Managing the Feather Chewing/Plucking Bird

Feather picking, plucking, chewing, and mutilation are frustrating aspects of pet parrot ownership. There are dozens of medical, behavioral, nutritional, and environmental causes for this, and it is important to remember that rarely is there a single cause. The disorder tends to get progressively worse with time, and regardless of how it started, it often becomes an obsessive­compulsive disorder (OCD). Even though this is a multifaceted disorder, there are several things that the parrot owner should do to discourage this behavior and slow or stop its progression, regardless of the cause.

Whenever your pet is showing signs of a health issue your first step is to contact your primary care veterinarian. If you are worried that your pet may be at risk of extreme feather plucking or another serious condition, a veterinary specialist is available at an ExpertVet certified hospital.

Good Nutrition

A good diet is essential for normal skin and feather development. Over-feeding seeds and nuts often will lead to vitamin A deficiencies and protein imbalances that will affect feather growth. Feed a good quality pelleted diet supplemented with fresh fruits and vegetables.

Regular Bathing

Most parrot species originate from rainforest areas and are used to a fairly high humidity level. Regular bathing allows the bird to clean its feathers and skin, removing dirt and irritants, and decreasing the amount of preening needed to maintain healthy feathers. Many birds will enjoy a "greens bath", where fresh clean greens (collard, turnip, mustard, etc.) are placed in a low-sided shallow dish or pie pan with 1/2 to 3/4 inches of water, and the bird is allowed to play in it.

Remove Attention During Chewing/Plucking/Preening

Any attention an owner gives to a bird while it is chewing; plucking, or even just preening can be positive reinforcement for that behavior, even if the attention is negative. Often times screaming and yelling at your bird can be perceived as a "drama reward". It is best to remove attention completely during these behaviors, returning the bird to its cage or perch and physically leaving the area, if possible. Conversely, positive attention should be given to the bird while it is talking, singing, playing with its toys, or performing other desirable behaviors.

Provide Chewing Material

Often time feather-destructive behaviors can be redirected to toys, especially ones made from rags or rope, shredded newspaper, soft wood, cardboard tubes, mop heads, or other things that provide an outlet for destructive behaviors. Offer a variety of things to be chewed within easy access of the bird.