Feather Plucking

by Wilhelm Kiesselbach


Date last edited:  06/20/12








My baby is plucking! One of the most disturbing and troubling problems with pet parrots! We love our feathered kids, we want them happy and healthy. When we see them pluck, we are concerned, frustrated and confused. In order to stop them from either pulling their feathers or biting them off, you must get to the root of the problem.  It is wise to proceed by process of elimination.

There are two causes for this behavioral problem:

Medical (including diet) Psychological An immediate vet visit for a full examination including a blood chemistry panel must be the first action taken.
  • Make sure the bird gets a proper diet.
  • This dissertation is not meant to identify specific medical or dietary problems. That type of information is readily available, not least from an experienced avian veterinarian.

    Potential medical and dietary causes are the relatively easy part; in essence, here we deal in tangibles. Then there are the intangibles.  We must realize that the condition in all probability is caused by distress, by some kind of emotional trauma. We must understand that our feathered kids are emotionally and psychologically more complicated than any other pet we are likely to encounter.  While some of the outstanding behaviorists are beginning to get some insight, all of us, some more than others, are still largely in the dark. We are left coming to conclusions based largely on their behavior and our reactions. While we visit a psychiatrist or psychologist if we acknowledge our own problems, the bird has no such recourse. What is more, any communication is entirely limited to our observations leading to subjective conclusions.   Our feathered kids are simply acting out while we are obliged to watch, most of the time helplessly.  The situation becomes complicated by our inability to fathom the depth of the bird’s problem. We know it is smart, sensitive and perceptive; much more than most animals, but we really don’t have a way to work ourselves into it's emotional environment and psyche.  So again, the process of elimination becomes our only, albeit very limited ally.

    At the very least we should consider some obvious causes, such as, the location of the cage, the amount of sleep he or she gets, the humidity of their  environment, any changes that have been brought about, even in our own lives. Has the time we devote to them changed?  In frequency?  In intensity?  In quality?  Do we have trouble with the kids? Have we changed the color of our favorite shirt?  Have we decided to change contact lenses for glasses, or vice versa?  Has grandma moved in or grandpa moved out? Did we add another animal to our family flock?  Has our baby figured out that plucking will get our attention?  Jealousy, while a very human trait, is very much a part of their emotional makeup, as well.  These are merely a few of the potential causes which we can intellectually identify.  How many others are there only comprehensible to the bird?

    We must acknowledge that we are very much on alien turf. We are sharing our life with a species whose perceptual scope may be far out of the realm of our understanding.  As an evolved species, literally coming from another world, our feathered babies are uniquely equipped for their habitat and "lifestyle".  Is it a wonder that they sometimes find ours distressing?

    It is interesting to note that feather pluckers are found among birds raised in captivity a lot more often than among those caught in the wild.  And that despite the fact that stress levels levels among birds taken from their natural habitat and placed in captivity of  any kind must be enormous.  The inevitable question then is… What do those birds have that ours don’t?  The answer most likely has to do with the difference in rearing, an interrupted natural, emotional development and a resulting sense of insecurity.  When we remember that our feathered kids are only a few generations away from their natural "lifestyle" and that all their evolved instincts and perceptions are still fully intact, it is entirely possible that they may be ill prepared for this life and all of it's consequences.  They are stuck with a bunch of humans and their so very human imperfections. Furthermore, they cannot remove themselves from a disturbing environment for which we sometimes seem to be unable to prepare them.

    This is not to say that they are "unhappy".  While happy with all its implications is a very human condition, it may mean something totally different to our feathered kids.  Maybe for them happiness is a grape, or a cuddle, or Mozart’s Clarinet Quartett played by Benny Goodman.  Maybe their sense of happiness is as fleeting as their attention span and maybe it is as visceral as that of a 4-year-old. Maybe it is interchangeable with being content, being left alone, not being left alone, a place on mommy’s shoulder ~ or simply a sense of security or trust on their terms.

    Putting a collar on a plucking bird should only be as a last resort, mostly in the case of serious self mutilation and after lengthy consultations with a qualified avian vet AND a behaviorist.  While some vote for collars, many others do not.  No one can imagine the emotional impact of a collar on an already stressed bird.  Collars, in most cases, represent an attempt at a "quick fix" and "quick fixes" have no place in our relationships with our feathered babies, regardless of the rationale. The same applies to drugs.

    The best we can do is to keep loving them, plucking or not!



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