Heckled By ParrotsBlue Sky WritingFalconryRebecca K. O'Connor

Examining, Surviving and Loving life with Parrots

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Is it Plucking?

Fallen by Photobunny

Fallen by Photobunny

I get asked a lot about how to tell if your parrots are plucking. Honestly, the most common time of the year I hear this is during the molt and it’s a fair question. Sometimes it seems the feathers come out all at once.

Dropping feathers is very normal and they can drop suddenly and in large numbers. Different species of birds molt differently. Most ducks drop all their primaries at once and become flightless. (That’s a big suprise when you’re training ducks to fly in a show, believe me.) They hunker down during breeding season and grow everything in all at once. Other birds like falcons and parrots, need to fly all year, so they drop the larger feathers one at a time so that they can continue to fly. The weather, time of year and available food can make a difference in when the molt starts and how quickly the feathers fall. Some years are slightly different than others, even with birds that are in a captive environment with steady “weather” and food.

Often the first thing to go is the down. There isn’t a feather to be seen and then one day, little puffy white feathers are everywhere. This is the first thing that might make you think that you’re bird is plucking. Don’t panic. Look for obvious signs that the feathers aren’t falling naturally.

  • Are the feathers bitten off? Look for half-feathers that have been nipped off instead of falling off at the base of the quill.
  • Are the feathers damaged? Look for feathers that are bloody or pulled out before they are fully formed.
  • Does your bird have bald spots with no pin feathers coming in? Molting feathers are quickly replaced by incoming pin feathers when they fall naturally.
  • Are the feathers all one shape. Look for signs that your parrot is pulling out feathers that are all in one area.

It’s also a good idea to look for overpreening, which can eventually lead to plucking. If your parrot has feathers that are worn or tweaked from constant attention, he may be over preening. If so, pay special attention to toys that give your bird something to occupy his time. Enrichment is key.

If there are tons of feathers falling and even if your bird is looking a little ratty, he may not be plucking unless your seeing the things listed above. If you’re not sure if the feather loss is normal, take your bird to the vet to check right away, especially if its been a while since he’s had a check-up. There are many medical conditions that can start a plucking problem and plucking can become a habit.

If everything is hunky dory, hang in there for the next few months while the feathers fly. (And invest in a good vacuum cleaner.)

One Comment

  1. This post is really helpfull. I’ve seen a lot of questions from bird lovers about their small friends loosing their feathers. Since their pets live in house it is natural that food is kind of limited and has less variety than in wild. Therefore you would always expect that birds can start loosing some of their feathers. I belive that most of pet owners are driven by love when choose birds as their friends and therefore their worries are very understandable. Thanks a lot for very nice explanation of such a touchy subject.