Parrots feather plucking:
plucking description and causes
bird is plucking its feathers, the first thing to try is a medicine called
You can get
this medicine on the Internet without a prescription at various
is easy to use and has a better success rate for stopping plucking than
anything else I know of.
If you own
more than one bird, treat them all with Ronivet-S at the same time, even the
non-pluckers may have the same illness, although they aren't showing the
symptom of plucking.
You don't want any of your untreated birds to
re-infect your plucker after treatment. It may take up to two months for your plucker's feathers to grow back
after he stops plucking, so you might need this long to see the good results.
Plucking is when a parrot chews on,
or tears out, its own feathers or someone else's feathers. Plucking parrot can be as mild as a small patch of
chewed feathers, or as bad as a totally naked bird (except the head, which the bird can't reach). When the plucking
includes damage to the skin, we call it self-mutilation.
Lots of different things can cause a bird to
pluck. The causes can be medical things, like dry itchy skin due to some skin condition. The causes can be
emotional, like if the owner buys a cat which threatens the bird. There is a new theory that plucking sometimes is
caused by an infection that attacks areas of the brain. Ronivet-S is a medication that combats parasites, and so
perhaps many cases of plucking are due to parasites.
It was once thought that plucking was due to
sexual frustration, and that a bird who plucked should be allowed to breed. This is not true. Breeding is a
stressful activity and is more likely to make the situation worse, regardless of the initial cause. (Some birds
pluck ONLY when they are in a breeding situation.)
Plucking parrots is not an easy behavior
to correct. It's not even an easy behavior to understand. It is akin to the human obsessive-compulsive disorder. In
an obsessive-compulsive disorder, people feel strongly and unreasonably compelled to do some type of activity, such
as repeated hand-washing, repeatedly checking to see if the stove is off, pulling out their hair,
If you have never observed this type of behavior in people,
think of plucking as an addictive behavior, or a very hard habit to break, like
People might know that an obsessive-compulsive behavior (or
an addiction, or a bad habit) is harmful, but this knowledge does not make it
easy for the person to stop.
More than just will power may be required for a person to
stop a compulsive or addictive or habitual behavior.
And so it is with plucking birds. One thing is certain: plucking almost
never goes away by itself. You must do something to help your parrot stop
You should also remember this: even if you do
everything right, your bird may still pluck. The stressor or disease that started the plucking may go away and the
plucking may continue. You do what you can, and if you have tried everything you can think of and the bird still
plucks, don't feel you've been a bad bird parent! Also remember that it may take a lot of time to get the behavior
completely stopped and that relapses happen.
It is important to start intervening as soon as
possible; the longer a bird plucks, the harder it will be to get the bird to stop. So, with all that in mind, what
should one do?
It is important to rule out medical causes
first, and remove obvious stessors. This means that you need to get your plucker to a vet who is knowledgable about
birds (not all of them are) to see if there is any medical cause for the plucking. Medical conditions both internal
and external can cause a bird to pluck.
These range from mites to giardia to beak &
feather disease. If there is a medical cause, treatment MIGHT be as simple as treating the disease. Also, do try a
course of Ronivet-S, since it really seems to stop many pluckers very quickly.
In cases where the bird has had an obvious
stressor and then starts to pluck, take steps to remove the stressor. For example, I know a female lovebird who had
been a fine mother in the past. But when she and her mate had their most recent clutch, there were two male birds
who hung around the nest box, bothering the pair. The mother began to pluck the babies. The owner removed the two
pesky males, and the plucking stopped. We can presume that the stress of having the bothersome males around was
enough to make the mother pluck her babies.
Sometimes the stressor is not something you can
change. The cockatiel on the right suffers from subcutaneous emphysema, a congenital condition where his air sacs
(located on his neck) do not empty properly when he is excited. The air sacs puff up and stretch the skin tight,
day after day, on this poor bird. The tight, stretched skin does not feel good, so the bird plucks the feathers
over the air sacs. He occasionally mutilates the skin in that area, and plucks other areas on his body as
Sometimes the stressor is something emotional.
An African Grey parrot was owned by a couple who got divorced. The bird plucked out almost every feather she could
reach. When she was placed in a new home, her feather plucking subsided.
Sometimes the parrot has been plucking for
so long that you can do nothing to help. This female conure (shown at left) probably began plucking because she was
lonely, long before I acquired her. She now has a mate and seems quite happy, but still plucks. In fact, she even
plucks her mate.
Her mate, shown at the right, was in perfect
feather till he met the love of his life. See the area with the white, downy feathers? The white down is supposed
to be covered up by green feathers. The green feathers have all been chewed off by his mate. How do we know it was
his mate who plucked him and not he himself? Because his beak could not reach the area that has been plucked; the
culprit has to be his mate.
Sometimes (not always), if a bird has been
plucking for a long time, there may be nothing you can do to help. You may have adopted a bird who has been
plucking for years. The original stressor or disease that started the plucking might be long gone. Do try to help
your plucker, even if the plucking has been going on for a long time. Your bird will live longer and be healthier
if you can help it to pluck less.
You can tell whether a bird is plucking itself
or being plucked by its mate, by the area that is plucked. A bird cannot reach the top of its head, or its face.
Any plucking in those locations is due to the partner. Babies in the nest are usually plucked by the mother.
Plucking that is from the neck down is usually self-inflicted.
The most frequent non-medical causes of
plucking are loneliness and boredom.