by Diane Burroughs July 07, 2018 6 min read 1 Comment

Customer Contribution Uploaded to

One of the most upsetting things that a parrot lover may experience is parrot feather plucking. While there are many factors to parrot plucking, a major issue is the parrots' diet. 

First-rate nutrition is required not just for effective organ functioning but also for beautiful plumage. However, malnutrition is common in captive parrots.

Feather plucking may be an early sign of parrot malnutrition.  Poor skin and feather health may be an early sign that your pet needs a Feather Plucking Diet, but malnutrition affects every organ in the body.

And once the damage is done, it becomes progressive. As one organ breaks down, other organs are affected which results in a cascading decline of overall health. 

Feather Plucking in birds

Customer Contribution Uploaded to

Rubinstein and Lightfoot (2012) report that the metabolic cost of growing, maintaining, and replacing feathers is high. With an ordinary molt, the bird has to replace up to 30% of the lean, dry body mass.

Healthy feather growth requires an increased need for energy, amino nitrogen, and amino acids. Feather plucking parrots are replacing feathers at a more frequent rate, quickly depleting their body of essential nutrients.

Parrot malnutrition affects skin health, too. According to Cooper and Harrison (1994), “The ability of avian skin to resist infections and to heal properly is related to many factors, the most important of which is the nutritional status of the bird” (p. 625).

Vitamin A deficiency can cause dry, itchy skin. Itchy skin causes a parrot to scratch and dig at its skin, possibly causing a feather plucking.

Species-Specific Diets

bird diet

Current avian nutrition research is now revealing that different species of parrots have slightly different nutritional needs.

While most parrot species are Florivores, with their primary diet being plant-based, we are now finding out that among Florivores, there also exists Granivores, or birds that eat mostly grains and seeds.

Frugivores eat mostly flowers and fruits, Omnivores eat a combination of foods and Nectavores, birds that thrive on nectar, pollen, and insects.

Pet Bird Dietary Classification


Primary Diet


Parrot Species


Seeds, fruits, nuts, bark, roots, berries

Military macaw, Blue and gold macaw, Red-faced parrot


Grains, seeds

Budgerigar, cockatiel, Hyacinth macaw


Mostly fruit and flowers; some nuts and seeds

Blue-throated macaw, Green-winged macaw


Seeds, fruits, insects, invertebrates

Sulpher-crested cockatoo, Red-tailed Amazon


Nectar, pollen; some insects and seeds

Lorikeet, lory

Adapted from PetEducation

 The Case for Pellets

It takes a pretty dedicated person to create a good diet that prevents feather plucking.

Avian veterinarians often recommend that the bulk of a parrots diet should come from a formulated pelleted diet. 

High-quality parrot pellets are scientifically developed to meet the unique dietary needs of parrots. At, we endorse both Harrison's Bird Food and Roudybush Bird Food.

Most species will do well with a 65-80% pelleted diet supplemented with vegetables, grains, and fruits.

Customize the veggies, whole grains, and low sugar fruits to your particular species needs, African grey parrots, for instance, tend to run low on calcium.

Eclectus parrots have exceptionally long digestive tracts and do best with fresh organic leafy veggies and colorful root veggies.

Think about this. The more colorful the offering, the higher the vitamin content.  

Reputable bird food manufacturers use research to guide the manufacturing process of their diets.

They use a variety of ingredients from grains, vegetables, fruits, seeds, various protein sources and vitamins, and minerals.

The ingredients blended together and baked into a crunchy pellet. Some bird food manufacturers make different blends for species-specific diets.

Supplement Your Parrot Feather Plucking Diet with Fresh Foods

It is recommended that pellets be supplemented with fresh fruits and vegetables. The chart below shows you recommended fresh supplements that your bird may love.

Nutritious Supplements to the Parrot Feather Plucking Diet



Carrots (root and tops)
Cooked sweet potatoes
Mustard & dandelion greens
Swiss Chard
Cooked red potatoes
Green beans
Sweet red & green peppers
Broccoli (head and leaves)
Beet & turnip greens
Sugar snap or snow peas
Squash (peeled & steamed)
Red beets (peeled)
Romaine or green/red leaf lettuce
Collard greens
Star fruit

 Adapted from PetEducation

How to Clean Fruits and Vegetables to Remove Residue

1. Fill a large bowl with 4 parts water: 1 part plain white vinegar.

2. Soak the fruit or vegetables you’d like cleaned in the mixture for 20 minutes.

3. Rinse the fruit or vegetables well with water.

Feather Plucking

 Infographic by Diane Burroughs, LCSW,

Eclectus parrots are a species that is prone to parrot plucking. One possible reason for this is because

Eclectus parrots have very long digestive tracts that absorb preservatives, additives, dyes, and synthetic vitamins at a higher rate.

