Are you worried about your bird plucking feathers?
It is the most common trait in birds. There may be several reasons for your bird to pluck its feathers. Birds are born to be in the wild, and, in the wild, they pluck feathers out and line their nests during the season of breeding.
Birds plucking feathers out could a regular grooming routine too. However, when your bird starts plucking feathers out excessively, it could be alarming and a cause of concern.
Conventionally, physiological or psychological disturbances lead to excessive plucking of feathers. However, it may not be possible to pin down the exact reason.
For most bird owners, birds plucking feathers may come out of nowhere. While one day, the bird may be happy and singing on the porch, the next day he could be pulling out dozens of their feathers.
Feather Plucking – What is it?
Feather plucking, also called feather picking, is often scary behavior, as the source of this type of behavior is not easily identified. Birds may naturally pluck their feathers to regulate temperature, to attract mate, and for protection. Standard feather plucking behavior includes pulling out a few feathers. However, when the bird starts pulling out a large section of feathers at once, it is destructive.
There may be varied intensities of feather picking ranging from mild to periodic pulling to causing balding on a body part to a fully bald body, and skin damage, or extreme self-mutation.
If not managed early, this habit may be difficult to break. The most common spots of picking are around the breast region or beck, but some birds plucking feathers under wigs, legs, and back are also observed.
Symptoms of Extreme Feather Plucking in Birds
- Bent, damaged, and untidy feathers
- Birds looking tattered
- Broken skin injuries due to constant plucking and biting
- Secondary skin infections
- Dry and flaky skin due to lack of bathing opportunities or humidity
- Stressed and irritated behavior
- Depressed attitude
- Damaged feathers
If you notice any of these signs, you should try to find out why the bird is plucking feathers.
Why is my Bird Plucking Feathers? Causes
Your bird may have resorted to feather plucking for a host of reasons. However, generally, feather plucking behavior could be divided into two broad categories – medical and behavioral.
Several medical conditions trigger feather plucking in birds such as bacterial/viral/fungal infections, malnutrition, liver diseases, endocrine disorders, toxin exposure, and impaction of the uropygial gland, thyroid disorders, parasites, and others.
An avian veterinarian would perform a careful physical examination and run a few tests to determine the nature of your bird’s feather plucking. Medical problems are treatable, but some birds are habituated to pluck feathers; such a condition can only be treated with proper behavioral techniques.
If the avian veterinarian does not detect a medical cause of the condition, it is deemed as a behavioral tendency. Behavioral feather plucking also has many reasons. For instance, a pet from the subtropical areas with plenty of stimulation and thousands of flock members have a different living condition. Wild birds lead a routines life, which keeps them healthy, busy and safe. They prey animals and stay safe with hundreds of friends flocking together. That is their social life and stimulation. So, a wild bird does not get bored. However, a caged pet bird needs constant human contact to stimulate the many benefits of living in a flock.
Caged birds also need a lot of stimulation from toys. Humans, a routine of predictable socialization, set sleep schedule, and the feeling of safety surround the life of birds. However, they always seek fun, safe stimulating activities to keep their minds busy, daily positive companionship and something to stay active and fit. Having a bird is the same as having a child at home. The only additional fear factor is that birds are prey to animals. Birds are susceptible; strangers may cause stress and they may start behaving abnormally, doing things that they would not generally do.
Birds are also susceptible to loud noises, lack of sleep, weather changes, household pets, unfamiliar expenses, exposure to strange situations, etc. They are even more stressed when they have hormonal periods or they are outrightly bored. In fact, hormonal birds can be messy when anxious.
Understanding Feather Plucking Behavior in Birds
Birds in stress would pluck feathers to pacify themselves. However, you have to try to understand the exact cause (s) so that you can prepare for definite birds plucking feathers treatment.
Noted below are some crucial and frequently overlooked causes of feather plucking:
When in the wild, birds have a wide variety of nutritional foods to bite such as plants, seeds, buts, minerals and bugs available in rainforests. Fruits and nuts, flowers, vegetation are mineral-rich and nutritionally dense for birds. It is difficult to fund such an abundance of fresh sources of food in captivity.
