The Link Between Chronic Hormones and Parrot Feather Plucking
One important factor to consider when trying to identify what is causing parrot plucking is to determine if your pet is experiencing chronic hormonal stress. The problem of chronic hormones in parrots contributes greatly to parrot plucking behavior.
What is Chronic Hormonal Stress in Parrots?
In the wild, birds only mate for a short period of time each year because a precise set of physical and environmental conditions simultaneously come together to bring about the hormonal surges that a parrot needs to mate and rear young. After the seasonal period ends, parrot hormones resume dormant phase.
Domestic parrots, on the other hand, have been found to develop chronic, debilitating hormonal states that their bodies just can’t handle.
Here iare 5 sexually arousing conditions that induce chronic hormonal stress in Parrots (www.beautyofbirds.com).
- Bonding with a perceived mate: Your bird is not racist or even species specific in its love interests. It may perceive you as a mate. Or, in my case, my chihuahua, Pilar! Birds have been known to develop a mate-like bond with another family pet, a stuffed animal or even their own image reflected in a mirror. A bird that is “in the mood” displays crouching behavior, it may coo and ruffle its feathers.
- Diet: High levels of fat, starches and/or protein physically prepare a birds body to mate and create young. Warm, moist food in particular brings on hormonal surges. Birds in love regurgitate foods rich in protein, fat and starch to feed their mate as a form of foreplay. If your parrot is regurgitating when it is around you, it is likely that it is hormonal.
- Nesting site and materials: A bird’s idea of a love nest and your idea of one may be completely different. Your bird would be perfectly happy building a nest in a cardboard box, under furniture, behind couch cushions or even in a shoe! Any dark, confined place will do. And, in terms of nesting materials, the only requirement is that it cushions the eggs. Carpet fibers, toy fibers, or even shredded paper all work fine. Take a look around. Does your bird have accessible nesting spots and materials? Is it constantly trying to shred things?
- Petting: What loving pet owner doesn’t enjoy giving their parrot a good massage? Back stroking, massaging under the wings and around the vent area make your bird coo with pleasure, so you do it more. Just like you, your parrots body sexually responds and prepares to mate with a good massage. To avoid giving your parrot the wrong idea, limit petting to the head and feet.
- Sleep: Lengthening days, whether it is from natural sunlight or artificial light too much light is bad for parrots. Too long photoperiods cause a birds’ sexual organs to increase in size and emit reproductive hormones into the blood stream. The bird’s body is fooled into thinking that it is Spring.
Remember earlier when I mentioned that wild parrots only mate seasonally? Constant hormonal states not only damages important body structures but they can also mentally affect your pet, causing significant stress. This constant mental stress is known to induce parrot plucking.
Take a few minutes to jot down your thoughts on which of these conditions you could improve upon? How will you protect your bird?
How Constant Hormones Affect Your Parrot
When a parrot is hormonal it becomes driven and hyper vigilant. Its only intention is to breed, create a nest and rear chicks. This would be fine and dandy if the parrot actually had the opportunity to follow Mother Nature’s lead, but that's not usually the case. A parrot that can't satisfy its sexual needs becomes full of sexual tension. Thus, in a sexually frustrated state, one way to relieve tension is parrot plucking or other tension relieving behaviors.
Because Cockatoo’s are so cuddly, they are especially prone to hormone induced parrot plucking. And sadly, Cockatoo's are one of the species that is highly prone to self-mutilation. Hormone-induced parrot plucking usually starts in the chest region or between the legs, but it may progress to other areas of the body as time progresses. You must be especially careful with species prone to engaging in self-mutilation behaviors.
What Does a Hormonal Parrot Look Like?
You can prevent chronic hormonal states, but how do you know if that is what you’re dealing with? Here are signs that your bird is experiencing hormonal surges. Circle the behaviors that you’ve noticed in your parrot.
- Regurgitating by rapidly bobbing the head and neck
- Dropping its wings
- Raising its wing so that you can pet its sides
- Putting its tail or vent in the air
- Males may try to mount your hand or anything else
- Masturbating by rubbing the vent area on anything that is handy
- Females may chronically lay eggs
Of course, the more symptoms that you circled, the more hormonal your parrot may be. Now, do you remember the list of conditions that arouse sexualized behavior in parrots? Reflect on the conditions that your parrot is exposed to.
