The Feather Picking Phenomenon

According to veterinary estimates, as many as 50% or more of pet birds taken to the vet engage in some form of over-preening or other feather damaging behavior. The problem is quite commonplace, but it is distressing for bird owners and difficult to get rid of. Moreover, any bird can start to exhibit this problem. So what do we do about it?

Part of understanding how to deal with this problem, is understanding what causes the problem. There are three main factors: physical/medical problems, environmental factors and behavioral/psychological problems. Feather picking can also degenerate into skin mutilation over time – a very serious condition. So it is worth trying to get to the bottom of the problem as soon as it manifests itself.

Physical problems include viral infections, bacterial and fungal infections, external parasites, allergies, poor wing-feather trimming, nutritional deficiencies, hormonal imbalances and trauma. All of these can be diagnosed by a qualified avian vet and treated accordingly. Once the immediate problem is dealt with, the real cause behind the behavior can be addressed and the chances of the bird continuing this behavior become slim.

Environmental problems worth considering are a cage that is too small for the bird, using the wrong types of perches, exposure to airborne toxins, low humidity, the wrong kind of lighting, All of these things are distressing to a bird and may cause it to pluck its feathers.

According to research, certain species of parrots, cockatoos, cockatiels, parakeets and lovebirds are particularly predisposed to this sort of destructive behavior. These particular species all live in large flocks in the wild, and separation from the flock usually results in anxiety. Our tame birds may not even know what a large flock of birds is, but they usually view their human associates as an extension of their social environment. If they feel isolated from their human ‘flock’ they may become anxious and this could lead to behavioral problems such as feather picking. This would be a definite psychological factor that is easy to fix. A bird lacking simulation or one that is under too much stress from its environment is also something to consider. We also want to consider the activity of the human counter-parts as things such as an increase in fighting may stress the bird out.

Clearly there are a number of things to consider when trying to determine why your bird is feather picking. But getting to the root of the problem is definitely worthwhile since your bird’s health and longevity are at stake.