Feather Plucking in Parrots: Reasons & How to Stop

In this guide, we will look at several possible reasons behind excessive feather plucking in parrots and what you, as a bird owner, should take care of.

Feather plucking is an extremely common behavior in birds, but that doesn’t necessarily make it normal. 

Besides causing them to lose their beautiful feathers, it often indicates deeper behavioral or medical problems.

As a pet owner, you might be concerned about your parrots plucking their feathers excessively. 

Birds are susceptible to various diseases, and many of them result in feather plucking. 

Let us delve into the article and find out the reasons behind feather plucking and how you can stop it.

Feather Plucking in Parrots

Why Do Parrots Pluck Their Feathers?

Feather plucking in parrots may range from the removal of a few feathers to chewing on the skin to create wounds. 

Regardless of the type, bird owners should take immediate measures to diagnose the cause of such behavior.

Here are some possibilities you might consider.

Behavioral reasons

Behavioral feather picking is very common in parrots and usually results from emotional stress, boredom, or hormonal behavior. 

In fact, 90% of all feather plucking is related to nervous behavior.

Emotional stress

Parrots are highly social creatures, and just like humans, they, too, have emotional needs. 

Unmet needs lead to severe psychological stress in these birds. 

Stressed and depressed parrots often end up plucking their feathers.

Boredom

Domestic parrots require plenty of mental and physical stimulation. 

Unlike wild parrots, they don’t get enough activity in the course of the day by foraging for food

When they lack adequate activity, they resort to feather plucking as a source of entertainment.

Boredom is one of the primary reasons behind feather plucking

Hormonal behavior

Hormonal feather plucking isn’t uncommon, either. 

As parrots mature enough to be able to breed, the resulting sexual frustration might cause them to pluck feathers from their chest area or between their legs.

Environmental reasons

Captive birds not provided with the ideal environment to fulfill their needs are susceptible to feather plucking too. 

Environmental issues resulting in such behavior include:

Low humidity

A lack of humidity in the air can irritate birds’ skin and prompt them to pluck their feathers. 

The issue is particularly common in homes with closed windows and central heating.

Allergies

Dry skin can also be caused by certain allergies in birds.

Just like humans, birds are vulnerable to allergies from their environment or even their food. 

It is important to check what triggers the behavior and if it can be narrowed down to a particular source.

Lack of sunlight and fresh air

Sunlight and fresh air are crucial to a bird’s well-being. 

A parrot left in a dark corner might start suffering from depression, which causes birds to pluck feathers or even self-mutilate. 

Besides, feather plucking may also result from a lack of Vitamin D, for which birds have to rely primarily on sunlight.

Light has a significant impact on parrots. Birds kept in cages in a dimly lit room have been known to pluck their feathers excessively

Inadequate rest

Parrots need about 12 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night. 

However, this isn’t always possible in busy households due to all the noise, lights, and movement. 

Sleep deprivation may result in behavioral problems like feather plucking.   

Malnutrition

Is your parrot getting a balanced diet? 

Malnutrition doesn’t refer to starvation alone – a one-dimensional diet without crucial nutrients can leave a parrot malnourished too.

Lack of environmental enrichment

Captive birds need environmental enrichment to help them exercise natural behavior, such as exploration and foraging. 

Not having access to enrichment items can cause stress and boredom, resulting in feather plucking.

Irritation caused by nicotine

It’s highly recommended not to get nicotine-related products such as cigarettes anywhere near your parrot. 

It would irritate your pet’s skin, forcing the bird to preen and pull the feathers in response. 

Even worse – nicotine can potentially kill your parrot by causing respiratory paralysis.

Nicotine is an absolute no no around birds

Dyes and preservatives present in food

This is one of the reasons bird owners need to be careful not to treat their feathered friends with human food. 

Dyes and preservatives may trigger allergies and other illnesses that cause birds to pluck feathers.

Cage position

Research by Purdue University revealed that the location of the cage could trigger feather plucking.

If the parrot can’t see the doors through which people enter the room, it might confuse the bird. 

The farther you position the cage from the door, the more likely the parrot is to engage in feather plucking.

Medical reasons

You’ll need to get your parrot checked by an Avian vet to diagnose medical issues. 

However, potential medical reasons behind feather plucking include the following:

Feather Cysts

Developing feather cysts might prompt parrots to preen the infected feathers. 

One should note that feather cysts are often a result of damage to the feather follicles due to excessive plucking. 