- Bonding with a perceived If your bird perceives you as its mate, it is more likely to become hormonal. This is highly preventable.
- Diets rich in calories, starch protein and fat, such as breads, pasta, meat, beans, nuts and cheese.
- Nesting opportunities consist of access to dark, small areas such as Snugglie’s, boxes, being allowed to go under furniture and into closets. It also involves having access to nest lining materials such as paper to shred, cotton or fibers, or any other cushioning material.
- Petting sensitive body parts that sexually stimulate a parrot
- Sleep dysregulation
How to Change the 5 Sexually Arousing Conditions
Make sure to socialize your parrot with all family members. Certainly, your bird may have a preferred person, but when all family members socialize the bird, it is better adjusted and has less chance of sexually bonding with just one person. If you’re not sure where to start, explore Clicker Training with the family. Teach your parrot that everyone can be a pal.
Check out the Parrot Food Pyramid below. Notice that it is recommended that the bulk of the diet should consist of premium parrot pellets. Supplemental foods, should consist of about 10% of the diet. Notice that the recommended intake of fat, protein and sugars is low. Reserve tasty goodies for training purposes.
To reduce nesting opportunities, remove bird beds or “Snugglies” from the cage. Examine whether your parrot is shredding anything in the cage, from tray liners to fluffy toys. Instead, increase foraging toys and add foraging stations, so that your parrot has to problem-solve to obtain food, just like a wild parrot. If your parrot seeks nesting sites during out of cage time, eliminate those opportunities. A lot of parrots crawl down from their play stands to hide under a sofa or in a closet. Use Clicker Training and positive reinforcement to make staying on the stand more rewarding that hovering around in a make-shift “nest.” Again, creating foraging stations on the play stand is a good option.
Since adolescent and adult parrots can become stimulated with sexually arousing petting, learn how to properly pet your bird. Even wild parrot pairs only fondle sensitive places during the short window of breeding season. The image below shows you how to properly pet a parrot to prevent creating a chronically hormonal condition.
If you work all day, of course you want to socialize your parrot in the evenings. But, remember, parrots are from equatorial areas have minimal seasonal variation in daylight and night hours. You can expect that your parrot needs between 10-12 hours of completely dark, uninterrupted sleep each night. Likewise, the parrot will benefit from between 10-11 hours of full-spectrum lighting during the day. The figure below shows you where your species of bird is from and how many hours of sleep and daylight are recommended. If you are unable to filter out light during much needed sleeping hours, consider covering your birds cage with a blanket or cage cover to keep the bird away from excessive light and lack of sleep, known hormone inducing situations.
In conclusion, one cause of parrot plucking is chronically hormones use the area below to jot down an action plan to get it under control.
- Diane Burroughs
How to Groom a Parrot to Minimize a Parrot Feather Plucking Problem
Plucking Feathers May Be Attributed to a Number of Factors.
As you’re learning about the factors that contribute to a parrot plucking feathers, you’ll want to take a look at the proper techniques for grooming a parrot. Sometimes plucking feathers results from a poor groom or not grooming the bird at all. Grooming a parrot requires special skills. We recommend that if you have a small to medium sized bird that you ask your avian veterinarian to show you exactly how to do the various grooming tasks. If your bird is large and you don’t have anyone to help you, it may be best to take your bird to a professional parrot groomer.
How to towel train a parrot
Grooming a parrot is fairly easy once you know how to do it but you have to be careful that you don't get bit. I recommend that before you embark on grooming your parrot you towel train it first. Towel training will make grooming and other veterinary procedures much less stressful for both you and the bird. Plus, if your bird ever has an emergency, being towel trained may well save its life. You'll probably need to towel your parrot for toe nail trims, beak trims and wing trims.
Photo Credit: Diane Burroughs, BirdSupplies.com
- Start off with a clean, solid-colored bath sized terry towel, preferably in a calming color.
- Get your bird used to the towel by keeping it near the cage for a few days. Give your bird a label to call it, “This is a towel.”
- After your bird has gained a sense of safety when it is near the towel try draping a portion of the towel over the cage. Verbally reward your bird for investigating the towel. The investigation stage of training is essential for your bird’s psychological comfort.
