African Grey Plucking - Dr B answers

Margo's Questions about her Congo African Grey Parrot

CAG with red feathers in places other than his tail

by Margo Repp
(Tacoma, WA)

1 yr ago I adopted Archie, a 19 yr old CAG. During this time, he's twice seen our Vet for grooming, weigh ins, and physical examination. (no blood work) During this past year, I've converted him to Sweet and Sassy Hot and Hearty, Harrisons, fresh fruits and veggies, an organic green pellet, occasional scrambled egg, and almonds as a hand treat.

Archie arrived at our home with an odd sprinkling of red feathers on his belly, legs, neck, and shoulder areas. I thought it might be a sign of poor quality feather production or inadequate nutrition. Now that I've seen him through molting, I find that the red doesn't go away. If anything, it's increasing. These new "red" feathers are of a fine quality and very colorful.

All in all, he's a happy, good natured, outgoing, and very talkative CAG. My one concern has to do with these odd colored feathers. Thanks to the internet, I've learned about "red factor." Is this genetic? Something to be concerned about? Just how "red" do some CAGs become? Can you refer me to some literature to read about the subject?

I should also add that Archie does pluck a small area on his neck and both legs and some of his new feathers take longer than a month to unwrap. To discourage the plucking, we have provided him with lots of toys. In particular, he loves tearing up phone books! We hope in time he will be too busy to pluck. If he'll let me, I help unwrap new feathers, but often he resists help.

Can you address red factor, provide me with a rough estimate of how long it should take a healthy feather to unwrap, and add any other thoughts you have for Archie?

The Vet's answer

1 yr ago I adopted Archie, a 19 yr old CAG. During this time, he's twice seen our Vet for grooming, weigh ins, and physical examination. (no blood work) During this past year, I've converted him to Sweet and Sassy Hot and Hearty, Harrison's, fresh fruits and veggies, an organic green pellet, occasional scrambled egg, and almonds as a hand treat.

The very best you can feed your bird is Harrison’s. Use the High Potency formula. 80% of Archie’s diet should be the Harrison’s. The remaining 20% can be any of the treat items you have mentioned. I think it would be best if you used only the Harrison’s pellet, but if you want to feed the green pellet, it should not be more than 5% of the diet. Fresh vegetables are great for a treat. If you are feeding mostly pellets now, then the red color is probably not a nutritional problem.

Archie arrived at our home with an odd sprinkling of red feathers on his belly, legs, neck, and shoulder areas. I thought it might be a sign of poor quality feather production or inadequate nutrition. Now that I've seen him through molting, I find that the red doesn't go away. If anything, it's increasing. These new "red" feathers are of a fine quality and very colorful.

Feathers that replace plucked feathers can and do come in a different color. In the African grey they come in red most times. Much of what you are seeing may be due to the plucking. There are greys with a red factor. However not all greys have this. And most birds lose it by 2-3 years of age. If your bird is growing new red feathers, it is probably due to the plucking. There could be other physiological causes and even disease can cause it. I recommend a complete work up including blood work and virus screening (PBFD and Polyomavirus), and x-rays, depending on what is found on lab results. You should see an experienced avian veterinarian for these work ups. Board certified if possible.

All in all, he's a happy, good natured, outgoing, and very talkative CAG. My one concern has to do with these odd colored feathers. Thanks to the internet, I've learned about "red factor." Is this genetic? Something to be concerned about? Just how "red" do some CAGs become? Can you refer me to some literature to read about the subject?

Genetics can play a role; disease can cause red feathers; plucking certainly does; and nutrition can sometimes be the blame. Does your bird have a full spectrum light. If not, you should get one today. The ZooMed lamp and bulb are great, probably the best quality artificial light available for birds. Do you have a scale to weigh your bird? Regular weight checks can help you determine a problem very early. I am not aware of any scientific research into this issue. The real issue is the health of YOUR bird. If you have the lab work done and find no disease or illness, then assume it is genetic or caused buy the plucking.

I should also add that Archie does pluck a small area on his neck and both legs and some of his new feathers take longer than a month to unwrap. To discourage the plucking, we have provided him with lots of toys. In particular, he loves tearing up phone books! We hope in time he will be too busy to pluck. If he'll let me, I help unwrap new feathers, but often he resists help.

Feather damaging behaviors are complicated. Even if you find the original cause, the habit has formed and breaking the habit is oftentimes very difficult. I have had success with reducing and even eliminating feather damaging behaviors by:

1. Bathing everyday, alternating days with plain water and the bath spray Avi-x Bird Rain. 2. Humidify the environment with a cold air humidifier; the relative humidity should be 50-60%.

3. Teach your bird to forage. It would be optimal if 100% of what your bird eats he has to work to find and acquire, but any foraging is enriching. You should see the Captive Foraging DVD. It is great, and, the tips and techniques can make a huge positive difference for your bird’s happiness and quality of life. (Foraging Toys are also important.)

Can you address red factor, provide me with a rough estimate of how long it should take a healthy feather to unwrap, and add any other thoughts you have for Archie?

Feather sheath removal is a continual process; as the new feather grows, the sheath is preened and the feather exposed. If the she is retained it is because the feather hasn’t been preened yet, or is not ready to be de-sheathed, . If your bird is retaining his sheaths, it could be nutritional (if he is not eating enough pellets), or too little preening, or other causes; if he is retaining his sheaths, then he should be looked into by an avian veterinarian.

Dr B

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