I receive lots of calls and visits from pet bird owners. All of them with the same question, “My sweet bird is beginning to pluck feathers. What do I do?”
The first thing I ask them is, “Have you had them examined by your avian veterinarian?” Most of the time, the answer is, “NO.” whenever a bird is beginning to self-destruct, I always direct the bird owner to their veterinarian. It is always better to rule out any physical problems before treating any psychological ones.
If the vet gives the bird a clean bill of health, then we need to look at this from a psychological point of view.
People purchase or receive pet birds for a variety of reasons. These include but are not limited to:
- The kids wanted a pet.
- We saw him in a pet store and just couldn’t resist.
- I always wanted one as a child.
- We went to a bird show at the amusement park.
- A Christmas gift.
- A birthday gift.
- An anniversary gift.
- A Valentine’s Day gift.
- a surprise for the family.
Most pet birds are bought on impulse. The worse reason for bringing home any pet. Once the pet bird arrives in the home, everyone goes “ga-ga” over the new arrival……at least for the first few weeks. Then usually the care and attention given to the bird falls on a single family member. In the case of my family in my younger years, I always brought them home and Mom always ended up caring for them. This included: parakeets, white mice, hamsters, goldfish, tropical fish, a toy poodle (Dad brought this one home) and a skunk. Yes you read it right, a skunk. But enough of my secrets.
The care of these good intentioned birds usually becomes grocery store bird seen and fresh water. The cage probaby gets changed once or twice a week.
Now the “family” pet is moved from the kitchen to the basement or laundry room because of the mess. But, that’s ok, after all, he does have a mirror in his cage. He won’t get lonely.
This can be extremely stressful to the bird, not to mention unfair. If this above scenario is the case with the self-mutilator, then the owner needs to find an adoptive family for this bird. The care most pet birds receive is inhumane, not on purpose, but from lack of education. Over 50% of the birds that have come through my aviary come to me because the owners didn’t want to or don’t have the time to properly care for their birds. I will step off my soap box now and continue with some possible remedies for the plucker or self-mutilator.
Birds that are otherwise healthy pluck mainly out of boredom or frustration. The bird has been the center of attention and is now suddenly put aside. The bird screams for attention, and that seems to bring the human into view for attention, but that doesn’t work after awhile, and the owner either covers the cage, throws something or sprays the bird with a squirt bottle. Eventially the bird is placed where it cannot be heard at all.
With only a mirror in the cage for entertainment, the frustration mounts, bordom sets in, and the feather pulling usually begins. At first it is usually a tail feather or two or three or four. Then the flights and then the chest feathers.
If caught in time, and the routine is broken, the feathers will grow back. If left to continue however, the feather folicles are permanently damaged and the feathers will never grow back. A veterinarian told me one time that a bird that has been plucking for an extended period of time gets into the “hurts so bad that it feels good” sysdrome. This could eventually lead to chewing on the feet as well.
There are several ways to help with the problem. These are not guaranteed cures, but have been known to help.
- Move the bird back into a high traffice area where it will receive attention.
- Make the care a family affair.
- Add and change appropriate toys in the bird’s cage.
- Provide the bird with a good healthy diet. This should include fruits, vegetables, millet sprays, pellets, grains, breads and cereals.
- Provide a bowl or large green vegetable leaf with water for bathing.
- Clip the bird’s wings and allow him time out of the cage.
- Provide vitamin supplements.
There is an over-the-counter product called Profeda that has been proven to help. Also you veterinarian may prescribe a medication called Pamelar to help. This should be a last resort to help the feather plucker.
Try to get on a schedule with your bird and stick with it. If you break the cycle early enough, you should be successful in bringing back a beautiful feathered friend.