- Lay the towel on a bed or other flat surface and scatter some of your bird’s favorite toys and treats on it. Treat and praise your bird as it shows more and more comfort with the towel
- Once the bird is comfortable standing on the towel, try curling up the sides and encircling your parrot. Remember to keep it a fun game, always paying attention to your pet’s comfort level. Any game you can play with your bird, such as "Peek a Boo" will increase your birds comfort with the towel.
- Make this towel your parrot’s own towel. This is the towel that you will take to the vet. Whenever you need to use it, tell your parrot what you’re doing. You might label it “towel game!” Come up to the bird from the front and remain cheerful and calm. Never try to fool your bird or use the towel as punishment.
- To towel your bird, bring the towel up, over and around your bird. Gently encircle its head or neck in the towel, making sure that the feet and body are supported. Talk in a gentle voice offering up encouragement. Be careful to not constrict the chest area or restrict breathing. Also, watch for toe nails getting caught in the fabric.
- Gently pull the body part that needs grooming out of the towel and carefully groom your parrot.
Photo Credit: Diane Burroughs, BirdSupplies.com
One of the easiest things that you can do to curb plucking feathers is to provide your parrot with frequent baths. Wild parrots bathe daily. Captive parrots need frequent baths to wash away dust, dander, and contaminants that have gotten on the feathers. Bathing also moisturizes the skin and promotes healthy preening.
The easiest way to bathe your parrot is to buy a shower perch and bring your bird into the shower while you're showering. A good daily bath will do wonders towards improving parrot skin and feather health. This is especially true for dusty birds like cockatoos and African grey parrots. If your bird is fearful of the shower, train it to accept a spray mister or a birdbath spray. Or, better yet, use Clicker Training to progressively desensitize the bird. Small birds, like budgies and parrotlets may love bathing in leafy greens or even a bowl of water.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com
Whether you choose to do wing trims or not is a personal decision with pro's and con's for either leaving the bird flighted or not. A lot of people, who are not into flight training their parrot choose to keep their parrot safe with wing trims. Regardless, one well-known contributing factor to plucking feathers is an improper wing trim. Birds generally only need wing trims only a few times a year. Your avian veterinarian can groom your bird and may even show you how to do it correctly.
Photo Credit: Customer Photo
First things first. You’ll want to learn what new feathers, often called blood feathers, look like. These feathers are called “blood feathers,” because they have an active vein running through the length of the shaft. In the image above, the second feather from the top appears to be growing it. It is much shorter than the one above or the one below. Cutting into a still growing feather is painful and it will bleed profusely. This is traumatic for the bird, and can even be deadly. You see, birds only have a few tablespoons of blood in their bodies. Alternatively, if you're lucky enough to stop the bleeding, the trauma may cause the bird to begin plucking feathers.
As the new feather grows, the vein recedes. Once the vein is gone it is safe to clip the feather. Nevertheless, keep a bottle of styptic powder nearby whenever you’re grooming a parrot. Avian veterinarians and bird groomers use styptic powder to stop bleeding due to nails or wing feathers that have been clipped too closely.
How Many Feathers to Trim
An overly aggressive wing trim or a wing trim administered with dull scissors will also cause serious problems for your parrot. You only want to trim enough wing feathers so that a bird is unable to achieve lift when it attempts flight. You do want the bird to be able to glide down, though, should it fall off of its perch. An aggressive wing trim that leaves the bird unable to carefully glide to the floor may result in an injury and is a common cause plucking feathers. If a parrot with an aggressive wing trim falls or tries to fly off the perch and hits the floor with a blow, it may bruise or lacerate its chest or vent area. These injuries are painful and the scar tissue from the wound may cause feathers to grow in improperly. This constant discomfort causes the bird to start plucking feathers in effort to find relief.
I recommend trimming feathers and nails with cat claw clippers, like those pictured below. Cat claw clippers are available at any pet store. The small scissors have rounded ends and notched blades that allow you to easily grasp the feather shaft or a small top nail tip to make the cut in exactly the right place. Should your bird jerk during the trim, the blunt tips make an accidental stabbing injury impossible. Always use sharp scissors to trim the wing feathers. Should the shaft splinter, it is causes the bird a lot of irritation. The bird may attempt to pull out the affected feather.
