By: Diane Burroughs
Feather plucking in birds can be caused due to a myriad of reasons, from vitamin deficiency to hormonal changes during mating and more. Apart from medical causes and the condition that the bird is kept in, there is also another factor that leads to this behavior. Most bird owners are shocked when told that their own reaction to the feather plucking episodes have encouraged their companion birds to self mutilate their plumage.
Does your beautiful and colorful exotic avian friend look like a plucked chicken?
Most people end up running veterinary bills of hundreds of dollars in trying to correct the self mutilating, feather plucking behavior in their birds, only to find that the key to their pet's odd 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 avian pets. 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- any change that causes, stress, fear or boredom.
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 will lead to depression and stress in pet birds
• Usually aviary 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.
• A lot of free time and energy on your bird's hand, which may transform into a self destructive streak
• 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 sleep
• Inadequate exposure to ultraviolet-B light
• 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
• Exposure to oncoming car headlights
Generally, birds known for their intelligence are more prone to self destructive behavior. For instance, Cockatoos and African Grays frequently resort to feather plucking out of boredom or when they are just not getting the attention they need. Other birds such as Amazons, conures, macaws, Timneh parrots may also start plucking their plumage.
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 plucking its feathers, the harder it will be to get it out of this 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 in 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.
Now, reaction is the operative part of that statement up there. As far as your bird is concerned whether you are 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 giving it is 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 have done is just told your feathered pal that his bad behavior gets him your attention. Now, this is impetus enough for it to continue plucking out its feathers. The more you rush up to the bird, the greater will be the reinforcement of the problematic behavior. So, you need to stop now!
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? You bet! 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.
• Stuff the cage with toys; your bird should spend most of its waking hours trying to figure out which toy to destroy next, thus leaving its feathers alone.
• Natural whisk brooms are both inexpensive and wildly entertaining for birds
• Spend more quality time with your bird as a reward to its good behavior or just to show it that you care after it has stopped plucking its feathers, by showering together. About 10 to 15 minutes one on one time will do the bird a world of good.
• If seasonal changes such as dry air are causing itchiness, try using a humidifier and extra baths and mists
• For birds who are responding to the psychological and physiological impact of reproductive readiness, try shortening the daylight hours to ensure that it gets enough quality sleep.
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.