What is Feather Destructive Behavior?

Often feather destruction is a very common problem and one that is quite complex to solve. The problem can be medically induced, or may be a skin or parasite problem, or could even be just boredom or a diet lacking in nutrients. There are some products on the market that mask the problem (such as collars and sprays) but they do not solve the cause of the problem. It is best caught in the early stages as leaving it hoping it will cure itself will lead to a more severe case of damage to your bird’s skin.

This condition is not uncommon in pet birds, and although it is unsightly, it is generally not life threatening, it is more of a lifestyle problem. However, an evaluation by the veterinarian is warranted to rule out illness as a cause.

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Symptoms of Feather Destructive Behavior in Birds

  • Scruffy appearance
  • Gaps in the feathers showing bare skin in worst cases
  • Behavioural issues such as aggression when you try to stop them chewing 
  • Demanding behavior or loud screeching sounds to get attention 
  • Unsettled behaviour
  • Depressed and withdrawn 
  • Damage to the skin
  • Sores or inflamed lesions 
  • Chewing and biting of the feather shaft 
  • Constant grooming and preening 
  • Loss of feathers 
  • Balding patches 

Types  

  •  Behavioral implications
  • Training - Hand reared birds (especially parrots) recognise people as their flock, so it is important to start at an early stage and teach good manners 
  • Normalise social behavior - Bonding to one human can lead your bird to be overly protective or lead to territorial aggression; spread the contact and care around the family 
  • Unwanted behavior - This can occur if your bird is on its own a lot, or if it runs out of food, and if you have a cat and it prowls around the cage
  • Replacement - Encourage your bird by rewarding good behavior

Causes of Feather Destructive Behavior in Birds

  • Behavioral - Your bird may not have enough stimulation and becomes bored
  • You may need to provide extra stimuli like making them forage for their food with food dispensing toys can keep them busy
  • Poor diet can lead to feather destruction
  • Your bird requires a variety in his diet to not only provide nutrition but also to relieve boredom 
  • Bone injuries can cause your bird to chew in certain areas
  • Yeast and parasitic irritation to the skin 
  • Allergy and viral inflammation of the skin 
  • Liver disease can cause the skin to itch 
  • Bacterial inflammation of the skin

Diagnosis of Feather Destructive Behavior in Birds

The most effective way to diagnose why your bird is destroying his feathers is to have him checked by a veterinarian. They will need to examine the feathers and skin and then use a microscope to examine preparations of feather pulp, biopsy and skin scrapings. Further microscope examinations of droppings and blood can provide clues as to the cause of your bird’s behavior. Once the test results confirm the cause, then treatment can begin. The tests may come back negative, and if that is the case then behavioral and environmental causes will need to be examined.

If your bird is bored or the diet is bland, adding variety by hiding treats within the cage, or providing toys to keep them busy is advised. If you have a cat that prowls near the cage, you need to keep a close watch on behavior and teach the cat to leave the bird alone. If you are out at work, leaving your bird in a room where the cat cannot bother him is an ideal solution.

Treatment of Feather Destructive Behavior in Birds

Depending on test results, if diet is lacking then improving the diet is a step in the right direction. Seeds alone are not enough, and the diet should include a balanced pellet/crumble mix of about 75%, a mix of fruit and vegetable chunks 25%, and some seeds 5%. Parrots are originally from warm moist tropical climates, where it rains often. Misting with water may help your pet if he is from a tropical home. Shampooing is not advised as it can be harmful to your bird, and a sick bird should never be bathed as they may catch a cold.

Another recommendation that may help your bird recover is to allow plenty of sleep, usually they need 10-12 hours per night of undisturbed sleep. If you are up all night watching movies, and your bird is there with you, the lack of sleep will eventually catch up on your bird resulting in health problems. Moving them to a quiet dark room is best for your bird. If your bird has parasite or other infestations, your veterinarian will recommend the appropriate treatment that will help your pet recover. Your bird is a sensitive creature so you must be careful what you treat him with, in this case your veterinarian in your best asset.

Recovery of Feather Destructive Behavior in Birds

Good management is the best course of action for your bird. Understanding the way your bird interacts as a social flock member can make you aware of his needs. A varied diet, a large cage, a secure location with a view but also a hiding place should he feel threatened (by an attentive cat) can assist him to feel secure. Providing plenty of toys, a variety of food that he has to forage to discover or retrieve) will help allay boredom. Socialising with the whole family rather than just one member will give variety and make him feel like he has a large flock of human friends. Loneliness and boredom can be a large part of the problem.