Clip only four or five feathers on each side. You can always clip more feathers later if you find that your bird is able to achieve lift when it tries to fly. It’s better to trim fewer feathers and re-groom at a later time than risk injury from an aggressive groom.
Source: BirdSupplies.com Cat claw clippers
Beak and Nail Trims
In the wild, parrots naturally trim their beaks and nails as they chew on hard woods, rub their beaks on hard surfaces to clean them and perch on rough surfaces. Captive parrots will need your help to keep their beak and nails in good condition. Your avian veterinarian can perform beak and nail trims. If you wish to do it yourself, please be trained first by a knowledgeable professional.
Towel your bird, as described above, for the procedure and have styptic powder handy in case of bleeding. You can use cat claw clippers for this procedure, too. Take off only the sharp tip, approximately 1/8”. Cutting the claw too short is painful and traumatizing. For medium to large birds, it is helpful to have two people participate in the trimming process. One person can hold the foot and uncurl the toes while the other does the actual trimming.
For a painless, safer way to trim nails, we recommend using a Dremel Rotary Tool with a sandpaper tip. You can purchase a Dremel Rotary Tool at any hardware store. Purchase the 100 Series, as you need only a low speed to trim nails and beaks. These devices cauterize while they trim, eliminating a bleeding problem. Unless the nail is highly overgrown only take off the sharp tip. But even so, it is wise to still, only take off about 1/8”. Be sure to go slow because the Dremel sands the nail and beak a lot quicker than you think. A nervous bird may tightly curl its toes to avoid the trim. Once again, it will help to have a partner who can hold the bird and gently straighten out the toe. If your bird’s nails and beak are extremely overgrown, seek the help of a professional.
A third popular way to manage nail and beak growth is to use pedicure-style bird perches. These perches have bonded safe, sandpaper-like textures that trim the nails and beak. Some of the better quality brands bond the surface directly to a natural branch surface. Concrete perches should be avoided as they dry out the birds foot pads. Place the pedicure perch in a favorite perching location so that it gets plenty of use.
Photo Credit: Diane Burroughs, BirdSupplies.com
In summary, birds fare better, especially when it comes to plucking feathers, when their skin and feathers are clean, they have gentle and proper wing trims that allow them to glide safely to the ground in the event of a fall, and their nails and beak are appropriately trimmed. Routinely grooming a parrot helps maintain its physical and emotional comfort and may reduce plucking feathers (related to discomfort and stress.)
Hey, do you have some ideas and tips on grooming a parrot? Let us know in the comments section.
- Diane Burroughs
Parrot Plucking Series: Environmental Management to Manage Parrot Feather Plucking
Imagine the rainforest where parrots come from. It’s teeming with life, activity, and abundant food sources. Wild parrots are never bored in the rainforest. In fact, their entire bodies have adapted to flighted life in the hot, humid rainforest environment. Get a glimpse of rainforest life. Listen to this relaxing video as you read this blog.
There are many environmental elements that captive parrots need for an enriching and stress-free physical and mental health. If you have a bird plucking feathers, than offering a stress-free environment provides FREE home remedies for feather plucking.
Simply offering a bird plenty of food and toys isn’t enough. It is an unsatisfying substitute for the daily activities of a wild parrot. Parrots need specific environmental accommodations to make their environment replicate what the rainforest provides. These accommodations include (but are not limited to) a toxin-free environment, cage management, proper humidity levels, plus, plenty of opportunities for natural parrot exercise, enrichment and foraging.
Improper environmental care causes a captive parrot physical discomfort, stress and anxiety, all factors that contribute to the development of a feather plucking habit. Appropriate parrot care involves being aware of a challenging mix of physical and environmental elements that in turn diminish the birds stress and improve its mental health.
We will explore several common elements that may be a factor in your bird plucking out its feathers. Parrots continue to have “wild” needs that are different from more commonly kept pets.
If your bird is plucking its feathers, it doesn’t mean that you’re a “bad parrot caretaker,” so give yourself a break. But, by adding parrot specific environmental accommodations into your birds life and daily activities, you'll be making some dramatics steps to reduce your parrots stress.