You must ensure that the bird receives proper nutrition to maintain good health and disposition. Poor nutrition may cause several health issues, including feather plucking.
While diets containing seeds are a staple for birds, they contain high fat and adequate nutrition too. All species of birds love seeds. However, seeds alone may not be enough to give them balanced nutrition. Birds also tend to pick out only their favorite seeds, thus causing an imbalanced intake.
Recent studies also revealed that calcium imbalance has a profound effect on feather plucking. Calcium is a quintessential mineral that not only supports the growth of bone and feathers but also plays a key role in managing their mood, especially depression and anxiety. It also plays a vital role in releasing neurotransmitters that manage mood. Calcium combined with magnesium and vitamin D3 is the best for birds. You can also give calcium-rich foods to birds such as kale, un-hulled sesame seeds, carrots, yogurt, almonds, broccoli, and yogurt.
However, note that overdose of calcium can have ill effects on mood and health. Always check with the avian veterinarian.
Birds need adequate sleep too. To think of their sleep time and pattern, you must consider where they belong. Parrots, for instance, are mostly from the equatorial region where it is usually 10-12 hours of darkness all the year-round. Parrots require at least 10 to 12 hours of sleep for optimal health.
Birds prefer darkness to fall asleep. They also require a quiet place to get adequate rest. Even LED lights or lights from the television set can hamper their sleep. You may want to bring a sleep cage for your bird to make sure he gets adequate sleep.
Birds require adequate ultraviolet lights for optimal health. They rely on sunlight, especially ultraviolet rays, for metabolism as well as vitamin D3 synthesis. It is also critical for calcium absorption in the body. If your bird is not getting enough sunlight and UV rays, it could start plucking feathers.
To make sure your bird is getting enough sunlight, let it stay out in the sun for some time daily. However, placing the cage near the window is not enough.
While natural UV light is the best, you must take into account animal safety and weather considerations. In Northern climates, supplemental UV lighting is useful.
Most wild birds bathe daily. Birds from the subtropical region, where humidity is very high, bathing is necessary to maintain supple skin. Wild birds bathe in natural water streams, puddles, and ponds. The natural water cavities are muddied with soils rich in minerals that soak into their feathers and also provide essential nutrients when they are preened.
Surely, you cannot bathe your bird in a muddy and dirty puddle. However, daily bathing is essential to moisturize the feathers and the skin. It also promotes healthy preening and washes away common toxins that generally settle on the feathers, which the birds might ingest. Dust settling under the wings can cause itchy and dry skin, which leads to picking and scratching.
The best way to bathe a bird is to use a shower perch. Give the bird a daily rinse by soaking thoroughly. However, make sure the bird is not chilled after a bath.
Birds are intelligent, but they still suffer from emotional dysregulation, just like a toddler. They need constant stimulation to maintain stable mental health conditions. Bored birds are anxious or depressed. You must provide the pet with significant stimulation for their mind and opportunities to chew and forage throughout the day, regardless of your presence at home. Also, birds demand a predictable routine out of the cage and family socialization.
Experts strongly recommend that pet birds should have at least 5-6 assorted toys. While each bird has a preferred choice of toys, consider those that promote chewing. For example, toys made of natural fiber for foraging and preening, or even food hiding games, switch out toys frequently. Recycle safe toy parts, place them in foraging buckets, and hide treats within to encourage the pet bird to work for food.
Wild birds spend a lot of time navigating to their food site with other flock members. Then, the flock figures out how they can retrieve food items. After that, they fly off to their next site. Birds have these innate needs to find their food and work for it. Of late, bird toy manufacturers are coming up with innovative, complex, and refillable foraging games and puzzles that stimulate the minds of birds and make them think about how to retrieve bits of foods. Get multiple foods dispensing toys and rotate them. That way, your bird would have to work harder for food intake. You could also make foraging toys with bird-safe baskets, organic pine cones, recycled food boxes, paper-wrapped foot bits, etc.
When a bird is lonely, it cannot entertain itself with toys. Such birds are more susceptible to feather plucking, biting, and screaming. Your bird should be assured that you are available. Give them plenty of toys to keep them mentally healthy and to satisfy their exploring, preening, and chewing needs.
