By: Diane Burroughs
Feather plucking in birds is highly upsetting. Most people don't realize that can be caused due to a myriad of reasons, from vitamin deficiency to hormonal changes, and more.
Apart from medical causes and the condition that the bird is kept in, there is also another factor that leads to feather plucking behavior.
Most bird owners are shocked when they learn that their own reaction to the feather plucking episodes have encouraged their companion birds to feather pluck.
Most people end up running veterinary bills of hundreds of dollars in trying to to find out what is spurring the feather plucking behavior in their birds, only to find that their pet's self-harming behavior does not lie in its health woes.
Indeed, nervous behavior like feather plucking can often be attributed to nutritional deficiencies and viral and bacterial infections. However, in most cases, the bird continues to destroy its plumage even after recuperating from the condition that caused its onset.
The same also goes for the environmental factors which lead to problematic behavior in our pet birds. Although there can be a myriad of reasons why your bird might start plucking out its feathers, all of these can be summed up neatly in one sentence - anything that causes, stress, fear or boredom can contribute to a feather plucking problem.
So, if you see the bird reacting adversely, a few things that you should be checking out as likely causes are:
• Lack of mental stimulation, which may lead to depression and stress in pet birds
• Usually birds are housed in their cages alone. So, they don't get the same level of interaction as they would if they were with their flock in their natural habitat.
• Parrot husbandry needs were not met in the past which caused it to pick this habit.
• Onset of puberty and the accompanying hormonal changes
• No foraging opportunities
• Lack of adequate sleep
• Inadequate exposure to full-spectrum lighting or sunshine
• Change in the people living in the house or inclusion or exclusion of other pets
• Petting of erogenous zones (over the hips and the wings)
• Any action that would encourage mating behavior
• Cigarette smoke
• The presence of aromatic substances such as incense, deodorizer sprays, cleaning products, fresh paint, etc
• Loud noises
Generally, birds known to be intelligent flock species are more prone to this scary, self destructive behavior.
For instance, Cockatoos, Quakers, Lovebirds, and African Grey's frequently resort to feather plucking out of boredom or when they are just not getting their needs met. Keep in mind, that there can be a number of seemingly small issues that come together to induce a feather plucking habit, kind of like the straw that broke the camels back. That said, it often takes a systematic approach of several strategies to stop feather pluck
To the utter chagrin of their owners, once birds start with their self-destructive streak, it can be very difficult to stop them.
In fact, the longer the bird has been indulging in the act of feather plucking , the harder it will be to end the habit. Also, the more severe the plucking, the harder it is to break the habit.
Another factor to consider here is that if the behavior is not nipped in the bud, it may escalate.
Your avian friend may spiral down to further self mutilation and start chewing on its legs, skin or feet, creating bloody wounds.
Although the onset of the habit may find its root in any environmental, medical or psychological cause, owners of aviary birds often inadvertently and unknowingly give accidental training to their feather plucking birds to continue with this problematic trend.
The fault lies in what you ought NOT to be doing as opposed to what you should be doing.
Let us delve into this a bit deeper ...
Like any other pet owner, it can be hard to ignore your little feathered friends when they are obviously distressed. After all, the human brain is hardwired to respond by running to the aid of a loved one who seems to be in trouble, and that is exactly what most people will do with their birds as well.
The first few times, the owner may rush up to the bird, trying to talk to it, cooing at it in an attempt to divert his attention.
If this does not succeed, then come the harsher tactics where feather plucking is rewarded with a scolding. Although some birds may react to this for the time being and stop, they go right back to doing the exact thing that brought on the admonition.
It is also not unusual for folks to try out squirt guns and just spray the bird with some water when it stats plucking its feathers.
It gets to the point when every time the bird succumbs to self mutilating behavior, the owner simply shouts and yells at his pet out of sheer exasperation because nothing seems to be working! Sound familiar?
Well, many have even resorted to giving up their precious feathered companions because they could no longer stand to see the bird hurting itself.
Your reaction is the operative part of that statement up there. From your birds perspective, any reaction to unwanted behavior is motivating. It's a flock creature. It needs attention.
So, whether you're yelling at it, using water sprays, talking to it, trying to distract it with a round of petting or doing just about anything else, what you are essentially doing is reinforcing your bird with attention and that is what it craves the most.
In other words, by going up to his cage, even by scolding the bird or establishing eye contact... what you've done is just told your feathered pal that the undesired behavior gets him your attention.
Now, this is incentive enough for your bird to continue plucking out its feathers. The more you react to the plucking, the more it plucks to get that attention.
Okay, That's hard to hear...
Ignoring unwanted behavior so that it goes extinct is one of the hardest things to do. But, you have to do two things.
First, train your bird to do other safe behaviors that provide it with the attention that it so badly desires and consistently reinforce these new behaviors with attention.
Next, create a family plan that everyone is committed to regarding how to deal (or not deal) with your bird when it is plucking. A plan that you can and will stick to. No matter what.
Will it be hard to sit there and ignore your pet when he is yearning for your attention and even hurting itself to get it?
But does this have to be done?Yes, there is simply no other option.
Unfortunately, the road to recovery will be long winding and full of bumps. Start by not endorsing the destructive streak of feather plucking birds so, no more yelling, screaming, talking or even establishing eye contact with the pet.
In fact, ignore it completely and entirely, do not go anywhere near its cage or the area of the house where the bird is kept till it has calmed down and stopped pulling out its plumage.
Once the bird is no longer displaying the self mutilating trend, go up to it and talk to it gently, pet it and even offer a treat. If the bird falls back into the habit of feather plucking, once again move away from it and start ignoring it completely.
Over time, the bird will realize that not plucking its feathers earns him your attention, a very valuable lesson which will prove to be a strong deterrent to the feather plucking behavior.
So, in essence, once you have ruled out medical and environmental causes to self mutilation in birds, immediately start incorporating this tactic into your pet's training.
The sooner you begin, the easier it will be to get the bird to go back to being its happy, playful, intelligent self again.
Something else that you need to consider here is that a bird which has long given up the habit of pulling out its feathers may one day simply start doing it again.
The trick here is to be patient and firm. If your pet has gone back to its bad ways, you should go back to ignoring it and things will once again fall back in place.
As far as the onset of the habit goes, boredom is one of the primary reasons why birds go about destroying their plumes.
So, stop the problem even before it starts with these simple hacks. Of course, they can also be used to offer your avian friend the extra mental stimulation it needs to get it off its feather plucking behavior.
It is imperative to understand here that you are trying to bring about a behavioral change in your pet.
Now, just like the feather plucking habit was not cultivated in a day, it won't go away in a day either. Consistence is the name of this game.
Be patient and use the "ignore" tool for as long as you need to make your bird understand that self destructive behavior will never be rewarded.
Keep this training up and you should start seeing positive changes in your bird's behavior within a few weeks.
(We also provide a variety of feather plucking prevention collars and calming aids for feather plucking birds in our store.)