Environmental and dietary toxins can make a parrot very uncomfortable and may even be deadly. One important factor in caring for a parrot involves caring for the air quality in your home. You see, parrots have a set highly efficient air sacs so airborne toxin seriously effect their well-being. Captive parrots are exposed to an abundance of airborne toxins every day. Aerosol sprays in particular cause respiratory distress. Tiny chemical droplets become airborne and you can’t control where they land. The parrot both inhales them in the air and ingests the chemicals when droplets land on its feathers, cage or cage accessories.
Other dangerous airborne toxins include scented candles, overheated Teflon®/non-stick lining pans, heaters and other appliances, harsh household cleaners and chemicals, cigarette smoke and air fresheners. Make an effort to reduce or eliminate airborne toxins that play havoc with your parrot’s health.
Debris in the bottom of the cage or in the bird room quickly harbor unsafe fungal and bacterial growths that may also become airborne. This is why you should make it a weekly habit to thoroughly clean the bird cage with bird safe detergents. We'll go over the routine below.
Photo Credits: Shutterstock
You can’t manage outdoor air quality such as pollution or distant fire smoke in the air. In such cases, you may wish to purchase an air cleaner. You can get room-size air cleaners as well as whole house air cleaners. You can also keep all windows closed and run the air conditioner.
Another toxic airborne culprit is tobacco smoke or nicotine. Of course, cigarette or marijuana smoke infiltrates the air quality and settles on feathers, the cage, cage accessories and toys. The smoke may be inhaled or ingested when lands on the bird and its accessories, causing brittle feather production. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarette smoke are toxic chemicals that birds don’t tolerate well. Refrain from smoking in the house and always thoroughly wash your hands before handling your pet.
In addition to air quality, parrots are very sensitive to heavy metal exposure. Zinc is the most common form of heavy metal toxicity, but copper, lead and iron are also known to cause acute metal poisoning in parrots. A parrot may ingest metals from mouthing toys, chipped cage bars or other metal objects. The clinical symptoms of metal toxicity could include neurological symptoms, gastrointestinal disorders, and acute damage to the liver and kidneys. According to Jepson, (2016), a bird plucking feathers is thought to be associated with chronic, low-level metal toxicity. Feather plucking remedies would be to purchase a quality cage or repaint a chipping cage with child-safe paints. Also, purchase bird toys from reputable manufacturers and if possible, avoid metal parts in preference for natural or plastic toy hangers.
Cage Size and Management
Cage size is critically important. A parrot that is forced to live in an inappropriately small cage will suffer from lack of enrichment and exercise. Every time your parrot needs to stretch its wings it may hit the wing tips on the cage bars, causing pain and damaging feathers. Parrots often instinctually pull out damaged feathers, so a small cage may lead to a plucking feathers habit. Just as important, the boredom of a small poorly equipped cage can end with a bird plucking feathers.
It is recommended that the cage be no less than two of your pet’s “wing spans” across and twice as tall as the perching bird. This is a minimum. A bigger cage, with appropriate bar spacing, is always better for your bird’s mental and physical health. A large cage allows your bird to climb about to different foraging stations, thereby getting both exercise and enrichment. It is essential to keep your parrot’s cage and its surroundings clean to prevent diseases, such as skin, follicle and foot infections. Below is a simple, yet effective, schedule to help you stay on top of cage management tasks.
Routine for cleaning a bird cage
Change soiled cage liners; stack them and remove soiled ones daily
Wash food and water dishes with soapy water until white-colored slime n the bottom and sides is gone
Do a quick visual inspection to ensure toys and accessories are safe
Sweep floor and surrounding area; wipe up splatters with Poop Swoop® wipes
Scrape and clean poop off grate (tip: use a BBQ scraper)
Scrape and wash tray
Wipe down cage with AviClean Concentrate Cage Cleaner® (available from BirdSupplies.com)
Run food and water bowls through the dishwasher (or give a thorough manual clean)
Inspect, clean and rotate bird toys
Use parrot-safe pest control products as needed
Wipe off food and poop splatters with bird-safe cleaner like Poop Swoop® wipes
Mop floor and surrounding area with soapy water
Clean cage cracks and crevices with scraper and disinfectant
Wipe down interior and exterior of cage
Clean walls behind the cage
Just like human children, parrots need 10–11 hours of sleep for optimum physical health and healthy feather growth. They also need access to unfiltered sunlight. Natural light plays a significant role in helping to maintain physical and emotional health, including supplying vitamin D3, which is essential for good calcium absorption. We’ve established in other blogs how calcium is needed to regulate mood and its importance to neurological health.
