Parrot Plucking Series: How to do a Parrot Plucking Time Study
By now, you may know that a lot of research tells us that the best way to stop feather plucking for good is to use behavior modification. Behavior modification is complex and has a lot of components. In behavior modification, whenever you wish to change a behavior, you’ll first want to analyze the behavior to get a through understanding of it. This involves knowing a lot about what precedes the behavior, like:
- Where the behavior happens
- With whom or what the behavior happens
- What time(s) the behavior happens
- How the behavior happens
In this blog, we’ll look at one component of behavior modification for parrot feather plucking, which is how to do a time study. But, first, lets look at what we hope to gain from the time study.
The A-B-C Model in Behavior Modification
A time study is used to help you know exactly when, how, with whom and where the feather plucking is happening. Once you understand the time patterns of the behavior, you can start looking for clues as to what events are triggering the behavior in the first place. The triggering clues are called the Antecedent of the behavior. Antecedents are what drive the behavior to occur in the first place.
The A-B-C Model in Behavior Modification
Science tells us that all behavior is motivated by the outcome of the behavior. In behavior modification, that outcome is called the consequence. In behavior modification, the consequence is what the parrot is getting from doing the behavior. So, here is a simple example of A-B-C with children that we’ve all witnessed at the grocery store.
A child sees candy and wants it. NOW! When told “no” the child throws a tantrum. Mom or Dad is so embarrassed at the response of on lookers that they give the kid the candy to get them to be quiet.
In this example, seeing the candy is the Antecedent. The behavior is the tantrum. The consequence is the child gets the candy.
When you know the A-B-C cycle, you can go about shifting the trigger or altering the outcome to change the behavior.
So, in the same candy example, I’d tell my child, “if you are good when you’re inside of the store you’ll get 15 minutes on the Ipad when we get home. Now, the child decides not to throw a tantrum in the store and I follow through with my reward of Ipad time.
This is a very simplified example, of course, but these same techniques can work with our parrot. The difference is that first, you really can’t reason with a parrot and second, feather plucking can quickly become an addictive process. Never the less, research has demonstrated time and time again that changing up the antecedent and the consequences of the behavior helps stop feather plucking. Our time study will help us understand antecedents.
Want to learn more about A-B-C? Check out this video:
The Key Components of a Time Study
For the time study information to be reliable, you’ll want to observe and record the behavior a good number of times. Behavior needs to be stated in a measurable way so that you can know if your efforts to stop feather plucking is working. Best practice would be that observe your parrot and its surrounding for evidence of plucking parrot plucking for a minimum of two weeks or at least 25 episodes of the behavior.
Use a simple chart to record your parrots plucking as frequently as you can, but a minimum of four times a day. Ideally, these times should be at the same time each day. Great times to record plucking behaviors would be:
- When you get up in the morning
- Before you go to work
- When you get home
- Before your put your bird to bed
Now, you’re going to need to figure out a way to record whether plucking has occurred. With technology, it’s easy to video your bird during the day while your at work. Just set your smartphone alarm to the times that you want to observe your bird. Get an affordable WiFi enabled Pet Camera for as little as $35USD and check your bird. According to PetLifeToday.com, the best camera for those on a budget in 2018 is the Tenvis HD IP camera. We found the one on Amazon.com for under $40USD. When your alarm rings, take a gander at your bird. Is it plucking? Are there feathers on the cage floor?
If you’re not the tech wizard type, simply physically observe your bird and it’s surroundings at your specified times. If your bird is plucking when you get there, just totally ignore it. Do your observation and leave. Your not engaging in behavior change strategies just now. Your simply gathering data.
Get into the habit of counting the feathers in the bottom of the cage at these times. You may even want to look at the feathers to see if they are pulled out, shaft and all or whether the feather was chewed off. At any rate, it is helpful, for logging purposes, if you remove the destroyed feathers at each observation.
If your dealing with parrot self-mutilation, you’ll want to measure the size of the wound to determine if the behavior has occurred during this observation interval.
Whatever method you choose to observe your bird, you’ll need to record parrot plucking behavior in a log format.
Here is a simple chart to record your findings.
Once you’ve compiled a minimum of two weeks worth of data four times a day, you’ll have 56 data points. This would be an adequate amount of data if you feel that this has been a “normal” two weeks for the bird. For example, normal would mean that there have been no changes in routine, care techniques or social interactions. If care had been altered in the week prior to data collection, or at anytime during the data collection period, you’d want to collect more data.
What to do with Parrot Plucking Data
When you’ve collected two good weeks worth of data on parrot plucking, you can go into the spreadsheet tab called “graphs” found at the bottom of the spreadsheet. The spreadsheet will have compiled graphs showing you exactly when your parrot plucks the most. Look for antecedent clues. Put on your detective hat and ask yourself,
- "What might be triggering the problem at this time of day?"
- "What ever happens right before the highest parrot plucking frequency time that might trigger my bird?"
- "What is my usual reaction when I catch my parrot plucking?"
Let us know in the comments section how this blog, including the Google sheet works for you or if you have ideas on how to improve our presentation on parrot plucking data collection.
- Diane Burroughs, LCSW