Scarlet Macaw Loosing Down Feathers

by Joe
(Rockland County, NY)

Hello, This past July I acquired a 2.5 year old female Scarlet Macaw. She was on consignment by her owner who could no longer care for her.

I had met with the previous owners and it was obvious that they loved her dearly however she was not on an appropriate diet. She also had no clue how to crack a nut (they always gave her shelled, if at all) or play with toys.

She has come a long way and made good friends with my Green-Wing. She is happy with her new life and continues to improve every day.

My question is this:

I have noticed over the past four or so months that she seems to shed allot more down feathers then my other birds. Nothing visible, from looking at her, she appeared to be in perfect feather. But between seeing the evidence in and around the cage and when she is showered it is pretty clear she is loosing significant amounts of down feathers and some contours.

At her last check up about two months ago my vet said quite confidently it is because she is underweight. She was underweight when I got her (but was in perfect feather) and has gained some since then.

About a month ago she developed a small bare patch on her chest where only down is visible. She also has had increased dander. I live in a cold climate and this time of year I only shower my birds once a week for fear of catching a chill. I have increased her showers to twice a week and has helped with the dander but the bare patch has not changed or perhaps got slightly larger. The feathers she has look sleek and healthy and her skin looks good. I am confident she is not plucking.

She is on a Pellet/Nut/dried fruit diet with fresh fruit & vegetables as a supplement along with cooked foods such as Goldenfeast's Asian Medley. She is a bit picky as to what she eats and we are working on that.

She is also under full spectrum lighting for 6.5 hours per day.

Your help in this matter would be greatly appreciated as I am growing more concerned.

Thank You,


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Feb 26, 2011
Scarlet Macaw losing feathers
by: The Avian Vet

I hope they do not live in the same cage. In my opinion, without the advantage of giving her an exam...

This could be a normal rate of feather loss for her; this could be feather plucking; this could be normal molting. It is expected that when a bird goes from a poor diet to a good diet, they will begin molting, especially down feathers, but all of them within 6-12 months of improving the diet.

I personally do not see a connection between being underweight and loosing feathers. Except that an underweight bird is probably on a poor diet, and a poor diet can cause excessive feather loss.

The increased dander is likely from new feather growth, again, because her diet has been improved and she is probably molting. I can assure you that she is plucking. If you are seeing down feathers, and feathers are missing over those down feathers, the only explanation is that she is plucking, regardless of how great the other feathers look. Bare patches do not occur from molting, but they do from plucking.

What pellet is she on? How much pellets does she eat? The best pellet is Harrison's; the worst is anything with sucrose (check the ingredients), color, artificial preservatives, and artificial flavors. Pellets should be 80% of the diet; treats should be 20%; anything that is not a pellet is a treat.

Full spectrum lighting is excellent, provided that it is a bird-specific light; non-bird lights do not offer the correct wave length. Be sure that if this is a bulb with both UV-A and UV-B light, that you have it at least 18-24 inches away from your bird to prevent ?sun? burn and eye damage. I recommend that you give 4-6 hours per day of artificial light, but split it into two sessions, 2-3 hours each; one in the morning, the other in the afternoon or early evening.

I do not know what your veterinarian did, but you may want to seek the advice of a specialist in avian medicine. The plucking may be behavioral, but in my experience, they are nearly always medical. You should have the avian veterinarian take a blood sample, do a thorough physical exam, and even take x-rays to diagnose this problem. After an extensive work up, and nothing is found, then you might be able to say this is behavioral. Certainly stress can play a role, and going form home to home is stressful, but that is only one of hundreds of possible causes. And, it may not be only one thing causing it.

Dr B
Feather Damaging Behavior article

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