Parrot Plucking Series: Grooming a Parrot to Prevent Plucking Feathers
Plucking Feathers May Be Attributed to a Number of Factors.
As you’re learning about the factors that contribute to a parrot plucking feathers, you’ll want to take a look at the proper techniques for grooming a parrot. Sometimes plucking feathers results from a poor groom or not grooming the bird at all. Grooming a parrot requires special skills. We recommend that if you have a small to medium sized bird that you ask your avian veterinarian to show you exactly how to do the various grooming tasks. If your bird is large and you don’t have anyone to help you, it may be best to take your bird to a professional parrot groomer.
How to towel train a parrot
Grooming a parrot is fairly easy once you know how to do it but you have to be careful that you don't get bit. I recommend that before you embark on grooming your parrot you towel train it first. Towel training will make grooming and other veterinary procedures much less stressful for both you and the bird. Plus, if your bird ever has an emergency, being towel trained may well save its life. You'll probably need to towel your parrot for toe nail trims, beak trims and wing trims.
Photo Credit: Diane Burroughs, BirdSupplies.com
- Start off with a clean, solid-colored bath sized terry towel, preferably in a calming color.
- Get your bird used to the towel by keeping it near the cage for a few days. Give your bird a label to call it, “This is a towel.”
- After your bird has gained a sense of safety when it is near the towel try draping a portion of the towel over the cage. Verbally reward your bird for investigating the towel. The investigation stage of training is essential for your bird’s psychological comfort.
- Lay the towel on a bed or other flat surface and scatter some of your bird’s favorite toys and treats on it. Treat and praise your bird as it shows more and more comfort with the towel
- Once the bird is comfortable standing on the towel, try curling up the sides and encircling your parrot. Remember to keep it a fun game, always paying attention to your pet’s comfort level. Any game you can play with your bird, such as "Peek a Boo" will increase your birds comfort with the towel.
- Make this towel your parrot’s own towel. This is the towel that you will take to the vet. Whenever you need to use it, tell your parrot what you’re doing. You might label it “towel game!” Come up to the bird from the front and remain cheerful and calm. Never try to fool your bird or use the towel as punishment.
- To towel your bird, bring the towel up, over and around your bird. Gently encircle its head or neck in the towel, making sure that the feet and body are supported. Talk in a gentle voice offering up encouragement. Be careful to not constrict the chest area or restrict breathing. Also, watch for toe nails getting caught in the fabric.
- Gently pull the body part that needs grooming out of the towel and carefully groom your parrot.
Photo Credit: Diane Burroughs, BirdSupplies.com
One of the easiest things that you can do to curb plucking feathers is to provide your parrot with frequent baths. Wild parrots bathe daily. Captive parrots need frequent baths to wash away dust, dander, and contaminants that have gotten on the feathers. Bathing also moisturizes the skin and promotes healthy preening.
The easiest way to bathe your parrot is to buy a shower perch and bring your bird into the shower while you're showering. A good daily bath will do wonders towards improving parrot skin and feather health. This is especially true for dusty birds like cockatoos and African grey parrots. If your bird is fearful of the shower, train it to accept a spray mister or a birdbath spray. Or, better yet, use Clicker Training to progressively desensitize the bird. Small birds, like budgies and parrotlets may love bathing in leafy greens or even a bowl of water.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com
Whether you choose to do wing trims or not is a personal decision with pro's and con's for either leaving the bird flighted or not. A lot of people, who are not into flight training their parrot choose to keep their parrot safe with wing trims. Regardless, one well-known contributing factor to plucking feathers is an improper wing trim. Birds generally only need wing trims only a few times a year. Your avian veterinarian can groom your bird and may even show you how to do it correctly.
Photo Credit: Customer Photo
First things first. You’ll want to learn what new feathers, often called blood feathers, look like. These feathers are called “blood feathers,” because they have an active vein running through the length of the shaft. In the image above, the second feather from the top appears to be growing it. It is much shorter than the one above or the one below. Cutting into a still growing feather is painful and it will bleed profusely. This is traumatic for the bird, and can even be deadly. You see, birds only have a few tablespoons of blood in their bodies. Alternatively, if you're lucky enough to stop the bleeding, the trauma may cause the bird to begin plucking feathers.
