Parrot Plucking Series: About the Parrot Feather Plucking Diet

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Parrot Plucking Series: About the Parrot Feather Plucking Diet

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One of the most upsetting things that many parrot lovers experience is parrot feather plucking. While there are many contributing causes to parrot plucking, one important contributing factor is the parrots diet. First rate nutrition is required not just for effective organ functioning but also for beautiful plumage. However, malnutrition is common captive parrots.

Malnutrition can affect any organ structure in the body, and once damage is done, it becomes progressive. As one organ breaks down, other organs are affected which results in a cascading decline of overall health. Poor skin and feather health may be an early sign that your pet needs a parrot feather plucking diet

Parrot Feather Plucking

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Rubinstein and Lightfoot (2012) report that the metabolic cost of growing, maintaining, and replacing feathers is high. With an ordinary molt, the bird has to replace up to 30% of the lean, dry body mass. Healthy feather growth requires an increased need for energy, amino nitrogen, and amino acids. Plucking parrots are replacing feathers at a more frequent rate, quickly depleting their body of essential nutrients.

Poor nutrition effects skin health, too. According to Cooper and Harrison (1994), “The ability of avian skin to resist infections and to heal properly is related to many factors, the most important of which is the nutritional status of the bird” (p. 625). Itchy skin causes a parrot to scratch and dig at its skin.

Species Specific Diets

Current avian nutrition research is now revealing that different species of parrots have slightly different nutritional needs. While most parrot species are Florivores, with their primary diet being plant based, we are now finding out that among Florivores, there also exists Granivores, or birds that eat mostly grains and seeds.  Frugivores eat mostly flowers and fruits, Omnivores eat a combination of foods and Nectavores, birds that thrive on nectar, pollen and insects.


Pet Bird Dietary Classification

 

Primary Diet

 

Parrot Species

Florivore

Seeds, fruits, nuts, bark, roots, berries

Military macaw, Blue and gold macaw, Red- faced parrot

Granivore

Grains, seeds

Budgerigar, cockatiel, Hyacinth macaw

Frugivore

Mostly fruit and flowers; some nuts and seeds

Blue-throated macaw, Green-winged macaw

Omnivore

Seeds, fruits, insects, invertebrates

Sulpher-crested cockatoo, Red-tailed Amazon

Nectarivore

Nectar, pollen; some insects and seeds

Lorikeet, lory

Adapted from PetEducation

 The Case for Pellets

Avian veterinarians often recommend that the bulk of a parrots diet should come from a formulated pelleted diet. Most species will do well with a 65-80% pelleted diet supplemented with vegetables, grains and fruits.  There are several pellet choices available including Harrison’s Bird Food, Roudybush and Zupreem.

Reputable bird food manufacturers use research to guide the manufacturing process of their diets. They use a variety of ingredients from grains, vegetables, fruits, seeds, various protein sources and vitamins and minerals. The ingredients blended together and baked in to a crunchy pellet. Some manufacturers make different blends for species-specific diets.

 Supplement Your Parrot Feather Plucking Diet with Fresh Foods

It is recommended that pellets be supplemented with fresh fruits and vegetables. The chart below shows you recommended fresh supplements that your bird may love.

Nutritious Supplements to the Parrot Feather Plucking Diet

Vegetables

Fruits

Radishes
Turnips
Carrots (root and tops)
Cooked sweet potatoes
Radicchio
Endive
Mustard & dandelion greens
Swiss Chard
Kale
Parsley
Cooked red potatoes
Green beans
Tomato
Sweet red & green peppers
Cauliflower
Broccoli (head and leaves)
Beet & turnip greens
Eggplant
Kohlrabi
Sugar snap or snow peas
Squash (peeled & steamed)
Red beets (peeled)
Romaine or green/red leaf lettuce
Collard greens
Corn
Cucumber
Apples
Berries
Kiwi
Mango
Cantaloupe
Honeydew
Pineapple
Cherries
Cranberries
Banana
Pears
Peaches
Oranges
Pomegranate
Tangerines
Star fruit
Grapefruit
Papaya
Plums
Grapes
Apricots  

 Adapted from PetEducation

How to Clean Fruits and Vegetables to Remove Residue

1. Fill a large bowl with 4 parts water: 1 part plain white vinegar.

2. Soak the fruit or vegetables you’d like cleaned in the mixture for 20 minutes.

3. Rinse the fruit or vegetables well with water.

Parrot Feather Plucking Diet

 Infographic by Diane Burroughs, LCSW, BirdSupplies.com

Eclectus parrots are a species that is prone to parrot plucking. One reason for this is because Eclectus parrots have very long digestive tracts which absorb preservatives, additives, dyes and synthetic vitamins at a higher rate. Thus, they need a specialized diet free from preservatives, additives, food dyes and synthetic vitamins. If you have an Eclectus that is pre-occupied with parrot feather plucking, consider feeding it an organic based mash.