In other words, feather plucking causes feather cysts and vice versa, continuously aggravating the problem.

Heavy metal poisoning

Birds that chew, such as parrots, are particularly vulnerable to heavy metal poisoning

Chronic exposure to heavy metals like zinc might cause behaviors like feather plucking and barbering.

Liver disease

Liver disease in birds can result in dry and itchy skin. 

As mentioned earlier, such skin conditions cause them to pluck feathers.

Aspergillosis

Feather plucking is also seen in birds suffering from respiratory problems like avian Aspergillosis

They start plucking feathers over infected air sacs, creating an irregular pattern.

Malfunctioning oil gland

The oil or uropygial gland releases vitamin D3 precursors, which get spread into the feathers when birds preen themselves. 

Exposure to UV light changes the precursors to active vitamin D3, which the birds end up consuming when they preen the feathers again.

A malfunctioning oil gland can lead to vitamin D3 deficiency, causing poor skin and feather conditions that result in plucking.

Psittacosis

Another medical condition associated with feather plucking is Psittacosis – a flu-like disease. 

Be very careful if you suspect your parrots to be carrying Psittacosis, as it is transmissible to humans.

Parasites

Parasites like giardia and ringworms are another common reason behind feather plucking. 

Giardia can also cause an infection known as Giardiasis. 

Symptoms include excessive feather plucking, oily and greasy feathers, bleeding feather quills, etc.

Cancer

This is one of the more unfortunate medical conditions in birds that have feather plucking as a symptom.

PBFD

Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD) may have severe impacts on avian health, potentially to the point of needing euthanasia. 

It results in severe feather plucking, often resulting in effects similar to that of feather chewing.

Effect of PBFD on bird feathers.

PDD/macaw wasting disease

PDD, or macaw wasting disease, refers to two closely related disorders, Avian Bornaviral Ganglioneuritis, and Avian Ganglioneuritis. 

Symptoms include peripheral neuritis, which causes parrots to behave aggressively, pluck feathers, and self-mutilate.  

Besides these, other medical conditions like metabolic disorders and skin infections are sometimes responsible for feather plucking too.

How to Stop Feather Plucking in Parrots?

Now that you understand the reasons behind feather plucking in parrots, it’s time to check out how to stop it. 

As you might imagine, the remedy would depend on the problem causing your parrot to pluck feathers.

Behavioral and environmental remedies

The following remedies will help reduce and eliminate feather plucking resulting from behavioral and environmental problems.

Provide a balanced diet

Make sure your parrot is getting a healthy and well-balanced diet comprising all the necessary nutrients. 

Supplement pelleted bird food with fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. 

The diet must contain sufficient amounts of protein and calcium to prevent feather plucking.

Sharing below an experience from our reader, Diane Sanborn, from Toronto, Canada:

“My African Grey, Ray, suddenly started frantic feather plucking about a month ago. Literally, it seemed out of nowhere. 

I brought him to my vet, and blood work revealed low calcium and high bile salts

We changed his diet a bit and started Light Therapy with a Reptilian type of UVA/UVB lamp placed above his cage. 

Before we started these changes I was worried that the feather plucking would continue and become a “bad” habit. 

I think I have come upon a great solution to divert his attention and satisfy his need to “pluck.” Newspaper pretzels. 

Some may know of this homemade toy. If not, here’s what you do. 

Take one large piece of new paper, roll, and twist it tight to simulate a thick rope, then tie into a knot. 

I make 2 or 3 of these every night (and Ray watches intently while I do this) and shove part of it through cage bars. 

Since he was plucking early morning, we now see shredded paper in the AM instead of feathers. 

It has worked, and now that he’s getting better light and better nutrition, we hope the feather plucking is behind us.”

Provide enough attention

It’s not recommended to even get a parrot in the first place unless you can provide the bird with enough time and attention. 

You (or others at home) should be able to spend some time interacting and playing with the parrot every day to keep it happy.

Keep parrots in pairs

Keeping parrots in pairs can help de-stress them. 

After all, parrots are social birds, and no amount of human interaction can completely replace the companionship that another parrot can offer. 

Keeping parrots (especially smaller ones) in pairs help them to not get bored or stressed

Don’t keep a parrot locked up all the time

Keeping a parrot locked away inside a cage throughout its life is bound to take a toll on its mental well-being. 

Let it out of the cage for at least a certain period of time every day or two to help it de-stress and be active. 

Being curious creatures, parrots love to participate in whatever their humans are doing.

