Feather plucking can be one of the most challenging issues a parrot owner can face. Any type of parrot, from small budgies to large macaws can develop this behavior. It is rather common in African Greys and some of the other medium-size parrots that are extremely intelligent.
Resolving feather plucking requires some investigation. Recovery can take quite a bit of time in some cases, especially if the plucking has been occurring for years. It can be a hard habit to break if it has become chronic.
The two main causes of feather plucking in healthy parrots is boredom or stress/fear. Removing the problems causing the plucking can quickly stop the problem.
When dealing with a major behavioral problem like feather plucking, it is critical that you first determine that it is not a medical problem. A trip to a qualified avian vet will help you learn if the parrot has a health problem or pain causing it to pluck. If a health issue exists, treating that problem can often result in complete and rapid cessation of plucking. If the vet reports that the parrot is 100% healthy, then you can take the following steps to stop feather plucking:
Step 1: Investigate
Begin by studying the parrot’s environment and history.
- 1- Was the parrot a mistreated rescue?
- 2- Does the parrot have lots of interesting toys to entertain him or her when not outside of the cage
- 3- Is the parrot’s diet varied and interesting?
- 4- Have you made any changes in the home, used new products, moved things around the cage, or bought an air purifier about the time the plucking began?
- 5- Does the parrot get human attention for a long period of time every day?
- 6- Are there other pets in the home that may be stressing the parrot?
- 7- Are children playing roughly with the bird in a way that may cause stress?
- 8- Are people shouting and fighting near the parrot?
- 9- Has there been a situation that might have been very frightening for the bird when the plucking began? For example, a bad storm, car crash in the front yard in parrot’s sight, etc.
I once spoke with a lady that had placed her parrot’s cage in front of the large living room window so that he could see outside. Things were fine until a really bad hail storm occurred while she was not at home. The parrot was horrified by the storm and couldn’t understand that the window would protect him. Once she associated the cause (the storm frightening the parrot), she simply moved his cage to a location where he would still see outside some but was not so near a window. The plucking stopped immediately because she had realized the cause and effect (the storm started the plucking) and resolved the fearful or stressful situation.
Another lady contacted me about sudden severe plucking. I asked her to investigate her home and think about any changes during the time the plucking began. She realized she had hung a large painting with many bright colors above the parrot’s cage. Because parrots see colors differently than we do, apparently the parrot found the painting stressful and it made him unhappy. The painting was moved and the plucking stopped.
Do this kind of investigation in your own home, thinking back to when the plucking began if you know when it began. If the parrot was already plucking when you got it, look at whether the bird has a rich environment and lifestyle.
Step 2: Make Changes to Remove Stress
If you identify any changes that occurred about the time the plucking began or just before it began; move the potential offenders, change the environment, stop using the products, or change whatever happened back to the former situation. This could mean stopping use of a new product, placing the parrot where other pets can’t stress it but it still gets plenty of attention, adding toys and dietary changes.
To determine the exact issue, you must make one change at a time and observe the parrot for a few days. If the plucking is reduced, it indicates you have located a cause. If it is stopped completely, you have found the main cause. But if it is only reduced, wait a few days and begin making additional changes. Just don’t move so quickly with changes that you upset the parrot and cause more stress.
Step 3: Provide Rich Environment
Make sure your parrot has plenty of preening toys, foraging toys and other items inside their cage and on any play stands which challenge the parrot. Many birds love to solve puzzle toys to get a treat and this keeps both the beak and brain busy so that plucking is not on the bird’s mind at all. Foraging toys allow the bird to feel as if it were finding food in the wild and again, the beak and brain are kept busy.
While my sun conure, Dani, was not a plucker; she dearly loved to open snap grippers. You know, the kind on house robes and some shirts which snap closed easily. She would undo these grippers endlessly. Knowing this, I found the very oldest, most ragged garment I had which closed down the front with these grippers. I cut the strip of grippers off, including the cloth between. I hung it on her cage and closed them for her. She would immediately go open each one. I’d close them again.
I finally moved the toy to our spot on the sofa since she wanted it closed so often. I then found she rather enjoyed trying to unzip things, so I found and old garment with a good zipper, attached it firmly to the sofa and let her have fun with it. She could open it about half way, but not all the way. However, all the time she was playing with these simple mind-active and motion-involved toys, her beak and brain were busy.
Step 4: Maintain Clean Cage and Play Areas
Maintain a Clean Environment with Natural products. It’s not only easy but much cheaper to clean your home without all the toxin-containing chemicals we often use today. I clean mainly with anti-bacterial soap and water, chlorine bleach, and for any pest control, I select natural pyrethrin-based products that are safe around parrots.
Make sure clean water is always available and baths are available at least weekly during warm weather. Ensure the bird’s diet is varied and interesting.
Pests are attracted to food in cage bottoms and even parrot poop. Keep the cage clean by changing cage paper daily (or more if needed) and thoroughly y cleaning the cage at LEAST weekly. This means breaking the cage down and removing all poops from perches, bars, grates, trays, bottoms and everywhere. After all, you don’t want to attract pests to your home and your parrot certainly doesn’t want to sleep with them.
Use natural products. If your cage is too large to move outside or into the bath tub, then clean it in place with clean rags and towels. Never, ever place a parrot back into a cage with wet perches! Dry them in the oven on the lowest setting if you can’t place them in a warm, dry area and wait for them to dry. Wet perches can cause arthritis in the feet.
Step 5: Respect Your Parrot
Your bird does not want to hear you and your husband fight or the children screaming. These are huge stressors. It doesn’t want to feel threatened by anyone or anything. Also, it does not necessarily want to play each and every time you want to play with it. If it doesn’t want to play, respect that choice; the bird may be hungry or sleepy and want to be left alone. If it wants to play and you can possibly spare some time, spend a few quality minutes with your parrot.
Of course, it’s great if you work from home full or part-time because your parrot can be with your so much, but if you work outside the home, make time for your bird.
By using these steps, you can resolve feather plucking. Be consistent and patient. If the plucking has been severe for a long period of time, the feathers may not return because of follicle damage. If this is the case, your vet visit likely alerted you to this potential issue. But a parrot with even no feathers can still be a wonderful companion.
Blondie, the rescued and abused Jenday conure I’m working with and loving now, may well not grow all his feathers back in. But he is still beautiful and I love him for who he is. While I wish I could have gotten him before he had potential follicle damage that opportunity did not arise.
At least today he has a rich environment where he is loved, fed well, and gets lots of attention. The plucking has almost completely stopped and I’ve only been with him one month. I’m sure he will cease plucking completely. During this month, he was upset by having to be moved to another location due to repainting being performed at my new residence. I’m certain this set him back a bit, but he is coming back around nicely.
About the Author: Nora Caterino, known as the Mississippi Bird Lady, has trained, raised, and lived with birds for over 30 years. If you want to receive unlimited one-on-one coaching from her for ONE full year… and learn how to teach your parrot to talk and stop annoying bird behaviours like parrot biting, screaming and feather plucking, via audios, articles and videos published inside the Elite Parrots Club, then visit this page: