[10 Plucking Tips] How to manage feather picking
1. It's not you.
There is a ton of research on what causes feather picking in parrots. We now know that one of the major contributing factors to a beloved pet developing self-harm behaviors is being hand-fed. Hand-fed parrots develop a brain altering predisposition toward anxiety and mood dysregulation. Not only did they never learn the skills to manage their mood, but by missing out on critical developmental milestones that mom and dad would have provided, the bird's brain responds to every day events as if it were being traumatized.
2. Get a vet.
If at all possible, find an experienced avian vet in your locality to support as you learn to manage feather picking. An experienced avian vet stays up to date on current research, explores the latest treatment options and helps you measure progress. All in all, they rule out potential medical causes,they are likely to be familiar with prescription grade medications and they guide and support you in your in your feather picking recovery journey.
3. Reduce as much stress as possible.
Research is showing us that a hand-fed parrots brain quickly diverts any unknown stimulus as though the parrot were in great danger. Over the long haul, this results in incredible levels of anxiety. By reducing as many potential stressors for the parrot as possible you'll give your pet a leg up. Provide as natural of a parrot diet and life style as possible. At a minimum, parrots need healthy diets, a great nights sleep, proper grooming, opportunities for exercise and to stretch their wings, foraging opportunities, and socialization.
4. Use logs to drive your progress.
Parrot feather picking can take on an addictive life so creating a clear understanding of the problem from the get-go is important. Creating baseline data about the nature of your individual birds problem is critical in knowing if the strategies you choose to treat the problem are helping or making the problem worse.
5. Use research to guide you.
According to well-known vets such as Dr. Jeffrey Jenkins and others, the top 4 treatment options include using a bird collar as a protective barrier, examining parrot husbandry practices, auditing the parrots environment for potential stressors and implementing behavior modification strategies, which is a science in its own right.
Best practice is to use a combination of these strategies, if not all of them. Start with bird collar to act as a protective barrier while you learn and refine the other skill sets.
6. Look for triggers.
All behavior starts with a trigger, or as behaviorologists call it, an antecedent. Then the behavior occurs and finally, the consequence of the behavior which serves a function for the animal. We call this the A B C's of behavior. All three of these stages work together to create a behavioral habit. When you change up the trigger or the consequence, the behavior pattern gets disrupted. Start out by doing a time-study to try to uncover your individual parrots triggers. A good time-study should be of adequate length, a minimum of two weeks, and of similar times throughout the day. We suggest upon awakening, before leaving for work, when you get home and before bedtime.
7. Learn about safe love for parrots.
One thing most parrot owners don't understand is that parrots need a different kind of loving. Parrots, like other birds, go through hormonal surges just once or twice a year depending on a variety of circumstances occurring in nature. If you don't know what causes these hormonal surges, your parrot may develop a chronic hormonal condition, which is physically and emotionally harmful. Learn how to tell if your bird is hormonal and what to do about it. There are a number of preventable circumstances that can result in parrot hormonal behavior. The angst of chronic hormonal behavior is a known stressor that can result in a parrot plucking habit.
8. Teach your parrot basic manners.
Parrots are flock animals that live by important social order. Your household provides the flock experience for your pet. You can ease social anxiety by teaching your parrot basic manners and expectations. This helps your parrot to feel safe. Basic manners might include stepping up, coming when called, going back to the cage, dropping an item, stay, go, and other informal commands.
9. Consider calming medicines or supplements.
Right now, there are a few over the counter calming supplements available on the market to help with parrot feather picking, including natural plant based products. If you have a highly anxious or self-mutilating parrot you will find this video from Chloe Sanctuary to be very helpful and hopeful.
10. Get support!
Changing behavior is hard but not impossible. At BirdSupplies.com, my mission is to help parrot guardians help their parrots. It's that simple. One FREE support you'll find helpful is to become an active participant in my Facebook group, UnRuffledRx Parrot Feather Plucking Help. Get helpful tips and strategies to stop feather plucking.