Treating and Preventing Feather Picking

From the above discussion it should be obvious that there are no quick and/or easy solutions for psychological or stress-induced feather picking. Collars fashioned from discarded x-ray film or certain acrylics can be fitted and applied. These materials create an artificial barrier between the bird’s beak and its feathers. Collars treat the symptoms (the feather picking and mutilation) but do not eliminate the underlying cause(s). In fact, collars themselves can be very stressful to caged birds and should only be applied when it is necessary to arrest self‑mutilation and prevent hemorrhage, or as a last resort when all else fails. Further, collars create problems of their own. Besides causing great stress to the bird, they also prevent normal feather maintenance (preening). If medical causes for feather picking have been ruled out, and boredom (solitary confinement) is regarded as the major cause of feather picking, then you as the bird owner must be prepared to make changes. Increasing the amount of time you spend with your bird will greatly reduce feather picking tendencies because the bird is kept otherwise engaged. Sometimes changing the location of the bird’s cage and/or perch is helpful. The suitability of the new location will depend upon the temperament of the bird and the relative unsuitability of the previous location. For example, a feather picking African gray parrot (normally shy and suspicious) might be better off in a more private and secluded area of the house than in a heavily trafficked and noisy locale. By contrast, an umbrella cockatoo (docile, affectionate, gregarious that lives in relative isolation and that has begun to feather pick: might be better off in a very public area of the house. If a feather picker lives in a very small cage or has limited living space, it might be beneficial to provide a larger cage or a mom spacious living environment. Some feather pickers may not receive adequate rest. Providing these birds with a more quiet and secluded locale and covering the cage at night may be helpful. The latter is most important because it provides a certain period each day or night during which absolute privacy and freedom from a “fish bowl” existence is assured. Bathing or misting a feather picker on a daily or otherwise regular basis may be beneficial because wetting the feathers encourages normal preening behavior. The hope is that the bird will spend more time conditioning the plumage and less time chewing on the feathers or pulling them out. Boredom and resultant feather picking may be combated by providing a wide variety of foods. Emphasis should be placed on foods that require some time and effort to eat (non shelled walnuts and other nuts, string beans, snow peas, macaroni and cheese) and those representing a variety of colors, shapes, sizes and textures. This “recreational feeding’ keeps the bird stimulated and interested in the food, increases the amount of time required to eat, and decreases; the amount of free time that could be spent feather picking. The wine factors should be considered when providing toys with which a caged bird can play. The widest variety and assortment possible should be offered. The toys (chains, bells, rawhide and hardwood pieces, mirrors, hard rubber toys) should be durable and appropriate for the size and type of bird being considered. Toys should stimulate and hold the bird’s interest as much as possible. It is important to provide natural objects that a bird can investigate, chew up, and rip apart. Branches from nontoxic trees, with leaves (eucalyptus) and large pine cones, can be offered to satisfy these destructive tendencies. These objects should be clean and free of insecticide and herbicide residues. It is equally important to provide objects that can hilly involve the bird in actual physical exercise (large ropes to climb on, large paper bags, and cardboard boxes with holes). Appliances (radio, tape recorder, television, etc) that stimulate the bird’s other senses should also be considered and provided whenever possible. A feather picker whose attention is diverted and held by these types of toys and diversions will spend less time pursuing its vice.