Parrot Plucking Series: Environmental Feather Plucking Remedies
Imagine the rainforest where parrots come from. It’s teeming with life, activity, and abundant food sources. Wild parrots are never bored in the rainforest. In fact, their entire bodies have adapted to flighted life in the hot, humid rainforest environment. Get a glimpse of rainforest life. Listen to this relaxing video as you read this blog.
There are many environmental elements that captive parrots need for an enriching and stress-free physical and mental health. If you have a bird plucking feathers, than offering a stress-free environment provides FREE home remedies for feather plucking.
Simply offering a bird plenty of food and toys isn’t enough. It is an unsatisfying substitute for the daily activities of a wild parrot. Parrots need specific environmental accommodations to make their environment replicate what the rainforest provides. These accommodations include (but are not limited to) a toxin-free environment, cage management, proper humidity levels, plus, plenty of opportunities for natural parrot exercise, enrichment and foraging.
Improper environmental care causes a captive parrot physical discomfort, stress and anxiety, all factors that contribute to the development of a feather plucking habit. Appropriate parrot care involves being aware of a challenging mix of physical and environmental elements that in turn diminish the birds stress and improve its mental health.
We will explore several common elements that may be a factor in your bird plucking out its feathers. Parrots continue to have “wild” needs that are different from more commonly kept pets.
If your bird is plucking its feathers, it doesn’t mean that you’re a “bad parrot caretaker,” so give yourself a break. But, by adding parrot specific environmental accommodations into your birds life and daily activities, you'll be making some dramatics steps to reduce your parrots stress.
Environmental and dietary toxins can make a parrot very uncomfortable and may even be deadly. One important factor in caring for a parrot involves caring for the air quality in your home. You see, parrots have a set highly efficient air sacs so airborne toxin seriously effect their well-being. Captive parrots are exposed to an abundance of airborne toxins every day. Aerosol sprays in particular cause respiratory distress. Tiny chemical droplets become airborne and you can’t control where they land. The parrot both inhales them in the air and ingests the chemicals when droplets land on its feathers, cage or cage accessories.
Other dangerous airborne toxins include scented candles, overheated Teflon®/non-stick lining pans, heaters and other appliances, harsh household cleaners and chemicals, cigarette smoke and air fresheners. Make an effort to reduce or eliminate airborne toxins that play havoc with your parrot’s health.
Debris in the bottom of the cage or in the bird room quickly harbor unsafe fungal and bacterial growths that may also become airborne. This is why you should make it a weekly habit to thoroughly clean the bird cage with bird safe detergents. We'll go over the routine below.
Photo Credits: Shutterstock
You can’t manage outdoor air quality such as pollution or distant fire smoke in the air. In such cases, you may wish to purchase an air cleaner. You can get room-size air cleaners as well as whole house air cleaners. You can also keep all windows closed and run the air conditioner.
Another toxic airborne culprit is tobacco smoke or nicotine. Of course, cigarette or marijuana smoke infiltrates the air quality and settles on feathers, the cage, cage accessories and toys. The smoke may be inhaled or ingested when lands on the bird and its accessories, causing brittle feather production. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarette smoke are toxic chemicals that birds don’t tolerate well. Refrain from smoking in the house and always thoroughly wash your hands before handling your pet.
In addition to air quality, parrots are very sensitive to heavy metal exposure. Zinc is the most common form of heavy metal toxicity, but copper, lead and iron are also known to cause acute metal poisoning in parrots. A parrot may ingest metals from mouthing toys, chipped cage bars or other metal objects. The clinical symptoms of metal toxicity could include neurological symptoms, gastrointestinal disorders, and acute damage to the liver and kidneys. According to Jepson, (2016), a bird plucking feathers is thought to be associated with chronic, low-level metal toxicity. Feather plucking remedies would be to purchase a quality cage or repaint a chipping cage with child-safe paints. Also, purchase bird toys from reputable manufacturers and if possible, avoid metal parts in preference for natural or plastic toy hangers.
Cage Size and Management
Cage size is critically important. A parrot that is forced to live in an inappropriately small cage will suffer from lack of enrichment and exercise. Every time your parrot needs to stretch its wings it may hit the wing tips on the cage bars, causing pain and damaging feathers. Parrots often instinctually pull out damaged feathers, so a small cage may lead to a plucking feathers habit. Just as important, the boredom of a small poorly equipped cage can end with a bird plucking feathers.
It is recommended that the cage be no less than two of your pet’s “wing spans” across and twice as tall as the perching bird. This is a minimum. A bigger cage, with appropriate bar spacing, is always better for your bird’s mental and physical health. A large cage allows your bird to climb about to different foraging stations, thereby getting both exercise and enrichment. It is essential to keep your parrot’s cage and its surroundings clean to prevent diseases, such as skin, follicle and foot infections. Below is a simple, yet effective, schedule to help you stay on top of cage management tasks.
Routine for cleaning a bird cage
Change soiled cage liners; stack them and remove soiled ones daily
Wash food and water dishes with soapy water until white-colored slime n the bottom and sides is gone
Do a quick visual inspection to ensure toys and accessories are safe
Sweep floor and surrounding area; wipe up splatters with Poop Swoop® wipes
Scrape and clean poop off grate (tip: use a BBQ scraper)
Scrape and wash tray
Wipe down cage with AviClean Concentrate Cage Cleaner® (available from BirdSupplies.com)
Run food and water bowls through the dishwasher (or give a thorough manual clean)
Inspect, clean and rotate bird toys
Use parrot-safe pest control products as needed
Wipe off food and poop splatters with bird-safe cleaner like Poop Swoop® wipes
Mop floor and surrounding area with soapy water
Clean cage cracks and crevices with scraper and disinfectant
Wipe down interior and exterior of cage
Clean walls behind the cage
Just like human children, parrots need 10–11 hours of sleep for optimum physical health and healthy feather growth. They also need access to unfiltered sunlight. Natural light plays a significant role in helping to maintain physical and emotional health, including supplying vitamin D3, which is essential for good calcium absorption. We’ve established in other blogs how calcium is needed to regulate mood and its importance to neurological health.
