Radiology in Birds: Imaging the Possibilities

Key Points

  • High detail film together with appropriate single screen is essential for proper imaging.
  • A grid is generally contraindicated in most avian patients.
  • Develop technique charts utilizing the lowest kilovoltage, the highest milliamperes per second, and the shortest exposure time possible.
  • For the ventrodorsal (VD) view, place the bird in dorsal recumbency with the keel perpendicular to the cassette. Extend the wings bilaterally 90 degrees from the body and extend the legs caudally.
  • For the lateral view, place the bird in right lateral recumbency. Extend the wings dorsally and retract the legs caudally, with the dependent limb slightly cranial to the non-dependent limb.
  • The normal avian lung has a honeycomb appearance on the lateral view. Parts of the air sac space are visible as dark, air-filled areas on VD, and to a lesser extent, lateral views.
  • The cardiohepatic silhouette in the parrot should resemble an hourglass on the VD view. If a vertical line is drawn from the scapula to the acetabula on the VD view, the silhouette should be medial to this line.
  • The proventriculus is seen most clearly on the lateral view. This spindle-shaped structure sits dorsal to the liver on the lateral view. The ventriculus often contains grit and is located caudoventral to the proventriculus.
  • The kidney is seen most readily on the lateral view. The cranial lobe of the kidney sits just below the lumbar spine, cranial to the acetabulum. The gonads lie cranioventral to the kidney, and gonadal swelling may be confused with renomegaly.
  • On occasion, the spleen may be seen on the lateral view as a spherical object, cranial to the femur, just above the level of the proventriculus. When the spleen is visible, this is typically an indication of splenomegaly.
  • Contrast radiography may help to identify the cause of a space-occupying lesion within the coelom.

Radiography is a non-invasive, informative tool that is designed to be used alongside other diagnostic information. This review article first provides tips that will maximize success and describes common radiographic positions. The bulk of this review article describes normal radiographic findings of various body systems but common abnormalities such as organomegaly are also described . . .

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Dennison SE, Paul-Murpy JR, Yandell BS, Adams WM. Effect of anesthesia, positioning, time, and feeding on the proventriculus: keel ration of clinically health parrots. J Vet Radiol Ultrasound 51(2):141-144, 2010.

Dennison SE, Paul-Murphy JR, Adams WM. Radiographic determination of the proventricular diameter in psittacine birds. J Am Vet Med Assoc 232(5):709-714, 2008.

Krautwald ME; Tellhelm B, Hummel GH, et al. Atlas of Radiographic Anatomy and Diagnosis of Cage Birds. Berlin: Verlag Paul Bracey; 1992.

Silverman S, Tell L. Radiology of Birds: An Atlas of Normal Radiography and Positioning. St. Louis: Saunders Elsevier; 2010.


Further reading

da Silva JP, Rahal SC, Castiglioni MCR, et al. Radiography and computed tomography of the heart and lower respiratory tract in toco toucans (Ramphastos toco). Anat Histol Embryol. 2020;49(4):541-549. doi: 10.1111/ahe.12559. PMID: 32266741.

Dos Santos GJ, da Silva JP, Hippólito AG, et al. Computed tomographic and radiographic morphometric study of cardiac and coelomic dimensions in captive blue-fronted Amazon parrots (Amazona aestiva, Linnaeus, 1758) with varying body condition scores. Anat Histol Embryol. 2020;49(2):299-306. doi: 10.1111/ahe.12528. Epub 2020 Jan 4. PMID: 31900979.

Geerinckx L, Van der Vekens E, Saunders JH, Lauthenschläger I, Van Caelenberg AIL.  Literature review of radiographic measurements of internal organs in psittaciformes. J Exotic Pet Med. 2019;28:60–68.

Krautwald-Junghanns ME, Konicek C. Diagnostic imaging of the avian urinary tract. Vet Clin North Am Exot Anim Pract. 2020;23(1):59-74. doi: 10.1016/j.cvex.2019.08.003. PMID: 31759452.

Krautwald-Junghanns ME, Moerke-Schindler T, Vorbrüggen S, Cramer K. Radiography and ultrasonography in the backyard poultry and waterfowl patient. J Avian Med Surg. 2017;31(3):189-197. doi: 10.1647/2016-198. PMID: 28891693.

Locke S, Johnson D, Shimp J, Pridgen TJ. Radiographic reference intervals of the cardiac silhouette width in the bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). J Avian Med Surg. 2020;34(3):260-267. doi: 10.1647/1082-6742-34.3.260. PMID: 33099979.

Lopes F, Jesus S, Med LV, et al. Radiographic reference values for the cardiac silhouette in Bonelli’s eagle (Aquila fasciata). J Avian Med Surg. 2019;33(1):53-58. doi: 10.1647/2017-318. PMID: 31124612.

Silva JP, Castiglioni MCR, Doiche DP, et al. Radiographic measurements of the cardiac silhouette in healthy blue-fronted Amazon parrots (Amazona aestiva). J Avian Med Surg. 2020;34(1):26-31. doi: 10.1647/1082-6742-34.1.26. PMID: 32237679.

Silva IA, Vieira LC, Mancini VRM, Faillace ACL, Santana MIS. Radiographic anatomy of the cockatiel (Nymphicus hollandicus) axial and appendicular skeleton. Anat Histol Embryol. 2020;49(2):184-195. doi: 10.1111/ahe.12510. Epub 2019 Oct 24. PMID: 31646675.

Vilaplana Grosso F. Orthopedic diagnostic imaging in exotic pets. Vet Clin North Am Exot Anim Pract. 2019;22(2):149-173. doi: 10.1016/j.cvex.2019.01.003. PMID: 30961896.

Woo KMT, Barron GH, Daugherty AL, et al. Measurements of the radiographic cardiac silhouette of ospreys (Pandion haliaetus). Am J Vet Res. 2019;80(9):840-845. doi: 10.2460/ajvr.80.9.840. PMID: 31449449.

Zoller G, Chassang L, Steyvoort OV, Huynh M. Comparison of dorsoventral erect and ventrodorsal supine radiographic views for the evaluation of intracoelomic organs in clinically normal African grey parrots (Psittacus erithacus). J Avian Med Surg. 2019;33(3):218-228. doi: 10.1647/2018-361. PMID: 31893616.

To cite this page:

Forbes N. Avian radiology: Imaging the possibilities. January 29, 2008; updated May 24, 2014. LafeberVet Web site. Available at