Feather-plucking African grey parrot.
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Feather Plucking in Pet Birds

Feather plucking is a huge problem with pet birds. For the most part, this mutilation is usually a behavioral rather than a medical problem. Birds groom themselves — called preening — regularly. When there is a lot of stress in their lives, often just by being in a cage, they may over preen. They chew at the base of the feather, removing the shaft to make space for new feather growth.

Under normal conditions this action does not cause any problems. When the bird is over preening, it will cause bald spots where there are no longer feathers. They are preening faster than the feathers can grow. In some cases, this is not a chronic problem and if the bird owner makes some changes, the feathers will grow back. However, in some severe cases, the birds just can’t stop themselves from preening and it can be horrible. The bird does not look good and is probably not very comfortable because the skin is bare.

For some birds, added attention, play time or simply moving the location of the cage, can make everything all right again. Boredom is a major cause of this problem. Offering new toys can help. Spending time outside of the cage can give the bird enrichment and distract the animal from plucking.

Another cause is thought to be dry skin. If the air is particularly dry in your home, you might try misting the bird with a spray bottle on a daily basis. Shoot the mist upward so that it falls gently like a misty rain. Do not spray a hard stream of water on the bird. That will do nothing to help its stress. African greys and cockatoos seem to have a higher percentage of feather-plucking problems. Maybe their active minds are easily bored living in cages. Special toys with moving parts or bird puzzles, require thinking to solve. These toys can offer smart parrots a challenge and keep them busy.

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Overcrowded cages, especially with little birds like finches, can cause feather mutilation. Make sure they have enough space. Try putting in extra nesting boxes if there is no more caging available.

Lack of sleep can be a factor in over-preening. If the bird doesn’t get at least 10 hours of sleep, try covering it at night to ensure more rest. It is amazing how fast they relax and quiet down once covered.
Some medical reasons like poor nutrition, certain parasites and low thyroid levels, can cause birds to over preen. If the bird continues for more than a month, you should probably take your pet to see a qualified veterinarian. Make sure that your veterinarian specializes in birds as they have different needs than cats and dogs. The Association of Avian Veterinarians can help you find a vet near you with proper credentials.
If you have a bird that is over-preening, do not yell at the bird or give it any attention while it is feather plucking. This will encourage rather than discourage the behavior. Remember that birds are a lot like little kids. Any attention is good attention. Make a big deal when they are not plucking and encourage that behavior.

Try to keep your pet bird from getting bored. Keep your bird happy and offer toys that enrich its life. Don’t wait too long to go to the vet because it could become a lifelong problem.

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