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Treating & Preventing Feather Picking

Treating and Preventing Bird Feather Picking: Unfortunately, there is no quick or easy way to prevent 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. Furthermore, 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 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 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 your bird and the relative unsuitability of the previous location. For example, African gray parrots, which are 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, umbrella cockatoos, which are docile, affectionate and gregarious, that live in relative isolation and that have 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 more spacious living environment. Some feather pickers may not receive adequate quiet. Providing these birds with a more quiet and secluded locale and covering the cage at night may 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 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) or those representing a variety of colors, shapes, and textures. This "recreational feeding" keeps 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 same 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 non-toxic 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 fully 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.