By Diane Burroughs
Understanding Feather Plucking in Parrots
Feather plucking, also known as feather destructive behavior, is a systemic problem that is more common in adult birds, female birds, African greys, and cockatoos. This condition can be frustrating and worrisome for bird owners to witness, as it can lead to a variety of physical and emotional issues for their feathered friends.
African Grey Parrots have an 8 X higher risk of developing feather plucking than other types of birds. Scientists have noticed that parrots with this condition usually become more hostile and try to guard their space more often. Researchers also noticed that these feather plucking birds have much more fecal cortisol in their systems.
Compared to other birds, cockatoos are significantly more likely to develop an issue with plucking feathers or self-mutilation. As a matter of fact, cockatoos are 13 X more likely to develop a feather plucking problem or self mutilation than most other species of parrots. This can be severe, causing deep lacerations in the chest, legs, or other areas of their bodies.
Feather plucking is often a sign of an underlying issue, and it is important to determine the cause(s) in order to treat it effectively. Causes can include infections, nutritional factors, allergies, environmental factors, and behavioral factors.
Thankfully, there are several Feather Plucking Remedies that can help mitigate this problem and improve your bird's overall health and well-being. Let's take a look at 5 effective remedies for feather plucking in parrots.
Feather Plucking Remedy 1 - Provide a Healthy Diet and Functional Supplements
One of the most effective Feather Plucking Remedies is to ensure that your parrot is receiving a healthy diet and proper nutritional, functional supplements. Feather health is largely dependent on good nutrition, and a malnourished parrot is more likely to engage in feather plucking. If your bird is on a seed diet, make every effort to change it to a better diet.
Hypovitaminosis A and hyperkeratosis are common nutritional deficiencies that can lead to feather plucking in parrots. Low vitamin A intake occurs in birds who predominantly eat seeds and nuts. This deficiency affects eye health and skin health.
Ensure that your bird's diet includes plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables that are high in vitamin A. Additionally, a low-fat diet that includes around 60-70% pellets, 20% fruits and veggies, and 10% nuts, seeds, and treats can help prevent obesity and nutritional deficiencies.
In addition to a healthy diet, functional supplements can also be beneficial in preventing feather plucking. For instance, Red Palm Oil is rich in vitamins A an E and omega-3 fatty acids. All of these nutrients are important for maintaining feather health, and a deficiency in either can lead to feather problems
Feather plucking can be a sign of underlying health problems, so it is important to consult with a veterinarian to determine if your parrot has any nutritional deficiencies or an infection. By providing a healthy diet and nutritional supplements, you can help ensure your parrot's overall health and prevent feather plucking.
Feather Plucking Remedy 2 - Address Common Behavioral Factors
In addition to providing a healthy diet and addressing environmental factors, it's important to consider common behavioral factors that can contribute to feather plucking in parrots. Anxiety and attention-seeking behaviors are two common triggers for feather plucking. Here are some effective feather plucking remedies to address these issues:
1. Figure out what triggers anxiety: Changes to routines or living arrangements, calcium and magnesium deficiency, and other stressors can cause anxiety in parrots. By identifying these triggers, you can take steps to minimize or eliminate them. For example, you may need to provide more mental and physical stimulation or adjust your parrot's feeding schedule to better meet their needs.
2. Address attention-seeking behaviors: Parrots are social animals that crave attention and interaction with their owners. Unfortunately, they may resort to feather plucking to get the attention they desire. As a feather plucking remedy, it's important to focus on reinforcing desirable behaviors rather than accidentally reinforcing the plucking behavior. This can involve rewarding your parrot for engaging in alternative behaviors, such as playing with toys or interacting with you in a positive way.
By taking steps to address these common behavioral factors, you can reduce your parrot's anxiety and attention-seeking behaviors, ultimately helping to prevent feather plucking.
However, it's important to work with a qualified avian veterinarian and / or bird behaviorist to develop a customized feather plucking remedy plan that addresses your parrot's unique needs.
Feather Plucking Remedy 3 - Address Common Environmental Factors
Parrots are very social and active creatures, and as such, their environment plays a significant role in their well-being. Addressing common environmental factors can be a key feather plucking remedy for parrots.
One of the most common environmental factors that contribute to feather plucking is inadequate out of cage time. Parrots that spend less than 8 hours out of their cages per day are at higher risk of developing feather plucking problems. As a remedy, it's essential to provide parrots with ample time outside of their cages to move around, socialize and interact with their owners.
In addition to out of cage time, enrichment and socialization are also vital for a parrot's mental and physical health. Parrots that spend less than 4 hours a day playing with toys, interacting with humans or other birds, and engaging in sensory activities, including watching TV or foraging are more prone to developing feather plucking. It's crucial to provide them with various toys, such as puzzle feeders, foraging toys, and chew toys, to keep them occupied and mentally stimulated.
Changes in routine can also make parrots anxious, which can lead to feather plucking. As a feather plucking remedy, it's important to establish a consistent daily routine for your parrot. This can help reduce stress and anxiety and promote a sense of security.
