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Parrot Health Concerns: Feather Plucking or Self Mutilation

Feather plucking is one of the most serious and commonly encountered parrot care concerns. Failure to provide parrots with a stimulating and socially appropriate environment will lead to a host of problems, including feather plucking.

Medical Aspects

The first step when confronted by a self-mutilating parrot is to rule out a medical disorder. Digestive system parasites, Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease and other ailments can lead a parrot to pluck its feathers.

A poor diet may also be at the root of the problem. Be sure to provide your veterinarian with a detailed description of the food consumed by your pet.

Social and Environmental Aspects

Knowing your pet’s history is vital, as the events that triggered feather plucking may have occurred in the distant past.

It is important to bear in mind that treating feather plucking is somewhat unlike curing a disease. Even with the best of care, parrots that have acquired this behavior may not relinquish it, and may resume plucking for no apparent reason. The care of such a bird requires a great deal of dedication and the input of an experienced veterinarian.

Sleep and Light

A common problem is sleep duration and quality. Most parrots hail regions where nights typically average 12 hours in length, yet a sleep period of such length is often difficult to provide in captivity. Consider where and for how long your parrot sleeps, and whether it is disturbed by noise or lights.

The quality of daytime light is also vital to your parrot’s well-being. Be sure to use a UVA /UVB bulb over your pet’s cage.

Activity Levels

When I first began to observe parrots in the wild, I was struck by how active and engaged they remain throughout the day. Parrots suffer greatly when confined in bare cages, especially if a mate is not available. Foraging toys, large cages, or outdoor aviaries and a companion will help to prevent self-mutilation.


Hormonal secretions, associated with seasonal changes and the onset of sexual maturity, may also stimulate feather plucking. This is especially likely if the bird is exposed to a light and temperature cycle that frequently changes, or is at odds with what the bird would experience in its natural habitat.

Parrots that are kept alone may also be stimulated to express mating behavior if stroked above the hips and under the wings by their owners. The stress of being unable to engage in normal mating behavior may bring on feather plucking.

Environmental Changes

Parrots are keenly attuned to their environments, and often respond negatively to change. New people, pets, noises, scents or similar factors may all play a role in your parrot’s behavior.

Parrots are noisy by nature…yelling at your bird when it feather plucks may actually encourage the behavior. Striking the cage or squirting water will only raise the bird’s stress level.

A Reader’s Experience

Blog reader Nicole was kind enough to write in recently concerning her Goffin’s cockatoo. A confirmed feather-plucker, the bird responded favorably when given the opportunity to bathe frequently. Nicole’s experience highlights the importance of experimentation and research when dealing with this troublesome issue.

Further Reading

A number of articles on our blog address parrot husbandry. For further information, please check out Providing the Proper Light to Pet Birds and Behavioral Enrichment for Parrots.


About Frank Indiviglio

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I believe that I was born with an intense interest in animals, as neither I nor any of my family can recall a time when I was not fascinated by creatures large and small. One might imagine this to be an unfortunate set of circumstances for a person born and raised in the Bronx, but, in actuality, quite the opposite was true. Most importantly, my family encouraged both my interest and the extensive menagerie that sprung from it. My mother and grandmother somehow found ways to cope with the skunks, flying squirrels, octopus, caimans and countless other odd creatures that routinely arrived un-announced at our front door. Assisting in hand-feeding hatchling praying mantises and in eradicating hoards of mosquitoes (I once thought I had discovered “fresh-water brine shrimp” and stocked my tanks with thousands of mosquito larvae!) became second nature to them. My mother went on to become a serious naturalist, and has helped thousands learn about wildlife in her 16 years as a volunteer at the Bronx Zoo. My grandfather actively conspired in my zoo-buildings efforts, regularly appearing with chipmunks, boa constrictors, turtles rescued from the Fulton Fish Market and, especially, unusual marine creatures. It was his passion for seahorses that led me to write a book about them years later. Thank you very much, for a complete biography of my experience click here.
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