Birds in the wild mate for life. However, when they are captivated, they tend to find a mate in the family. It could be you or any other family member. Birds forming a pair bond with a single person and regurgitate on that very person while snapping and lunging at others, whom they perceive as intruders. Birds develop mating-type behavior with that person. Hormonal birds may lunge, scream and bite if unsatisfied and may start plucking feathers.
Most birds become hormonal once in a year, while they bond throughout the year. When conditions are right, starting with food availability to light to nest location, birds engage in rituals as to how and where they touch one another, and breed, and raise their offspring. Other times of the year, the pair remains non-hormonal or asexual.
How Behavioral Training helps with Birds Plucking Feathers?
According to science, there may be two motives of behavior – either to gain something or to escape from something. Behavior may be related to getting internal gratification as well. In order to change their behavior, it is important to figure out its functions. Let us understand some of the behavioral aspects of bird plucking feathers.
It is painful to see a bird picking at itself. As a bird owner, you may have liked to run and tell your bird not to pick. When you offer your attention to the bird while it is engaged in aggressive and worrisome behavior, it reinforces unwanted behavior. Unfortunately, birds interpret our intentions as a reward for their behavior, which we are trying to stop.
Just like human beings, birds tend to repeat the behavior for which they have been rewarded (as perceived). Thereafter, the bird may start plucking feathers even more enthusiastically to attract attention; we, on the other hand, get more worried and give them more attention. Due to aggressive feather plucking, birds develop tissue and nerve damage and pluck even more. As a result, a minor feather plucking problem quickly turns into obsessive-compulsive behavior. This type of behavior is one way of gaining attention.
Have you ever wondered, “Why is my bird plucking his feathers when I am away?”
Birds are categorized as flock animals. They rely on social relationships not just for happiness and fun, but also for safety. When they are left alone, or everything is silent, they start feeling unsafe. In the wild, things become quiet only when there is a predator approaching. So, birds, when lonely and bored, become anxious. It is their nature.
The latest research shows that birds relieve their increased anxiety levels by engaging in a habitual and painful self-harming behavior. It is quite common in people as well. This type of behavior is an act of escaping anxiety, boredom and loneliness.
Although self-harming behavior tends to have its course in their life, it is very important to monitor and treat the bird. When birds induce painful behavior, endorphins are released into the bloodstream, which quickly resolves anxiety for some time. Simply put, this makes feather plucking an addiction or habit, which is difficult to break as it changes brain chemistry.
Bird Plucking Feather Treatment Options
The first step to managing feather plucking is to consider a complete physical workup from an experienced avian veterinarian. Only a vet can guide you to follow a course of treatment, which begins with a series of tests to determine the medical cause. If the vet does not find any physical or medical cause of the condition, behavioral concerns should be considered.
Identifying the cause is very important. Only then it would be possible to plan a comprehensive course of effective treatment for the condition.
Some of the treatment options include
Treatment for a diagnosed disease
If the bird is tested positive for a disease, it has to be treated with medication and care. Your vet shall guide you regarding this. Follow instructions and expect a quick recovery. Stay positive.
Treatment for behavioral complications
If there is a behavioral disorder in the bird, loneliness or boredom, try to give them new toys or introduce some activities. Spend more time with the bird. Try changing the feeding routine and provide them with food in such a way so that it is more challenging to reach the food, as in the wild.
Change the habitat
If you can change the bird’s habitat, it could be a good addition. For instance, you can move the bird’s cage to another place where there is lots of light. Use a humidifier for increased humidity. You may also consider moving the bird to a bigger cage.
Varying the bird’s diet can also be an interesting change for both mental and physical health. Give less amount of seeds to your birds. Add more vegetables. Add a supplement recommended by the vet.
Avoid allergens and toxins
Birds are affected by toxins and allergies. Identify the allergens of your bird and ensure you are giving them an allergy-free diet. If you doubt that your bird could be having heavy metal poisoning, move them to another cage with non-metal or non-toxic bars for some time. Do not give them metal toys.
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