However, remember to bird-proof your home before letting a bird out of the cage. 

You might also want to clip the parrot’s wings to prevent it from flying out of reach or putting itself in danger. 

If possible, take the bird outdoors every once in a while.

Allow enough rest

To help your parrot get enough sleep, turn off the lights in the room and avoid making loud noises. 

Placing a cover over the cage might help keep out light and noise too. 

Ultimately, you need to make sure the bird gets at least 12 hours of sleep at night.

Position the cage properly

As explained earlier, the cage position has a lot to do with the parrot’s mood and tendency to pluck feathers. 

Try to position the cage such that the bird gets plenty of fresh air and light.

If you can’t put the cage in a room with adequate natural light, install full-spectrum lighting

The entry door of the room should be closed and in clear view of the bird.

Here is a firsthand experience from one of our readers, Leslie Tannahill

“My bird plucked for many years, and I tried various things to get him to stop, and sometimes he would but would always go back to it. 

Until a year and a half ago, when I bought a new house. It has a wonderful “Florida room” that has windows on three sides and two skylights. 

I put his cage out there, thinking he’d enjoy being able to watch birds and people outside, and lo- and behold, he stopped plucking. 

The room is unheated, so he must come in during the colder months, and I got him a full spectrum lamp that is on a timer, so he gets 5 hours of “daylight” each day, and he has not plucked since then. 

If I had known that the light was the answer, I could have had a fully-fledged bird years ago!”

A well lighted cage is very important for parrots

Maintain humidity levels

When running a dehumidifier or a central heating system, be careful that the air in the room doesn’t get completely dry. 

Also, keep an eye on the humidity levels when keeping the windows shut for extended periods.

Create enrichment opportunities

Provide your parrot with enrichment toys and opportunities that allow them to practice their intellectual and problem-solving abilities and spend their energy in healthy ways. 

Foraging activities can be very helpful in this regard, and the same goes for puzzles with treats or toys as rewards.

Here is one example from our readers, Michael and Diane Rametta, who resolved their cockatoo Coco’s plucking with inexpensive cotton mop heads that they hang on top of her cage and her swing. 

“After years of plucking, Coco now just focuses on picking and chewing the mop heads. 

They point out that they only purchase “cut end” mop heads (#24 “Cut End Mop” from Rubbermaid) to minimize the risk of Coco getting her feet caught or tangled. 

Please refer to the below “before” and “after” photos of Coco. It has taken about five years, but her feathers are almost fully grown, and she flew for the first time this summer. 

For extra fun, tie extra beads or nuts/seeds wrapped in paper into them.”

Apple cider vinegar

Mix about 1/4th of a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar in a quart of water and apply it to the feathers. 

It discourages birds from plucking feathers as they hate the taste of apple cider vinegar. 

However, this won’t treat the root cause of feather plucking, such as stress or dry skin.

Please note that heated vinegar fumes are toxic because they contain carbon dioxide. 

Bird owners have lost their pets by adding vinegar to their dishwashing cycle or using it to clean coffee machines.

You should be very careful while using this solution for your bird.

Identify and remove stress-inducing objects

If your feathered friend seems wary or stressed towards something in its environment, identify the distress-inducing object and remove it. 

For instance, the parrot might dislike or fear toys of certain colors. 

Redirecting negative behavior

An effective way to deal with negative behavior in birds is to redirect them to harmless activities. 

If your parrot has developed a destructive tendency and keeps chewing its feathers, providing it with shredding toys might be a good idea. 

Similarly, enrichment activities discussed earlier can help redirect negative behavior too.

Check for potential allergies

If your parrot tends to start plucking feathers after eating certain foods, it might be allergic to those. 

You’d definitely want to strike those foods off your pet’s diet. 

Some birds are also cigarette smoke, perfumes, and other aerosolized sprays.

Medical treatment for feather plucking

Before we discuss the medical remedies, you should note that they aren’t to be administered without consulting an avian veterinary first. 

If you suspect your parrot might be sick, get the bird checked by a local avian vet to determine the exact cause of feather plucking. 

Depending on the cause, potential medical remedies may include:

Antihistamines

Antihistamines aren’t just for humans – they’re useful in treating avian allergies too. 

If your parrot is plucking feathers due to itchy skin caused by an allergy, administering Antihistamines can provide quick relief.

Lupron

Lupron shots are often prescribed to reduce FSH and LH – the two main hormones behind sexual urges in birds. 

