by Heike Ewing Ott
There are a number of causes that are suspected of causing feather plucking in parrots. This articles discusses one cause that is not mentioned very often, and that is of one bird learning to feather pick from another.
Some of you may remember the story of the first Beaker, my Noble macaw, and her mate Andy who almost starved himself to death when she died. Andy was saved by the timely arrival of Jade, who he quickly accepted as a mate. They seem to be very happy together; in fact, they have raised 4 clutches of babies for me. (I can just see you all wondering what the HECK this has to do with plucking… 🙂 hang on I’m getting there…)
When I bought Andy, he had been housed in a smallish cage with a bunch of assorted conures, several of whom plucked themselves – and Andy. During well over a year of being housed with these conures, Andy had begun to pluck himself. His chest, belly, legs, back under the wings, and shoulders were naked, although he allowed his wings and tail to remain mostly whole. I have had Andy (except for the few months he was with Teresa) for about 4 years now, and he plucks just the same as he did the day I got him.
He has been housed in everything from a 7-ft flight to a 2×4 breeding cage, been isolated or in a room full of birds, and his diet has changed completely several times over. We’ve tried a couple of medications, “preening” toys, food supplements, and several types of lighting. Nothing has made one iota of difference.
The “pattern” that he plucks is exactly the same as it was. Only one thing that is of any significance has happened – he has “taught” Jade to pluck, too! And she plucks in exactly the same pattern that he does! The only thing we have not tried, and I am kind of afraid to try it, is to put a collar on him and not take it off until all his feathers are in, then see if he lets them stay.
Anyway, the point of all this is to say that I think that at least sometimes plucking may be a “learned” behavior, a “bad habit” that is very difficult to stop. I had also noted how Andy pulls and plays with his own feathers, so one of the things I tried was a “toy” made out of his and other mini-macaws’ feathers. He did play with and chew up the “toy,” but also continued to meticulously pull every emerging feather at its proper stage from his naked areas. <sigh>
Andy and Jade are both healthy birds, according to two vets and several tests, have a spacious, well-appointed cage with good lighting, and an excellent diet. But, they are still naked!