Help! My 16 YO Greenwing Macaw Suddenly Started Plucking.

Help! My 16 YO Greenwing Macaw Suddenly Started Plucking.

Last Updated on by Catherine Tobsing

Hey Mitch!

I’m soo happy I found your blogs.  I’ve been feverishly reading through your windy city posts!

2.5 wks ago my 16yr old green wing macaw, Sprout decided to have a hot-girl summer… I woke up to a sea of red feathers on her cage floor.

Looking at her you couldn’t see where they came from until you parted her wings.  She had pulled everything out above her tail! 

I immediately called my vet and was told they didn’t feel it was urgent enough to warrant an emergency visit!  So after calling around, I found another avian doctor who was willing to see her. 

He did full panel bloodwork and said we needed X-rays because he suspected she was egg-bound. 

Sprout has never laid an egg, nor has she ever pulled out her feathers!  On my drive there I was thinking we were going to need bloodwork, maybe a skin scrape or some kind of allergy test or that he’d tell me it’s a clogged preening gland leading to vitamin/mineral imbalance or something…. I was NOT expecting to hear hormones, sexual frustration, or a possible egg!  

Well her bloodwork was normal but the X-ray showed she had an inflamed ovary and the “treatment” for that would be a Lupron injection. 

I had no idea birds could get hormone injections…honestly, if he said I needed to hike to Mordor for magical unicorn tears, I’d of done it. 

I was so unprepared to make that kind of medical decision for her and he really didn’t have any info. as to the positive outcomes of this med…it was just “the treatment.”  needless to say, I was desperate and trusting because after all, he’s a doctor and I’m not… I okayed the injection. 

When we left, all I was told was to limit her light, put her to bed earlier (normal parrot bedtime here is 7:30 pm) and to call if things got worse.

Why Are Veterinarians Are Injecting This Poison Into Our Birds?

Well, things got way worse! 

Though she stopped pulling feathers out, she started clipping her feathers across her chest and legs (I learned the term for this is barbering). 

Then she moved on to her wings. 

I called the vet and they said it could take a few days for the shot to take full effect. 

After about a week of increased darkness and being kept separate (I moved her to our bedroom walk-in closet) from her flight crew friends, I saw no improvement. 

The extra darkness and isolation seemed to make her even more agitated and crazed (gosh her eyes were flashing constantly, seemed like she would be looking right through me). 

I called the vet back one more time.  I was told she’d need another $173 shot.  

I did not book that appointment for the shot.  Not because of the cost but because I didn’t think it did anything. 

Instead, I bought one of those bird cone collars and stuck her in that to buy us some time while I researched. 

I started googling like mad and reading about hormones, how to breed birds, etc. and that’s what led me to your posts and the 72 hrs of light!  

Mitch, I wish more people knew about this, veterinarians especially!!! It definitely seems to be resetting her and doing the trick. 

I started the 72-hour light therapy this past Monday and noticed a marked change in her demeanor after the first 24 hours!!! 

I’m not gonna lie, I was scared about leaving the lights on all night but then I realized I could fall asleep with the TV and lights on, what did I have to lose?  

I also think I’ve riddled out where I screwed up and got her accidentally into hormonal overdrive.

I have a big 6 ft octagonal aviary I use for my crew in the summer. 

It’s been exceptionally sunny (almost no clouds or rainy days) and hot down here in NC.  I was putting Sprout (GW) and Pluto (Hy) who get along just fine, out in the aviary every day from 11-7 most days. 

I was all excited for them bc I just got a mister hooked up to the cage, made some new chew ledges… yadda yadda yadda.  

Pluto has turned 8.  I read that sexual maturity in hyacinths is between ages 7-10 years.  To breed birds it should be warm, you should have increased light and birds should be well-fed.

How Pet Bird Keepers Get The Lighting Thing Wrong

My thoughts are, that I put a budding hunk of boy bird in a cage with an already sexually mature female… that coupled with perfect environmental conditions equals hot-girl summer for Sprout.

If you’ve got any free time, I’d love to hear your opinion(s) and any suggestions. 

Is there anything else I should or shouldn’t be doing? 

Also, do you think Pluto and Sprout can ever be in eyesight of each other again or should I always keep them separated (ie: not in the same room).

I don’t want to cause any more hormone swings for Sprout and I’m scared of what Pluto could do if he were to get wound up (blue boy is cute but he can pop spot welds and crack open mac nuts like they’re nothing).   

Additional info.:

I switched Sprout (gw) to soy-free Hagen Hari Alternative pellets

Everyone was eating Mazuri pellets as their staple food in addition to fresh veggies and sprouted spouts from China Prairie. 

I’m also withholding putting palm oil (I only use a little for her and Maynard anyway) and nuts in/on her food. 

Plus, I’ve cut out fruit since sugar can contribute to hormones.  Her average daily weight is 1050g.  Sprout is now back downstairs in a cage by herself with nothing to shred other than her blocks. 

Pluto and Maynard are stationed in the laundry room.  So, all the birds are on the same floor in my house, but both boy birds are out of her sight in a closed-off room.

Lastly, is it ever suggested to do more than 72hrs of light?  If I had to repeat this process, how long should the waiting time be in between?

I know you don’t have a crystal ball but do you think the feathers she pulled out stand a chance of coming back since this was the first time this ever happened?  

Thank you so soo much for reading all this and for making that blog!

A big two-wings up!!

Flap Flap

-Dom & Sprout

No, you’re totally right!  Keep that info. Coming!! 

I always knew light was important for them but never did a deep dive into all of its intricacies until I had this incident. 

I’ve been reading a lot about light duration, wave length and intensity of light, etc.. after finding your posts.

Light has a profound effect on everything from their sex hormones, to their reproductive cycle to their molting!

The majority of info. I’ve been reading are studies done on the pineal glands of chickens.

They talk about how the pineal gland (aka their circadian clock) which is located in their eye, releases melatonin.

That melatonin (which only gets released in the dark) sets off a cascade of other hormones. 

I’m guessing that’s the reason why 72hrs of straight light works so well.  It blunts the release of melatonin since it’s not 100% dark.  Then you just have to wait until all those residual hormones are flushed from their system.  It’s like pressing the factory reset button on your bird when you can reset that circadian clock.  Pretty cool! 

There was one study I read where they transplanted the pineal gland of one chicken to another and it took on the donor bird’s circadian pattern!

Me: You’re close, the melatonin thing is part of the (light) process that breaks the circadian rhythm –  more fun-

Light Up Your Bird Cage with Florescent Budgies a Gift from NASA.

Holy cow! They reflect UV too!!! Wild!


I knew that feathers have ridges/structures that reflect light and that’s how we perceive their colors. Had no idea about this!

Me: Yep – invisible to us – in the wild lunar cycles add to the mix

Years ago when I wanted to be a marine biologist (soo much math though which is not my strong suit) I got to study coral reef tanks and raceway setups for coral.

They needed special aquarium moonlight fixtures for the coral to ensure they latched to their rocks and spawned. Maybe birds need that added to their cage too?


I never considered they’d need the moon too… seems dumb for me not to have acknowledged that sooner… these things are only like 2 generations removed from their wild buddies

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