While this drug can stop feather plucking immediately, it is not a perfect solution and shouldn’t be administered in all cases.  

It’s best to remove sexual triggers by making environmental changes first and leaving medication as a last resort only.

Clomipramine

In an initial study by Grindlinger and Ramsay, ten severely afflicted birds were treated with dosages of Clomipramine (a drug used for treating OCD in humans) ranging from 0.75 to 3.0 mg/kg.

  • Refeathering occurred in areas where the skin and follicles had not atrophied to the point of incapacity to produce refeathering
  • 20% of the birds were capable of refeathering;
  • 50% picked their feathers significantly less, to the point that areas of excoriation or inflammation healed;
  • 40% of the birds gained 10% of their body weight.
  • Birds were more active and more sociable but not sedated and not affected by anticholinergic (antihistamine-like) side effects, according to 60% of the bird owners.

The findings of this study may have been more positive had less severely affected birds been used in their sample population. 

That a significant reduction in picking occurred in 50% of the birds treated is really remarkable.

Anxiety reduction drugs

Anxiety drugs like stress control can be administered to reduce feather plucking in a stressed parrot. 

However, this is only a temporary solution to help with excessively stressed or nervous birds. 

These drugs are to be used only if behavioral and environmental remedies fail to deliver results.

Nekton Biotin

Nekton Biotin is a special food supplement created to promote healthy feather growth. 

Rich in amino acids and vitamins, it can prevent feather problems which might result in plucking.

Aloe vera juice

If you’d prefer home remedies for feather plucking, try aloe vera juice.

Misting your parrot with fresh aloe vera juice is a great way to treat dry skin. 

Aloe vera juice also helps reduce dander in birds, which is great for bird owners with allergies.

Aloe vera juice can help to reduce feather plucking

Palm oil

Palm oil is another effective home remedy, especially for African grey parrots. 

Adding some palm oil to your parrot’s diet can significantly improve the condition of its feathers, making them strong and glossy. 

Additionally, it also reduces the bird’s desire to chew its feathers.

Red Palm Oil

Red Palm Oil has been reported to make parrot feathers healthier and glossier. You can sautée vegetables in this oil, or else feed your bird popcorn popped in it.

If you keep the oil in the refrigerator, a small scraping from the solid can be added to the bird’s food, and it would simply gobble it up.

Bee Pollen

Bee pollen is another effective solution for those parrots for whom feather picking is primarily caused by stress.

One of our readers, Sue Crossley, reports: 

“I live in … Australia and have just experienced severe bushfires and had to be evacuated from our home. 

Our Cockatiel … became very stressed and depressed and started plucking out his feathers. I found your website, which recommended Bee Pollen. 

As I work for an apiarist (beekeeper), I actually had some pollen in my cupboard. 

My bird loved the pollen (I’d never thought of giving it to him before) and stopped plucking and perked up within two days. 

I can’t say how it would work on chronic pluckers, but for stress, I couldn’t recommend anything better. 

Now I give him the pollen every day just because he likes it, and he’s never looked so healthy or happy.”

One reader reported that bee pollen is also effective in reducing feather plucking

Herbal formulations

Herbal remedies like Pluck No More and Stress Control effectively reduce stress, consequently reducing stress-induced feather plucking. 

They’re also great for treating aggression in birds, just so you know. 

You may spray the herbal formulations directly into your parrot’s food or mix a few drops in its water.

Infection-specific treatment

If an infection is causing the feather plucking, it’s only logical to get your pet properly diagnosed and treated for it. 

Just like humans, birds are vulnerable to a wide variety of diseases, some of which can be fatal.

Notching the lower beak

Putting a little notch in the parrot’s lower beak can make it difficult to grab and pluck feathers. 

Don’t worry; the beak will grow back naturally. Keep in mind that this does not solve the main cause behind feather plucking – it only treats the symptom.

You should note that steroid injections and Medroxyprogesterone acetate are to be avoided entirely as both of them can cause liver disease in birds. 

The former may also cause gastrointestinal disease, while the latter might result in obesity.

Can You Stop Feather-Plucking by Making Your Parrot Wear a Collar?

Like cats and dogs, pet birds can be made to wear collars to prevent them from accidentally wounding themselves too. 

Putting a collar around your parrot’s neck will stop it from feather plucking, but it’s only a temporary solution.

You should never make a bird spend its entire life collared, and unless you fix the underlying issues, it will resume feather plucking once the collar is removed. 

Collars are useful as immediate solutions for serious cases of feather plucking and self-mutilation.

