Birds Online
  Home > Health and diseases > Plumage defects > Feather-plucking
  Budgie Mucky plucks his own feathersMany people know that many parrots tend to pluck their own feathers due to some reasons such as loneliness or boredom. Once the birds started doing so, it is usually very hard to make them quit this bad and self-destructive habit. Therefore parrot owners should always have a close eye on their birds and make sure they would notice any feather-plucking in an early stage. But you're wrong if you think that only large parrots could be affected by this health issue. Smaller parrots like budgies or cockatiels can be affected by feather-plucking as well. Hence it is the right thing to do for each and every owner of parrot birds to look for hints that may indicate feather-plucking in an early stage.

If you keep a single budgie or other parrot, the animal is quite vulnerable to feather-plucking if you are not able to take care of the all the time very intensively. Even if you go to work or meet a friend your bird feels lonely and might be in danger of developing the bad habit. You can minimize the risk by not keeping any pet birds single. It's always better to keep at least two birds of a kind.

But feather-plucking isn't always caused by psychological stress. There are also other trigger factors like itchy skin diseases or diseases of the internal organs. Many pet birds are overweight and suffer from a fatty liver. You can't actually see this in an early stage, but the organ won't work properly and the detoxification of the organism isn't working as it should. Many pet birds suffer from itching because the skin becomes irritated by the toxins that accumulate in their body. They try to get some relief by plucking their feathers and soon this becomes a bad habit. Or they even start to bite their skin until they bleed from several wounds. This phenomenon is known as automutilation and this self-destructive behaviour could lead to a bird's death due to loss of blood or severe infections.

Therefore it is very important to contact an avian vet once you have noticed the slightest hint for feather-plucking in your bird.

How to deal with an affected bird?
Once a parakeet started its automutilation, you need loads of empathy and patience. In any case you should contact an avian vet in order to find out what causes the self-destructive behaviour in the individual case and the vet should prescribe special food supplements to support the bird's feather growth (e.g. minerals, special food supplements). And you should keep in mind that a bird who is naked needs some other special care: The skin isn't protected by the feathers and needs to be treated with special moisturising sprays or ointments. Please ask your vet for a recommendation. You should also make sure that your bird doesn't feel cold in your home.

Tweety, the feather pickerBut as already mentioned above, the most important thing you have to do is to find out exactly why the bird started its automutilation. If the animal lonely give him the proper company of a fellow friend. For some years it is a well-known fact (in circles of experts) that solitary keeping is cruelty to intelligent and social animals like budgies, other parakeets and larger parrots. And in case your vet found out that there is something wrong with an internal organ, you should follow the instructions and treat your bird with the medicine the vet prescribed.

Furthermore it is important that the bird never is bored. Offer him or her a lot of variety e.g. by appropriate toys and possibilities to climb. Additionally you should offer healthy food such as different fruits and vegetables as their taste stimulates the bird's senses and helps to avoid boredom, too. The bird even should "work" for its food. For this you can offer different sorts of millet or oats in the hull or buy some special treat toys or foraging toys for your feathered friends.

When birds become victims of feather-plucking fellows
Lessley's mother picked his feathersIn some cases, birds not even pluck their own feathers - they become the victims of others that show this misbehaviour. The photo on the right shows young budgie Lessley. This poor bird was the victim of its own mother who was plucking its feathers in the nest box.

So, in fact not every bird whose body shows naked skin has to be a feather-plucker himself. If your bird has a bare back of its head, most probably another bird might have caused it. Due to anatomical constraints, birds are not able to pick feathers on their own heads. Additionally, you might consider potential hormonal problems. In some (rare) cases birds lose their feathers on bigger areas due to a hormonal disturbance. Please contact an avian vet to get help.

The considerable part of feather-plucking birds shows this self-destroying behaviour as the animals suffer from continuous mental pressure. Here's an astonishing example: The birds of a friend's happy and healthy budgie flock changed mysteriously. Nearly all birds began plucking their feathers - not only their own but also the feathers of their fellows! The photo below shows budgie lady Paula who died some weeks after the picture was taken. She suffered from a bad infection which had been reinforced by the mental stress the poor bird had been going through. Regrettably her owner had no idea of it.

PaulaAfter a long research for reasons and some other dramatic deaths in the flock, my friend finally discovered the cause for her bird's self-destructive behaviour: Her animals have been extremely frustrated. The birds were kept exemplary, with loads of flight possibilities and best nutrition. This is why the birds were in a breeding mood. But as they had no chance to breed for years due to a lack of nest boxes and so on they became mentally depressed. The result of this depression was devastating. My friend changed a lot and her birds became happier, the stress disappeared. But regrettably most of the animals didn't stop plucking their feathers. This bad habit sustained.

All photos and the text on this page are protected by the copyright law. In case you'd like to use photos or texts for your own non-commercial purpose, please contact the author.