What is Feather Plucking?

An owner will choose a bird based on the character of the bird, but more so because of its beautiful plumage. To suddenly wake up one day to a half-plucked bird and see all those glorious feathers on the floor can be upsetting to the owner. Birds can suddenly develop an over-zealous grooming habit that can turn into an uncontrollable plucking of its own feathers. Feather plucking is a symptom of a problem, maybe your bird is bored, over stimulated, nervous, or confused. Parrots and cockatoos are the worst offenders, but it can happen in any bird. Whatever the reason, you need to find out quickly, before your bird destroys his plumage.

Feather plucking in birds is a frustrating and hard to cure condition or habit in captive birds, it is rarely seen in their wild cousins.

Book First Walk Free!

Symptoms of Feather Plucking in Birds

  • Feathers look untidy, bent and damaged and your bird looks quite tattered 
  • Broken skin injury due to self-damaging biting
  • Secondary infection 
  • Dry flaky skin due to lack of humidity or bathing opportunities 
  • Depressed attitude
  • Skin infection
  • Irritated or stressed behavior
  • Damaged feathers

Causes of Feather Plucking in Birds

Feather plucking birds have a reason for behaving as they do, the only way to stop this problem is to find the reason for his destructive behavior and address that reason. 

  • Usually feather plucking behavior only occurs in domesticated birds
  • Time of day when your bird plucks could indicate he is annoyed with something; for example at night, it could be that he is being put away before he wants to go
  • Feather plucking usually starts in adolescent birds or following some episode of stress (moving to a new house)
  • Jealousy and stress 
  • Malnutrition, which can lead to inferior quality feathers and dry flaky patches of skin that may irritate your bird 
  • Over stimulating environment and long day for your bird (noise, music)
  • Parasites such as ringworm
  • Atmosphere conditions such as low lighting or a smoky air condition 
  • Allergies causing irritation and hence the plucking 
  • Heavy metal poisoning such as lead or zinc 
  • Low humidity caused by central heating 
  • Lack of natural sunlight and fresh air 
  • Metabolic disorders 
  • Internal disease
  • Hormonal changes

Diagnosis of Feather Plucking in Birds

The causes of this unfortunate behavior are many and varied, but once you have taken your bird to see your avian veterinarian you may have a clearer picture of what is going on. Medical issues will be need to be ruled out. A blood test can verify the presence of hypothyroidism which is known to be a common reason for feather plucking. Other clues as to the reason for the feather plucking may be revealed through the laboratory work. Hormone abnormalities, lead toxicity, or disease may be present and a need for therapy will be evident. Clinical signs may point to a need for a more humid environment and possibly, your bird’s behavior will indicate that he has emotional stress adding to the problem.

Treatment of Feather Plucking in Birds

The veterinarian will prescribe medication or supplements if needed (for example, in the case of hypothyroidism or ringworm). Other medicines or nutritional additives will be administered if necessary.  Regular spraying or bathing of your bird in warm water will help keep his feathers in good condition; it should be done about twice to three times per week. Most birds enjoy a good misting or soak, whereas others will not but keep it up for feather health. Provide lots of stimulation and interesting things for your bird to do, including items that can be chewed. Birds love chewing things. They don’t have to be expensive toys, it can be clean twigs from nontoxic trees, and cardboard egg boxes. Pine cones (cleaned with no chemicals) are great toys, and rolled up paper ‘sticks’ that they can rip to bits. 

If your bird is left alone maybe keep the music or television on (softly) for him. Treats such as hard cheese, cooked egg, chicken or even fish fingers will keep him occupied. Birds are omnivores which means in the wild they will eat most things including caterpillar, insect, or even a small fish. The idea is to provide a happy environment with lots of fun things he can do other than sit and pluck himself. Check out ideas on the internet for homemade toys for your bird. Fitting a collar to prevent him from plucking may only stress him more, but may be worth a try. Your veterinarian can advise on this as it may allow time for the skin and feathers to heal.

Recovery of Feather Plucking in Birds

As mentioned before, this condition is a matter of trial and error. Birds tend to like steady environments and don’t like change, so don’t go shifting his cage every few days as it could cause stress. Even after breaking the habit, you may wake up one day to a pile of feathers on the cage floor and a relapse. It can be frustrating but keep trying, it will be worth it. Birds have active minds so they need to be kept busy and love solving problems, so don’t always make dinnertime easy for them, make your bird work for his supper by hiding treats within a hollow twig or similar. Keep that busy bird guessing; keep them busy but not too stimulated (it’s a balancing trick) and you should have a bird that keeps his feathers.