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Feather Plucking Parrot Indian Ringneck
My journey with a feather plucking parrot
I wrote my first blog on how to care for Indian Ringneck Parrots approximately 4 years ago. At the time I had just one beautiful IRN named Oscar. I now have 4 IRN parrots, Oscar, Ollie, Oren and Oriel (3 boys and 1 female). Oren is the one that has become a feather plucker. It has been an extremely stressful time since it all began approximately 9 months ago. One morning I went out to feed the birds when I noticed that Oren had bare skin showing through on the backs of his shoulders (see pictures below). I was shocked! It looked very red and irritated and I wasn’t sure what had happened to him. I took him straight to the vet. She told me that it looks as though he has plucked his feathers out. He looked perfectly fine the day before so it had all happened very suddenly. The vet said it is one of the most frustrating and difficult conditions to deal with in companion birds as there can be so many causes or combinations of causes for such behaviour.
I love all my birds dearly and was willing to do as many tests as I could afford in order to determine if the cause was due to a medical condition. The total vet bill over the last 9 months has reached approximately $1,500. A blood test revealed that he had fatty liver disease, which has been completely resolved through diet (see below for further information). However the cause of his excessive preening and plucking could not be found medically and was therefore determined to be psychological/behavioural.
Oren is a very stressy bird, which the vet thinks is most likely the cause of his feather plucking. He is a fairly young bird (3-4 years old) with an unknown early history, as he was given to me to care for by a neighbour who rescued him after he flew into a window and knocked himself out. Not knowing his early history makes it difficult to understand what may have caused his anxious and stressy nature. I try my best to make him feel comfortable and calm. He has bonded with Oscar (another male – as up until 4 months ago it had just been the three boys). Oscar and Oren would dance together and feed each other like a baby bird gets fed by its parents. However, around the time that Oren started to pluck this behaviour between them had stopped. I am not sure if it stopped before Oren started to pluck, and then he did so afterwards in response, or if it stopped after. I started to think that maybe it was like a breakup between them and Oren was lashing out at himself in order to deal with it.
I separated Oren from Ollie and Oscar, but still hung his cage up on the aviary during the day so he could interact with them while I tried to help him get better. I spent hours and hours over months researching the causes of feather plucking and possible solutions to the problem. During my research I discovered that feather picking can be caused by:
- Tumours, liver or kidney disease
- Giardia (or other parasites - internal or external)
- Bacterial, viral or fungal infections
- Hormonal imbalances
- Skin diseases
- Lead or zinc poisoning
- Beak and feather disease
- Allergies (to food or something in surrounding environment)
- Inappropriate diet (leading to malnutrition)
- Sexual frustration
- Overcrowded conditions
- Lack of omega 3 and 6 (may cause dry itchy skin)
- Not enough natural light/sunlight (make sure bird always has shade available)
- Not enough sleep (birds need 10-12 hours per night)
- Plus many more I'm sure.........
I am very cautious about using drugs or chemical sprays and products on my birds (as I believe they will cause more long term damage than they are worth) so was looking at more natural solutions. I started with diet.
What I feed my birds daily (which cured Oren of his fatty liver disease)
Staple – every day
- 1/8 cup of pellets each (Vetafarm Maintenance Diet Parrot Pellets)
- Organic broccoli (2-3 florets each)
- Organic carrot (1/2 carrot each over whole day)
- Organic kale (chopped)
- Organic spinach (chopped)
- Organic snow peas (1-2 peas each)
- Organic apple (2 apples shared between birds per day)
- Organic shredded coconut (1 teaspoon each)
- 1 almond each
Extras when available
- Organic sweet corn (1/4 corn cob each - twice per week)
- Organic zucchini (1/8 each – when in season)
- Organic capsicum (1/8 each – when in season)
- Organic kiwi fruit (1 shared between birds – skin removed)
- Organic mandarins (1 shared between birds – twice per week)
For a while I was adding about ¼ teaspoon of organic extra virgin olive oil to their diet (melted on some warm green peas). This really seemed to help Oren when his skin was very red and irritated. He still plucked but not as much and allowed for more feathers to grow out around his middle area.
Recently I have been giving them 3 tablespoons of small parrot seed each per day (only 5 sunflower seeds per bird) instead of the pellets as Oren appears to get irritated by them.
Before this diet improvement the birds were eating pellets only. After 3-4 months of eating this way Oren’s liver was tested and found to be normal, which was fantastic.
The next thing I looked at was adding more toys and foraging opportunities to the birds. They love to destroy and chew toys made with wood (not so interested in plastic ones) and they really love natural branches such as grevillea and banksia etc. However, with 4 of them it is hard to keep a constant supply as toys aren’t cheap and we only have a few grevillea/Banksia trees in our backyard, so I am still working on improving this for them.
We bought the birds a bigger aviary to see if having more flight space might help them to get more exercise, and for Oren reduce stress. Not sure if this has helped with his plucking specifically, but the birds definitely love having that extra space.
Also not sure if separating Oren from the others helps or not, sometimes he shows improvement when he is by himself and other times he does when he is mingling.
During my research I read that some birds may pluck due to sexual frustration and that providing them with a mate could help to resolve this behaviour. This is how Oriel came into the picture. We had tried everything else we could think of and thought that maybe this was the problem. It didn't work in Oren's case. However, we still love Oriel dearly and welcome her to the family.
In the early feather plucking days there were a few times when Oren pulled out his tail feathers and there was so much blood loss that I thought he was going to die. It was horrible! I think that he bled so much back then because of his liver disease, as his blood wouldn’t clot very well. Since his liver has improved his blood clots much more quickly now, so there’s no need to panic or get the cornflour out to stop any bleeding. A few months ago his condition got even worse as he began to show signs of self-mutilation. I noticed a few scabs on his back and a few slits on his belly where he must have been attacking his own skin. As a last resort, out of fear that he might do severe damage, I took him to the vet and had a collar put on him. I felt like this was necessary as I couldn't watch him 24/7 due to work, etc., and couldn't handle the stress and worry that he might really hurt himself when I'm not there to help him.
Using the collar would allow more feathers to grow through and possibly reduce the irritation he was feeling (hopefully reducing his feather plucking). He hated the collar at first but adapted quickly and wore it for approximately 5 weeks. On the way home from the vet after he'd had the collar removed he plucked out about 8 of his newly grown relatively long shoulder feathers. However, since then he has hardly plucked a feather, only his tail which he never seems to let grow through very far. I think that the stress of visiting the vet that day may have caused him to pluck those feathers out shortly after. He has been quite good since then and hardly plucked at all. I am interested to see how he goes next month in Spring when his natural molt usually occurs and hopefully more feathers will start to push through. Then, if he doesn’t pluck I won’t need to worry about him being cold anymore and won’t need to keep bringing him inside at night.
I will keep updating this post to hopefully help others who may be going through a similar experience, or at least know that they are not alone. It is an incredibly stressful and difficult situation to be in. Anyone who may have a solution that has worked for them and their bird please help myself and others by posting what you did in the comments section below. Thank you.