As the new feather grows, the vein recedes. Once the vein is gone it is safe to clip the feather. Nevertheless, keep a bottle of styptic powder nearby whenever you’re grooming a parrot. Avian veterinarians and bird groomers use styptic powder to stop bleeding due to nails or wing feathers that have been clipped too closely.
How Many Feathers to Trim
An overly aggressive wing trim or a wing trim administered with dull scissors will also cause serious problems for your parrot. You only want to trim enough wing feathers so that a bird is unable to achieve lift when it attempts flight. You do want the bird to be able to glide down, though, should it fall off of its perch. An aggressive wing trim that leaves the bird unable to carefully glide to the floor may result in an injury and is a common cause plucking feathers. If a parrot with an aggressive wing trim falls or tries to fly off the perch and hits the floor with a blow, it may bruise or lacerate its chest or vent area. These injuries are painful and the scar tissue from the wound may cause feathers to grow in improperly. This constant discomfort causes the bird to start plucking feathers in effort to find relief.
I recommend trimming feathers and nails with cat claw clippers, like those pictured below. Cat claw clippers are available at any pet store. The small scissors have rounded ends and notched blades that allow you to easily grasp the feather shaft or a small top nail tip to make the cut in exactly the right place. Should your bird jerk during the trim, the blunt tips make an accidental stabbing injury impossible. Always use sharp scissors to trim the wing feathers. Should the shaft splinter, it is causes the bird a lot of irritation. The bird may attempt to pull out the affected feather.
Clip only four or five feathers on each side. You can always clip more feathers later if you find that your bird is able to achieve lift when it tries to fly. It’s better to trim fewer feathers and re-groom at a later time than risk injury from an aggressive groom.
Source: BirdSupplies.com Cat claw clippers
Beak and Nail Trims
In the wild, parrots naturally trim their beaks and nails as they chew on hard woods, rub their beaks on hard surfaces to clean them and perch on rough surfaces. Captive parrots will need your help to keep their beak and nails in good condition. Your avian veterinarian can perform beak and nail trims. If you wish to do it yourself, please be trained first by a knowledgeable professional.
Towel your bird, as described above, for the procedure and have styptic powder handy in case of bleeding. You can use cat claw clippers for this procedure, too. Take off only the sharp tip, approximately 1/8”. Cutting the claw too short is painful and traumatizing. For medium to large birds, it is helpful to have two people participate in the trimming process. One person can hold the foot and uncurl the toes while the other does the actual trimming.
For a painless, safer way to trim nails, we recommend using a Dremel Rotary Tool with a sandpaper tip. You can purchase a Dremel Rotary Tool at any hardware store. Purchase the 100 Series, as you need only a low speed to trim nails and beaks. These devices cauterize while they trim, eliminating a bleeding problem. Unless the nail is highly overgrown only take off the sharp tip. But even so, it is wise to still, only take off about 1/8”. Be sure to go slow because the Dremel sands the nail and beak a lot quicker than you think. A nervous bird may tightly curl its toes to avoid the trim. Once again, it will help to have a partner who can hold the bird and gently straighten out the toe. If your bird’s nails and beak are extremely overgrown, seek the help of a professional.
A third popular way to manage nail and beak growth is to use pedicure-style bird perches. These perches have bonded safe, sandpaper-like textures that trim the nails and beak. Some of the better quality brands bond the surface directly to a natural branch surface. Concrete perches should be avoided as they dry out the birds foot pads. Place the pedicure perch in a favorite perching location so that it gets plenty of use.
Photo Credit: Diane Burroughs, BirdSupplies.com
In summary, birds fare better, especially when it comes to plucking feathers, when their skin and feathers are clean, they have gentle and proper wing trims that allow them to glide safely to the ground in the event of a fall, and their nails and beak are appropriately trimmed. Routinely grooming a parrot helps maintain its physical and emotional comfort and may reduce plucking feathers (related to discomfort and stress.)
Hey, do you have some ideas and tips on grooming a parrot? Let us know in the comments section.
- Diane Burroughs, LCSW