What to do for a bird that plucks


As some of you are aware, I adopted a caique parrot a while back that I named “Demon.” He’s proven to be anything but a demon. In fact, he’s a cuddly little cutie nowadays and we’ve celebrated some big milestones since I got him! Yay! 🙂

His chest area, however, remains an issue. He makes steady progress and then regresses in a single day back to zero. It’s been a lot of work… but he’s worth it! My dealings with him inspired me to make a guide for the average parrot-lover who’s bird has suddenly started pulling feathers.

Please, to start, make sure you have your bird checked out by a good avian vet to rule out the possibility of health-related plucking. There are many instances that may result in a once-healthy (or never healthy) bird who plucks. To list only a few: malnutrition (usually caused by an all-seed diet), psittacosis, aspergillosis, thrush disease, staph infections, poisoning, or vitamin D/calcium deficiency.

Second, there are different types of feather-destructive behaviors that you should become familiar with as it could help you when developing a solution.

  • Plucking – the complete removal of a feather. Everything is pull directly from the skin and results in a bald spot where there is no feather coverage. This can be especially alarming because a bird is then exposed to chills, sunburns, or other harsh climate conditions. He’s more easily hurt and can become more likely to get sick due to a lowered immune system (from the cold).
  • Barbering – the act of over-preening or chewing on feathers to the point of ruin. This commonly results in destroyed feathers that can be grey in appearance (the down feathers that are left) or else twisted and messy looking plumage.
  • Self-Mutilation – exactly as it sounds. The parrot will pluck at it’s own skin, resulting in bloody scabs. This is, for obvious reasons, the most alarming of any type of plucking behavior and vet attention should be sought immediately for assistance in the form of an anti-plucking collar (the collar of shame).

So, why do birds with a history of good health engage in self-destructive habits? Most commonly (again, when it is NOT health-related) the reason is boredom or separation-anxiety. They become incredibly bonded to us and a single day of separation can lead to some very concerning habits. This is why it’s so important to spend time with them every day. To make sure they are constantly stimulated and entertained.

You have the whole world beyond your front door. They only have you.

When working with a bird who has only begun to pluck, you may have much more luck getting him to “forget” this awful habit by simply engaging him. Maybe you went away on a business trip and he missed you. So spend more time with him. Get back into that established routine that he is familiar with. If you see him attempting to pluck, discourage the act by shaking your hand (the “earthquake” method, similar to stopping a biting habit). Try to get his attention on other things. Let him know that you disapprove but do not encourage the habit (for example, giving him a treat to “take his mind off the plucking” may reinforce the habit because the bird then realizes he gets food every time he plucks).

For a bird like Demon, it can be a painstaking process. There are products that are sold specifically for this cause (AviCalm and Featherrific being some of the most highly recommended) but, truthfully, I haven’t had much luck with them when applied to Demon. He is, simply put, just a needy little boy. He is 17 years old and came from an abusive prior owner that got him drunk, fed him only seeds, and never spent any time with him. In addition to this, we suspect that he may have been hit by a male because he aggressively and passionately hates men, especially their hands. He has a colorful vocabulary that further compounds our “proof” of abuse.

He is an exceedingly difficult case, but even he is making progress. It all comes down to stimulation, love, and proper care. Demon has absolutely flourished with love and attention. He no longer spends all day alone in his cage with mean words hurled at him. He has a nutritious diet. His health conditions are taken care of. He has more than enough toys that are rotated on a weekly basis so he never gets bored. And I make sure to spend time with him  every day. This is, a lot of the time, what it comes down to for most parrots. Make sure they are not bored.

With that said, I do not in any way believe that placing blame on the owner is productive at all. Some of the best parrot owners can end up with a parrot that plucks. Sometimes, all it takes is one day for an especially needy parrot to find other ways of amusing himself. That’s why I will always emphasize the importance of catching the habit early. My green cheek conure decided to barber her feathers when I had to travel for a week on business. I blamed myself, certain that she was in anguish because I abandoned her but I really had no choice. I had to pay the bills! And it was the only business trip I’ve ever taken, really. But still, the fear that I had let her down was strong. Is still stronger than I’d like to admit.

But I realized as soon as I got back what she was doing. I make sure she’s never bored now. Make sure I spend ample time with her. Make sure she knows I won’t be going away for a long, long time. And I’ve already spotted the first few new feathers growing in. And guess what? They’re still there.


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