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7 Common Causes of Bird Scratching and What To Do About It

Table of Contents

Why Is My Bird Scratching

Why Is My Bird So Itchy?

Is your bird scratching a lot?  All birds scratch at themselves from time to time. However, if you're a bird interrupts a fun activity to go on a scratching binge it's time to get to the bottom of it.

Birds can feel scratchy and itchy for a number of reasons. It could be anything from  an infection, to parasites, or allergies. Birds may scratch from dry skin or disease processes, such as liver disease, pancreatic disease, or kidney disease.

In this blog post, I'll address a number of reasons why birds scratch and what you can do  to  offer your bird comfort.

Keep in mind that bird’s naturally scratch themselves as a way to remove dust and dirt from their 1000's of feathers. Wild birds need their feathers to be clean and properly aligned in preparation for flight. That’s why a healthy bird can be observed preening and grooming its feathers throughout the day. But, excessive scratching is a sign that something is wrong.

If your bird seems to be scratching so much that it causes you concern, read on… You’ll learn 7 quick ways to help your bird feel better.

1: How Do You Know If Your Bird Has Mites?

One reason that some birds scratch as if they've developed a mite problem. However, bird mites are NOT as common in pet birds as you might think. We see mites in birds that have been outside or exposed to wild birds. Also, a bird that has a compromised immune system is more prone to acquiring a mite problem.

Generally, bird mite's fall into three categories.

  1. Scaly face mites
  2. Skin and feather mites
  3. Air sac mites

If you notice your bird scratching and digging at itself a lot more than normal take a good look at its skin. I'd suggest that you consult with your avian vet to get the problem under control.

2: Key Nutrients That Nip Bird Scratching In The Bud

One very common reason for dry, itchy skin is nutritional deficits.  Namely, vitamin A and Zinc.  Nutrition plays a huge role in your pet’s overall health, and skin health is often one of the first signs that something is wrong. 

Here’s the deal.  A lot of birds are on mostly seed and table food diets. Even healthy pelleted diets are often processed in such a manner that the nutritional availability of essential vitamins such as vitamin A, vitamin E, beta carotene, and  certain B vitamins are lost. That’s why we recommend supplementing your birds pellet diet with a full range of health foods,  


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Why Your Bird Needs Adequate Vitamin A

Vitamin A is responsible for healthy skin, healthy eyes, growth, reproduction, immunity, and respiratory health. It also helps to maintain the preening gland, on birds that have one. To determine the potential of low vitamin A, watch your bird.  Is it showing these symptoms:

  • Excessive scratching
  • Dry, itchy eyes
  • Bobbing tail
  • Open mouth breathing
  • Seems to get sick a lot

If so, please consider ramping up vitamin A naturally.  Here’s how:


  • Bell peppers
  • Broccoli
  • Bok Choy
  • Carrots
  • Arugula
  • Sweet Potato
  • Winter Squash
  • Mandarin Tangerines
  • Red Palm Oil
  • Dill
  • Mint leaves
  • Sage

Lots of birds are reticent to enjoy new, healthy foods.  Birds are programed to be taught what is safe to eat. It’s not a taste thing.  Birds don’t have the greatest sense of taste. Its about teaching your bird what foods are safe to eat.  New, nutritious veggies, fruits, seeds, and sprouts can be introduced if you follow these methods.  Here’s how: How To Get Your Bird To Take Supplements & Eat Veggies.


Omega-3 fatty acids are essential nutrients that can serve to regulate the skin's oil production, improve balanced hydration, help soften rough, dry skin and have a healing effect on irritation and dermatitis.


Zinc's Role In Bird Skin Health

Zinc and Vitamin A work hand in hand. Severe vitamin A deficiency affects Zinc absorption. Zinc deficits, in turn, cause issues the immune system, immune function, metabolism, and growth. The best way to deliver much needed nutrients through its diet. Feeding a variety of nutrient rich foods is key to good skin health.



  • Hemp Seed
  • Flax Seed
  • Pumpkin Seed
  • Squash Seed
  • Pine Nuts
  • Cashews
  • Almonds
  • Quinoa

3: Does Low Humidity Cause Bird Itching?

Have you ever experienced dry, itchy skin? Like in the Winter when humidity is so low? You can’t wait to get to a bottle of lotion. 

Most pet birds are from sub-tropical regions and their body needs lots of humidity.  They also have very thin skin which has a tendency to dry out quicker.  Their thin skin is an adaptive thing that lightens their weight to make flight easier.  Dry skin is rarely a problem for wild birds who live in humid environments and they take frequent baths.

