Revised Dec. 23, 2021
If you've followed my blog posts, you probably already know that if we want to end our bird's feather-plucking for good, we’ll have to use behavior analysis to encourage desirable behaviors and end undesirable ones.
Behavior analysis is complex and has many moving parts. When you’re looking to change a behavior, you first need to do a thorough analysis of the behavior to gain a clear and quantifiable understanding of it. So, for example, if you want to manage feather plucking, you'll need to know the following:
This blog is about one very important component of behavioral analysis: the time study. How to do a parrot plucking time study. But first let's take a look at what we hope to gain from doing the time study.
One of these techniques is called a Time Study. It helps you understand precisely when, how, with whom, and where the plucking behavior occurs in your bird. Once you’ve understood the time patterns behind the behavior, you can deal with it head-on.
First, you’ll be able to find clues about what events trigger the behavior and then put a plan in place so your bird doesn’t become triggered again. The scientific term for a trigger is antecedent. Second, you’ll learn what the parrot is getting out of the behavior and address those needs in a safe way.
The A-B-C Model in Behavior Modification
It’s been proven science-based that every behavior is driven by the outcome of the behavior. In behavior modification, this outcome is referred to as the consequence. So here’s a simple example of A-B-C with children that we’ve all seen in the grocery store. In behavior modification, the consequence is what the monkey gets for engaging in the behavior.
A child sees candy and wants it. NOW! When told “no” the child throws a tantrum. Mom or Dad are so embarrassed that they give the kid the candy to get them to be quiet.
In this example, seeing candy is the Antecedent. The behavior is the tantrum. The consequence is the child gets the candy.
Once you understand the A-B-C cycle, you can change the trigger or the outcome for behavioral change.
So, in the same candy example, I’d tell my child, “if you are good when you’re inside of the store you can have a piece of candy when you get home. Now, the child decides not to throw a tantrum in the store and I follow through with my reward at home.
This is obviously a very simplified example, but the same techniques can be used on your parrot that pulls feathers. The difference is that first, you really can’t reason with a parrot, and second, pulling feathers can quickly become an addictive process. Still, research has proven time and again that changing the antecedent and consequences of behavior can stop parrot plucking when applied consistently. But first, you'll have to conduct a time study to discover the antecedents and consequences.
Looking for a little extra info on A-B-C? Take a look at this video:
You’ll need to be able to describe the plucking behavior in a quantifiable way so that you can determine if your efforts to stop it are actually working. To make a credible time-lapse report, you’ll need to watch and record the plucking behavior at least 25 times per day for reliable information about its causes and effects. Plus, you’ll need to be able to quantify the plucking so that you can determine if your efforts to stop it are actually working.
Use a simple chart to document the parrot’s plucking behaviors as frequently as you can, but at least four times a day. Ideally, these times should happen at the same time each day. Great times to record parrot plucking behaviors would be:
It’s important to keep your regular routine when collecting data for the time study.
Now, it's time to come up with a method for keeping track of if feathers were actually pulled. Keep reading to find a link to a helpful chart. You could just set up an alarm to remind you to record an observation. Then, simply count how many feathers are on the cage floor or measure the size of the bald spot. Record this number on the chart.
If your bird is plucking when you get there, just totally ignore it. Do your observation and leave. Your not engaging in behavior change strategies just now. Your simply gathering data.
With technology, it’s easy to video your bird during the day while you're at work. Just set your smartphone alarm to the times that you want to observe your bird. Get an affordable WiFi-enabled Pet Camera for as little as $35USD and check in on your bird. According to PetLifeToday.com, the best camera for those on a budget in 2018 is the Tenvis HD IP camera. We found the one on Amazon.com for under $40USD.
Get into the habit of counting the feathers at the bottom of the cage at these prearranged times. You may even want to look at the feathers to see if they are pulled out, shaft and all or whether the feather was chewed off. At any rate, for logging purposes, remove the destroyed feathers at each observation.
A self-mutilation time study course of action requires some adjustments. Obviously it may take more time, but also with the treatment of the wound in between. In both cases, it's important to determine how often the problem occurs and determine how serious it is.
However you choose to observe your bird, you’ll need to record parrot plucking behavior in a log format. Just make sure that it is measurable.
Here is a simple chart to record your findings.
So once you’ve collected data on 25 separate behavioral events (plucking incidents), you can jump into the spreadsheet tab found at the bottom of the spreadsheet titled “Graphs.” The spreadsheet can generate graphs showing you exactly how often your parrot biting happens.
These graphs will help you understand just how serious the problem is.
Now don your detective hat and ask yourself: What does my pet get out of plucking? Do I pay attention to him? Does he get placed in his cage for some quiet time? Or could he just be addicted to the endorphins being released into his blood stream?
Comment below if you find this blog helpful, if you want us to change anything, or what kind of bird you are.
Diane Burroughs, LCSW is a licensed psychotherapist trained in ABA therapy techniques. She specializes in avian anxiety disorders and is certified in Nutrition For Mental Health. Diane has written a number of bird behavior books and she offers behavior consultations. She's developed a range of UnRuffledRx Science-backed Parrot Wellness Supplies.
Diane's products have been featured in the Journal of Avian Medicine and Surgery and at Exoticscon, a conference for exotic pet veterinarians. Her bird collars & supplements are stocked in avian vet clinics and bird stores throughout the US. With over 30 years in the field of behavior, Diane has created thousands of successful individualized behavior plans that help pets thrive.
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