Bird Chewing Feathers

Is your bird chewing feathers or plucking? This is just one of several articles on our Parrot Training page to help people understand feather damaging behaviors.

Please read all the articles because even though it is similar information, you may get something from one that didn't "click" in the other article.

First and foremost, your bird needs to see an avian veterinarian to rule out health problems before you try to tackle the problem yourself. If there is a health problem behind the bird chewing feathers, then the problem will just be getting worst while you mess around trying to fix it yourself.

Feather Damaging Behaviors

Feather Damaging Behaviors are very complicated and require a multifaceted approach to treat. Sometimes they are treated successfully; most times they are not. The key is to determine the reason for the plucking, and often times that is the most difficult part. I see many feather damaging birds in my practice. I see them every day. In most cases, I recommend assessing all aspects of what could be possibly causing the plucking, and correct all of the ones that need to be corrected. It is not possible to cover all of them in an email message such as this, but I will highlight the most important ones.

Above all, you need to take your bird into an avian veterinarian for a complete work up. He should be screened for viral infections, such as PBFD, for bacterial infections, have blood work done, get a thorough physical exam, and be vaccinated for polyomavirus. In fact, your bird should have a well bird exam every year.

First, I make sure the diet is good. The very best you can feed is Harrison's pellets. Your bird should be getting High Potency. I recommend this food for two reasons - 1. It is organic. This is important because artificial preservatives, artificial colors and flavors, and even pesticide residues in non-organic foods have been to blame for plucking in some birds. In addition, some of the colored diets have lots of sugar, which can also contribute to this problem. 2. Because Harrison's is the only pellet diet that contains Omega Fatty Acids. Flax seed has been used to provide the Omega Fatty Acids, and although flax seed has some omega fatty acids, a) it is not a complete source, b) your bird, may not eat them, and c) no one knows how much a bird should eat to get enough or how much is too much. Harrison's should be 80% of the diet. The remaining 20% should be mostly fresh foods with other treats. This will ensure that your bid is getting perfect nutrition, and eliminate nutritional problems as the cause of plucking.

Nutritional content of a diet is important, but other ingredients in diets can contribute to feather damaging behaviors. For example, pesticide and herbicide residues n non-organic diets can cause allergic responses. In additon, some diets tha have lots of sugar, artificial colors, artificial flavors, and preservatives can also cause food allergies.

Bird Chewing Feathers - Feed healthy pellets

Second, how you feed your bird is very important. The one thing that has helped more of my patients than any other one thing is teaching them to forage. In the wild birds spend 70% of their time foraging. In captivity, they spend none. So they have lots of idle time to do things like pluck. You should start now to teach him how to forage, with the goal to have him eat only by foraging, gradually getting to the point that he has no open bowls of food in the cage. You will quickly see that your bird will preferentially eat from the foragers even if bowls of food are available. Toys are great and necessary, but do not replace the challenge of foraging.

(Watch the Captive Foraging DVD for more information on helping your bird learn to forage. Tracie sells foraging toys that will encourage your bird to forage.)

Bird Chewing Feathers - Use a water bottle

Third, most bacteria come from water dishes. The most common bacterial infection from water is Pseudomonas. Pseudomonas is a common cause of feather damaging behaviors. If you are not changing you water bowls every three hours, then I guarantee that your dishes contain significant amounts of bacteria. Want proof? Feel the bottom of the bowl the next time you wash it and discover the slime on the bottom. This is called a biofilm and it is a bed of bacteria. The numbers of bacteria in this biofilm double every three hours. Every time your bird drinks from this dirty bowl he ingests bacteria. The best prevention for this is to put your bird on a Lixit water bottle. Change the bottle once daily and check it 2-3 times daily to be sure it is working.

Bird Chewing Feathers - Increase humidity

Fourth, you should check the humidity levels in your home. If it is like the average house it is around 20%. This is very uncomfortable to parrots. They like humidity above 60%. This may no be possible in a home, but you can at least raise it some by putting in a warm air humidifier. Additionally, regular bathing can be very beneficial. Normally weekly baths are sufficient, however, with plucking birds I recommend a drenching bath every other day with plan water, and on alternating days with a good quality bath spray. This will do two things - 1. It will moisturize the skin and feathers; and 2. It will serve as a distraction, because wet birds do not pluck, they preen.

Bird Chewing Feathers - Add full spectrum lighting

Fifth, you should give your bird a full spectrum light. This will do wonders for his feathers and his skin, give him a natural source of vitamin D3, and make him happier and more active because he will be able to see better because birds see in the UV range.

Bird Chewing Feathers - Check cage location

The location of your cage can also contribute to feather damaging behaviors. Having the cage near a doorway where the bird cannot see you approaching can cause your bird to become startled. The same problem can occur if the cage is near a window. Animals outside, such as squirrels, feral cats, dogs, hawks, owls, and other predators can be very unnerving for birds.

Greg Burkett DVMBoard Certified Avian VeterinarianAdj. Professor of Avian Medicine and Surgery NCSU College of Veterinary Medicine

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