Photo Credits: Shutterstock
Your bird needs 8–10 hours of UVA light to regulate circadian and circannual rhythms, which in turn affect molts, hormone levels and the like. Placing your bird by a window won’t do because modern windows feature UVA and UVB barriers. You may wish to take your bird outside for a few hours a day. Just make sure that it is well supervised and that it doesn’t get overheated. An overheated parrot will pant. It is not uncommon for wild animals such as hawks and raccoons to attack parrots when they are outside, so never leave your parrot unattended.
Feather plucking remedies involve either offering supervised outside time, weather permitting. Another remedy is using Full-Spectrum Lighting. Artificial “full-spectrum lighting” is available to supply parrots with UVA and UVB light. You’ll find the reputable FeatherBrite® brand at BirdSupplies.com. These appliances can be placed on the cage and frequently come with electric cord protectors to deter your bird from chewing the cord.
Parrots are from very humid rainforest regions near the equator. Low humidity levels in most homes results in dry, brittle skin and feathers that may lead to failure of the feather sheath to soften properly. This in turn may cause enough discomfort to induce over preening and the bird plucking feathers. When a parrot has brittle, damaged feathers or excessively dry skin, it tends to start plucking feathers.
Remedies include upping the humidity in the home or offering the bird daily showers and baths. Frequent misting with a bird-bath spray that contains preening oils also helps. You may wish to purchase a room-sized humidifier or use a whole-house humidifier attached to your heating system. Check filters for mold growth on a weekly basis. Likewise, always make sure that your bird has access to fresh, clean drinking water.Exercise and foraging
Imagine how much exercise a wild parrot gets a day. Parrots fly miles a day to get to a variety of food sites. Once at a site, they dig and forage in search of a variety of foods that are needed to maintain optimum nutritional health. Researchers tell us that wild parrots may spend between four and ten hours a day foraging for food, on top of several hours flying to the food site.
Photo Credits: Diane Burroughs, BirdSupplies.com
Your captive parrot is likely exercise and foraging deprived. You can inspire your bird to exercise with a large cage and time out of the cage on a play stand and thereby improve its physical well-being. Next, rather than making your bird’s food easily accessible, create foraging stations throughout the cage so that your bird has to work for its food. You can create foraging activities with some regular household items.
Here are just a few ideas:
- Cover the bowl with a paper grocery sack so that your bird has to rip the paper to get at its food .
- Hide pellets or dried fruit in bird-safe substrates such as nutshells or wood chips
- Use a clean egg carton stuffed with shredded paper to hide food in
- Get some stainless steel bird kabobs to string food on so that your bird has to balance to get its food
- Teach your parrot to climb up carpeted stairs to obtain a treat at the top
The sky is the limit. Pinterest, a popular sharing website, is full of safe foraging ideas for parrots. A bird play stand should be an essential parrot care item. Not only do stands allow you to socialize with your bird but they also promote climbing and exercise.
Why not add foraging stations to your play stand? Foraging trees are a popular item. Scott Echols’, DVM video, Captive Foraging, tells you how to make one; just head over to amazon.com to find a copy of the DVD.
The best exercise that you can offer your bird is to provide opportunities for flight. Some say that this is one of the best feather plucking remedies out there. Consider teaching your bird to fly while wearing an Aviator® Bird Harness, available at BirdSupplies. com. Flight is as close as you’ll get to re-creating a “wild” parrot experience. A bird’s entire anatomy and psyche has adapted to be flight friendly. Carefully observe your bird whenever it is outside and never leave it unattended.
An emotionally stable parrot can easily deal with transitions or changes in routine, but an emotionally fragile or anxious parrot may prefer predictable routines. Offer your fearful bird set points in time throughout the day when it can trust that it will receive quiet socialization. The shy little parrotlet shown below feels safe in a cozy snuggly as she socializes with the rest of the family. Parrots understand much of what you tell them, so describe changes in routine just like you would to a pre-school aged child.
