Saturday, July 26, 2008

Plucking thoughts

This question was in my comments from yesterday, so I thought I would bring it out to a main blog post so that my response wasn't buried in the comments.
Do you have any suggestions on preventing birds from plucking? My mother-in-law
has a cockatiel that recently began plucking her feathers again. (Our theory is
that she feels neglected--my sister-in-law just had a baby who is getting all
the attention.) I know you have had birds with similar problems in the past, and
I was wondering how you helped them.Thanks for the help.

Plucking is something that is so complex and frustrating! The first thing I would recommend, especially with a cockatiel, is a vet workup to eliminate any physical causes. Cockatiels rarely pluck for behavioral reasons. The rescue where I volunteer gets about 100 cockatiels surrendered to us every year, which would mean I've seen about 500 cockatiels in the 5 years I've been volunteering. I've seen maybe 5 plucked tiels, and every single one of them has had a health issue (bacterial infection, ingrown feather, etc.). Once the medical issue was cleared up, the tiels regrew their feathers.
This tiel's plucking and mutilation was caused by an ingrown feather. Once the vet took care of that, he was able to regrow all of his feathers.

Of course that's not to say that your mother-in-law's plucking tiel couldn't be behavioral! Just because it's rare doesn't mean that it NEVER happens! Once any medical issues are ruled out, I'd start working on optimizing her environment, which is a good thing to try to do, even if the bird isn't plucking!

One thing that may help, especially if you think it relates to reduced attention is if your mother-in-law started clicker training her cockatiel. You might be thinking, "where will she find the time for that?" but once you get into a routine, it takes less than 5 minutes per day per bird, and the results you see are worth it! The attention you give your bird during this time is high quality, and it helps your bird keep her mind active. I'd recommend joining the Bird-Click yahoo group (it's free). You can learn how to do this by reading their files, and experts are there to answer your questions. The moderator has several tiels that she clicker trains.

Other things to consider include diet, air quality, humidity, number and types of toys, bathing frequency, etc.

Another thing she might consider doing, if the decrease in attention will be on more or less a constant basis now that the grandchild is in the picture, is get her cockatiel a friend (I'd recommend another female so that there's no accidental breeding). There are so many unwanted cockatiels in shelters, and she could probably find one close to her on petfinder. Of course there are some drawbacks to this idea -- namely her current cockatiel may become less tame to her or they may never get along well enough to cage them together so she has two cages now -- so it's something to really consider before bringing another one home.

The last thing I want to say is that plucking isn't the end of the world. I used to think that it was; especially before I had pluckers, and during the first few months of their plucking. After all, isn't it inconceivable that a well cared-for and happy bird would pluck? Not at all! These guys are wild animals and, despite our best efforts, we can't replicate the wild for them. Some just can't handle captivity well. I don't recommend collars for pluckers -- only in certain cases for mutilators -- and not long term.

Best of luck to your mother-in-law and her cockatiel!


Beloved Parrot said...

Excellent advice, Mary! My vet says that when she sees a plucking cockatiel she automatically treats it for giardia even before the tests come back since that's usually the cause (unless she sees something else, like the ingrown feather or what not).

I've been very lucky with my cockatiels.

Sammi said...

Hey, thanks so much for the advice.
I really appreciate it!