Do you share your life with a pet of the feathered variety? Parrots are fascinating, highly intelligent and beautiful birds, but if your pet’s plumage is looking less than perfect and you find yourself asking ‘why is my parrot losing feathers?’, then read on for the answers you’re looking for.
Why do parrots pluck out their feathers?
In the wild, parrots will pluck out their mate’s head and neck feathers during the breeding season, and female parrots will also pull out their feathers to line their nest. However, for most pet parrots feather-plucking will not be normal.
How many feathers does a parrot have? Surely they can spare a few? Most parrots have several thousand feathers, the exact number varying with size and species. So, losing the occasional feather as your parrot goes about their daily grooming ritual is completely normal. However, if you have noticed your feathered friend starting to develop bald patches or spending more time on their preening routine than they used to, this may be cause for concern.
Finding a solution to feather-plucking can be tricky and the first step is to ensure that your parrot is in good general health by seeking the advice of your vet.
Before examining your pet, your vet will ask lots of questions relating to diet, housing and general lifestyle to obtain a complete and thorough history. Next, they will perform a full examination which may include blood tests to ensure that there are no internal medical conditions contributing to your pet’s feather loss. The final part of the examination will be a close inspection of skin and feathers; it may seem odd that this is left until last, but a thorough and systematic approach to investigating this frustrating condition is critical.
Medical causes of feather-plucking
Mites can cause intense irritation. If your parrot has mites, you may see dry dandruff-like scale material around the feather follicles. Your vet may take samples to look at under the microscope.
Just like us, parrots can develop allergies. These can be tricky to investigate but your vet may advise skin tests to try and determine the allergen.
- Viral and bacterial infections
These are less commonly associated with feather loss. If suspected, blood tests may be advised.
- Internal organ disease
Internal medical conditions can affect skin and feather health. Your vet may recommend blood tests to check liver and kidney function.
Non-medical causes of feather-plucking
- Environmental factors
Making sure that your parrot’s home environment is suitable is one way you can help keep their feathers in tip top condition. There are very many environmental factors that can have a negative effect on your parrot’s health, and a detailed look is beyond the scope of this article. However, it is important to make sure that their cage is an adequate size, and the air is free from potential irritants such as cigarette smoke. Humidity is worth looking at too, as in the wild many parrots are used to humid environments. Centrally heated homes combined with our UK climate means that conditions may not be ideal for skin and feather health.
Ensuring that your parrot is fed the correct diet is important. A commercially prepared high quality parrot food with small amounts of fresh fruit and veg for variety is ideal. It is best to avoid offering ‘junk food’ as treats. For more information on diet check out our article What can birds eat? – Pet Advice Articles – Vital Pet Club
Behaviour problems are a common reason why parrots pull out their feathers and if veterinary examination has given your parrot a clean bill of health, it may be worth consulting a parrot behaviourist. Boredom, lack of exercise, separation anxiety and stress can all contribute to your parrot over-preening.
How to cure parrot feather plucking
Many of the medical causes of feather plucking have specific treatments that can be prescribed after a diagnosis from your vet. However, if your pet is feather-plucking for behavioural reasons, is there anything you can do to help? Absolutely yes – read on for some top tips on enriching your parrot’s environment and taking their mind off their feather-plucking habit.
Parrot enrichment ideas
- Increase foraging behaviour
In the wild, parrots would spend much of their time foraging for food. As pampered pets, their food is readily available and so they spend much less time hunting for it. With less time needed to meet their nutritional requirements they have much more time available for undesirable habits like feather plucking. There are lots of commercially available parrot foraging toys – puzzles they solve to earn a food reward or feeding balls that release food as they roll. Or why not get creative and try a home-made version? Cardboard boxes are ideal for hiding a tasty treat in and wrapping a nut in paper or raffia can also keep our feathered friends amused.
- Encourage exercise and play
A cage or aviary as large as you can accomodate will help your parrot to express normal behaviours and keep them busy. Equipping their cage with swings, perches and rope toys will encourage them to be active and stimulated. Changing the toys offered every so often will keep them interested and needn’t be expensive – even newspaper to shred on the floor of the cage will provide your parrot with entertainment.
- Social interaction
In the wild, parrots spend much of their time socialising with others so just being with your pet is important especially if your parrot is kept on its own. Try teaching them a new trick and let them have time flying free indoors if possible. Talk to them and engage; it will all help strengthen your bond with your pet.
So why do parrots pull out their feathers? The reasons for this upsetting behaviour are complex but with commitment and time there is a good chance that you can restore your parrot to their fully feathered contented self.