Photo Credits: Diane Burroughs, BirdSupplies.com
Another feather plucking remedy is to start teaching your shy parrot to stretch its wings like taking risks and trying new things. Start off slowly, maybe one or two new activities a week. Go for activities that encompass natural parrot behaviors. Always reward brave, natural behaviors such as exploring, problem solving, movement and exercise, foraging with treats and praise. Encourage natural parrot behaviors of problem-solvlng, exploration, foraging, exercise, vocalizing and socializing. Teach your parrot the behaviors you desire with positive reinforcement methods.
This is not the end all of offering up safe, parrot friendly environmental elements in effort to find feather plucking remedies. Parrot environmental enhancement could be a full book of its own and we are surely to offer more natural feather plucking remedies in the future. Ultimately, the end goal of parrot environmental enrichment is to safely offer your pet opportunities to be a parrot!
Let us know what you think. We’d love it if you’d share your ideas and strategies for parrot environmental care in the comments.
- Diane Burroughs
Parrot Nutrition to Miniimze Parrot Feather Plucking
Customer Contribution Uploaded to BirdSupplies.com
One of the most upsetting things that a parrot lover may experience is parrot feather plucking. While there are many contributing factors to parrot plucking, one important contributing factor is the parrots diet. First rate nutrition is required not just for effective organ functioning but also for beautiful plumage. However, malnutrition is common captive parrots.
Malnutrition can affect any organ structure in the body, and once damage is done, it becomes progressive. As one organ breaks down, other organs are affected which results in a cascading decline of overall health. Poor skin and feather health may be an early sign that your pet needs a parrot feather plucking diet.
Customer Contribution Uploaded to BirdSupplies.com
Rubinstein and Lightfoot (2012) report that the metabolic cost of growing, maintaining, and replacing feathers is high. With an ordinary molt, the bird has to replace up to 30% of the lean, dry body mass. Healthy feather growth requires an increased need for energy, amino nitrogen, and amino acids. Plucking parrots are replacing feathers at a more frequent rate, quickly depleting their body of essential nutrients.
Poor nutrition effects skin health, too. According to Cooper and Harrison (1994), “The ability of avian skin to resist infections and to heal properly is related to many factors, the most important of which is the nutritional status of the bird” (p. 625). Itchy skin causes a parrot to scratch and dig at its skin, possibly causing a life threatening injury.
Species Specific Diets
Current avian nutrition research is now revealing that different species of parrots have slightly different nutritional needs. While most parrot species are Florivores, with their primary diet being plant based, we are now finding out that among Florivores, there also exists Granivores, or birds that eat mostly grains and seeds. Frugivores eat mostly flowers and fruits, Omnivores eat a combination of foods and Nectavores, birds that thrive on nectar, pollen and insects.
Pet Bird Dietary Classification
Seeds, fruits, nuts, bark, roots, berries
Military macaw, Blue and gold macaw, Red- faced parrot
Budgerigar, cockatiel, Hyacinth macaw
Mostly fruit and flowers; some nuts and seeds
Blue-throated macaw, Green-winged macaw
Seeds, fruits, insects, invertebrates
Sulpher-crested cockatoo, Red-tailed Amazon
Nectar, pollen; some insects and seeds
Adapted from PetEducation
The Case for Pellets
Avian veterinarians often recommend that the bulk of a parrots diet should come from a formulated pelleted diet. Most species will do well with a 65-80% pelleted diet supplemented with vegetables, grains and fruits. There are several pellet choices available including Harrison’s Bird Food, Roudybush and Zupreem.
Reputable bird food manufacturers use research to guide the manufacturing process of their diets. They use a variety of ingredients from grains, vegetables, fruits, seeds, various protein sources and vitamins and minerals. The ingredients blended together and baked in to a crunchy pellet. Some manufacturers make different blends for species-specific diets.
Supplement Your Parrot Feather Plucking Diet with Fresh Foods
It is recommended that pellets be supplemented with fresh fruits and vegetables. The chart below shows you recommended fresh supplements that your bird may love.
