Posted March 29, 2012
Nail-biting, gum smacking, knuckle popping - they can be
irritating habits people have. Even birds display their share
of odd behaviors.
Feather plucking is a common habit among parrot-type birds, says
Dr. Alice Blue-McLendon, a veterinarian with the Winnie Carter
Wildlife Center at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine
and Biomedical Sciences.
While most adult birds lose their feathers naturally once or
twice a year in a process called molting, it is not natural for a
bird to pluck out its own feathers, says Blue-McLendon. One
of the clues that a bird is plucking its feathers is to look at the
bird's head. Since a parrot cannot pluck feathers from
its own scalp, a feather-plucking bird will have a full head of
feathers but be missing a lot of feathers on other parts of its
As simple as it may sound, the most common reason for a bird to
pluck out its own feathers is boredom, says Blue-McLendon.
"When a bird isn't stimulated by its environment, it may begin
plucking its feathers for entertainment or out of frustration," she
Because of birds' high intelligence level, environmental
enrichment is extremely important for them, Blue-McLendon
notes. They need plenty of toys to play with, especially ones
they can chew.
"The more time they spend chewing on toys and food, the less
time they have to chew on their feathers," she adds.
Some birds enjoy playing with their own feathers after they have
fallen out naturally through molting. Although feathers are
cheap and simple toys, they aren't appropriate ones.
Playing with loose feathers may spawn a nasty plucking
habit. "You don't want to encourage your bird to pluck its
feathers out to have something to play with," Blue-McLendon
says. "Remove the feathers from the cage as soon as they fall
Excessive grooming, or "preening" as it is known in the avian
arena, is also not an appropriate pastime for birds.
"You should curb this behavior early," says Blue-McLendon. "If
you allow it to continue, some birds, especially cockatoos, can
become overzealous in their preening."
Preening can be another common precursor to feather
plucking. Again, occupying its time with other activities can
help rid your bird of its obsession with grooming, Blue-McLendon
She says it's important to try to break any bad habits as soon
as you notice them.
"Temporarily changing your bird's environment is a good start,"
Blue-McLendon explains. "Try adding new toys to its cage or
simply rearranging its existing toys. Also, consider moving
its cage to another area of the house, possibly one with heavier
If your bird's meals consist of only seeds, try to incorporate
new foods and flavors into its diet, says Blue-McLendon. Add
colorful fruits and vegetables, especially those that can double as
chew toys like celery, carrots, and green beans.
However, know that change is not always the best remedy.
Sometimes variation, especially sudden and dramatic variation, in a
bird's environment can also lead to feather plucking, says
Stressful events, such as moving, a death in the family or a
reduction in time spent with its owner, can more than ruffle your
bird's feathers. They can cause anxiety-based behaviors like
screaming and, of course, feather plucking. Be sure to make
changes gradually and monitor your bird's progress.
Also, before you make any changes, be sure your bird doesn't
have a medical reason for plucking its feathers such as mite
infestation, a hormone imbalance or skin infection. These
problems would warrant a visit to your veterinarian.
"Breaking a bad habit can be quite a feat," Blue-McLendon
adds. "But, if your mother could convince you to stop biting
your nails, there's a good chance you can help your bird eliminate
its feather fixation."
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