by Diane Burroughs June 24, 2018 5 min read 1 Comment

By now, you may know that tons of research tell us that the best way to stop parrot feather plucking for good is to use behavior modification to encourage desired behaviors and stop unwanted behaviors.

Behavior modification is complex and has a lot of components. In behavior modification, whenever you wish to change a behavior, you’ll first want to thoroughly analyze the behavior to get a clear and measurable understanding of it.  This involves knowing a lot about what precedes the parrot plucking behavior, like:

    • Where does the parrot plucking happen?
    • What triggers a parrot plucking episode?
    • Are there specific times of day that your parrot plucks? 
    • What is your bird getting out of the plucking behavior?

Why Do a Time Study for Parrot Feather Plucking

In this blog, we’ll look at one very important component of behavior modification, a time study. How to do a parrot plucking time study. But, first, let's look at what we hope to gain from the time study.

A time study is used to help you know exactly when, how, with whom and where the parrot plucking is happening. Once you understand the time patterns of the behavior, you can give it the one-two punch. First, you'll be able to look for clues as to what events trigger the behavior in the first place and thereby set it up so that your bird doesn't get triggered. Secondly, you'll discover what the parrot is getting out of the behavior and meet those needs in a safer way.

How to do a Time Study for Parrot Feather Plucking

The A-B-C Model in Behavior Modification

Science tells us that all behavior is motivated by the outcome of the behavior. In behavior modification, that outcome is called the consequence. In behavior modification, the consequence is what the parrot is getting from doing the behavior. So, here is a simple example of A-B-C with children that we’ve all witnessed at the grocery store. 

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. 

When you know the A-B-C cycle, you can go about shifting the trigger or altering the outcome to change the behavior.

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 peice 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 a very simplified example, of course, but these same techniques can work with your plucking parrot. The difference is that first, you really can’t reason with a parrot and second, feather plucking can quickly become an addictive process. Never the less, research has demonstrated time and time again that changing up the antecedent and the consequences of the behavior can stop parrot plucking when used consistently. But, first, you have to do a time study to discover the antecedents and consequences.

Want to learn more about A-B-C? Check out this video:


The Key Components of a Time Study

For the time study information to be reliable, you’ll want to observe and record parrot plucking behavior at least 25 times to give you reliable information about the antecedents and consequences. You'll need to be able to describe parrot plucking in a measurable way so that you can know if your efforts to stop it are actually working.


Best practice would be that you observe your parrot and its surrounding for evidence of parrot plucking for a minimum of two weeks or at least 25 episodes of the behavior.

Use a simple chart to record the parrot plucking as frequently as you can, but a minimum of four times a day. Ideally, these times should be at the same time each day. Great times to record parrot plucking behaviors would be:

  • When you get up in the morning
  • Before you leave for work
  • When you get home
  • Before you put your bird to bed

Now, you’re going to need to figure out a way to record whether plucking has occurred. 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, the best camera for those on a budget in 2018 is the Tenvis HD IP camera.  We found the one on for under $40USD.  When your alarm rings, take a gander at your bird.  Is it plucking?  Are there feathers on the floor?  

How to do a Time Study for Parrot Feather Plucking

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If you’re not the tech wizard type, simply physically observe your bird and it’s surroundings at the times that you specified. 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.

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.

If you're dealing with parrot self-mutilation, you’ll want to measure the size of the wound to determine if the behavior has occurred during this observation interval.

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.

Once you’ve compiled a minimum of two weeks' worth of data four times a day, you’ll have 56 data points.



If you feel that this has been a “normal” two weeks for your bird 56 data points would be an adequate amount of data. In this case, normal means that there have been no changes in routine, your care patterns or social interactions. If parrot care had been altered in the week prior to data collection, or at anytime during the data collection period, you’d want to collect more data.

What to do with Parrot Plucking Data

Once you’ve collected two good weeks' worth of data on parrot plucking, you can go into the spreadsheet tab found at the bottom of the spreadsheet called “Graphs.” The spreadsheet can create graphs showing you exactly what times that your parrot plucks the most. Now, what do you think triggers the behavior. Put on your detective hat and ask yourself,
  1. When is the most active parrot plucking time?
  2. What happens during that time that triggers parrot plucking?
  3. What is my pet getting out of the plucking? Do I pay attention to it? Does it get put in its cage for quiet time? Or could it just be addicted to the endorphin release in its bloodstream?
Don't forget to congratulate yourself on your efforts to stop feather plucking.  Hey, want to learn more about parrot behavior modification? Get the book!

How to do a Time Study for Parrot Feather Plucking


Let us know in the comments section how this blog, including the Google sheet works for you or if you have ideas on how to improve our presentation on parrot plucking data collection.



How to do a Time Study for Parrot Plucking


1 Response

Odette Renaud Leuthard
Odette Renaud Leuthard

March 05, 2020

I ordered the soft ruffle collar for my Goffin cockatoo and I was wondering if it comes with some instructions. I saw your video on how to get the bird to wear it but I was wondering a) if I should take it off at night; b) should I put it back right after the bird’s shower; and c) for how long should the bird be wearing it?

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