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Feather Destructive Behavior in Companion Birds

avian_apr10Feather 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
  • Endoparasitism
  • 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)