Feather Plucking—aka Feather Picking—is one of the most dreaded and feared conditions for African Grey owners. There is nothing worse than walking out one morning and taking the cover off the cage only to find feathers on the bottom of the cage and a part of your African Grey’s body bereft of feathers. So why does this happen? What causes it?
The African Grey Parrot is known to be one of the bird species that is susceptible to feather plucking. The Congo African Grey has a higher tendency toward feather plucking whereas the Timneh African Grey doesn’t seem as likely too—although it does happen.
It is thought that this is because the Timneh is more adaptable and has a more stable personality than the Congo. Another thought is that the Timneh has not been as popular as the Congo, and until recently wasn’t bred in large numbers. So in later years, there should be more accurate data to prove whether this theory is correct.
African Grey Care
Why Do African Grey Parrots Resort to Feather Plucking?
Feather Plucking / Feather Picking could be a physical illness or a behavioral problem. The first thing to do if your African Grey starts plucking its feathers is to take it to an avian veterinarian to rule out any physical illness.
Physical Illness That Could Cause African Grey Feather Plucking:
- Nutritional deficiency: There could possibly be a calcium, vitamin A or fatty acids deficiency. Is your bird on a seed diet, rather than a pellet diet? Some birds can have an allergic-type reaction to some components of seeds or the seeds may be contaminated with mycotoxins. Is your African Grey getting plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables in their daily diet?
- Bacterial infection: A bacterial infection needs to be ruled out.
- Parasites: The vet will check for internal and external parasites.
- Metal Toxicity: Has your bird been checked for zinc or lead poisoning?
- Environmental factors: Weather changes can be a culprit. Is the air too dry? A humidifier might need to be placed in their area. Or is it too wet, so mold spores can set in?
- Cage: Is their cage large enough? Is it clean? Hygienic animals by nature, a dirty, unkempt cage is detrimental to a Grey’s mental as well as physical health.
- Baths / Showers: Your Grey should be getting regular baths or showers to keep them clean and healthy. Also expose them to moist air – put them in the bathroom to enjoy the steam while you’re taking a shower. No one likes to be itchy and dirty, least of all an African Grey.
- Fragrances: Room fresheners, candles, perfumes, hair sprays etc, can irritate an African Grey’s skin
Psychological / Behavioral Problems That Could Cause African Grey Feather Plucking:
An African Grey is a highly intelligent and sensitive bird; therefore, we must take into account that what is causing it to pluck its feathers could be psychological. Much feather plucking in African Greys seem to be behavioral problems.
- Boredom / Lack of Attention: An African Grey needs lots of attention and interaction with their “flock”. Keep them stimulated – teach new songs, words or a game. Make sure to provide your bird with plenty of toys. Remember to rotate and put new toys in their cage and on their play top area. A variety of toys is important too – never underestimate the value of toys! Give them toys to chew on, take apart, put back together, forage; and have different textures, shapes and sizes. Put your African Grey near a window during the day so they can watch the outside world. We have a bird feeder located on a tree right outside our African Grey’s window and he spends hours watching and frolicking around on his play top with the birds and squirrels outside.
- Stress / Changes in Home Life: Was the cage moved to a different location? Was there a new addition to the family? Be conscientious and make time for your African Grey to help it through any changes that might have occurred.
- Lack of Sleep: Some African Greys may pluck due to not getting enough sleep. Make sure your bird gets 8 to 12 hours of uninterrupted sleep.
- Emotional Abuse: A single experience which frightened the bird has been known to bring on feather plucking. Make sure you are always around when there is anyone new around your African Grey. Unfortunately, not everyone understands birds and could act inappropriately.
Don’t React to African Grey Feather Plucking
The worst thing as a bird owner that we can do is react to our African Grey feather plucking. Remember what was said earlier about African Greys needing attention? Well, if we react and get freaked out because our bird just calmly plucked out a feather and is waving it at us, we are giving them attention, and negative though it may be, it is attention nonetheless. Don’t yell, cover the cage, or give it any kind of attention when your bird feather picks. The best thing you can do is ignore the behavior, walk away and leave the room.
Feather plucking can start off slow and escalate as time moves forward so it is best to resolve the problem quickly before it becomes a pattern. Nip it in the bud as quickly as possible.
Most of all, take responsibility as a bird owner. Give your African Grey self-confidence—encourage it to explore and be curious. Expose it to change—take it into different rooms in the house, show it different colors and toys, socialize with other people; so it learns change is okay and these things shouldn’t make it afraid. A happy bird is a healthy bird, and by taking these steps, you are taking the right road toward helping to keep your African Grey from Feather Plucking.