There’s an old joke, a guy walks into the doctor’s office and says “Doc, it hurts everywhere”. The doctor says “show me.” The guy touches his arm and says “It hurts here”. The doctor asked him to touch his head which he did and the man said “it hurts here as well doc”. “Now touch your leg,” said the practitioner. The man did and said “It hurts there even more!” To which the doctor replied “Your problem is obvious, your finger is broken”.
We take them out of the sky – cut off half their wings – confine them to 10 sq ft restricted areas that noway resemble a tree for endless hours in places where the sun sets at 5 PM. We feed them engineered & manufactured food found nowhere in nature.
So why is it such a mystery that even our veterinarians can’t figure out how to prevent the self-destructive behavior that so many of our feathered companions exhibit?
We can’t begin to diagnose something as complicated as feather plucking without asking questions. Some plucking triggers may be apparent – if you’re looking in the right places. Change a painting on a wall, move a piece of furniture. Maybe the new carpeting in the upstairs bedroom hasn’t fully outgassed? This is why we recommend pulling everything out of your bird’s cage at least once a month and rearranging the aforementioned bird toys & accessories.
Yes, we want to freak your bird out. Yes we want him or her to be highly inquisitive and suspicious of the new cage feng shui (you added new stuff too right?) We want a skeptical psittacine. While focused on the new digs, it may distract them, even for a short period of time, and keep them from plucking their freakin’ feathers. How often do you rearrange your bird cage?
That little thing that you plug in the wall in the powder room to make it smell nice, ditch it whether your bird is plucking or not, it’s dangerous (respiratory reasons). Scented candles are a big safety hazard for birds. Actually, even if the candle is not scented, it’s important to note that birds in particular are very sensitive to the smoke and soot produced by petroleum-based paraffin candles. Birds are also not afraid of a candle’s flame.
So if you are interested in having a dialogue with us about feather plucking simply cut and paste the list of questions below into an email. Answer the questions the best you can and send them back to [email protected].
Chances are we won’t be able to answer everyone individually. We will do our best or include you in any “we see a pattern responses”. By sending us your retort you are agreeing to allow us to post the information (your first name only – no email) on our blog which will also appear on many social media sites. I know some of you will say this list reminds me of the lyrics to the David Crosby song, Immigration Man. “Here I am with my immigration form, it’s big enough to keep me warm”.
There are probably a couple of dozen more questions we can ask. Keep in mind this is a problem that makes many board-certified avian vets scratch their head. The reason that we’ve had moderate success (“overwhelming success” would in fact be an overstatement) is that we look at the bird’s environment as a “captive”, look at the bird holistically and ask that you see ourselves as a caged bird keeper.
How long has your bird been plucking?
Species (please be specific, there are 24 species of Macaw):
Your bird’s sex if (known) by DNA or feather color (dimophic bird)?
Your bird’s age?
How long have you had your bird?
Is this the bird’s first home?
If not, do you have any information on its last home?
In winter do you have forced air or passive (radiator) heat?
In winter is a humidifier in use?
What human foods are being offered?
Is any citrus being fed to your bird?
Has the human pecking order changed (divorce – a child goes to college)?
Has something changed in household furniture-drapes-carpet-paint?
Are there other animals in the home?
What manufactured bird food(s) are being served?
Do you purchase your bird seed from a bulk container like a barrel or plastic drop-chute?
Is there ever any poop in your bird’s drinking water?
Bird toys, what types and how many?
How many bird toys are in the top 1/3 of your bird’s cage?
Any other birds in the home?
In summer do you have central air or use a fan(s) to cool your bird?
Is your home teflon free (including waffle irons & hair dryers)?
Is the bird cage placed against any walls or in the “middle of a room?
Do you cover the bird cage at night?
Does the bird get silence at birdie bed time?
Do you offer full spectrum lighting to your bird?
Is the lighting on a timer?
What is the size of the cage living area only?
On average how many hours is your bird out of the cage daily?
When you are out of the do you leave on “white noise” TV-radio?
How many perches are in the cage?
Are there any “flat” perches in the cage?
Any soft rope perches?
Manicure perches-if so where is it placed?
What type of perch does your bird sleep on?
Do you employ clicker training in your bird’s routine?
Do you regularly exercise your bird?
Is your bird fully flighted?
If you clip your birds wings and is the clip modest or severe?
Date of your birds last visit to an avian vet?
How often do you weigh your bird?
Have you tried any “anti plucking” supplements/sprays?
Has anything worked?
List the foraging opportunities in and our of your bird’s cage.
Is the bird cage placed near any picture windows or sliding glass doors?
Does your bird ever chew on its cage?
What is the style of the cage dome top/play top/flat top?
When out of the cage does your bird have a place to “hang out”?
Is your bird a one person bird?
Is your household on a regular schedule?
Have feathers been plucked little by little or overnight?
How often do you bathe or mist your bird?
Is there a tobacco user in the home?
Are there any use of air fresheners or scented candles in the home?
Is your bird exposed to fresh “outside” air when possible?
If you have a female could she be “utilitarian” plucking (feathers used for lining the nest)?
written by mitch rezman
approved by catherine tobsing