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Feather Picking in Pet Birds

It hurts you to see your bird hurting, especially when he is causing harm upon himself. Feather picking is one of the most frustrating issues for a bird owner, and it is the most challenging condition to diagnose and treat. It is important to realize that feather picking is a symptom of something else that is wrong with your bird.

Statistically, 50 percent of caged birds have issues with feather picking and it appears that African Greys, Timneh Parrots, Cockatoos, Cockatiels, Macaws, Conures, and Grey-cheeked Parakeets are the most predisposed to this condition.

What is Feather Picking?

Feathers are quite important to a bird. Besides flight, feathers help birds woo a mate and regulate body temperature, protecting birds against climate extremes. Birds pay careful attention to the condition of their feathers. They use their beaks to condition and waterproof their feathers and to meticulously remove the sheaths through which the new contour and flight feathers emerge. This is called preening.

When you understand preening, you understand how feather picking can happen. Feather picking is similar to preening, except instead of drawing a feather through the beak to condition, the bird clamps down on it midway through the process and cuts it in half or pulls it out. This will continue until the point of destruction. This is not normal, nor is it good for the health of the bird. If you suspect that your bird is feather picking, you need to take immediate action. The first step is to determine the cause of the behavior.

Causes of Feather Picking

There are numerous causes of feather picking, including health problems, a dietary deficiency, low humidity, boredom and pent-up energy, psychological problems, and attention-seeking.

  • Medical conditions behind feather picking can be allergies, parasitic or bacterial infections, cysts in the feather follicle, internal health problems, vitamin deficiencies, hormone-associated problems, and more.

  • A dietary deficiency might also lead to feather picking. Specifically, many birds that have low calcium levels tend to start picking.

  • Birds come from extremely humid environments, so the dry air in your house may be a factor in feather picking.

  • Birds are active and intelligent animals, and they need the opportunity to play, destroy, and exercise. When birds don't get these opportunities, they get bored and may direct their energy toward self-mutilation.

  • Psychological problems may also lead to feather picking. Your bird might have an obsessive-compulsive behavioral disorder, or he might have gone through a traumatic experience, like a bad wing trim.

  • Lastly, birds love attention. Your bird might suffer from a behavioral problem or loneliness if he resorts to feather picking to gain attention.

Once you have determined the cause of the feather picking, you now have to determine the correct form of treatment.

Feather Plucking Treatment

If your bird does resort to feather picking, see an avian veterinarian at once and be prepared to make the necessary changes to correct the behavior. Your veterinarian will be able to tell you if the feather picking is due to a health problem. If your bird is physically healthy, then you have to start making environment adjustments to see what will stop the picking. This might involve putting a humidifier in the room, keeping a radio or bird soothing music playing during the day, offering different toys, or moving the bird's cage to a new location.

How Can I Prevent Feather Picking?

Different methods to prevent feather picking include ensuring proper nutrition, preventing boredom, and being mindful of your bird's environment and location.

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