Pecking: Why is my bird plucking its feathers?

Pecking can be interpreted as a warning signal that something is wrong with the bird’s environment. Unfortunately, most psittacine lovers (parrots and others) have witnessed this problem on occasion. Pecking is not a disease per se, but the external manifestation of many alterations of various origins.

What causes feather pecking?

Feather pecking is the plucking of a bird’s feathers. Depending on whether the animal plucks its own feathers or those of another bird, a distinction is made between self-pecking and allo-pecking.

Feather pecking is one of the most common behavioral disorders in ornamental birds and can have several causes. Ornamental birds are intelligent animals with a strong social behavior. They need to be in contact with other birds of the same species. In an isolated, individual habitat without social contact, the bird quickly becomes bored. This can result in the bird reinforcing its instinct to clean itself up, in order to take care of itself. If this state persists for a longer period of time, the increased cleaning instinct can turn into a cleaning compulsion. The bird cleans itself and starts plucking feathers.

But it is not only individual breeding that can cause feather plucking in birds. Unfavorable pair constellations, for example same-sex pairs, animals of a foreign nature as well as the combination of a sexually mature animal with a young, not yet sexually mature animal, can also cause stress in the bird and thus lead to feather plucking.

Other causes of feather pecking with the bird are for example: too small a cage, lack of activity, lack of environmental influences, too little exercise, bad climate with dry air, overweight or obesity, too close a bond between man and animal, excessive changes in the environment, e.g. constant change of the cage location.

In addition to the factors listed, there are other non-psychological causes of pecking in birds, such as bacterial infections, fungal infections or allergies.

How does feather pecking manifest itself?

Feather pecking in birds manifests itself through nibbled, bent, torn and bare spots in the feathers. Often, broken feathers are also visible. In addition to the wings and tail feathers, the belly, chest and leg areas are most affected. As in most cases where the bird plucks its own feathers, the feathers around the head are intact. It is only after being plucked by another bird that baldness may appear on the head.

A side effect of feather pecking in birds is a small skin lesion, which may also bleed. If pathogens enter the skin through the open areas, skin infections can result. This reinforces the bird’s cleaning instinct and allows it to clean its feathers even more intensely; a cycle develops. If feather pecking persists for a long time, the feather follicles, the parts of the skin from which the feathers grow, may also be permanently damaged, so that the feathers no longer grow back.

What can be done to prevent feather pecking?

It is important to act quickly, because once the bird has developed a habit of plucking, treatment of the underlying cause is not always sufficient to remedy the problem.

After first aid (disinfection of the wounds if necessary), the treatment will have to address the medical causes if there are any. This can be done by correcting the diet, or even by temporarily supplementing with vitamins.

Regular bathing can be beneficial in helping to maintain and clean the feathers. They can also be a great source of distraction for the bird.

Parrots are very social birds and need to be stimulated by a rich environment. For example, you can add games to its cage. Regular outings and play sessions can be beneficial. If you can’t provide a regular presence, the radio or low-noise television can be a source of distraction. Hand-raised birds can develop a strong, almost unhealthy attachment to their owners, and experience their absence, even temporarily, as terrible stress. Providing your bird with a companion can either improve or worsen its condition. Each case is different, and it is sometimes very difficult to understand what triggers the discomfort.

On the other hand, it is important to respect the nycthemeral rhythm, i.e. the day/night alternation. This regular rhythm is important for the activity and metabolism of the bird. After sunset, it is important to avoid artificial light, for example by placing an opaque sheet over the cage.

If the symptoms persist, the treatment will consist primarily of behavioral therapy.

In conclusion, the diversity of causes of this problem means that there is no universally effective treatment. However, with a good knowledge of the bird’s behavior, a clear diagnosis and appropriate treatment, many cases are solved.