Thus, they need a specialized diet free from preservatives, additives, food dyes, and synthetic vitamins.

If you have an Eclectus that is pre-occupied with parrot feather plucking, consider feeding it an organic-based mash.

feather plucking

Photo Credit:
Eclectus Parrot Feather Plucking


African Grey Parrots are also known to be prone to problems with feather destructive behavior. This species tends to be prone to calcium deficits.

Calcium, supported by magnesium and vitamin D3 is vital for the proper functioning of the central nervous system. UnRuffledRx Calcium, Magnesium +D3 is an excellent supplement for calcium deficiency.

Symptoms of low calcium levels include muscle tremors, weak bone structure, soft eggshells in female birds, poor coordination, loss of balance, and even seizures.

Another common symptom of Hypocalcaemia is disorders of the nervous symptoms.

These parrot feather plucking health problems can occur in any species but occur more frequently in African Grey Parrots. Nervous parrots are more prone to parrot feather plucking.

Feather plucking

Image: Diane Burroughs, LCSW

Calcium Content of Greens, per ounce (28g) is estimated as follows:



Dandelion Leaves






Bok Choy


Chicory (endive) Chard

15mg 14mg

Adapted from Low, R., 2006

Low calcium levels directly affect brain chemistry and the functioning of the nervous system. An imbalance of calcium may result in anxious, nervous behavior. Respected breeder and avian expert, Rosemary Low, identifies calcium is an essential additive.

Calcium supplements are helpful during the breeding season for most parrots. African Grey Parrots may enjoy year-round supplementation. You can buy a calcium / Vitamin D3 supplement such as UnRuffledRx Calcium, Magnesium +D3.

Another way to increase the calcium intake is to supplement your birds’ fresh diet with calcium-rich green leaves. Work with your avian veterinarian to ensure a balance of calcium for your parrot, especially if your African Grey is experiencing feather destructive behavior.

If your bird is overly anxious, has poor balance, and tremors, take it to an avian veterinarian for physical exam and ask for a calcium test.

In addition to calcium deficiency, many parrot diets are low in vitamin A. This vitamin is essential for the health of soft tissue such as inside the nares.

Foods high in vitamin A include sweet potatoes, carrots, dark leafy greens, winter squashes, lettuce, dried apricots, cantaloupe, bell peppers, and tropical fruits.

feather plucking in birds

Photo from Currumbin Valley Birds, Reptiles & Exotics Vet

This is an image of a cockatiel with tissue complications of vitamin A deficiency that required surgery.

These are just a few examples of how malnutrition contributes to parrot feather plucking.

In each of these examples, skin and/or feather health are. Anytime that a parrot is under stress, whether it is from nutritional deficits that result in discomfort or pain, or other parrot husbandry practices than the bird may try to relieve itself with scratching or parrot feather plucking.

The quickest way to reduce your pet's physical stress is to improve upon its nutritional intake.

Would you like to learn more about feather plucking? 

The Feather Plucking Remedies Workbook is a comprehensive source that teaches you how to set up an optimum environment to help your exotic bird thrive, what causes feather plucking, and how to create a behavior modification plan to manage feather plucking for good!


Cooper, J. & Harrison, G.(1994). ‘Dermatology’,inAvian Medicine: Principles and Application(pp.609638).Lake Worth: Wingers Publishing. Available at: content/uploads/2013/03/24.pdf

Low, R. (2006). The Parrot Companion. New Holland Publishers Ltd (September 15, 2006)

Rubenstein, J. & Lightfoot, T. (2012). Feather Loss and Feather Destructive Behavior in Pet Birds.Journal of Exotic Pet Medicine, 21(3):219234.Available at: article/S1094-9194(13)00089-3/pdf

Veterinary & Aquatic Services Department, Drs. Foster and Smith.Bird nutrition: feeding pet birds, parrot diets and nutrition recommendations. (Online). Available at:



Join Facebook Group for Feather Plucking Parrots

1 Response


February 26, 2019

Just adopted a cockatoo that plucks cannot get him to eat veggies or fruit.

Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.