Why Do Birds Pluck Their Feathers?

Feather-Picking in Parrots and Other Birds

A blue parrot cleans it's feathers. Focus is on the parrots eye with a shallow depth of field.
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Birds pluck their feathers for several reasons. In the wild, they use plucked feathers to line their nests during breeding season. Many bird feathers also come out as a bird performs its normal preening and grooming routine.

Feather-Picking Problem Behavior

In captivity, a plucking bird can be a sign of veterinary or environmental problems. It is also known as feather-picking. You might note your parrot chewing its feathers or going as far as damaging its own skin.

Parrots can also pick at the feathers of their other bird companions. You will usually see the damage to feathers on the breast and neck, which are easiest to reach with the beak.

If you suspect that your bird has been plucking its feathers, the best advice is to get your bird to an avian vet as quickly as possible. If the vet determines your bird to be free of psittacine beak and feather disease (PBFD) or other medical problems, then your bird's plucking is most likely due to an environmental issue.

Causes of Feather Picking

Birds that are stressed will pluck as a means of pacifying themselves, and sometimes do it out of boredom or lack of interaction. There can be medical causes due to diet, toxic exposures, and infections. Your veterinarian is likely to ask questions to try to get to the root of the problem, as well as doing a physical exam and lab tests.

To determine if there is an environmental cause for the bird's behavior, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does the bird eat a healthy diet? A nutritional deficiency can stress a bird to the point of plucking and other self-mutilation. If you find that your bird's diet is less than spectacular, try mixing it up a bit by adding some fresh fruits and vegetables on a daily basis. If you have only been giving your bird a seed diet, it may be lacking in nutrition.
  • Is the bird's cage clean and comfortable? Birds are hygienic animals by nature, and a dirty, unkempt cage is detrimental to their mental as well as physical health. Check out your bird's cage to see if better housekeeping is needed.
  • Does the bird get enough attention and mental stimulation? Parrots are highly intelligent and social creatures. They crave interaction with their flock members, and will sometimes pluck if they feel neglected. Evaluate the quality time that you spend with your pet and make sure that you are providing your bird with enough socialization, interaction, and play.
  • Does your bird get enough sleep? Birds need more sleep than humans and prefer a consistent sleep schedule. Your bird may need its own dark, quiet room to ensure it gets enough rest.
  • Have there been recent changes in your household? If something has changed it can induce stress. This could include a move, a change in household members or pets, or a different schedule.

Treatment

If you find that any area of your bird's environment isn't as wonderful as it should be, take immediate action to make your bird more comfortable. Once a bird starts plucking its feathers, it can be difficult to get it to stop if the condition has been allowed to go on for a time.

Your veterinarian may be able to provide behavior-modifying drugs, but these work best when combined with improving environmental and behavioral factors. Make sure your pet's plumage stays intact by being the most caring and attentive bird owner that you can be.