Our pet birds are exposed to vastly different conditions. Take your home environment, for example. Despite adding warmth, our forced air furnaces suck the humidity right out of our household air.

I know.  I constantly get warnings, “Your Home is LESS THAN 30% Humidity.” Consider maintaining the humidity levels in your home at above 30%. Health experts recommend between 40 - 60%. If you can’t keep the whole house at optimum levels, at consider adding a humidifier to the room that your bird lives in.  

Thirty percent humidity is the minimal level of humidity to maintain healthy human skin.  Parrots, are from sub-tropical climates and they often feel best with higher humidity levels. Humidity supports both internal skin levels and external skin levels, like the nasal passages. This level of humidity allows the skin to trap in warmth, so you can actually get by with lower heat.

Dry skin is not only itchy, but it cracks, creating an entry point for bacterial and fungal infections.  That’s one reason why the flu runs rampant in the winter. Dry skin also leaves your bird susceptible to illness.

Let's Fix That!

“Combine vitamin A deficiency with low humidity and that’s a big problem.”

Here’s how to safely introduce higher humidity levels into your home and bird room:

✓ Run a whole house or a single room humidifier in the bird room. Make sure to change the water frequently and check the filter, as they can get moldy.

✓ Lower the heat so that your furnace isn’t constantly drying the air out.

✓ Consider getting some bird safe plants for the room that you keep your bird cage in. Here’s a list of bird safe plants.

✓ Place water containers in the bird room.  If your bird is flighted make sure that you cover the top with a screen to prevent a tragic accident.

✓ Leave bathroom door open when showering and the dishwasher door open once the rinse session is over.✓ Avoid boiling water on the stovetop.  I’ve heard a lot of horror stories of people forgetting about the pot and then their precious friend dies of toxic fumes.

    4: How Do You Give A Bird A Bath?


    Most wild parrots enjoy routine rainforest rain showers almost daily.  Large or small, all tropical birds love splashing about in puddles and wet foliage, cleansing their skin and feathers.  If they bath in puddles or ponds, they benefit from the rich plant-based nutrients that are in the water when they preen after their bath. 

    It’s just natural! Young birds see mom and dad and other birds loving it and then they follow suit! And, after a good bath, you’ll often find birds preening their feathers, making themselves look beautiful. 

    Wild birds can get great benefits from daily bathing, too.  A good bath washes away dry, flakey skin and cleans debris off of the feathers. It helps dusty parrots like African Grey’s & Cockatoos feel more comfortable. If they bath in puddles or ponds, they benefit from the rich plant-based nutrients that are in the water when they preen after their bath. You can even add nutrients to your birds preening efforts by using an herbal tea mix as a bath spray. You could mix up herbs that support a calm mood, reduce inflammation, support hormone balance, and more. 

    Are you having bird bath-time struggles?  

    Birdie bath time struggles are  not uncommon. After all, hand-fed birds haven’t been taught by Mom and Dad to enjoy the benefits of a good bath. But, you can teach your bird to enjoy a daily shower and put an end to a lot of scratching. (Plus, your furnace will thank you for it and your house will be considerably less dusty!)

    Frequent baths promote normal, healthy preening as your bird races to get all of its soaked feathers realigned.  Even plucked birds can learn to enjoy bathing.  And, it’s even okay, well, really important, to bath your bird in the winter.  Just avoid drafts. Consider a warm bathroom location or warming your bird back up with a quick blow dry on low.

    Herbal mists can greatly support itchy skin.  Several herbs are rich in nutrition and have anti-inflammatory properties.  For instance, if your bird is really itchy, UnRuffledRx FeatherSoft, an herbal powder known to support skin health with anti-itch properties can be used daily, if necessary.  UnRuffledRx Aloe Vera Spray is another product that supports irritated skin.  Both of these sprays can be used on dry and inflamed skin and even within the same day.

    How To Mist A Bird

    There are three ways that you can bathe your feathered friend.

    ✓ Shower perch: If you have smooth walls in your shower, you can purchase a suction cup style bird shower perch and bring your bird in the shower with you. Never use the jet function on the shower head.  Birds prefer a “rain-like” feel.

    ✓ Misting: Some birds prefer misting because the droplets are much smaller.  Misting is easy to reward.  I just place my birds on their play stand and mist away.  It didn’t take long before they were raising their wings and ruffling their feathers, allowing the water to reach the skin. 

    ✓ Leafy baths: Small birds love leafy baths or baths in bowls.  How many times have you caught your African Grey Parrot taking a dip in its water dish? I leave a shallow 6” bowl in Kiwi’s cage and she splashes away.  (Don’t tell her, but I actually just bought her this)


    Use the“Let’s Get Excited” technique. This is when you get in the shower with your bird in the room and you act like you’re in heaven! 

