Ask The Vet: Feather Picking

Ask The Vet: Feather Picking

Sylvia from Gloucester asks…

“I obtained an older cockatiel from someone who was no longer able to take care of her. The bird is now picking out a lot of her feathers. What could be causing this?”

Feather picking in birds is a sign that something is bothering them. The problem could be either behavioral or medical, and the bird is letting you know that something is wrong.

On the behavioral front, I’ve worked with birds that began feather picking because of a variety of environmental reasons: the view outside their window changed (an addition was being put on the neighbor’s house); the plants in their room were rearranged; a TV gaming system was moved to the room where the bird lived. These are obvious sources of stress for birds, but stress can develop from internal/medical reasons such as cancer, hormone imbalances, allergies, skin mites, toxin exposure, and nutritional imbalances, to name a few.

Inadequate nutrition is a very common problem in birds and leads to a host of other ailments that can ultimately manifest as feather picking. Inadequate mineral and protein intake can result in metabolic bone disease and other systemic stresses that create a chronic, debilitating, wasting syndrome. Sadly, unbalanced diets usually result from a lack of awareness of what birds should be eating to stay healthy and from the reality that many birds (like people!) will gravitate toward the more tasty, less healthy options put before them. The classic example is when birds tend to eat millet and seed while ignoring the protein pellets in the feed. Birds become finicky eaters, and if they’re selecting the unhealthy options, it’s the equivalent of eating dessert all the time.

There are quality bird foods on the market that offer balanced long term nutrition. Birds can also be rather successfully fed by cooking for them at home. They need good sources of vegetables and protein and are known to enjoy a wide variety of good, wholesome foods when taught to eat them.

We have a lot of helpful tips on how to house and feed your bird. Regarding the feather picking, it’s best if the bird has a physical exam to help figure out if the problem is medical or behavioral. We may even need to direct you to an avian specialist if it becomes particularly complicated.