The Feather Detective
I will try to give you steps to follow when your bird starts plucking. Please remember I am not a vet nor do I consider myself an expert. I am just someone who has had bird in my life for over a decade. I do quite a bit of reading in books and on the internet and attend educational symposium whenever I can. My birds means so much to me that I want to be as educated as I possibly can be. Some of this has come from first hand experience. Opinions expressed are strictly mine and not in any way related to FWCAS or the board members or officers of FWCAS.
One of the most heartbreaking and frustrating things a parrot owner can go through is having their pet bird start plucking. You see your beautiful baby go from beautifully feathered to featherless sometimes in days sometimes in months. But either way it is scary and can be baffling. The first thing we will look at is what to do when your bird starts plucking.
1. A well bird checkup is in order. Yes it is expensive, but how much does your bird mean to you?
Many underlying physical illness can cause episodes of plucking. If discovered early and treated you can stop the bird from plucking. If not diagnosed quickly the plucking that was caused by an illness will continue after the bird is cured because it has become a habit much like smoking and nail biting in humans.
Skin problems can include infections on skin including bacterial, fungus and yeast. It can also be feather mites and other parasite problems. Eczema, dry skin and other skin disorders have been shown to cause plucking. The test to diagnosis this is a skin scraping. The vet scrapes off a little skin and looks at it under a microscope. If skin proves to have no problems then you must do other testing.
System infections including yeast, bacterial and parasite can cause a bird to be so miserable that they start pulling out their feathers. This is your birds cry for help! To diagnosis the vet will thoroughly examine your bird. Then they do Xrays, CBC ( complete blood count), A chemistry panel , gram stains and disease testing.
The Xrays show the liver, the heart and other functions within the birds body. It shows if the bird is eating and arterial buildups along with tumors, and spots on the lung. It can show if the liver is to small or enlarged, the same with the heart. This is a basic to diagnosis and should be done. It scares many bird owners since most birds need to be sedated to be xrayed. Sedation in birds is not as dangerous as it was twenty years ago. It is generally considered quite safe in our day and age.
A complete Blood Count shows the ratio of white and red blood cells. If the vet finds an increase in white blood cells this can show infection or disease is present. A decrease in red blood cells can show internal bleeding or something else causing anemia in your bird. It will show the vet which direction he should take in trying to diagnose your bird.
A chemical panel will show if organs are functioning properly. If not the vet can further investigate the bird by looking into organ failure such as cirrhosis or fatty liver disease. It can show protein deficiency along with other deficiency within your birds chemical structure that has come from malnutrition among other things There are so many things that can go wrong in a bird that i can’t list all possible diagnose that chem pan can show.
Gram stains will show the presence of yeast, positive and negative bacteria
Once the vet exam is complete there can be many diagnosis. Sometimes the vet can help. Sometimes the vet will be as puzzled as you are. This is when you become the detective. This is my first example. In this case I was successful in solving the mystery and stopped the plucking. The following are my notes and observances on Diego that I noted during her plucking episode.
Diego is our nanday conure, age unknown but estimated to be 11 plus years old. We have had her six years. She is caged with another nanday named Zorro. She is flighted and allowed to fly the house in the evening. I first noticed a patch of feathers missing under her wing on a Saturday night. By Sunday morning half her body feathers were gone. I observed no feather plucking during the daylight hours nor when she was with me. I did observe that her grip seemed weaker than was normal. Sunday night I sat in the darkened room and observed her behavior. She was agitated and pacing the bottom of the cage, sometimes climbing up to ring her bell. By Monday he whole body was naked and she was not perching at all. I made an appointment with the vet.
I had a well bird check done including xrays. Xrays showed no food in the digestive tract. CBC and chem panel showed a healthy bird with no infections. The diagnosis was extreme trauma or a scare that caused her to stop eating and rip out her feathers. This is when i had to take the role of feather detective. I had to stop the plucking before it became a habit. I started to note her personality changes. Zorro seemed to be ignoring her. Instead of hanging out with the other birds, Diego clung to me like a burr. I handfed her pellets and seed and she began to eat well on her own again. I trust the vet but wanted to make sure his diagnosis was correct . My two biggest suspicions were a food allergy or that the other nanday was either plucking her or picking on her. I placed a divider in there very long cage and started Diego on harrison’s pellets to rule out an allergy to fungus on seeds or artificial colors.
In two weeks I had observed no new plucking and her feathers were growing back in beautifully. I was starting to think that either the food allergy or separating the nandays was working. Then one night I noticed that she again seemed agitated. She was pacing the bottom of the cage. The next morning almost all of her body feathers were gone again. This ruled out trauma from the other bird or food allergies. The next night I tucked myself into a corner of the bird room and watched her rip out the few feathers she had left. In-between the plucking she paced the cage and rung her bell. I tossed and turned that night because I could hear her pacing and ringing the bell. I also became concerned she was keeping the other birds up at night. I found a small cage and started placing Diego in the small cage in my room to sleep at night. At first she balked at the strange cage and did not want to go in. But I persuaded her. After a few nights she started to fly into my room and put herself to bed when ready. I think she enjoys the security of the small cage and when she wakes during the night she can see me. The sense of security was what she needed. It has been almost six months and she has not plucked at all. She has all her feathers back and is again a beautiful vibrant bird. Is she cured? I have no idea if she will ever start to pluck again. But I will continue the sleep cage regime in hopes this will prevent future episodes.
In Diego’s case; I consulted the vet, I investigated her surroundings and behavior. Changed things to see the results and found a solution. Every bird is different but the main idea is
1. Observe when the bird is plucking
2. Observe factors that may cause the plucking. This includes changes in behavior, changes in eating habits, interaction with other birds, interaction with humans it is bonded to and changes within the environment that may have caused the plucking to begin with. Keep your eyes , ears and mind open. Make changes slowly seeing how the bird responds to change. It may help you and the vet to keep notes in a notebook observing changes and what you have done to stop the plucking.
If all else fails just remember that fine feathers do not make a fine bird. It is the personality that matters. Two of my most beloved birds are plucked and could be considered ” ugly” but they have beautiful souls and I would not trade them for the world!
by Lynda Lewis