Feather plucking in birds can be a confusing situation. Sometimes birds pluck themselves, sometimes they pluck other members of the flock; the cause can be a medical issue or the cause can be a behavioral problem. In this post, we’ll take a look at the non-medical side to feather plucking.
Note: If your bird is plucking, please do not try to diagnose the cause on your own. Seek veterinary care, as the plucking could be caused by an underlying condition.
Birds are incredibly smart creatures, and without the proper environment and stimulation, they can turn to self-mutilation. Likely causes for behavioral-based plucking include stress, separation anxiety, lack of enrichment/interaction and attention seeking. It’s also important for bird owners not to encourage behavioral plucking, especially if plucking is used as an attention grabber.
However, in a study called “Nonmedical Factors Associated with Feather Picking in Pet Psittacine Birds,” published in the 2014 issue of Journal of Avian Medicine and Surgery, researchers found that some species are more inclined to pluck. They found that African greys and cockatoos were more likely to pluck than other birds. A few other studies included macaws and eclectus parrots as being more likely to pluck. The researchers also found that rescue birds and birds given more than eight hours of out-of-cage-time were more likely to pluck.
So why would African greys and cockatoos be singled out as the most likely to pluck? African greys are extremely intelligent birds — they’re compared to human toddlers for a reason. Their intelligence may lend them to be more likely to suffer from lack of interaction and enrichment and turn to feather plucking. Cockatoos are also intelligent birds, but lean toward the affectionate side. Cockatoos crave socialization, and if they are denied that, especially if it is a single bird, they may pluck due to separation anxiety, lack of interaction or attention-seeking behavior.
On the flip side, over-stimulation can lead to plucking and feather damaging behaviors, too. Lack of sleep or downtime and constant noise (think young children playing or a noisy neighborhood) are examples of over-stimulation that are likely to cause stress and possibly feather plucking.
Mating behavior and territorial behavior may also lead to feather plucking. Either of these could lead to one bird plucking its flockmate. If this occurs, the owner needs to separate the two to prevent further aggression.
Why is your bird plucking? Even on the behavior-based/non-medical side, there is a plethora of reasons why a bird may pluck. Other research, which wasn’t even discussed in this article, cites cage placement, sex and obsessive grooming as causes. It can be difficult to pin down the exact reason. The best way to answer the “why” is to evaluate yourself, your bird and your relationship. If you are able to examine your bird’s behavior, diet, sleep schedule, toys, etc., you can narrow down your possible causes.
A vet can help you diagnose the cause of your bird’s plucking, as well as correct it.
Feature image from bestfriends.org