    Pretend that the shower feels so good, making a big, animated deal out of it.  Act as if you’re not willing to share the fun with your bird.  Just let it  watch you from afar.  Once your bird is so curious about what all of the excitement is about, you can bring him closer and closer.  Speed up training with favorite treats as he tolerates getting closer and closer to the water stream, and then when your bird tolerates the bath. 

    5: Preening Issues 

    In the wild Mom and Dad parrots teach their young how to preen as they're raising them. Preening keeps their feathers in good condition. It is the act of grooming each individual feather to keep it in tip top condition. The bird runs the feather through its mouth, removing dirt, debris and parasites, while at the same time realigning the barbs so that the clean feather lays perfectly in place.

    Part of learning to preen is learning how to use the preening gland, also known as the uropygial gland.  Most parrots have a preening gland at the base of their tail that contains a rich oil mixture that both moisturizes and conditions the feathers and skin. 

    Birds rub their beak and face feathers on the gland and then transfer the oil to each feather in the course of preening.  This fat rich oil plays an important role in skin and feather health.  Think of it as lotion for your bids skin. Here is what normal preening looks like:

    "During preening, a bird transfers this oil to its feathers by rubbing its head and beak against the oil gland and then spreading the oil over the feathers on the rest of the body."

    The uropygial gland is not normally visible unless the feathers are parted in this area or there is a problem with the gland. As mentioned above, your bird needs adequate vitamin A to support the preening gland. 

    The oil is emitted similar to milk from a nipple. You can show and teach your bird how to preen correctly. You may be able to gently massage the preening gland to “milk” it and show your bird what it’s all about. 

    Another thing that you can do is to bathe your bird with Bird Bath Spray that contains preening oils.  I like to start by spraying the preening gland so that the bird preens that area and discovers the preening gland on its own.

    6: Do Birds Get Allergies?

    Yes. Birds can have allergies, just like other animals.  When a bird gets allergies, its skin may be affected and it may experience breathing problems.  You may notice symptoms like scaly, itchy skin or  swollen eyes and cere.  You’ll want to get in touch with an avian vet if you notice these reactions to rule out something medical. 

    Common culprits may be food products, pollens, mold, cleaning supplies, fabrics, and more. While vets can’t perform allergy tests like those that are done on humans, you can slowly “weed out” what the culprit might be. The vet can give you medicines to offer relief. You’ll also want to soothe the skin with an herbal spray.

    According to Dr. Susan Baker (2015), you’ll want to  explore all of the ingredients in the birds diet. Then, start only serving two foods at a time for a few weeks. 

    If your bird improves, those two foods are safe.  Add one more ingredient each week and if the symptoms return, then you’ve identified the culprit.  Remove that particular item from your birds diet going forward.

    7: Toxins

    Toxins can cause "rashes" or itchy skin and breathing problems, also. Birds are exceedingly susceptible to toxin poisoning,  Toxins can be ingested during preening when particles land on the feathers. They can also be breathed in.  Some of the most common household toxins include:

    1. Teflon™
    2. Aerosol Sprays
    3. Cleaning Supplies With Odors
    4. Avocado’s
    5. Heavy Metals
    6. Cigarette Smoke & Nicotine
    7. Marijuana Smoke 

    This is not an exhaustive list. 

    Bonus Tip: When To See An Avian Vet

    Take a closer look at your bird. Here are some signs that something is wrong and that your bird should be seen by an avian veterinarian:

      • Bald spots
      • Red skin
      • Abrasions or scratch marks on skin
      • Broken or cracked skin around the feet
      • Flaking skin around face
      • Bobbing tail indicating breathing difficulties

    Itchy skin can also be a sign offatty liver disease. When the liver isn't functioning properly, it releases bile in the blood stream, accumulating under the skin to causing an itchy sensation. 

    If your bird is on an all seed diet or is fed high energy diets without adequate exercise, it is prone to this silent killer disease. 

    Most prevalent in cockatiels, budgies, lovebirds, and amazons, fatty liver disease in scratching birds should be taken very seriously. 

    Our Milk Thistle and Dandelion Root supplement can help support fatty liver. 


    Other health conditions that can cause excessive itching

    • eczema
    • Folliculitis
    • Dermatitis
    • parasites

    Monitoring Improvement in Itching

    Related Posts:

    5 Best Bird Feather Plucking Supplements
    How To Trim Your Birds Nails: Tutorial
    8 Critical bird vitamins for parrot feathers that glow

    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.

    TAGS: #WhyIsMyBirdBitingItsFeet #BirdSelfMutilation