Feather Loss in Birds
Feather loss in birds may be due to medical or behavioral factors. Some of these may include:
- Mites, lice, bacteria, and fungal (yeast) infections
- Hormonal imbalances
- Dietary deficiencies
- Underlying disease processes that secondarily affect the skin
- Psychological problems (boredom, etc.)
Some of these problems are easy to correct, while others are more difficult or impossible to resolve.
MITES, LICE, INFECTIONS
Often these problems can be solved with dusting your bird with the appropriate insecticide or using oral medications. Diagnosis is made by examination of the feathers under the microscope, or by taking cultures of the feathers. Do not attempt to medicate your bird at home. This should be done under veterinary supervision.
Sometimes improper activity of the ovaries, testicles, or sometimes other endocrine glands can result in feather picking. Blood tests or biopsies may be needed for a confirmed diagnosis.
A lack of protein, fatty acids, certain vitamins or minerals can result in feather loss and/or feather picking. Diets high in seeds are more likely to result in diet-related feather picking. Sometimes the fault is not in the diet, but rather your bird’s ability to utilize the nutrients included in the food. A good history often provides clues as to the cause. Diet changes generally help.
INJURIES / UNDERLYING DISEASE
Sometimes an injury or illness (gout, tumors, arthritis) can cause your bird to hurt or itch. When a bird hurts or itches, it may pick at the area. Generally these causes are suspected when only one area of the body is attacked. Often it is difficult to cure these individuals unless the underlying disease process can be identified and treated. Sometimes scar tissue can cause significant discomfort or irritation to a bird and can result in chronic feather picking or self mutilation even after the initial injury has resolved.
By far these are the most common causes of feather picking. These types of feather pickers can be the most difficult to cure and have the highest incidence of recurrence. Common psychological factors are:
STRESS– This can occur over such minor things as moving the cage to a different location or transferring the bird to a new cage. Arguments between family members can create stress feather picking as well as the disappearance of a favorite family member.
BOREDOM– In the wild parrots spend their day foraging for food, watching out for and fleaing from preadators, and interacting with other members of their flock. In captivity most parrots spend their day sitting in a cage where their food is handed to them in a bowl and there are no predators in site. This can result in a bird that has lots of idle time, which can results in development of compulsive behaviors such as overgrooming/feather destruction and even self mutilation.
INCREASED HORMONE LEVELS– Pet birs are not spayed or neutered (ovaries and testicles are not removed). Avian anatomy prevents safe removal of these organs and consequently, reproductive hormones are produced and hormone-related behaviors result. Environmental and dietary management can help to shut down hormone production. Some of thes modifications include
- Decreasing daylight hours (8-9 instead of 12+)
- Minimizing wet, warm food or decreasing volume of food offered in robust or overweight birds
- Removing any nesting material or nest boxes (this may even be made from a hide hut, box or other small enclosed area)
- Avoid hand-feeding or petting your bird over the back or under the wings
Feather destructive behavior can be complex, difficult to diagnose and treat. The best way to treat feather picking is to avoid it in the first place, however the sooner it is noticed and dealt with, the more likely a cause can be identified and corrected.