Feather Picking: Popular Remedies May Not Work

There are certain popular remedies for feather picking. Foul-tasting sprays applied to the feathers (Bitter Apple, Listerine, etc), grinding/notching of the lower beak to make destruction of the feathers more difficult, and use of tranquilizers have all been recommended over the years to treat the chronic feather picker. Unfortunately, none of these is truly effective. They merely treat the symptom (feather picking) but do not treat the causes of feather picking. Under certain circumstances’ however, some of these remedies may provide some help or relief One suggestion that should be given serious consideration is not clipping the wings of birds that mutilate their feathers, especially the flight feathers. The rationale for this recommendation is that feather picking birds need no “excuse’ to be destructive to their feathers, this procedure usually provides one. Though wing-trimming is not disfiguring, it does involve trimming of the largest and longest of the bird’s feathers. Feather pickers or birds prone to this vice soon discover these altered feathers and begin to methodically and obsessively chew and split that part of the quill that remains of the clipped feathers. The result of this mutilation is a series of frayed feather quills that rarely drop out during the next molt and tend to be retained indefinitely. If you elect not to clip your bird’s wings because of this consideration, you must be willing to accept the liabilities of a fully flighted bird in the home. Make the decision carefully. In cases of chronic feather picking, close scrutiny of the bird and its interactions with its environment can help establish a program of behavioral modification A qualified avian behaviorist should be enlisted if this remedy is to be pursued. Behavioral modification may be of tremendous value in reducing stress, treating stress‑induced problems of caged birds, and treating obnoxious behavioral problems. Some cases of severe chronic feather picking may not respond to any kind of treatment Damage to or destruction of the feather follicles from repeated trauma to the skin may result in permanent feather loss or growth of abnormal feathers. These pet birds tend also to be unmanageable and very difficult to handle. Placing these birds in a breeding or avicultural situation may be the most practical alternative. Unfortunately, this is never an easy decision for a devoted bird owner.