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Tag Archives: feather plucking

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The Best Way to Prevent Feather-Plucking – Make Your Parrot Work!

An exciting new study has revealed that healthy parrots prefer working for their food to eating from a bowl.  Parrots involved in feather-plucking, however, go right to their bowls and show no interest in solving problems that led to food rewards.  I think this research is important to all who share their homes with parrots.  Some progress was also made in developing a medication for birds that have begun to damage their plumage.  I have dealt with feather-plucking even in well-run zoos; it’s a sad and frustrating condition, and I hope that this new work points the way to some solutions.

Sun Conure playing

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Melanie Phung

Busy Minds and Bodies Remain Healthy

Feather plucking is heartbreaking to see, and immensely frustrating to cure.  Despite much interest from the parrot-keeping community, foolproof solutions elude us.  Feather-plucking and other forms of self-mutilation ruin the lives of countless pet parrots, many of which are eventually turned over to rescue centers, euthanized, or released.

A researcher at the Utrecht University Clinic for Companion Animals in the Netherlands offered African Gray Parrots the option of eating from a bowl or removing food from a pipe lined with holes.  Healthy birds invariably ignored the food bowls and went right to work on the pipes. Read More »

Parakeets, Cockatiels, Parrots and Cockatoos – Feather Plucking

Feather plucking (and other forms of self-mutation) is one of the most common concerns raised by parrot owners.  I’ve encountered the problem among zoo birds as well.  Despite being well-studied, feather plucking remains difficult to both prevent and cure.  Our understanding is complicated by the fact that feather plucking can be caused by widely-differing physical or emotional ailments.  But some general rules and patterns have emerged.  I’ll review these below…please be sure to post your own observations, as we still have much to learn.

Golden Conures

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Benny Mazur

Different yet Related Causes

Feather-plucking may be a reaction to a physical or emotional problem.  Sometimes, the reason is clearly physical…as when a bird plagued by mites picks at its feathers and skin.  Or the reason may be purely environmental…as when a bored parrot kept in a tiny cage adopts self-destructive behaviors.

But there are many areas of overlap.  In the example above, when the mites are eliminated, the bird will usually cease feather-picking. However, just like human infants, parrots quickly learn how to get our attention.  Let’s suppose the bird in question is housed alone and with minimal human contact.  It may very well make an association between feather plucking and attention – when it pulled at its feathers, people came; in some cases, solitary birds may even seek negative attention (i.e. yelling) if none other is provided. Read More »

Parrot Owners Take Note – Study Confirms Bored Chickens Pluck and Peck

A great deal of research goes into the husbandry of domestic fowl, some of which has important implications for pet bird owners as well.  In scanning the literature, I recently came across the following important study.

How Does One Keep a Chicken Busy?

The European Zoological Nutrition Center reports that the wild relatives of domestic chickens (I’m assuming Red or Green Jungle Fowl) spend at least 60% of their day foraging for food.  Domestic chickens, however, are fed high energy foods in easy-access feeders and usually take but a few minutes to meet their daily needs.  That leaves the bored fowl a good 16 hours in which to get into trouble – which they do quite handily by pecking at their own and their neighbors’ feathers and skin. Read More »

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.


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