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Is My African Grey Plucking or Molting Feathers?

Last Updated on: 21st August 2023, 03:01 pm

While molting is a natural process for all African grey parrots, it mustn’t be confused with feather plucking, which involves a parrot forcibly removing healthy feathers from its body with its beak.

African greys can be prone to feather-destructive behavior, usually as an act of self-soothing during times of intense emotional distress. These intelligent birds are as emotionally sensitive as they are smart.

If shedding is symmetrical on both sides, an African grey parrot is undertaking a molt. If the feathers don’t shed naturally, meaning the body has unfeathered or bald patches, it’s engaging in feather picking.

Do African Grey Parrots Molt Feathers?

African grey parrots usually molt their feathers every 12 months, but it can occur every 18 months.

Once an African grey reaches 11 months old, it’ll likely have undergone its first molt. After this, feathers will be organically shed, and replacements will grow in their place.

Feathers are made of keratin, so they’ll experience natural wear and tear. By molting, old and damaged feathers are removed, allowing strong and vibrant replacements to develop.

What Time of Year Do African Greys Molt?

An African grey will usually shed feathers organically in the spring when the weather is warm. A parrot will detect this adjustment in ambient temperature and the number of daylight hours.

Some African greys may undertake a second molt in the fall, but it’s uncommon in large bird species.

Do African Grey Parrots Pluck Their Feathers

Feather plucking is an entirely different activity from molting.

While molting causes feathers to loosen and fall naturally, feather plucking involves physically extracting feathers from the body with the beak by force.

African grey parrots are likely to pluck feathers as an act of self-mutilation. If an African grey starts plucking at its feathers, what starts as a bad habit may soon become a compulsion.

how to tell the difference between molting and feather plucking

Is Feather Plucking Dangerous?

If African greys pull out their feathers, it can cause damage to the follicles. This may result in an inability to replace the lost feathers, leading to permanent bald spots.

A parrot will struggle to keep itself warm when ambient temperatures drop, while the skin can be harmed when unprotected by feathers, increasing the risk of infection and illness.

Why Do African Grey Parrots Pluck Their Feathers?

Having established that feather plucking is an undesirable avian habit, you may wonder why parrots engage in this behavior. There are various explanations, including the following:

Health Concerns

A parrot may pluck at feathers to self-soothe its pain and discomfort if injured.

If an African grey parrot has suddenly begun self-mutilation, assess it for signs of swelling or fractures caused by collisions with inanimate objects (walls, windows, ceiling fans, etc.) when out of its cage.

Heat or Humidity

Some parrots pluck their feathers in response to excessive heat or humidity.

African grey parrots are most contented with an ambient temperature of between 70 and 80OF and a humidity level of around 60%. They can cope with variances, but this range is optimal.

Keeping the temperature down during the hottest months may be challenging, so consider temporarily relocating the parrot’s cage to a cooler, shadier part of the home.

Regular misting will reduce a parrot’s body temperature and ease skin irritation due to molting.

Wrong Diet

Some African grey parrots pluck their feathers due to malnutrition. Failure to provide a well-balanced diet can leave the skin tender and itchy, leading to the removal of feathers by force.

Hypovitaminosis A (vitamin A deficiency) is linked to feather plucking in African grey parrots. If you suspect a parrot isn’t getting sufficient vitamin A (retinol) from its diet, add carrots and red peppers.

Pet parrots can take supplements under the guidance of a qualified veterinarian.

Stress, Boredom, or Frustration

Many African greys pluck their feathers to manage emotional distress. Potential causes include:

  • Lack of routine. All parrots relish a reliable schedule, including African greys. Failing to feed a bird and put it to bed at similar times each evening can trigger stress.
  • Boredom. Their high intelligence level means they need to be intellectually stimulated.
  • Loneliness. African greys are social parrots that dislike being left alone. Regularly leaving a parrot without company can cause depression and separation anxiety.
  • Sexual frustration. Animals warn how lone African greys can become attracted to owners, considering them a mate, which leads to frustration.
  • Jealousy. If someone takes something from them, this can lead to jealousy.
  • Lack of exercise. African greys require 2-3 hours of exercise outside the cage daily.
  • Inappropriate environment. African greys need peace and calm in their surroundings.

If you can’t meet the emotional needs of an African grey parrot, feather plucking is possible.

How To Tell The Difference Between Molting And Feather Plucking

Learn the difference between molting and feather plucking in African greys. While the former requires limited interaction beyond keeping a bird comfortable, the latter requires intervention.

Preening vs. Plucking

An inexperienced bird owner may confuse a parrot’s preening – the act of smoothing out feathers – with plucking. If a parrot preens during a molt, it’ll remove loose feathers to expedite the process.

Aside from the effort required to remove feathers, the difference is in the plumage of an African grey. Parrots preen to improve their appearance, while feather plucking is an act of self-harm.

If a parrot is molting and removing feathers during preening, you’ll observe the even removal of feathers from both sides of the body. Sturkie’s Avian Physiology explains how parrots shed symmetrically, ensuring the wings remain functional throughout.

Feather-plucking behavior will result in no such equilibrium. Parrots will tear feathers from the body, unconcerned with where the feather comes from. This will leave the bird looking unkempt and ragged, and you may notice damage to the skin caused by the parrot’s beak.

What Does a Plucked Feather Look Like?

You can tell if a feather has been plucked rather than molted by the appearance.

A molted feather will be straight and regain its elegance, perfectly preserved at its base. A plucked feather will likely still have a barb attached to the base.

A plucked feather didn’t reach its natural lifespan, wrenched from the body before it was ready. This force may also leave traces of blood on the base, while the feather’s vane may look ragged.

How To Stop An African Grey from Plucking Feathers

Make modifications and commence training to stop a feather-picking habit in birds.

An African grey may require prescription medication to control its compulsion to pluck feathers, with Behavioral Brain Research suggesting the act could be linked to a neurological concern.

There are 3 ways to prevent a pet bird from plucking its feathers:

how to stop an African grey from plucking feathers

Entertainment And Enrichment

Ensuring the bird’s needs are met will promote a calm and relaxed temperament.

Consider if you need a larger cage for an African grey and ensure it has ample stimulation in its home. That involves providing challenging toys and perches at different levels.

You’ll also need to spend more time with an African grey, regularly conversing with the bird and teaching it new words and tricks. African greys need near-constant engagement if they’re not paired.

Consider letting an African grey exercise outside on a harness to benefit from natural sunlight.

Feather Plucking Spray

Anti-plucking sprays can ease itchiness, reducing the impulse to remove feathers. They also add an unappealing taste to the feathers, deterring a parrot from placing them in its beak.

You can make anti-plucking sprays at home. To do so, mix 2 teaspoons of apple cider vinegar with 4 cups of filtered water and apply this to a spray bottle.

Parrots dislike the flavor of ACV, but it’s non-harmful.

Bird Collars

A bird collar works similarly to a cone applied to a cat or dog with stitches. This collar restricts access to the feathers, making plucking impossible. If you dislike the idea of a collar, consider a parrot vest.

Expert opinion is divided on the efficacy of collars and vests for parrots prone to feather plucking. While it’ll halt the act, it won’t resolve the psychological reason behind the bird’s desire to self-mutilate.

To help a parrot overcome its desire to remove feathers, you must determine why it’s behaving this way in the first place and remove that trigger from the parrot’s living environment.

Feather-destructive behavior is unheard of among wild parrots but common in captivity. While molting is natural, feather plucking is a destructive behavior in African grey parrots.