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HomeParrot InformationNorthern Parrots BlogFeather Plucking - Environmental Factors (Part 1 of 2)

Feather Plucking - Environmental Factors (Part 1 of 2)

Published on Wednesday, 9th November 2011
Filed under Avian Articles

 Q: My bird is a feather plucker. He’s been to the vet a couple of times, but no medical condition was found. We've tried med­ications and topical sprays, but nothing seems to work. He’s worn a collar for a few months now and his behaviour has changed dramatically. He doesn’t talk nearly as much as he used to and doesn't play with his toys at all. Help!
 A: Due to the complexity of this subject and the brevity of my column, I will address the subject in a two-part series. This column focuses on the environ­mental stressors that can contribute to feather destructive behaviours [FDB]. My next column
will be dedicated to psychological stressors attrib­uted to feather destructive behaviours.

As always with FDB, make sure your avian veterinarian has done a full medical workup before you make the assumption of a “behavioural” origin to feather damaging. Many experienced avian veterinarians con­sider medical and management problems the most likely causes of this behaviour, but there are also vets who automatically assume a FDB bird is “neurotic” or “bored.”

Such veterinarians are less likely to do a complete workup and, as avian veterinari­an Joel Bloomberg often said, “If you don’t look, you won’t find.” Indeed, experienced Parrot behaviour consultants often refuse to work with a FDB case until a full medical work-up is performed.

[BirdChannel.com offers information on the possible medical origins of feather destructive behaviours.] Feather destruction is a symptom of a problem; or in veterinary parlance, a clini­cal sign. It is not the problem itself; instead it is a response to some type of stress. Once the stress of a medical prob­lem is ruled out, experienced Parrot behaviour consultants then look for stressors in a FDB Parrot’s environment. In no particular order, environmental stressors include:


Many Parrots appear to need more sleep than they are getting in the human habitat. Americans are often sleep deprived and if our Parrots are keeping us company, they are likely sleep deprived as well. Offering a sleep cage in a room unoccupied by people at night can help this problem. Allowing for individual needs, many Parrots thrive with 10 to 12 hours of sleep, with eight hours the absolute minimum.


I cheerfully drive my clients crazy regarding their birds’ diet. I am not interested in what they feed; I am only interested in what the bird eats. According to many avian veterinarians, the generic Parrot (a.k.a., not specialized feed­ers like Hyacinth Macaws and Lories) should consume approximately 50- to 60-percent pellets and/or formulated diet, 25- to 35­percent high-nutrition vegetables, with the last 10 to 15 percent composed of small amounts of high-nutrition fruits, nuts, seeds and animal protein. Incredibly, mal­nutrition is still the No. 1 cause of illness in companion birds and definitely con­tributes to FDB as well.


Cages that are too small stress Parrots, as does the lack of exercise and play that adequate-sized cages encourage. Another stressor is cage location. A recent study revealed that Parrots are more prone to FDB if their cages are alongside a wall with a door, constantly startled by people appearing abruptly. Many birds are also stressed when they are placed in front of a window with no hiding place. 


Rain-forest species come from a high humidity envi­ronment, and the dryness of our homes is not good for their feathers. Bathing is an important part of grooming and most birds should bathe at least once a week, year round.


Whether cage bars pro­tect birds or not (and they often don’t), it cannot be relaxing for them to be con­stantly under the eye of a hungry cat or dog. One client’s bird ceased FDB when the family cat was no longer allowed to sleep on the top of the bird’s cage. Another stopped when her cage was raised above nose level of the family’s two 120-pound Rottweilers. The same applies to high-ener­gy children, as many Parrots live in con­stant fear of them. How is a Parrot to know they mean no harm?


Toxins abound in the modern household, but one of the most common is cigarette smoke. Smokers should take their habit outside. In addition, they should wash their hands and change their clothes prior to handling a bird. Many birds seem extremely allergic to the tars and nico­tine they might pick up from smoky hands and clothing.


Tension in the human household definitely con­tributes to stress for a companion bird. Birds are extremely empathic and adept at reading our body language, so they always know when we are upset. Anxiety is unavoidable at times, but if owners quietly explain the situation to their birds, their stress is often reduced. Who knows how much they actually understand? Also, mak­ing certain the bird gets just five to 10 minutes a day of direct, calm attention from its favourite person can also help tremendously during high-stress periods.
Lastly is the issue of habituation. The precipitating reason for FDB might resolve, but a habit may be formed that becomes a self-comforting behaviour, rather like chew­ing one’s fingernails.
You said medications and topical sprays have not helped. This is logical, since such things often don’t address the reason why the behaviour exists. For instance, no amount of topical sprays will help if the family dog is terrorizing a bird. Additionally, there is no magic pill that will fix everything, despite the pharmaceutical ads on TV.

You mentioned that your bird’s behav­iour changed dramatically when he was collared, and he no longer talks and plays like before. This isn’t surprising when you consider he is like a small child wearing a straitjacket. I dislike using collars with FDB and, in 20 years of working with avian veterinarians, I have rarely found them effective. After all, if a bird damages feathers due to stress caused by a medical, metabolic, manage­ment or psychological problem, it makes no sense that stressing it with a collar will help matters.

My next column addresses the psy­chological stressors associated with feather destructive behaviour; stay tuned!

Parrot Plucking/Hacking At Themselves
30th August 2014
By jenny
Few years ago i was stung very badly by a parrot vet - my little parrot had attacked herself - plucking away ... completely sudden - no build-up to this.. The vet took tests and said all ok - must be behavioural problems... after £500 then more bills and no progress in desperation i turned to another vet on line to be updated it was a classical calcium vitamin deficiency - as soon as i bought the calcium - problem resolves - I'm not saying it might be other factors mentioned - but that was our solution.
Feather Plucking
17th March 2014
By graham
Could anyone please give me any information on how much aloe vera juice to put in 1 litre of distilled water to mist. spray my african grey. any help would be appreciated
Feather Plucking
17th March 2014
By graham
i have just read Chablis article dated 17-11-2011 and i wondered how much aloe vera juice was added to the distilled water i.e how much juice to 1 litre of water. Help from anybody on this subject would be much appreciated.
29th May 2013
By Anonymous
my blue fronted amazon started plucking 2 weeks ago he has done this before but not as bad he attacks his wings just wondered if you had any advice
Jardines (Cont)
15th April 2013
By Lucy
It has been a long process but now he has all of his feathers back and they are in fantastic condition than ever before. Within a couple of weeks of changing the diet I noticed a change in his general condition. He is a very special boy now as his new feathers have grown back orange instead of green!! The vet said this sometimes can happen if the feathers have been traumatised. I would recommend finding a good avian specialised vet even if you have to travel and have a yearly check at least. They can discuss with you if anything needs to be changed. I would never go back to a seed diet again! Good luck to all those currently going through feather plucking, it makes you feel so guilty but there can be light at the end of the tunnel if you are given good advice".
15th April 2013
By Lucy
My 7 year old Jardine's Parrot suffered with feather plucking last year which was very upsetting. I kept an eye on him for a couple of weeks once I realised what he was doing (not always obvious at first especially if they are going through a moult as can look scruffy). I then took him to an avian vet who had been recommended to me. He took some blood tests and xrays to rule out some medical diseases that could cause it and also to see if he had any obstructions in his crop. He was also underweight even though was eating fine. The vet asked loads of questions about my parrots lifestyle and we made a few changes. One of them was his diet - changed from human grade seed diet to Harrisons High Potency (luckily he took to it easily), put him on a few suppliments (Sunshine Factor and pro biotics), bought a bird lamp and covered him up earlier so he has at least 12 hours sleep.
Hahns Mackaw
16th May 2012
By Ann
our jasper is nearly naked with F.D.P he has been doing this for a while we have tried sprays,vitamin drops,moultone drops in his drinking water, spoken to a vet, tried a preening toy,he also has a mirror that he chats to and toys on bottom of his cage ,he comes out daily,and has a bath everyday, he is a non stop chatter box,but pulls feathers out no matter what..he still eats same food that we brought him home with which is a fruity parrot mix.he is 7 or 8 yrs old now. help please.
The Psychological Stressors Associated With Feather Destructive Behavior
17th November 2011
By Anonymous
Very informative
Feather Plucking
17th November 2011
By Chablis
My 4 yr old grey started plucking around 6mth ago neck, chest and socks AS SOON AS IT HAPPENED I tried aloe vera juice and distilled water sprayed on her daily. Aspall's cyder vinegar added to water 1tsp per pint, and fed her 2tsp twice a day. I only gave her mineral water to drink. Gave her Avix Sunshine factor on toast. Moved her cage to a new location where she can see us all the time, 4 Mnth later was Fully Feathered and has remained so since . Her daily diet consists mostly of EMP egg food mixed with mineral water, Red fruits .Pomegranate. red currants. cherries, cranberries, figs which she loves and tropical fruits . She has tidy mix seed , monkey nuts, almonds and rice crackers. She has always had davinova calcium added to daily water to drink .
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