Photo Credits: Shutterstock
Your bird needs 8–10 hours of UVA light to regulate circadian and circannual rhythms, which in turn affect molts, hormone levels and the like. Placing your bird by a window won’t do because modern windows feature UVA and UVB barriers. You may wish to take your bird outside for a few hours a day. Just make sure that it is well supervised and that it doesn’t get overheated. An overheated parrot will pant. It is not uncommon for wild animals such as hawks and raccoons to attack parrots when they are outside, so never leave your parrot unattended.
Feather plucking remedies involve either offering supervised outside time, weather permitting. Another remedy is using Full-Spectrum Lighting. Artificial “full-spectrum lighting” is available to supply parrots with UVA and UVB light. You’ll find the reputable FeatherBrite® brand at BirdSupplies.com. These appliances can be placed on the cage and frequently come with electric cord protectors to deter your bird from chewing the cord.
Parrots are from very humid rainforest regions near the equator. Low humidity levels in most homes results in dry, brittle skin and feathers that may lead to failure of the feather sheath to soften properly. This in turn may cause enough discomfort to induce over preening and the bird plucking feathers. When a parrot has brittle, damaged feathers or excessively dry skin, it tends to start plucking feathers.
Remedies include upping the humidity in the home or offering the bird daily showers and baths. Frequent misting with a bird-bath spray that contains preening oils also helps. You may wish to purchase a room-sized humidifier or use a whole-house humidifier attached to your heating system. Check filters for mold growth on a weekly basis. Likewise, always make sure that your bird has access to fresh, clean drinking water.Exercise and foraging
Imagine how much exercise a wild parrot gets a day. Parrots fly miles a day to get to a variety of food sites. Once at a site, they dig and forage in search of a variety of foods that are needed to maintain optimum nutritional health. Researchers tell us that wild parrots may spend between four and ten hours a day foraging for food, on top of several hours flying to the food site.
Photo Credits: Diane Burroughs, BirdSupplies.com
Your captive parrot is likely exercise and foraging deprived. You can inspire your bird to exercise with a large cage and time out of the cage on a play stand and thereby improve its physical well-being. Next, rather than making your bird’s food easily accessible, create foraging stations throughout the cage so that your bird has to work for its food. You can create foraging activities with some regular household items.
Here are just a few ideas:
- Cover the bowl with a paper grocery sack so that your bird has to rip the paper to get at its food .
- Hide pellets or dried fruit in bird-safe substrates such as nutshells or wood chips
- Use a clean egg carton stuffed with shredded paper to hide food in
- Get some stainless steel bird kabobs to string food on so that your bird has to balance to get its food
- Teach your parrot to climb up carpeted stairs to obtain a treat at the top
The sky is the limit. Pinterest, a popular sharing website, is full of safe foraging ideas for parrots. A bird play stand should be an essential parrot care item. Not only do stands allow you to socialize with your bird but they also promote climbing and exercise.
Why not add foraging stations to your play stand? Foraging trees are a popular item. Scott Echols’, DVM video, Captive Foraging, tells you how to make one; just head over to amazon.com to find a copy of the DVD.
The best exercise that you can offer your bird is to provide opportunities for flight. Some say that this is one of the best feather plucking remedies out there. Consider teaching your bird to fly while wearing an Aviator® Bird Harness, available at BirdSupplies. com. Flight is as close as you’ll get to re-creating a “wild” parrot experience. A bird’s entire anatomy and psyche has adapted to be flight friendly. Carefully observe your bird whenever it is outside and never leave it unattended.
An emotionally stable parrot can easily deal with transitions or changes in routine, but an emotionally fragile or anxious parrot may prefer predictable routines. Offer your fearful bird set points in time throughout the day when it can trust that it will receive quiet socialization. The shy little parrotlet shown below feels safe in a cozy snuggly as she socializes with the rest of the family. Parrots understand much of what you tell them, so describe changes in routine just like you would to a pre-school aged child.
Photo Credits: Diane Burroughs, BirdSupplies.com
Another feather plucking remedy is to start teaching your shy parrot to stretch its wings like taking risks and trying new things. Start off slowly, maybe one or two new activities a week. Go for activities that encompass natural parrot behaviors. Always reward brave, natural behaviors such as exploring, problem solving, movement and exercise, foraging with treats and praise. Encourage natural parrot behaviors of problem-solvlng, exploration, foraging, exercise, vocalizing and socializing. Teach your parrot the behaviors you desire with positive reinforcement methods.
This is not the end all of offering up safe, parrot friendly environmental elements in effort to find feather plucking remedies. Parrot environmental enhancement could be a full book of its own and we are surely to offer more natural feather plucking remedies in the future. Ultimately, the end goal of parrot environmental enrichment is to safely offer your pet opportunities to be a parrot!
Let us know what you think. We’d love it if you’d share your ideas and strategies for parrot environmental care in the comments.
- Diane Burroughs, LCSW