Last Updated on: 16th June 2023, 07:14 pm
Parrots regularly preen their feathers, which may lead to old, damaged feathers falling out. If a parrot’s willfully pulling feathers from its body, this is feather-destructive behavior.
Feather plucking is exclusively observed in captive parrots, not wild birds. Like most stereotypies, feather plucking is related to an unsuitable lifestyle, diet, or living conditions.
Parrots’ feathers regrow following a molt, which most birds undergo once or twice a year. Plucked feathers will regrow if the skin follicles (that feathers grow from) remain undamaged.
African grey parrots are commonly associated with feather plucking, but as per Veterinary Pathology, all psittacine birds can develop this harmful behavior.
Common explanations for feather picking in parrots include stress and anxiety, skin problems, inappropriate diet, toxicity, ectoparasites, and hormonal fluctuations.
Can Parrots Recover Plucked Feathers?
According to Seminars in Avian and Exotic Pet Medicine, feather plucking isn’t a medical concern in and of itself. If you remove the cause or trigger, feather-destructive behavior will eventually cease.
A parrot’s flight feathers grow from follicles, starting as pin feathers (blood feathers.)
These feathers contain blood vessels and are covered by a sheath of beta-keratin. Over time, this sheath breaks, allowing primary and secondary feathers to grow.
If a parrot plucks aggressively, wrenching feathers from the body by force, it may permanently damage the follicles. Clotting in the follicles can lead to abnormal feather growth and bald patches.
How Long Does It Take for Parrot Feathers to Grow Back?
If a parrot has plucked feathers but not damaged the follicles and nerve endings, they’ll regrow at the next molt. Keratin production slows as parrots age, so replacement feather growth takes longer.
If you have a large parrot, like a macaw or African grey, it could be 12-18 months before the feathers regrow. Most smaller parrots, like budgies and cockatiels, molt once or twice per year.
Why Do Parrots Pluck Their Feathers?
Once you determine why a parrot’s plucking its feathers, preventative measures can be taken:
Stress and Anxiety
Stressed parrots are prone to stereotypies. Reasons for a parrot growing stressed include:
- Adapting to a new home (moving property, new owners, bereavement, etc.)
- Boredom and a lack of intellectual stimulation.
- Separation anxiety.
- Being cooped up in a cage for too long.
- A small cage that doesn’t meet the bird’s needs.
- Insufficient sleep.
- Noisy living environment.
- A lack of exercise.
- Insufficient interaction and engagement.
- Exposure to pets, especially cats.
Parrots can also grow distressed if not provided with a reliable daily routine.
Hypocalcaemia (calcium deficiency) is frequently linked to feather-destructive behavior. Failing to provide a bird with magnesium and other essential minerals can also lead to self-mutilation.
Seed-only diets (common among budgies) are a further reason for avian dietary issues. All parrots need adequate vitamin A (retinol), which is entirely lacking in this dietary regimen.
The Netherlands Journal of Veterinary Science warns that 7 from 13 parrot seed mixes fail to provide sufficient calcium and magnesium for adult birds.
Consider hanging a cuttlefish bone in the parrot’s cage. This will give the bird an additional calcium source, wear down the beak, and provide entertainment.
Parrots can be subjected to various ectoparasitic infestations, most notably mites.
A bird’s skin will become increasingly itchy and uncomfortable if it has mites. Red mites can attach to all parrots, while other ectoparasites are species-specific.
A parrot will grow increasingly distressed, removing feathers to ease discomfort and access the skin.
Toxicity And Environment
Chronically dry skin (xerosis) can become intolerable for a parrot. If a parrot’s skin is overly dry, it’ll become itchy. Consequently, parrots will forcibly remove the feathers to self-soothe.
Sudden temperature changes can contribute to dry skin, as can the excessive use of artificial heat sources and dehydration. The optimum humidity level for most parrots is between 40 and 60%.
Allow a parrot to spend time outside (in its cage) and benefit from natural sunlight and vitamin D3.
If feather plucking doesn’t cease, it could have a fungal or bacterial skin infection.
A parrot may commence feather plucking upon entering the breeding season. It’s common for parrots to remove feathers to create a warm lining (insulation) for their nests.
Also, hormonal activity can trigger negative behaviors, including aggression and feather removal.
How To Stop Feather Plucking in Parrots
Stereotypies must be resolved before the behavior causes irreversible damage to the follicles. Learning how to manage a parrot’s predilection for feather picking involves:
Ensure the parrot understands when it can expect to be fed, let out of the cage for exercise and play, and have its cage covered to sleep at night.
Interact with the parrot regularly, offering training sessions (talking, tricks, etc.) Never leave a parrot alone for more than 8 hours. Ask a trusted friend to spend time with the bird if you’re not around.
Distract the bird with a favorite activity when it uses its beak to pull out feathers.
Offering the parrot a treat or a new toy will shift attention away from feather-destructive behavior. However, it can set a precedent because the parrot may engage in this activity to get attention.
Vary your approach each time the parrot removes its feathers, ensuring you don’t create a new routine. You may need to couple this approach with bathing or apply an anti-plucking spray.
Keep the parrot’s feathers and skin moist to reduce the temptation to extract feathers.
Get a clean spray bottle that has never been used to avoid any hazards associated with residual chemicals. Fill this bottle with water and use it to mist the parrot.
Approach the parrot with the spray bottle visible, ensuring it doesn’t become afraid. Mist yourself so the parrot realizes there’s nothing to worry about, offering soothing conversation.
Maintain a safe distance from the parrot and spray it, allowing it to embrace the feeling of water on its skin. If the parrot doesn’t enjoy the experience, walk away and try again later.
Once the parrot enjoys misting, consider offering it a lukewarm bath. Parrots that enjoy water play can bathe in a kitchen or bathroom sink or add a shallow tub of water to the cage.
Parrot Feather Plucking Spray
If a parrot continues plucking at its feathers after taking these steps, look in avian pet stores for a parrot feather plucking spray. These sprays usually retail for about $15 to $20.
Feather plucking sprays contain aloe vera, which has anti-inflammatory and antipruritic qualities, while parrots also dislike the taste. This will deter the bird from using its beak to remove feathers forcefully.
If you’d rather create a DIY feather plucking spray, buy pure aloe vera juice rather than gel. The gel can thicken in a spray bottle, coating the feathers.
Mix the aloe vera juice in a spray bottle to a ratio of 1 part aloe to 10 parts water and apply liberally.
While parrots’ feathers can grow back after being forcibly removed, frequently engaging in this behavior will leave a parrot at risk of permanent damage.