|Photo: Tim Notari|
Feather plucking is a common problem among captive pet parrots. Some species, like the African Grey, Cockatoos, Macaws, and Quaker (Monk) parrots are more inclined to pull at their feathers. The severity of feather plucking can range from feather picking, where the bird just breaks the feathers off resulting in a rather unkempt looking parrot; feather pulling, where the parrot pulls the feathers right out, leaving bald bits of skin exposed; and self mutilation, where the bird tears at its own flesh, resulting in bleeding sores that can easily become infected if not attended to swiftly. Often feather picking, may progress to feather pulling and finally self mutilation, so it is advisable to check this habit as soon as possible to prevent the situation from deteriorating.
There are several factors that may cause a parrot to begin plucking at its feathers, and these can include both physical and mental stress. Physical stress can be related to an unbalanced diet, external or internal parasites, or allergic reactions to an environmental stimulus or toxin. Due to their high level of intelligence, parrots are very prone to mental stress and anxiety, and often start pulling at their feathers when they are bored, lonely, or have experienced a sudden change in surroundings or environment. Should your parrot begin plucking at his feathers, it is advisable to take him for a veterinarian examination as soon as possible to determine the underlying cause of feather plucking in case it is related to a health issue, such as internal or external parasites, or an infection.
It is very common for birds that are fed a diet high in sunflower seeds to suffer from a protein and vitamin A deficiency, both of which are necessary for maintaining healthy plumage and skin. As a result, the birds experience problems moulting, and consequently suffer irritation at the feather follicle, which stimulates feather pulling behaviour. A high quality, commercial pelleted diet, such as Vitakraft Parrot Premium Menu, that contains all the essential proteins, minerals, and vitamins is recommended to prevent, and cure feather plucking behaviour stemming from malnutrition.
Skin parasites are generally uncommon in pet parrots that are housed indoors, but convenient preparations, such as anti-parasite spot-on treatment, are commercially available for small, medium and large parrots to prevent external parasites such as skin mites or lice, and also combat internal parasites such as round worms.
There are many common substances that we use daily in our homes that could cause an allergic reaction, or high levels of discomfort to your parrot that would induce stress related feather plucking. Cigarette smoke, air fresheners, and cooking sprays are all toxic to parrots and may cause high levels of distress.
Boredom & Loneliness
Parrots are very intelligent, sociable by nature, and highly active birds. If they lack stimulation or companionship, they may become bored and lonely, resulting in feather plucking behaviour. Provide your parrot with a variety of toys, ranging from toys that are mentally stimulating, such as shakers, food balls, and puzzles; to those that provide physical exercise, such as swings, ropes and ladders. Spend quality time with your parrot, providing interaction and companionship. If your parrot has to spend the day alone whilst you are at work, it would be kinder to consider getting an avian companion for him to communicate with in your absence to prevent loneliness and depression setting in.
Prevention & Cure
Feather plucking can be prevented, and usually cured, by providing your parrot with plenty of mental and physical stimulation, a healthy diet, a healthy environment, and lots of love and attention. Those are the ingredients for a happy, healthy parrot.