Can Excess Feather Plucking Kill Your Parrot?

Not quite – your parrot won’t die from plucking out too many feathers. 

The condition will get worse over time, and the bird might lose most of the plumage besides its head, but it will live.

However, the same can’t always be said about the underlying issues resulting in feather-plucking behavior. 

Many avian infections can be fatal if left untreated. 

Hence, while excess feather plucking won’t kill your parrot, you should look out for signs of sickness.

Dealing With Excess Feather Plucking as a Pet Owner

Excess feather plucking in pet birds also takes an emotional toll on their owners. 

I can understand how you might feel watching your feathered friend lose its beautiful feathers. 

Moreover, you might be worried about any underlying issues that your parrot might be suffering from or any problems that might occur due to excess plucking.

Well, the only logical way to deal with this stress is to do your best to stop the feather-plucking behavior and help your avian friend regain its feathers. 

Use the tips I have shared above to figure out the root of the issue and address it immediately. 

Spending more time with your feathered friend can also help. It’s hard to stay stressed and sad when playing with your beloved pet. 

Most importantly, don’t be too hard on yourself for potentially causing your bird stress and leading to feather plucking. 

We all make mistakes, knowingly or unknowingly. Just remember to learn from your mistakes and not repeat them in the future.

As bird owner, you just have to keep working to find solutions and not give up on your pet

Wrap Up

To sum up, just keep your feathered friend in sound health – both mentally and physically. 

Provide the parrot with enough activities, affection, attention, and environmental enrichment. 

Pet parrots are vulnerable to a variety of emotional and psychological crises that wild birds don’t usually have to deal with.

As a responsible pet owner, it’s up to you to look out for unusual behavior and symptoms in your feathered friends. 

I hope you found this article useful, and thank you for your time. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What causes a parrot to pluck its feathers?

A wide variety of behavioral, environmental, and disease-related conditions can cause a parrot to pluck its feathers.
We have elaborate on most of these in the article, but to recapitulate:
Behavioral reasons: emotional stress, boredom, and hormonal behavior during the breeding season
Environmental issues: allergies, poor humidity, bad diet, nicotine, dyes and preservatives, and even the position of the door relative to the cage 
Diseases: Liver disease, aspergillosis, PBFD, feather cysts, psittacosis, parasites, and many others.

How do you treat feather picking?

The answer to this question depends on the reason behind the feather-plucking urge in the birds.
For behavioral problems, finding the reason for their stress and tackling it head-on is usually the solution.
Getting them a companion parrot often reduces this urge significantly.
Offering a good diet, opportunities to play and be active, engaging them with toys and puzzles, and keeping the environment at a comfortable level in terms of humidity and temperature is also very important.
Lastly, if the cause of the feather plucking is disease-related, you should immediately talk to an avian vet.

What can I spray on my bird to stop plucking?

Apple cider vinegar, aloe vera juice, and palm oil are three home remedies that might help to reduce your bird’s feather-plucking tendencies.
Anti-plucking treatments such as Pluck No More and Stress Control can also do wonders.
However, these treatments will only work in curbing general feather-plucking behavior. If your parrot persists, there is likely a disease-related cause.
In such cases talking to a vet and getting the right treatment is the only course of action that we would suggest.

Is coconut oil good for bird feathers?

Yes, coconut oil is beneficial to birds’ feathers and overall health.
Applying a thin layer of coconut oil to the feathers before bathing helps both cleaner the bird’s feathers and keep them moist.
The oil also serves as an antibacterial agent and protects the feathers from mites or parasites.
In addition, it provides nutrition in the form of amino acids, fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals that help condition the skin and make a bird’s feathers look healthier.
As long as you use a small amount of coconut oil, it should not cause any harm to your pet bird.

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Team Beauty of Birds

Beautyofbirds.com's team of experts includes veterinarians, biologists, environmentalists and active bird watchers. All put together, we have over half a century of experience in the birding space.

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2 thoughts on “Feather Plucking in Parrots: Reasons & How to Stop”

  1. All good tips. However a routine is as vital as any tip here. Parrots mirror at times and reflect at other times, the keeper. First things first, get the keeper organized with a strategic plan and impliment it without exception. I find abc and what for what works. Most importantly the keeper cannot react in anyway at all ever, yet respond with only good coming from. If that is done, there is no open door for ails or ills to enter the situation. Mine is 20 yrs up n down, was severe when got, it’s a long process. Not for the impatient.

    Reply

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