases in recent years, the demand for avian medical services should continue to increase steadily for the foreseeable future. The continued strength of the poultry meat and egg production industries should also result in additional employment opportunities for poultry practitioners.

Work Environment

Most vets work in private practices. Avian vets may also find employment in an animal hospital while others might take on roles in education, research, and in the government. Avian vets may also travel to farms or to animals in the wild.

Avian veterinarians that work in the poultry production industry may work outdoors in varying temperatures and weather conditions. Companion bird veterinarians usually work in an office setting.

Work Schedule

It is common for avian veterinarians to work a five-to-six-day week with additional “on call” emergency hours always a possibility.