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.
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 »