Feather plucking and feather picking birds


Copyright © Patricia Barth

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Feather plucking by caged birds has been almost totally enigmatic through these past few decades. Some of what I opine to be causes are listed below:

  • ALLERGIES: Certain birds may be allergic to specific vitamins or supplements in their diet. Color dyes in pellets can be an allergen to some, as well as preservatives and other additives in processed foods. Pesticides on produce might also play a part in causing internal or extradermal inflammation. Environmental allergies are discussed below.
  • BEHAVIORAL: This is found mainly in Cockatoos and Congo African Greys. Timneh Greys are not as susceptible to the neurotic plucking that their close relatives tend to do when upset emotionally. Cockatoos pluck out of frustration from lack of attention, being kept covered or away from stimuli because of their loud calls, and/or other physical factors. Once a Cockatoo begins to pluck itself, the whole regime can turn into a nasty mutilation scene. It becomes a vicious circle of irritation, itchiness, more plucking and then mutilation. Unless you can put up with the noise of these magnificent birds, and afford to give it the attention it deserves, then an affectionate loving Cockatoo is not for you. The larger Greys, being very intelligent and sensitive birds, have a tendency to pluck when anything in their environment changes - maybe even a new visitor. Mutual preening is important for birds. If they don't have this from a mate or their owners, they may tend to pluck.
  • BREEDING: Some hens will pluck their chests in order to give more heat to their eggs and young hatchlings.
  • PHYSIOLOGICAL: Upon medical exam, some birds have been diagnosed with parasites or bacterial infections. Some bacterial infections may be secondary to the cause of plucking and as a result of the irritation. It's been said that smokers in the home can cause a nicotine addiction that would result in plucking.
  • DIETARY: Chemical additives in some artificial pelleted diets may well be a cause of plucking in birds that become sensitive to the chemical buildup. Lack of foods rich in amino acids and phytonutrients (fresh produce) can be a cause of plucking. I believe in a varied diet with a good vitamin, mineral, amino acid supplement to keep the bird's system from becoming immuno compromised. See our diet page for suggestions. Dietary requirements are also species specific in many cases. It's best to do some research on the type of bird(s) that you own before making dietary changes or decisions. Overweight, elderly and latent birds can also acquire the habitual cycle of feather plucking due to fatty liver disease.
  • HOUSING: A happy healthy bird is one that can ideally fly or at least have a cage large enough to be able to hop around and stretch and flap its wings. Extra care must be taken with a bird that has flight, though, to keep it from escaping and to keep it from getting into trouble. Birds need to chew and need stimuli, so a few safe bird toys in its cage will help it to escape the boredom of being confined. I've found that fresh clean sliced or chunked pine 2x4s are the bird's favorites. My breeders chew them vigorously to use as nesting material while the others love them as hand held chew toys.
  • ENVIRONMENTAL: Last, but not least is the environmental factor. New carpeting, upholstered or laminated furniture, new sheet rock, and neurotoxic odors from household sprays and some perfumes can be deadly to birds. The first four items outgas the highly carcinogenic formaldehyde for many years. Smoking will certainly compromise the health of the bird(s) in some way. Weather permitting, birds should have a source of fresh air and/or air conditioning. A good HEPA filter air cleaner will do the best job in keeping stale air fresh and bird dust down. Ozone air cleaners are a no-no because of the after effects that are lung irritants. Birds have been known to succumb to fumes from running trucks or cars close to their room. Improperly vented wood stoves can present dangers to both birds and humans. Carbon monoxide alarms are a must in homes with wood stoves. Most everyone is aware of the danger of overheated Teflon™ or Silverstone™ coated pans, utensils, and new appliances. See our bird tips page for more info on this.
  • MOLD: This should be covered under environmental, but I feel it important enough to be given its own heading. If you can see mold anywhere in your home or aviary, you have a problem that could cause the itchiness in plucking birds. If you have had water seepage or leaks that were fixed or have stopped, you can still have a problem with hidden mold that emits mycotoxins. Mycotoxins cannot be seen or measured, but they can be physically devastating to both birds and humans. Sheet rock is fodder for mold. Bleach does NOT kill mold. It masks it and then leaves a residue that feeds the spores later on. White vinegar is the best cleaning agent that I know of to kill mold. Stachybotrys mold can only be killed at temperatures above 500 degrees! This is one of the most toxic types of mold and can cause CNS (central nervous system) problems, cancer, and many other ailments. Aspergillus (very common) can cause bad respiratory problems that are difficult to cure. There are a few other lesser toxic molds and numerous non-toxic types. I believe that these mycotoxins are the main offender in birds that pluck.

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It has come to my attention recently that so-called "rescue" groups or persons and other organizations are confiscating birds that are plucked, claiming that they are "neglected". In most cases, this is so far from the truth that the perpetrators could be setting themselves up for a good lawsuit. In some of the cases even involving nationally known entities, the birds taken were not cared for or fed properly and the "rescuers" knew diddly squat about bird husbandry. In one FL case, birds and their babies were killed in the process of "redeeming" them.

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updated 06/20/14