Feather Picking: Why?
This is one of the more frustrating problems a parrot owner can face. Feather destruction by overpreening, shredding or plucking, is a symptom of another problem rather than being a disease itself. It’s most common in Cockatoos and African grays, and it is also common in Quakers, Conures, and Eclectus parrots. And, although it’s been seen in all parrot species, it is rare in Amazons, Pionus parrots and Poicephalus parrots. It can often take some detective work to figure out what’s wrong.
a) Health Reasons
i. Giardia. The presence of this intestinal parasite can cause a parrot to shred the feathers just below its neckline.
ii. Skin Problems. Itchy skin, external parasites, feather cysts, or a skin infection can all cause discomfort that could cause a parrot to destroy its feathers. Many pet stores sell flea, tick and lice remedies for parrots. Never use these without receiving advice from a vet. External parasites are not common in house birds.
iii. Malnutrition. A bad diet can give a parrot dry, itchy skin that may cause it to pluck or shred its feathers.
iv. Bad Wing Clip. If the parrot was clipped too severely and cannot glide to the ground if it slips, the resulting anxiety could cause feather plucking. It you’re not sure how to clip a bird properly, consult someone who does and get his or her help.
v. Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease. This is a viral disease that causes the feathers to look very abnormal. If the bird’s head feathers look bad, this could be the cause.
vi. Internal Pain. If a bird picks at one spot, this could be the cause. For example, a bird with fatty liver disease may pick at the skin above its liver.
vii. Zinc toxicity. Heavy metals can be toxic to parrots. Very old cages may have bits of metal flaking off. If the parrot ingests these, it may become ill.
viii. Allergies. These can cause dry itchy skin.
b) Psychological Reasons (These are the cause of most feather destruction problems)
i. Grief. Parrots may pluck if the lose a favorite person or mate.
ii. Stress. A number of things can cause stress. For example, an anxious shy parrot may feather pluck if it’s placed in a noisy area with nowhere to go where it feels safe. If a pet parrot starts destroying its feathers, try to determine if anything in the environment changed when the problem started.
iii. Boredom. A parrot with nothing to do may feather pick because of boredom. Make sure the bird has a big cage, and lots of toys, and that it gets plenty of time out of the cage.
iv. Overpreening. The parrot may not be preening its feathers properly, or it’s doing it too much.
v. Hormones. Some female birds pull some breast feathers out of their chests during the breeding season. They do this to create a brood patch, or a warmer spot on the skin, to use to incubate eggs. However, this is not common in pets. Other birds may pluck out of frustration with not having a mate.