Nutritious Supplements to the Parrot Feather Plucking Diet
Carrots (root and tops)
Cooked sweet potatoes
Mustard & dandelion greens
Cooked red potatoes
Sweet red & green peppers
Broccoli (head and leaves)
Beet & turnip greens
Sugar snap or snow peas
Squash (peeled & steamed)
Red beets (peeled)
Romaine or green/red leaf lettuce
Adapted from PetEducation
How to Clean Fruits and Vegetables to Remove Residue
1. Fill a large bowl with 4 parts water: 1 part plain white vinegar.
2. Soak the fruit or vegetables you’d like cleaned in the mixture for 20 minutes.
3. Rinse the fruit or vegetables well with water.
Infographic by Diane Burroughs, LCSW, BirdSupplies.com
Eclectus parrots are a species that is prone to parrot plucking. One possible reason for this is because Eclectus parrots have very long digestive tracts which absorb preservatives, additives, dyes and synthetic vitamins at a higher rate. Thus, they need a specialized diet free from preservatives, additives, food dyes and synthetic vitamins. If you have an Eclectus that is pre-occupied with parrot feather plucking, consider feeding it an organic based mash.
African Grey Parrots are also known to be prone to problems with feather destructive behavior. This species tends to be prone to calcium deficits. Calcium, supported by magnesium and vitamin D3 is vital for the proper functioning of the central nervous system. UnRuffledRx Calcium, Magnesium +D3 is an excellent supplement for calcium deficiency.
Low calcium levels may result in muscle tremors, weak bone structure, soft egg shells in female birds, poor coordination, loss of balance and even seizures. Another common symptom of Hypocalcaemia are disorders of the nervous symptoms. These parrot feather plucking health problems can occur in any species, but occur more frequently in African Grey Parrots. Nervous parrots are more prone to parrot feather plucking.
Image: Diane Burroughs, LCSW BirdSupplies.com
Calcium Content of Greens, per ounce (28g) is estimated as follows:
Chicory (endive) Chard
Adapted from Low, R., 2006
Low calcium levels directly affect brain chemistry and the functioning of the nervous system. An imbalance of calcium may result in anxious, nervous behavior. Respected breeder and avian expert, Rosemary Low, identifies calcium is an essential additive. Calcium supplements are helpful during breeding season for most parrots. African Grey Parrots may enjoy year round supplementation. You can buy a calcium / Vitamin D3 supplement such as UnRuffledRx Calcium, Magnesium +D3 is available at BirdSupplies.com. Another way to increase the calcium intake is to supplement your birds’ fresh diet with calcium rich green leaves. Work with your avian veterinarian to insure a balance of calcium for your parrot, especially if your African Grey is experiencing feather destructive behavior.
If your bird is overly anxious, has poor balance, and tremors, take it to an avian veterinarian for physical exam and ask for a calcium test.
In addition to calcium deficiency, many parrot diets are low in vitamin A. This vitamin is essential for the health of soft tissue such as inside the nares. Foods high in vitamin A include sweet potatoes, carrots, dark leafy greens, winter squashes, lettuce, dried apricots, cantaloupe, bell peppers, and tropical fruits.
Photo from Currumbin Valley Birds, Reptiles & Exotics Vet
This is an image of a cockatiel with tissue complications of vitamin A deficiency that required surgery.
These are just a few examples of how malnutrition contributes parrot feather plucking. In each of these examples, skin and / or feather health are. Anytime that a parrot is under stress, whether it is from nutritional deficits that result in discomfort or pain, or other parrot husbandry practices than the bird may try to relieve itself with scratching or parrot feather plucking. The quickest way to reduce your pets physical stress is to improve upon its nutritional intake.
And, finally, if your parrot is a devout "seed junkie" we strongly encourage that you feed a high quality avian vitamin such as UnRuffledRx Avian Vitamins Plus.
Cooper, J. & Harrison, G. (1994). ‘Dermatology’, in Avian Medicine: Principles and Application (pp. 609–638). Lake Worth: Wingers Publishing. Available at: http://avianmedicine.net/ content/uploads/2013/03/24.pdf
Low, R. (2006). The Parrot Companion. New Holland Publishers Ltd (September 15, 2006)
Rubenstein, J. & Lightfoot, T. (2012). Feather Loss and Feather Destructive Behavior in Pet Birds. Journal of Exotic Pet Medicine, 21(3): 219–234. Available at: www.vetexotic.theclinics.com/ article/S1094-9194(13)00089-3/pdf
Veterinary & Aquatic Services Department, Drs. Foster and Smith. Bird nutrition: feeding pet birds, parrot diets and nutrition recommendations. (Online). Available at: www.peteducation.com/article.cfm?c=15+1835&aid=2844
- Diane Burroughs