Temperature and humidity can also play a significant role in a parrot's feather plucking. Excessive heat and low humidity can cause dry, itchy skin, leading to excessive preening and feather plucking. It's essential to provide your parrot with a comfortable and consistent temperature and humidity level to prevent skin irritation.
Lastly, ensuring that your bird gets adequate sleep is essential for overall health and can also act as a feather plucking remedy. Lack of sleep can affect a bird's mood, immune system, and reproductive health. Providing a dark and quiet sleeping environment can help your parrot get the rest they need. Incorporating these environmental feather plucking remedies into your parrot's daily routine can help reduce the risk of feather plucking and promote a healthy, happy bird.
Feather Plucking Remedy 4 - Reduce Reproductive Behavior
Another factor that can contribute to feather plucking in parrots is reproductive behavior. Inappropriate human-parrot bonds can stimulate such behavior and increase hormones in these birds. Elevated hormone levels can cause anxiety and angst, particularly during breeding season.
If you suspect that your parrot's feather plucking is linked to reproductive behavior, there are a few Feather Plucking Remedies that you can try. One of the most effective solutions is to reduce the bird's access to nesting materials. By removing these materials or limiting access to them, you can decrease the bird's urge to nest and reproduce.
It's also essential to avoid petting or stroking the parrot on the back, especially around the tail area, as this can stimulate the reproductive urge. Similarly, avoid using boxes or containers that resemble nesting boxes, as they can also encourage reproductive behavior.
Another thing to consider is the light and dark cycle of your parrot's living space. These birds have evolved to live in areas with seasonal changes, and exposure to natural sunlight can help regulate their hormones and prevent them from entering reproductive phases. Use UVA UVB lighting or provide your bird with access to sunlight through a window for at least a few hours each day.
Reducing your parrot's reproductive behavior is one of the best ways to prevent feather plucking. With some time and effort, you can help your bird to remain happy and healthy, with beautiful feathers.
Feather Plucking Remedy 5 - UVA UVB lighting
As previously mentioned, providing the right lighting conditions for your parrot is crucial for their overall health and well-being. UVA and UVB lighting are essential for feather health and have numerous benefits for your bird.
UVA lighting helps to simulate natural daylight and has been shown to improve the mental well-being of birds. It also helps to stimulate their appetite and encourages natural behaviors, such as preening. On the other hand, UVB lighting is necessary for the production of vitamin D3, which is essential for bone health and calcium metabolism. Without adequate UVB exposure, parrots can develop metabolic bone disease, which can cause skeletal abnormalities and eventually lead to death. They can also develop anxious behaviors and even seizure activity.
It's important to note that UVA and UVB lighting are different.
UVA lighting is necessary for mental stimulation, while UVB lighting is essential for physical health. When selecting lighting for your parrot, make sure to choose a full-spectrum light that includes both UVA and UVB wavelengths.
Recent studies have shown that UVA exposure can also decrease feather plucking in parrots. One study on Amazon parrots found that birds exposed to UVA lighting for four hours per day had significantly decreased feather plucking behavior compared to those without UVA exposure. Additionally, studies on UVA for chickens have shown an increase in normal preening behavior in the birds.
Incorporating UVA and UVB lighting into your parrot's environment is a simple and effective way to improve their feather health and reduce the likelihood of feather plucking. However, it's important to consult with an avian veterinarian to ensure that you are providing the correct type and amount of lighting for your specific bird species.
By combining various Feather Plucking Remedies, you can create a healthy and nurturing environment for your parrot, which can ultimately reduce or eliminate feather plucking behavior. Remember, addressing feather plucking in your parrot may take time and patience, but with the right care, your bird can thrive and live a happy, healthy life.
While UVA and UVB lighting are beneficial for parrots, natural sunlight exposure is always the best option. If possible, provide your parrot with daily access to natural sunlight. This can be done by taking them outside for short periods of time or placing their cage near a sunny window. When providing sunlight exposure, it's important to take into consideration weather and air quality. Extreme temperatures and pollutants in the air can harm your bird's health. Additionally, excessive sunlight exposure can cause overheating or sunburn. It's best to provide sunlight exposure during the early morning or late afternoon hours when the sun is not at its strongest.
Remember, providing a combination of Feather Plucking Remedies can be the most effective approach. A healthy diet, addressing behavioral and environmental factors, reducing reproductive behavior, and incorporating UVA and UVB lighting can all work together to improve feather health and reduce feather plucking behavior in your parrot. Be patient and persistent in your efforts, and consult with an avian veterinarian if you have any concerns or questions.
Feather plucking is a frustrating issue for many parrot owners. However, by addressing common behavioral, environmental, and nutritional factors, along with reducing reproductive behavior and utilizing UVA/UVB lighting, you can significantly reduce or even eliminate feather plucking in your feathered friend.
With these remedies, you can help your parrot live a happy, healthy, and feathered life. Always consult with a veterinarian before trying any remedies on your bird, and monitor their progress closely. Here's to happy, healthy birds and their beautiful feathers!
Thielen, L., DVM. Clinical Approach to Feather Destructive Behavior. https://lafeber.com/vet/clinical-approach-to-fdb/
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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.
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