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This information is provided by Provet for educational purposes only.

You should seek the advice of your veterinarian if your pet is ill as only he or she can correctly advise on the diagnosis and recommend the treatment that is most appropriate for your pet.

Feather plucking is a common behavioural problem in captive birds, and it leads to an unsightly loss of plumage and baldness .

Feather plucking is a very common disorder which is sometimes accompanied by other self-mutilation such as nail or toe biting. and feather chewing.  It is most often seen in solitary birds. There are a number of recognised causes of feather plucking behaviour, including:

  • Boredom - common
  • Excessive preening behaviour - due to a neurosis - common.
  • Abnormal feathers - which are subsequently pulled out by the bird. Causes include :
    • Nutritional deficiencies
    • Hormonal disorders
    • Poor environmental conditions - eg too small a cage so that the bird can not exercise, or there is no private area in the cage for the bird to hide.
  • Infection of the feather follicles - bacteria or fungal
  • Parasites on the skin - rare

Treatment involves identifying and treating  the underlying cause, and preventing self-mutilation by the use of an elizabethan collar around the neck.

The bird should be examined by a veterinarian in case the cause is a nutritional deficiency, an infectious disease or ectoparasites in which case medical treatment (eg antibiotics or antiparasitic drugs) will be needed. Other medical treatments which have been used successfully in some cases include :

  • Tranquillizers
  • Thyroid hormone replacement therapy
  • Oestrogens - megoestrol acetate, medroxyprogesterone 

Behavioural self-mutilation can be modified by changing the birds environment and daily routine . Various methods can be used to increase stimulation during "boring" parts of the day , for example :

  • Get a companion bird - although occasionally it has been reported that both birds may feather-pluck
  • Increase human-bird contact by talking to it regularly
  • Introduce a toy that the bird will play with
  • Introduce a mirror
  • Leave a radio or TV switched on when the bird is left alone
  • Situate the bird near to a draught-free window so that it can see and hear other birds and people outside 
  • Increase exercise - provide a bigger environmental space - or let the bird out of it's cage
  • The photoperiod should be adjusted to mimic that found in the birds natural environment - so the bird cage should be covered with a cloth at night - otherwise domestic artificial lighting will keep non-nocturnal birds awake for an excessive number of hours.
  • Some authors have suggested shooting the bird with a water pistol each time it starts to feather pluck - a form of aversion therapy
  • Bathing or spraying the bird with water may help to remove dust and other debris which may irritate and encourage excessive preening behaviour


Updated October 2013