Eclectus Parrot Feather Plucking Diet

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com
Eclectus Parrot Feather Plucking

 

African Grey Parrots are also known to be prone to problems with feather destructive behavior. This species tends to be prone to calcium deficits. Calcium, supported by magnesium and vitamin D3 is vital for the proper functioning of the central nervous system.

Low calcium levels may result in muscle tremors, weak bone   structure, soft egg shells in female birds, poor coordination, loss of balance and even seizures. Another common symptom of Hypocalcaemia are disorders of the nervous symptoms. These parrot feather plucking health problems can occur in any species, but are more frequent in African Grey Parrots. Nervous parrots are more prone to parrot feather plucking.

The Parrot Feather Plucking Diet Should insure adequate amounts of calucium

Image: Diane Burroughs, LCSW BirdSupplies.com

Calcium Content of Greens, per ounce (28g) is estimated as follows:

Broccoli

70mg

Dandelion Leaves

52mg

Basil

50mg

Watercress

34mg

Bok Choy

21mg

Chicory (endive) Chard

15mg 14mg


Adapted from Low, R., 2006

Low calcium levels directly affect brain chemistry and the functioning of the nervous system. An imbalance of calcium may result in anxious, nervous behavior. Respected breeder and avian expert, Rosemary Low, identifies calcium is an essential additive. Calcium supplements are helpful during breeding season for most parrots. African Grey Parrots may enjoy year round supplementation. You can buy a calcium / Vitamin D3 supplement such as Avitech Cal-D Solve, available at BirdSupplies.com. Another way to increase the calcium intake is to supplement your birds’ fresh diet with calcium rich green leaves. Work with your avian veterinarian to insure a balance of calcium for your parrot, especially if your African Grey is experiencing feather destructive behavior.

If your bird is overly anxious, has poor balance, and tremors, take it to an avian veterinarian for physical exam and ask for a calcium test.

In addition to calcium deficiency, many parrot diets are low in vitamin A. This vitamin is essential for the health of soft tissue such as inside the nares. Foods high in vitamin A include sweet potatoes, carrots, dark leafy greens, winter squashes, lettuce, dried apricots, cantaloupe, bell peppers, and tropical fruits.

Cockatiel with Vitamin A Deficiency

Photo from Currumbin Valley Birds, Reptiles & Exotics Vet

This is an image of a cockatiel with tissue complications of vitamin A deficiency that required surgery.

These are just a few examples of how malnutrition contributes parrot feather plucking. In each of these examples, skin and / or feather health are. Anytime that a parrot is under stress, whether it is from nutritional deficits that result in discomfort or pain, or other parrot husbandry practices than the bird may try to relieve itself with scratching or parrot feather plucking.  Reduce your parrots physical stress with a parrot feather plucking diet.

References:

Cooper, J. & Harrison, G. (1994). ‘Dermatology’, in Avian Medicine: Principles and Application (pp. 609638). Lake Worth: Wingers Publishing. Available at: http://avianmedicine.net/ content/uploads/2013/03/24.pdf

Low, R. (2006). The Parrot Companion. New Holland Publishers Ltd (September 15, 2006)

Rubenstein, J. & Lightfoot, T. (2012). Feather Loss and Feather Destructive Behavior in Pet Birds. Journal of Exotic Pet Medicine, 21(3): 219234. Available at: www.vetexotic.theclinics.com/ article/S1094-9194(13)00089-3/pdf

Veterinary & Aquatic Services Department, Drs. Foster and Smith. Bird nutrition: feeding pet birds, parrot diets and nutrition recommendations. (Online). Available at: www.peteducation.com/article.cfm?c=15+1835&aid=2844

 

Join Facebook Group for Feather Plucking Parrots


Diane Burroughs, LCSW

Located in Denver, I'm a Mile High author and parrot feather plucking expert. I've always been a devoted animal lover with a special passion for parrots, Diane is also a behavior specialist. Make sure to join my Facebook group, UnRuffledRx Parrot Feather Plucking Help now!

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  • Diane Burroughs, LCSW
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