Feather destructive behavior represents a range of actions from excessive preening, to feather plucking or feather picking, to self-mutilation. The cause of feather destructive behavior is not really understood, but is often believed to be cause by multiple problems that may be psychological and/or medical. Picking may also begin as a medical problem and then persist as a habit.
A wide range of medical problems have been linked to feather picking, including:
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Systemic disease including liver
- Allergies may be suspected, but are difficult to confirm in avian patients
- Ectoparasites such as mites are a rare cause of feather picking
- Although inflammation of the feather follicles (folliculitis) and skin (dermatitis) is a frequent finding, it is usually secondary to the feather destructive behavior.
Behavioral or psychological causes of feather picking may include:
- Boredom or lack of stimulation
- Stress: Stress can mean very different things for different birds. Overstimulation in the form of noise and activity may initiate plucking in nervous birds, while a sedate, quiet environment may be stressful for another bird.
- Separation anxiety
- Sexual frustration
Feather destructive behavior may also be exacerbated by environmental factors such as low humidity or lack of exposure to natural light.
As an avian veterinarian, I would want to obtain detailed information about your bird’s behavior/ home life and perform a medical diagnostic work-up to rule out medical causes of feather picking.
Orlando Diaz-Figueroa, DVM, MS, Dipl. ABVP (Avian Specialty)